Simple explanations have a tradition in science that comes from Descartes; however, for complex systems, such a method may in fact “disfigure” reality (Rogers et al. 2013). We propose that this is precisely what occurs with the recent article published in BioScience by George Livingston and colleagues, “Perspectives on the Global Disparity in Ecological Science” (Livingston et al. 2016). They show that scientists from countries with higher income or higher human development index (HDI) do most of the research in ecological science and they are published more frequently than those from low income or low HDI countries; so what's new? Science is written mostly in English since the First and Second World Wars (Porzucki 2014). Furthermore, if we use Maslow's pyramid (Maslow 1943), ecological research is clearly not among the main priorities in low income countries. Chu and colleagues (2003) proposed two essential features of complexity: radical openness and contextuality. Using the former, we propose that Livingston and colleagues (2016) do not include a critical condition of ecological research—and one, most likely, of other disciplines—around the world: Local research funds have policies that maintain the status quo of international science (i.e., the dominance of the English language and the use of International Scientific Indexing [ISI] impact factors). In other words, there is a tight positive feedback between local science funding systems and its global environment. For example, Chile is classified within the countries with high HDI (UNDP 2015). Chile's official language is Spanish; English literacy is only 10 percent (www.ine.cl). Ecological research is not a priority because only 6.4 percent of funds for science and technology are allocated to its various subdisciplines (www.conicyt.cl); still, the instructions for the submission of proposals to compete for governmental funds state that for ecological research, among other disciplines, they should be written in English. Furthermore, 30 percent of the total proposal score depends on the curriculum of the principal investigator, which for ecological research considers only the publications evaluated by means of an equation that depends linearly on ISI scores. Therefore, Livingston and colleagues’ proposals to improve ecological research (i.e., their “shifting the center of ecology”) are not simple; they are naive. What seems to be necessary is a scientific revolution (in the sense of Kuhn 1969) with emblematic actions (e.g., Wright 2013). However, will that stop the positive feedback between local funds and global science? It remains to be seen.
Funded by Programa de Apoyo a la Investigación 2015, Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad de Chile.