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SOUTHEASTERN ECOLOGIST NAMED TO TOP 100 SCIENTIFIC CITATIONS
HAMMOND -- One of the world’s
most prestigious scientific prizes is not awarded by a panel of experts,
but by a large computer in Philadelphia. And one of the recipients of this
computer-generated honor is ecologist Paul Keddy, the Schlieder Endowed
Chair in Environmental Studies at Southeastern Louisiana University.
The computer, which is maintained
by the Institute of Scientific Information (ISI), inspects every paper
published in respected scientific journals. It then counts and reports
on which scientists are having their work cited by other scientists, and
The Institute for Scientific
Information recently began sorting through the computers’ citation reports
to establish the top 100 scientists in each discipline. Keddy is among
the100 most-cited scientists in the field of ecology and environment.
According to the ISI, the Canadian-born
ecologist, who has published more than 100 scholarly papers, two books
and a dozen book chapters during his 25-year career, had thousands of citations
to his written work.
Keddy said his award took him
entirely by surprise. “Some people carefully monitor their citation rate
each year. I do not,” he said. “I thought that if it was low, it would
only annoy me, and if it was high, it would only inflate my ego. So I did
my research and let it speak for itself.
“It is sometimes puzzling to
see which work is highly cited,” he added. “Sometimes papers that I regarded
as very important contributions – say an experiment that took five years
to run – have been all but ignored by colleagues. Others that I thought
were rather minor contributions seem to have taken on a life of their own.
It suggests to me that there is a good deal of serendipity involved as
to whether anyone reads any of your work at all.”
“This goes to show that you do
not have to work at a big university in order to accomplish high impact
science,” said Nick Norton, head of Southeastern’s Biological Sciences
Department. ”We are very pleased that Dr. Keddy moved to Southeastern to
accept our endowed chair.”
Norton said that for professors
of ecology, such awards are particularly important, “because the Nobel
Prize committee does not award prizes in ecology and environment. As a
consequence, even major advances in that field tend to go unreported.”
The idea of using computer-tallied
citations to monitor scientists is a relatively new one and it has its
critics, Keddy said.
In spite of some limitations,
Keddy said they are increasingly used in academic decisions involving promotion
and tenure, since they provide one way to measure a scholar’s impact.
Scholarly research by professors like Keddy is a vital part of coastal
restoration, said Al Doucette, interim dean of Southeastern’s College
of Arts and Sciences.
“The wetlands of Louisiana are vital
to the well-being of much of North America,” said Doucette, who is a fisheries
biologist. “They provide a significant proportion of the seafood consumed
in the United States and protect our ports and energy pipelines from storm
damage. Our efforts to protect and restore these wetlands must use the
best possible science – otherwise conservation projects may be wasteful
or they may even cause more harm than good. ”
Keddy’s first book, “Competition,”
proposed that competition among species is as important to biology as gravity
is to the study of astronomy. This book won two scholarly
prizes, and has now appeared in a second edition. “Wetland Ecology,”
published just last year, is being used as a text in many college classrooms
as a text book.
Norton said part of the reason
for the impact of Keddy’s work is that he has worked simultaneously in
many fields, including wetland ecology, rare plant conservation, the theory
analysis of competition, and the principles of biological diversity
in ecological communities.
“Sometimes,” Keddy said, “I meet
people who think all I do is study competition. Others think that I am
a wetland ecologist, and are surprised to know that I have also carried
out research in rare plant communities in dry habitats such as alvars.
And then I have worked in different geographical areas, too, such as the
Great Lakes, the Ottawa Valley and Nova Scotia. And now I am conducting
research in Louisiana swamps and pine savannas.
“Each part of the world tends
to have its own readership, which sometimes is unfortunate, since an important
idea discovered, say, in Nova Scotia, could apply equally as well to Louisiana,”
he said. “That is why one tries to write books to show how all the pieces
Keddy still remembers his first
paper. “Back when I was an undergraduate, a friend and I were canoeing
on Greenleaf Lake in Algonquin Provincial Park when we found a strange
looking fern growing on a cliff by the water,” he said. “It turned out
to be a hybrid new to science. That was fun, and I still have a picture
of the fern in my office.
“It’s unlikely anyone has ever
cited that study, but the good folks at ISI will know if anyone did,” Keddy
Keddy described his latest paper
as “a review of four models that allow managers to enhance and maintain
the biological diversity of wetlands.”
The next Keddy project that the
computer will count is a book on the world’s largest wetlands, which he
is co-editing for Cambridge University Press.
“I have tried to bring together
world experts to describe the large wetlands that occur in their region,”
Keddy said. “The largest two wetlands -- the Amazon River floodplain, and
the vast peatlands of central Siberia – are very different. There
are many language and cultural barriers to communication among scientists
as far afield as Russia and Brazil. Somehow we have to put the big story
together into one coherent book.
We will have to wait a few years
for the giant computer at ISI to tell us if any scientists read this work,”
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