The GWCT describes itself thus: ‘The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust is the leading UK charity conducting scientific research to enhance the British countryside for public benefit’.
Not, you note as ‘very good’ or ‘one of the leading’ or ‘has a distinguished record’ but ‘the leading’. That’s blowing one’s own trumpet quite loudly. I only bring this up because last week I gave you an analysis of some of the metrics that are available to examine such a claim. They certainly aren’t the only ways to examine that claim, but they are objective and publicly available and comprise a perfectly normal way of assessing scientific impact. GWCT didn’t come out on top – it is very good, but it would find it difficult to claim to be ‘the leading’ on the basis of those figures.
The chair of GWCT has been niggling away at this in comments ever since – I clearly touched a raw nerve. I wouldn’t have come back to it again here if Ian Coghill hadn’t been so insistent on claiming how unfair was my previous blog and hadn’t spent so long having a go at me and, rather curiously, the RSPB on this matter.
Publication rate, citation rate and ‘h’ are accepted, though not perfect, measures of scientific impact. If GWCT had excelled in all these measures then the analysis would still have appeared so let’s concentrate on what it says. It shows an apparent recent decline in the impact of GWCT science – that’s what it shows. That’s what Ian should be focussing on as Chair of GWCT, and when he isn’t shooting the messenger here then I am sure that he will give this some thought.
It’s not as though this analysis will come as much of a surprise to many in science or conservation. Anyone who believes that many outside GWCT describe it as ‘the leading UK charity conducting scientific research to enhance the British countryside for public benefit’ is mistaken.
GWCT has to differentiate itself in its particular marketplace from BASC and the Countryside Alliance. It is trying to do that on the basis of science and it has a very very strong case in that regard. The Countryside Alliance doesn’t really do science and doesn’t really, to my mind, take much notice of it. The Countryside Alliance hasn’t changed what its website says in regard to chocolate and lead despite the Food Standard Agency’s Chief Scientist’s words on the subject. And nor has BASC. Clearly regard for science is a bit thin on the ground in the marketplace where GWCT goes fishing for money and members.
I am just guessing, but my guess is that GWCT is finding it more and more difficult to persuade sporting land owners that supporting science is the way to deal with their problems. There is so much hysteria in the shooting community about raptors (eg buzzardgate) that the last thing that they want is some sensible science done on the subject. They will be saying that science at Langholm didn’t get them what they wanted (legal control of hen harriers) and that Langholm II seems to demonstrate the success of supplementary feeding of hen harriers. We await, such a long wait!, the publication of the comparison between the GWCT’s Loddington project and the RSPB’s successful Hope Farm project so we will have to see what that produces but that may be seen as another test of GWCT science by its own constituency.
GWCT isn’t a small charity – it’s much bigger than the BTO for example in financial terms – and it hasn’t suffered an overall loss of income recently, in fact last year seems to have been quite a good one financially. So it certainly isn’t lack of money holding back GWCT from publishing more papers and getting more citations. So maybe it is their ability to recruit and retain staff of the highest quality or some high-level decisions on how to spend their money.
GWCT has a perfectly good scientific record. I admire much of their past work, particularly that on grey partridges which was absolutely ground-breaking (and which gets a good plug in Fighting for Birds) but which has not led to a national upturn in grey partridge numbers (despite some very notable local successes). And GWCT continues to do good science and employs some good scientists too.
However, is good science what its constituency wants these days? Maybe GWCT shouldn’t talk up its science so much because maybe that isn’t what the market wants. However, if any organisation claims to be ‘the leading’ then it had better be able to make that claim stand up.