I’m going to stop ignoring ResearchGate


LinkedIn, Facebook, ORCID, Twitter, Instagram, Klout, Mendeley, ResearchGate.

I’m signed up for all of these things. Some are useful, some can be annoying, some I just ignore.

Some vague time ago, a friend in my department mentioned that I should sign up for ResearchGate. I said something like, “It’s just another one of those social networks, yadda yadda so what.” But I signed up anyway*.

At the time I signed up, I halfheartedly connected some of my papers, and since then I’ve ignored it. Jump to last week, when one of their emails was creative enough to find its way through my spam filter:

rgateclipI was like, huh? I chose to click over to my profile on ResearchGate.

It mentioned that I’ve had 1,127 paper downloads. (And most of my papers weren’t even on the site. That is no longer true.)

Having a thousand cumulative downloads of your papers isn’t the biggest thing in the world  — this post will be seen far more widely than all those downloads. But for downloads of academic research papers in peer-reviewed journals, this isn’t chump change. And those downloads are coming from specialists who are working on the same stuff that I’m working on — these are my close colleagues!

The data indicate that a bunch of scientists are now going to ResearchGate to get copies of papers. These downloads are coming from the US, Brazil, China, and lots of other places.

Up until this last week, I’ve always thought: If anybody wants my paper, they’re so easy to access! They’re on my website. And Google Scholar has found them on my website.

But, still, about every few months, I get an email reprint request for a copy of a paper that is readily available from my site. So, some people obviously aren’t as savvy as I imagined, or find it’s easier to email me than to look to see if they are found on the interwebs. But really, it’s more complicated than that.

It was pointed out to me (on twitter) that ResearchGate can be important for scholars in China which has an authoritarian government that cuts off access to not just Facebook, but also Google**.

Since I had ignored my page for a long, long time, I dealt with many “requests” for papers. Some papers were listed as authored by me, but weren’t yet uploaded for people to download. I could send them “privately” or upload them for everybody.

So, this offers a way to deal with circumvent paywalls . Of course, it’d be great if all papers were just open access and we didn’t have to fuss with paywalls at all. But the fact remains that a lot of great papers are still getting published in society journals and other venues that aren’t open access. While we’re working on making science available to everybody***, ResearchGate is a workaround until the lawyers hound them into nonexistence, as it looks like a way to jailbreak papers to be available to everybody. I have no idea if the for-profit publishers that hold copyright on some papers have turned their eyes on ResearchGate.


There is an annoying aspect of the ‘social network’ part of ResearchGate. They have a hokey way to measure your “RG score” and “impact points.” At least, I’m guessing it’s hokey. I have no idea what those numbers are. I suppose one way to get some senior scientists on board is to let them show their big numbers. Not that I have any idea what the units are. And you can “endorse” people in that useless way like happens on LinkedIn.

When I mentioned my discovery that ResearchGate is not entirely useless for everybody, this was the first response:

So, for those of you who have been using it, what can you tell us? Please share! I’m a newbie and don’t know what to say, any tips and recommendations would be great.



*(I’m not an early adopter of this kind of stuff, but I’m an early-sign-up-and-forgetter. I heard an NPR story about Twitter in 2007, so I decided to park an account name just in case it turned into something. “Ant” and “ants” were already gone but “hormiga” was available. I didn’t really start using it until 2013.)

** By the way, having a Google Scholar profile is a good idea, if you haven’t made one yet. (Here’s mine, for what it’s worth, if you’re curious about finding my papers and my h-score.) A couple years ago, Joan Strassmann had a post explaining why you should claim your Google scholar profile.

*** I am an advocate for the publication of papers as open access, and am also an advocate for society journals (e.g., Ecology, Biotropica, Oikos, American Naturalist), which are not uniformly open access but have arrangements with publishers so that the journal supports the activities of the academic society. The publishing environment is evolving rapidly enough that it’s not possible to predict what things will look like in a decade, and keeping an open mind is useful to me.

Just as a disclaimer, I’m not getting paid by anybody to write this. Though feel free to send me a paypal deposit.

Recommended reads #56


Some fundamental lessons from ten years of sciencing.

You know you want to look at this church shaped like a chicken.

A meth lab at the National Institutes of Standards and Technology exploded. I imagine more news will be forthcoming. I don’t know what is driving NIST employees in exurban Maryland to operate a meth lab.

A librarian is caught after having stolen more than hundred masterworks of art from his institution, and replacing them with his forgeries. His defense? Everybody else is doing it.

Workaholism isn’t a valid requirement for advancing in science.

When the end of human civilization is your day job. This is a great piece that discusses how scientists handle, think, feel, and discuss climate change, in Esquire. (Better than the testosterone-laden books-for-dudes list that came out in Esquire.) But the best thing I’ve ever read about how to feel and talk about climate change came from Hope Jahren.

The myth that academic science isn’t biased against women. This is an information-laden explanation why that PNAS paper (which claimed that the bias problem in hiring is over!) is just really off target.

There’s been a long-growing academic issue here in southern California that’s now amounted to a pretty big stink-up. USC has always been known as a place that has good athletic programs, but not so much for academic excellence, notwithstanding the fact that wealthy people who graduate from the so-called “University of Spoiled Children” often end up in powerful positions, and then go on to hire their fellow Trojans. Despite the social capital of USC, it’s alway been considered as an academic minnow compared to UCLA and pretty much every other major research institution in the region. (Not that I feel good about slighting one kind of fish over another.) But in the past decade, things have changed for USC, they’ve really stepped up their game in attempting to fix what was their miserable academic reputation. Lately, people are actually speaking highly of their academic programs. They’ve done this on a short time scale, and a big part of this strategy has been to absorb pre-existing facilities and programs. The latest poach is a research group from UCSD, that runs a huge Alzheimer’s research program. UCSD isn’t just letting USC take the whole program that easily, though. Says the provost of USC, “I don’t want San Diego to feel like the University of Southern California is being some threat.” This comes one year after USC attempted to subsume the Scripps Research Institute, in a secret deal with Scripps administration. The plan only ended at the last minute because someone leaked the news out to faculty before the deal was finalized. So, USC is basically trying to cash in its huge endowment to buy an academic reputation over a very short period of time. Which for people who care about reputations, I guess that’s fine, but the problem about doing this too quickly is that you end up screwing over people who are currently in the system.

So the career/editorial section of Science is just totally f’ed up. But Nature is noticeably less horrible. Especially this piece about how science professors need leadership training. So, so much this.

Also, this comment in Nature about improving undergraduate science education is a really great blog post. I mean, um, peer-reviewed publication in Nature. Same difference, right?

A book review of Field Notes for the Alpine Tundra. I don’t have plans to get up to the tundra anytime soon, but the review sure makes me want to pick up this book.

Why it’s not a good idea to kill venomous snakes in your yard. Just imagine the productive conversation this would lead to on Facebook.

A listicle of ten myths about teaching computer science.

This is a good post about the need to recalibrate the professional expectations of those into graduate school. Grad school is research training and a low-paid job, and also preparation for a great number of other things, if you go about it that way.

David Raup recently died at the age of 82. If you’re not familiar with his contributions to our understanding of the history of life, this obituary is a great explainer.

What do climate deniers talk about when they meet and talk about climate? It’s all pretty weird, apparently.

This transcript of the conversation that led to Sandra Bland’s arrest is infuriating and heartbreaking. This is the first chapter of an actual tragedy. But if you read it line by line as you would a screenplay, then you can feel the hate and racism oozing from the police officer. What makes this all the more horrible is that this happens every day in America. Let’s keep paying attention to this, to emphasize that black lives matter.

On a related note, renowned putz David Brooks penned a confoundingly ignorant review of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ new book. Here’s a great piece making fun of Brooks’s review. Here’s another one that explains how, if not why, Brooks is such a dumb person. I haven’t read the book itself, I am looking forward to it.

Are you heading to China but don’t know if the government firewall will let you use a certain website? Here’s a site you can use to test things out ahead of time.

How do you measure a scientist?

What happens when you talk about salaries at Google.

Have a great weekend.

A departmental retreat from another dimension


I once participated in a departmental retreat from the Twilight Zone. Or it might have taken place in an alternate-universe wormhole.

Details are fuzzy, but when I searched my google calendar, I found it still sitting there, way back from Spring 2006. There I remember a few things with uncommon clarity, on account of the weirdness. Continue reading

Ants With Superhero Powers and Real Ant-People


As an ant man, I’m psyched for the release of Ant-Man.

There are so many ants with real superpowers, that we know about because of amazing Real Ant People, genuine ant savants. Let me tell you about some ants with amazing superpowers.

Two classic superhero powers of ants are flight and invisibility. Continue reading

Can stealing from your neighbor be a mutualism?


Imagine that your neighbor sometimes goes into your house and takes some food out of your fridge. Sometimes you catch her, but you don’t get violent about it, you just push her out and tell her to not come back. But she keeps sneaking in.

Imagine that you’re also stealing food from your neighbors. Imagine that everybody in your neighborhood is stealing food from one another. Continue reading

Recommended reads #55


Liberal arts college, or celebrity baby name?

The New Yorker has a great piece about the backyard biodiversity work being done by the entomologists of the Natural History Museum of LA County.

Carl Zimmer on writing about science: “Imagine you’re a crime reporter writing a story about a shooting at a nightclub. Now imagine that none of your readers know what a gun is.”

Speaking of which, Ed Yong does a masterful writeup about a remarkable new discovery involving endosymbiosis.

Science is an art. You’re damn right it is!

Science students need the liberal arts.

“…A post about structural biases I’ve perceived within the NSF Biology system…They also aren’t inherently bad or need to be fixed, they just exist based on the pool of reviewers/panelists and timing of the grant cycles.”

Caroline Tucker has a nice review of a recent paper about a Periodic Table of Niches. If you think about convergent evolution – and how can you be an ecologist who sees the world and not be obsessed? – this post and the associated paper (Winemiller et al.) are good brain food.

Public higher education in the US used to be free or really cheap. Oregon is helping take a step back to where we used to be.

What overparenting looks like, from a Dean’s perspective.

A cool spatial data visualization (aka, a map) of logbook entries from ships of the 1700s and 1800s.

I’m behind the times, but I just heard about DORA, the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment. In short, it’s a concrete declaration to evaluate research based on its content and merit, not where it was published. Worth learning about.

And, PNAS says some convincing words about how they’re more interested in impact, not impact factor.

How to apply for a field job.

Meat is a complex health issue but a simple climate one.

There is a humorous and fascinating “Shit Academics Say” twitter account. This is the backstory in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The job market is not a lottery. Saying you got ‘lucky’ allegedly perpetuates a pervasive and damaging myth.

Dynamic Ecology has just passed the three year mark. Brian, Jeremy and Meg wrote a post reflecting on what they’ve learned from writing for the site, and what surprised them. It’s a really interesting read, at least it was for me, as I’ve had a highly convergent set of thoughts and experiences. Seriously, if you want to know what I think about my experience blogging, then just go ahead and read what all three of them wrote. If you’re thinking about investing a nontrivial amount of time into blogging, then I imagine you’d have the same feelings as well.

Sports and politics-of-sports writer Dave Zirin explains why he’s done defending women’s sports.

Profiling Alex Morgan: routine sexism and a little plagiarism from FIFA.com

Nature covers the crisis facing North American herbaria.

How things are not necessarily 100% peachy right after tenure.

How can you be colorblind and racist? This is how.

A paean to the arctic and its insects.

Why we still collect butterflies.

Colleges and universities can’t have it both ways: “the institutions that are going to successfully navigate the transition that higher education is undergoing will be those that can most quickly figure out who they are and how they can best fulfill their niches. Those who try to continually operate under the rules of the old system likely have bleak futures.”

“You Draw It: how family income predicts college experience.” Both the tool, and the associated fact, is fascinating. And of course a source of worry.

“Science is about the future.” A worthwhile short comic about the measurement of scientific worth.

On a related note, “The Nobel Prize is bad.”

What it’s like as a “girl” in the lab.

This story is precisely why the public needs to understand natural history. Or at the very least, to be able to differentiate bear from non-bear.

A post about increasing your chances of getting funded by NSF. The short version is: work your ass off. But this post tells you specific ways to work your ass off in a way that increases your odds.

Here is a problem-solving puzzle that is interesting. I saw this in the context of a few facebook conversations, and the selection of people correctly ‘solved’ the puzzle and those who didn’t correctly ‘solve’ it was fascinating to me.

Data Scientist Jessica Kirkpatrick writes about confronting her own racism.

Contingency is now the exploitative norm in higher education rather than the exception.

Another piece that explains why using slide shows for teaching is horrible and why people still keep using it.

Take a video tour of E.O. Wilson’s office.

College is not a commodity. Stop treating it like one.


That’s all, folks. You might have noticed that it’s been a while since a recommended reads post, which normally comes out on alternating Fridays. Well, I took a vacation. A real vacation. For two whole frickin’ weeks which I didn’t work at all, except for remote advising of students conducting fieldwork. It was glorious. (If you want see some of the cool stuff I saw, natural beauty and kitsch, from northern California and Oregon, you can find them on Facebook or Instagram.)


Universities that want research but don’t want researchers


I’ve done most of my fieldwork at a biological field station. Many people come and go, but there are a lot of common interests and some longstanding friendships.

I’ve had the chance to befriend people over the course of several cohorts of doctoral students working on station. A subset of these folks — myself included — have found positions in academia and continued to do research down here. And of course there are lots of active scientists who I see at conferences. The ebb and flow of academic and personal interactions over the decades has its grandeur. Continue reading