A collective blind spot in measuring natural systems?


A few months ago I got a Fitbit, which for those of you who haven’t heard of it is basically a step counter. I’d been thinking about getting one for a while to help me motivate my exercise and keep my work-life balance somewhat on track. Perhaps symptomatic of not managing the balance, it took me awhile to get around to deciding what to get and actually buying it. Luckily for me, in the mean time, my husband bought one as a present and now I get to obsess about how many steps I take in a day.

The first thing I have learned is that, indeed, 10,000 steps are a lot. Although there is some debate whether 10,000 is really the goal we should all be aiming for, I had sort of assumed that I was a reasonably active person* therefore would be meeting a daily recommendation. Turns out that since I bike as a part of my commute, actually 10,000 steps doesn’t come easy for me. Even on the days when I add in a 30 min jog, I need to do more walking than normal to reach 10,000. The results of this little experiment were sobering and made me re-evaluate my assumptions about my daily activity.

So what does this have to do with ecology? Well, we all have our pet theories and assumptions about how things work. Making up stories (or as we more formally call them: hypotheses) is an incredibly fun and important part of ecology. However, we’ve all had our pet theories and robust hypotheses torn down by actual data. It is a foundation of what we ecologists do. So it isn’t surprising that the act of collecting data can change our perceptions about how things work. We’re pretty comfortable about needing actual data to determine patterns and experiments to tease apart the effects.

But there is something else I’ve noticed about having the Fitbit on. The very fact that I am counting my steps is subtly changing my behaviour. I notice myself thinking more about whether to walk up another set of stairs** or deciding to walk versus bike to our corner store. Of course, this is in part why I wanted to get a step counter in the first place but it has got me thinking about this related issue in ecology.

I think it is safe to say we all agree we need to collect data to test our theories, but we discuss much less often how the act of collecting the data could perturb the system we’re interested in. What if our measuring something alters its behaviour? What does that mean for our science? Of course experimental designs often account for this by controlling as much as possible for our treatments. It is basically why we compare treatments to controls rather than just altering something to see what happens. But the fact remains that our measurements can change the systems we’re studying and we can’t always control for that, especially if taking the measurement itself alters future outcomes. It seems that studies where we measure things multiple times are particularly vulnerable, but also fairly common in ecology (especially whenever you’re interested in fitness).

I’m of course not the first to think of these issues, if I knew more about science history I’m sure I could share lots about the development of the scientific method but alas I do not***. It is at least my impression that animal studies are more explicit about these kinds of effects but as we learn more about plant behaviour (yes, plants definitely behave), there is evidence that we need to think about plant responses to measurements too. For example, studies have looked at the effects of touch on plants (check out this sobering study: pdf) but I rarely see any mention in method sections about how experimenters’ influences were controlled for****. That said, I’m sure that the title of this post is a little strong. I’m guessing that people often think about these issues but just rarely talk about them directly. This could lead to it seeming that studies have not accounted for things that they actually have. However, silence can make it more tough for researchers starting out in a field or new system.

I’m not sure there is much to do about this problem. If me taking flower measurements changes the way the plant behaves, I have to take comfort in the fact that I measure flowers on all the plants in my dataset. The effects I introduce should be uniform and are likely to be small (bees are handling those flowers all the time for example). It is more worrying when I think about things like a hand pollination treatment where handling time for those plants is greater than the ones I leave to be naturally pollinated. I think it is important to keep aware of potential problems in our measurements and address them to the best we can. There are potential dangers in ignoring how our interference effects the patterns we see but we shouldn’t let the possibility cripple our science either. Clearly the benefits of taking measurements far outweigh any biases they introduce and we design experiments for a reason. Imagine where ecology would be if no one took measurements. Good studies tackle questions from multiple angles so that the overall picture isn’t dependent on one test and collectively we are building a picture of how the world works together. So generally I’m not concerned about our field but it is something to think about the next time you take a measurement, whether it is invasive or not.



*I mean I even have a standing desk…but clearly one needs to take it to the next level and go for a walking one :)

**Even numbers somehow seem nicer and the fitbit counts the flights of stairs I’ve gone up. There is a reason I don’t look at my digital calliper screen when measuring floral traits. That way I know when I get a measurement ending in .00 it isn’t my doing.

***Unfortunately science history is too much of a sidetrack for me to pursue right now but maybe we have some knowledgeable commenters?

****Full disclosure, I rarely discussed potential measurement effects either. It seems we tend towards thinking about these kinds of things when the results are unexpected. I’m trying to be more conscious in my experimental designs and control for things that I can but it could take years of study to know exactly how measurements affect a study system. In the end, I hope that I can reduce the noise around any differences and convince myself that the data are telling me something real about my system.


We have now reached critical mass


This academic year started auspiciously.

The hallway bustles with the activity of new faculty. It’s funny that I’ve only been in the department for eight years, but am one of the most senior, on account of retirements, other departures, and new growth.

For the last few years, it’s felt like our department has been in an administrative critical care unit. When I was hired with two other Assistant Professors, the department was still understaffed. Over the next six years, we lost several faculty members and didn’t get any new ones. A couple years ago, we had about 800 majors but only 6 tenure-track faculty members working in the department. (And we do academic advising for every major, every semester, on top of our regular workload. That’s usually eight advising appointments in a single week.) Things have been unsustainable.

With the extraordinary workload and lack of support, we temporarily suspended our graduate program, another affiliated program went moribund, and we all pretty much got burnt out. I got entirely fed up with unfunded mandates for student success and faculty productivity, and am still mostly fed up about the disconnect between the rhetoric and actual support.

But in the past two years, we’ve hired four tenure-track faculty members. They are letting us quantitatively increase the courses taught by tenure-track faculty and students doing research. On top of that, they have introduced a qualitative change to how thing are happening in the department. They have high expectations for their research, their teaching, and how the university should be supporting their work. And they expect our department to be a vibrant academic community, which frankly we haven’t been during my time, because merely treading water has been a challenge. Now we’re about to swim. It’s actually starting to feel like a real university.

We can’t really afford to hire more than one person in any category. For example, we have one plant person, one insect person (me), one microbiologist (after one retires soon), and one developmental person. This sounds unfocused, but when you add a few people, synergies happen.

Now we have a few people who work in evolutionary biology, and a few ecologists, a few organismal biologists, and a few people who do genomics. A number of us are regularly in the field, and a few of us are doing cell culture (I think).

And these people were hired with the ability to run an active student-centered research lab while teaching well. Now that we might not be overworked so badly, this honeymoon period looks mighty bright, and the infusion of new ideas and priorities is bringing out the best for all of us.

Our department remains under-resourced and working conditions are still difficult. But we can still do something that resembles thriving, and hope that attrition to other pastures doesn’t happen too quickly. Our university doesn’t have a strong history of working to keep its most productive faculty. But that won’t keep me from appreciating this ephemeral moment when we’ve hit critical mass.

By the way, all our new professors are women.

Some posts you might have missed over the summer


Summer is over, not that we’d know it from the weather in Southern California. Anyway, the full complement of students are back. In the event your eyes were not glued to Small Pond over the summer, in no particular order, here are my favorite posts that you might have missed:

People are irrational. I come to terms with the fact that people are, by default, not rational. I tell a funny story about a guy who gets ants confused with snakes and doesn’t want to be wrong about it.

Why aren’t undergrads more like 8 year olds? Catherine Scott reports on her time from a science summer camp.

Universities that want research but don’t want researchers. It’s frustrating when some universities want to up their research game, and might invest into having more research, but don’t invest in the people who actually are doing the research. You can’t have it both ways: if you want research on campus, that means you need to support the people that make it happen.

I explain why I chose to not put a pasta strainer on my head for my driver’s license photo. As atheism is slowly becoming less of a weird thing in the United States, the visibility of punchable atheists is growing, and this isn’t good for science education.

Some email from ResearchGate slipped through my spambox and I discover that this is actually an important way of getting papers to people who otherwise wouldn’t have access. Why I’m not ignoring ResearchGate anymore.

This is what I had to say about the Tim Hunt brouhaha. (In short, he doesn’t seem to be a monster, and he does seem to have been an advocate for specific women in science who have been in his lab. But he failed to capitalize on the events to advocate for women in science and ultimately it does seem that he thinks women in the lab cause problems for the men, but doesn’t seem as concerned about how men in the lab cause problems for women, which is a much bigger problem.)


16 things to consider as you assemble your syllabus

  1. Do you tell students how long it will take for you to respond to emails?
  2. Do you have clear-cut consequences for academic misconduct such as cheating and plagiarism? Do you know exactly what you plan to do when you find misconduct? (Here is how I deal with it.)
  3. Is your course designed to minimize the probability of cheating?
  4. Are you offering extra credit? If you are, do all students have equal opportunity to get the extra points, considering that different students have different schedules outside of class time? (Maybe extra credit isn’t a good idea.)
  5. Have you ever changed the date of an exam from the one on the syllabus? Be sure to put in print whether or not an exam date is a firm promise or just a guesstimate; students schedule around these dates.
  6. Is your grading scheme designed so that it is unambiguous, fair, and minimizes student stress (and in general make your life easier) ?
  7. Do you have a very clear-cut policy on laptops and phones? Many people have phone addiction issues and the learning environment is ruined if you don’t deal with it respectfully.
  8. Are you okay with students using earlier editions of the textbook, and is this on the syllabus? Students often ask or wonder because current editions are so expensive and typically are very similar to previous editions.
  9. If a student misses a class that has an assignment turned in or a quiz or exam, does the student know exactly what will happen? Is it possible to design your grading scheme so that accidentally missing a class will not be a personal disaster for the students? Could you design an assignment policy so that nobody will feel compelled to invent a dead grandparent?
  10. Do you include participation points? If so, are these points administered in an unbiased and transparent way so that the students will be able know their exact score at the end of the semester without having to guess? If not, your participation policy is too subjective and unfair.
  11. When students turn in written assignments, will they know the specific criteria upon which these will be evaluated? If you have expectations for writing, could you put the criteria for the rubric in your syllabus. Grading writing without a rubric is unfair to students as they won’t know what you are expecting in the written assignment before doing the work.
  12. You’re going to get grade disputes, even if you say that you do not entertain grade appeals. Do you have a clear policy about grade appeals on your syllabus? Do your policies and practices deter unreasonable appeals?
  13. Is it possible to assign grades to students not based on scores that they earn on assignments, but instead on what competencies they are able to show by the end of the semester?
  14. Some students really love getting their grades through the course management system (Blackboard/WebCT/Moodle/whatever). Do you specify in your syllabus how you use the online course system?
  15. Do any disabled students — including those with a learning disability — know that you’re prepared to provide accommodations for them? Some students can be anxious that faculty might not be receptive and going beyond institutionally required boilerplate can be helpful.
  16. Is there anything in your syllabus that would look bad on the internet? It’s now a very small world.



*Note: now that buzzfeed is starting to gain the appearance of something like journalism once in a while, I’ve decided that the title of this piece of writing is journalistic enough for today.

Recommended reads #58


So many great things came my way this week, I’ve had to unload them a week early. Enjoy!

A survival handbook for teaching large classes. This is good stuff.

Mad Max: Field Assistant

As a professor, here are five really simple things you can to do help single parents in your classes. Keep in mind you might have a single parent among your students but not be aware of it!

Maybe there is no such thing as renaissance person. Maybe these people are merely expert in an unrecognized speciality.

Simon Garnier explains how the big four in football made sports predictable. (For Americans and Aussies, he’s talking about soccer.) If you watch the EPL on occasion and enjoy statistics, this is a wonderful read.

Some months ago, a video about predatory ants carrying millipedes with daisy chains went viral. This inspired an investigation that has now gone through peer review, and the natural history story itself is mighty cool, and well worth watching and reading.

Five big ideas that don’t work in education. This is not gobbeldygook.

Speaking of certain kinds of ideas in education, Joan Strassmann is teaching statistics differently. In her class, understanding probability, distributions, and statistical concepts is getting passed over, so that students can jump right into knowing how to do analyses.

Oliver Sacks writes about the Day of Rest, as he sees his life coming to its last chapter.

The general secretary of the international Astronomical Union, and amateur butthead, chose to praise women by explaining that they have a special gift in being more caring and more dedicated educators.

That Netflix parental leave policy just got even worse. Not all Netflix workers will get unlimited parental leave.

Here’s your feel-good light happy human-interest story if you need one. A barber that gives kids free haircuts if the kids read to him.

Matt Might — who has a penchant for writing the best explainers ever — just wrote an inspiring “How to get tenure” piece. It’s most definitely worth reading (as are all of his articles on his site). He explains how he handled some tremendous challenges and stresses, and emerged all the better by focusing not on tenure, but instead on the transcendent things that really matter. (In that message, it bears resemblance to the story from a Harvard professor about how she got tenure by not worrying about it.)  I am reluctant about recommending this as a piece of how-to-get-tenure advice because on that count, it’s an a posteriori explanation. If you’re trying to decide about what really matters in life, then in my opinion Dr. Might is spot on. If you’re trying to decide how to handle your life balance as a pre-tenure faculty member, then this could be good advice. But it wouldn’t be good advice about how to get tenure, per se. If you can’t be happy and well-adjusted in the six years before tenure, then you probably can’t do that afterwards either. Dr. Might didn’t get tenure because he didn’t worry about it, he got tenure because he performed exceptionally. That exceptional performance happened either because, or in spite of, his insistence on the right priorities. Choosing family as a top priority is necessary to be happy and healthy and well-adjusted, but it’s not a ‘how-to’ for tenure. I don’t think that Might is suggesting that his recipe for tenure is one for us to follow in order to get tenure. I think his message is that worrying about bad consequences can prevent us from focusing on doing what is most necessary and most constructive. He’s saying you can get tenure without driving yourself insane by following academic norms, and if you reject those norms you can still get tenure. On the other hand, rejecting those norms doesn’t necessarily get you tenure.

Since I mentioned that Harvard professor ‘treat your job like a postdoc’ advice piece from two years ago that everybody but me loved, I might as well re-share my misgivings that I wrote back when it came out.

It didn’t make the rounds as much, but just as enjoyable as Might’s “How I got tenure story” is this one from Holly Dunsworth, which might have more directly practical utility for those of you on the tenure track.

What’s in John’s Freezer? A visit to the bird collection in the LA Natural History Museum.

Since I know a variety of people at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, I’ve been hearing about the continued horribleness of their now-former chancellor, Phyllis Wise, who just stepped down (or wasn’t allowed to so she could get fired) because of a scandal emerging from the Salaita affair. That’s was the newly-hired professor who was fired before getting to campus because he said things on twitter about Isreal and Palestine that the Chancellor didn’t like. Anyway, Wise made a point of deliberately conducting university business on her private email because she knew what she was doing was wrong. Here’s a recent take on it, if you want the salacious details.

Fivethirtyeight (that’s Nate Silver’s shop, better known as the presidential election stats dude) has an explainer about p-hacking. It shows how you can come to essentially opposite conclusions using the same dataset if you look hard enough, and explains how people often come to erroneous conclusions because of the way they handle data and they way they think about their experiments. I’m planning on including it in my biostats course this semester.

The AAAS Vision and Change report for undergraduate biology education is out from a conference they held last year. I haven’t read it, it looks like a tome with more self-congratulatory content than constructive examples, but that’s just what I saw from a quick browse, so go ahead and make up your own mind.

This year’s Burning Man has a huge number of bugs. (Mirids, I hear.) And people are freaking out, but really there’s no reason to freak out.

You probably heard how Ashley Madison got hacked. Ashley Madison is a site that married people pay a not-small amount of money to, to find other married people so they can have sex with one another. Now a lot of people have access to all of the email addresses (and more) on their website. This will result in some interesting consequences, with victims well beyond the people whose names appear in the database. Here’s a rundown on what the consequences of this data breach will mean.

Biodiversity conservation: the key is to not eat meat. Just putting it out there. It’s hard to argue with the numbers.

Mike the Mad Biologists dons a tinfoil hat but, well, data are data. It is hard to argue with the numbers, and I didn’t scrutinize it myself but I am never willing to underestimate the depth of nefariousness in electoral politics in the US.

Here is a love letter to PLOS One – an overly optimistic summary of the perverse incentives in the academic publishing environment in science.

While we’re on perverse incentives, this piece in PNAS hits home:

When universities publically brag that we are “Xth in federal research spending,” it is akin to an airline proclaiming, “we use more gasoline than any other airline!” or “we spend more per year transporting our passengers!” Consider the appearance and potential consequences if other segments of the national budget advertised in the same way: “The Army outspent the Navy and National Guard combined in 2015!” These proclamations offer nothing about what the public received for its money. Although winning grants is an exciting and necessary benchmark for researchers, the public’s interest is the degree to which we advance science with this massive investment.

Writing a doctoral dissertation improvement grant for NSF? Here are some very useful pieces of information and tips, including actual reviews of successful and unfunded proposals.

This essay about how British universities pick students is a great companion to the thing that I wrote earlier about NSF graduate fellowships being a part of the inequity problem in science.

Why botany matters in college. When I have taught an intro course on the ‘evolution and diversity of life,’ I spent more time on the evolution of plants than the evolution of animals, despite being an animal person (and also, an animal myself). So much of what happens in this world is tied to understanding precisely how plants reproduce, and how it came to be that they capture oxygen from the air and convert it into tissue, and how the changes in the environment have driven the changes in the biology of plants. So many biologists really don’t get how the alternation of generations in plants happens, and what the various parts of plants are. Understanding this isn’t just knowing stuff about organisms, it’s about understanding how our soil and air is the way it is. How this Earth breathes.

About writing clearly in academia: “I start the class with an exercise. I take a random page from a prestigious scholarly journal and make them compute the average number of words in each topic sentence. Then I take a page from whatever Jill Lepore New Yorker article happens to be my favorite and have them do the same. The last time I did this, the average for the “prestigious” journal was 46 words (versus 15 for The New Yorker), a number so outrageous that, whatever goals the author had in mind, communication wasn’t one of them.”

Last, I wanted to provide a very short report after finishing Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me. It was a short read, but I still learned a lot from it. (I wrote earlier that it was “revelatory.” Then I read the quote on the back from Toni Morrison and found that she convergently used the term “revelatory.” So I’m a little proud of myself that I have at least I have that much in common with her.) There are two specific thoughts I want to share about this book. First, if you’re trying to get your mind around what it is to be a black man in the United States — or what it is like to raise a black son in these United States — then this book communicates that experience. Second, one thing I didn’t expect to find in this book, but was a major piece, was the transformative power of higher education. Coates’s life, and his view on the world, was changed by college. He is very frank and transparent about his own evolution. It’s amazing to see how professors and fellow students can change one another’s lives because of what a university is designed to be. I don’t think that is the point of his book, but as a person who works with college students all the time, it’s great to reflect on his story from that angle.

Okay, I said that was the last thing but it wasn’t. More on Coates: Here’s a great interview between him and Roxane Gay. She asked him about what it means to be an ally (as the term itself and how it is used can be not so helpful, as Alex Bond explains), and he summed up clearly why he’s not so jazzed about the ‘ally’ thing in a way that really put logical clarity to vague notions that I’ve been feeling. By saying that you’re an ally, that’s tacitly saying that it’s not your problem:

RG: How can allies best serve as allies? What is an ally? Are they needed?

TC: I don’t know. I think it’s probably terribly important to listen. It’s terribly important to try to become more knowledgeable. It’s important to not expect that acquiring of that knowledge — in this case of the force of racism in American history — to be a pleasant experience or to proceed along just lines. They certainly don’t proceed that way for black people. It’s going to be painful. Finally I think one has to even abandon the phrase “ally” and understand that you are not helping someone in a particular struggle; the fight is yours.

Have a great weekend.

Review unto others as you would have them review unto you?


I am going to go ahead and assume we all want quality reviews of our journal submissions, however you define ‘quality’. Reviewers that take time to seriously evaluate your work, provide constructive feedback and ultimately improve the paper should always be appreciated. But as reviewers ourselves, we know that sometimes we don’t always give each paper our full attention. In general, I try to give good and helpful (to the author and editor) reviews. I try not to take on reviews when I know I don’t have the time to do a good job. Perhaps I am naïve but the impression I get from my colleagues and reviews of my papers is that in general most people are also trying to give good reviews. Continue reading

Practicing what you preach (or rather teach)


I have been fairly absent from here over the last many months. I’ve wanted to write and even started a few posts but they never got completed. The clashing of personal (husband’s surgery) and work stresses (major grant applications that will allow me to continue my position in Sweden) this spring made for a hectic time. I never really regained my balance before summer started. And well, I’m a field ecologist at heart, so between fieldwork and vacation the weeks have flown by. The end result is that I’m out of the habit of writing regularly and I miss it.

As the fall approaches and regular schedules settle in, my plan is to practice what I’m about to teach. Continue reading

Self-centered people who become famous scientists


I have a distinct recollection from my sophomore year in college. I was sitting in a hammock in my dorm room, reading The Double Helix, James Watson’s autobiographical account of how he sorted out the structure of DNA.

(And yes, apparently, I used to be that kind of dude who would go to the trouble of putting a hammock in his dorm room. Hey, people evolve.)

The Double Helix was recommended to me because it was a first-hand account thriller about a major discovery that revolutionized how we understand evolution and life in general. That part is true.

But that’s not what I was thinking when I was reading this book. My main thought was, “Wow, this guy is an asshole.” Continue reading

Recommended reads #57


If this piece of writing doesn’t move you, then you must be a very very heavy object: Oliver Sacks, the periodic table, and mortality.

Museum dioramas are inspirational, if not educational. And “endangered as the animals they contain.”

Beatrix Potter was a mycologist.

You really can be an academic parent and “have it all,” so long as that notion of all is realistic. This is a moving and inspirational post from Tenure, She Wrote.

And for men to have it all, let’s realize that all includes being a responsible parent? Dads need to bring more of home to work.

Isn’t it amazing that Netflix is giving its employees unlimited parental leave? Well, no. That “unlimited” leave reflects a unhealthy work-obsessed environment that is not good for families. It would be truly healthy if they actually gave employees a year or six months or some specific time, rather than “as much as you think you need” which is not so good. Here’s an insightful take from the inside.

And what’s the more hideous thing about the Netflix policy? Only their fancy-dandy white collar workers get parental leave. What about the regular working stiffs in the warehouses? Fuck them, said Netflix.

What really is a food web, anyway? You talk to different people and they have fundamentally different notions about what one is. (And you talk to K-12 teachers, who often have food webs featured heavily in the curriculum, you get something even different!) Here’s a review about the evolution of the idea of food web in ecology.

The Ecological Society of America announced that it is moving its publications over to the mega-publisher Wiley. This doesn’t seem to sit well with some advocates of “open science” – this post by Russ Mounce seems to provide a full summary of the misgivings.

I don’t have those misgivings. I think the shift to Wiley will strengthen society finances, and keep things sustainable as the publishing industry evolves. I agree that it would be a very good thing for all scientific papers to be instantly available to everybody as soon as they were published, and that it is a bad thing that anybody hits a paywall whenever they want to access a paper. Ecology and its sibling journals (aside from Ecosphere) have always had a paywall, of course, and this paywall has actually been growing in size as subscriptions to the journal have been sliding. [Correction – all ESA journals have been, and remain, “green open access,” meaning that you can’t get them for free from the journal but authors can self-archive them. Which means you can get them for free from the author or from a site like google scholar which will find self-archived articles. This is ESA’s current deal with Wiley. So really, nothing has changed.] This switch to Wiley isn’t removing that paywall, but will allow libraries that have agreed to the evil Wiley bundle to be able to include ESA journals. So it’s anticipated that more people will be able to get Ecology than if the switch did not happen.  So why didn’t ESA just go open access instead of shift over to Wiley? That’s a remarkably naive question that doesn’t take into account the financial aspects of publishing and marketing a journal, and the razor-thin financial margins on which academic societies usually operate. I don’t think anybody can predict what the publishing landscape will look like ten years from now, and thought the big publishers like Wiley, Springer and Elsevier are going through what the music industry went through ten years ago, where things will evolve is hard to see. But going open-access would greatly increase author costs, and considering how many students and postdocs publish in ESA journals, it’s not financially reasonable to ask them to assume those publication costs (which frankly are more than the price tag associated with PeerJ). As things sort themselves out, I think ESA is doing well and ride the financial wave of the big publishers for a while, who actually don’t make a profit off of society journals anyway. If there is any real crime here, it’s not failing to go open access, which currently is not financially viable. It’s using the name of ESA to sustain the legitimacy of an endangered corporate financial predator.

Yes! Putting the Ph back in PhD

Here is an interesting short explainer about how the contemporary way we eat meat was driven by the US military.

A recently-finished undergrad has tips for new ones.

I just finished Steve Martin’s Born Standing Up. (It’s funny, I was just about to buy it at the Festival of Books, but on an uncommon whim I decided against it. Then after moving away from the booth, saw it was in the stack of books my spouse bought. So it was meant to be.) Martin wrote a memoir about how he became famous as a stand-up comic, in an era when comedy clubs didn’t really exist. His insights about how he built his career, and how he took more than a decade to hone his craft, can be really informative to scientists. The way that you become popular as a comic isn’t that different than how you become popular as a scientist. Seven years ago, Mike Kaspari read the book right after it came  out and wrote a post about it. It’s no coincidence that the quotes that he pulled out convergently tugged at me.

The liberal arts degree has become tech’s hottest ticket, allegedly.

Some points for students about technology in the classroom. Here are some non-tech-phobic thoughts about how students might consider how they use technology in the classroom to help themselves learn, or do do well in class (which is not the same thing of course).

To the [UW] Eau Claires of the world, I say, keep fighting. No disrespect to Madison, or Boston, or New York City, but sometimes things look different from here. It would be nice to see that acknowledged before terrible decisions were made.”

White dreadlocks as cultural appropriation.

How do we build a diverse scientific community? Here’s a place to start:

Latino women and Black men had the highest levels of discouragement— half in the sample for both groups.

And who were the worst offenders?

Their college professors!  Almost half of those pointed to their college professors as the chief source their discouragement, and 60 percent reported they experienced dissuasion in college. African-American women were dissuaded the most by their professors — an alarming 65 percent.

Essay questions written by a first-year instructor who does not have the time or wherewithal to do the required reading.

George Washington University — (I’m sorry, it’s actually The George Washington University) — is no longer requiring standardized test scores for applicants. Before you think it’s about increasing diversity, evening the playing field, and just generalized sanity, keep in mind that the more parsimonious explanation is that they’re just gaming the university rankings, by attracting more applications and increasing their rejection rate.

A very high quality and easy-to-follow explainer about the fact of evolution from the BBC. Good for teaching non-majors, or alienating your creationist family members on Facebook.

The story about a renegade fishing vessel chased around the whole world by people committed to bringing them to justice, and to stop the illegal exploitation of the world’s fisheries. My gosh this was a good story and also a great lesson about the loosey goosey state of things once you leave the land.

Here is a great well-animated 4-minute explainer video about El Niño. Which actually is not as simple as people realize

There was yet another op-ed in the New York Times that sought to mock the idea of a university, or something like that I guess. Forget the original, but this response is worthwhile.

Reddit gonna reddit: “I fabricated some data for a term paper. My professor wants to publish it with me. What do I do?” Just in case that thread gets deleted or certain things get removed, here’s the web archive of as of Thursday morning.

On being the only one in the room.

This is the best thing I’ve ever read about the danger of DWB, by Tressie Cottom.

Why IFLScience is anti-science

In a public relations coup, the meth lab explosion at the NIST has actually not been in the news! This is the only update I could find, which is intriguing.

Why we work so much. Accompanied with interesting data.

Wait, so General Chemistry doesn’t help you do more advanced chemistry?

People who work with arthropods in biodiversity and community ecology projects often fail to store vouchers. The crustacean people are particularly bad about it. This is problematic. (And yeah, I think I’m part of this problem.)

No victor believes in chance.

Why being a straight A student isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Suicide on campus and the pressure of perfection.

Most climate models have most of southern Florida underwater in a hundred years. Yet the people in Miami are acting like this isn’t even happening. It’s totally bizarre. And it’s particularly problematic because the whole city is on porous limestone, so levies and similar machinations won’t do the trick. Here’s a story from The Guardian about the state of denial in Miami, which already is experiencing major problems from the tides.

Classroom observations are only really useful if the observers are capable and appropriate for evaluating. Considering that almost no college faculty are trained in pedagogy, who is qualified to evaluate teaching at the university level?

Just in case you somehow haven’t yet seen the Key & Peele Teaching Center video:

And not least by any means, is Ta-Nehisi Coates’ new book, Between the World and MeI’m halfway through it now, and I’m finding it revelatory.

Have a great weekend.