Documenting serious issues in a bee paper on “No Mow May”
I read a lot of papers in scientific journals and I often come across papers that likely have some bad identifications, and I occasionally point them out on twitter or email the authors. However, in this case I came across a paper that had such serious issues that I took the step of alerting the journal. My goal here is to document the issues fully and to explain why I took that step. I also want to shed some light on my experience reporting it to the journal and my general disappointment in the entire process.
The paper in question is “No Mow May lawns have higher pollinator richness and abundances: An engaged community provides floral resources for pollinators” by Dr. Israel Del Toro and Dr. Relena R. Ribbons, both at Lawrence University in Wisconsin, published in 2020 in the journal PeerJ. When I initially read the paper soon after it was published back in September 2020, it was clear that there were big problems with the paper, and particularly the bee identifications. I fired off a twitter thread documenting some of those issues:
Digging into the issues
Here, I take a deeper look at the issues I originally raised and more fully explore ones that I didn’t bring up in the twitter thread.
The issues boil down to two main parts:
- The paper reports multiple bee species that simply do not occur in Wisconsin in May.
- The paper methods state that the majority of specimens were identified by sight in the field. This is a problem because many of the listed species require a microscope to identify.
In addition to the two main issues, there are some miscellaneous issues such as unexpected plants and many misspelled species names.
Issue 1: The paper reports multiple bee species that simply do not occur in Wisconsin in May.
One of the most glaring issues in the paper is that it reports finding 27 bees from five different species in the genus Melissodes. This is a big issue because Melissodes aren’t active in May in Wisconsin…