Friday Recommended Reads #5


Alan Townsend has a remarkably frank post about how departments and individuals handle tenure decisions, and how plenty of people are cowards. If you ever find yourself in a contentious tenure decision-making process, this post is important reading. Stay tuned for more strong experiences and opinions about retention and tenure decisions.

Lots of great things have yet to be digitized. We need to take great care to make sure that the efforts of those who occupied earlier times remain known. A truly wonderful story by Chris Buddle about his rediscovery of natural history information by some outstanding biologists that has been overlooked. It comes with beautiful images of ant-mimic salticid spiders.

It’s now official that NIH isn’t funding science education. Just forget about the anti-vaccine freaks and the public ambivalence towards the wanton use of antibiotics in factory farms that puts all of us at risk.

If the hopefully temporary shutdown of the US Government is boggling to you, here is the clearest, most straightforward explanation of how something this idiotic has come to pass: “America is being primaried.”  The consequences of this shutdown, and how it is handled by the current administration, transcend temporary politics and it is not hyperbole to claim that our democracy is at stake. Keep in mind that our constitution was a beta testing version for more contemporary parliamentary republics. It’s firmware so we can’t reinstall a new constitution.

Why do general education science textbooks suck? It would help if they weren’t designed for premeds who aren’t even taking GE science classes.

More plagiarism by a famous writer. This time it’s Dave Eggers. One of my favorite nonprofit organizations has to be 826 National, which has literacy and writing centers for kids in a variety of cities (Their time travel mart in LA is a great place for gift shopping, too.) It was founded in in part by Dave Eggers, author of the entertaining read Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and creative force behind McSweeney’s, for which I have respect on multiple axes. Kate Losse has made a forceful case that his latest book is heavily plagiarized from her own novel. (Some are viewing this as a gender issue, suggesting that he could get away with it more because he’s man coping from a woman. I just see it as a plagiarism issue, with a famous person copying a non-famous person.) These accusations of plagiarism aren’t new, though. A 2010 book of illustrations and quotes by Eggers is so highly derivative of work by Ketch Wehr, without appropriation or credit, and this is pretty much a textbook case of someone famous ripping off someone who isn’t famous and getting away with it. So, I don’t want Eggers to get away with it. But then again, if Doris Kearns Goodwin can get away with overt plagiarism, then I suppose Eggers will too.

Once a journal rejects you for some dumb reason, wouldn’t it be great to take those reviews, respond to them, and send them to a new journal to speed up the publication process? If you like that idea, submit to Biotropica. (As a disclaimer, I’m on the editorial board.)

Schadenfreudlicious. Finally one football coach whose sweetheart housing deal fell apart as quickly as his coaching ability. The loan for his fancy house was designed to be returned — with interest — if he left the job or got fired. He got the boot this week.

On TV as the new novel. I can only imagine there will be a lot of scholarship about Breaking Bad, as the show is a single 50-something-hour-long, beautifully created, Shakespearean tragedy. The Chronicle of Higher Ed had a piece about TV as the new novel last year, too. Let’s not forget, though, that the novel is still the novel.

On mentorship. We shouldn’t treat students as roles (like this). We should treat students as people. Advice ain’t mentorship.

What character in popular culture, in the depths of a cancer diagnosis, used extraordinary talents to become rich as a drug kingpin before an ignominious fall? Lance Armstrong, of course. That piece is by Dave Zirin, who writes about the politics of sports. Even if you’re not into sports or politics, he is routinely interesting and raises important issues that a lot of people would otherwise fail to consider.

Having a child? Even if you’re already vaccinated, go get your pertussis vaccine booster.

Nate Silver on how to become a statistician. He says that it’s more important to teach yourself by doing than going to school. That’s true, unless the faculty do it right, in which case the students are still teaching themselves by doing.

A well-researched piece of long form journalism about gender inequity in science came out in the New York Times. There is nothing new in it, but it is probably shocking to people who are unaware of how messed up things are, and that for all of the progress, much work remains. The problem about the inequity experienced by women in STEM isn’t the lack of awareness, but instead the lack of specific resources to fix the problem within a structured agenda. Systemic bias doesn’t get fixed by an awareness campaign.

Feel free to add additional recommended reads in the comments.

Folks who brought these reads to my attention via social media, in no particular order, include @SciOfMotherhood, @pankisseskafka, Anna Dornhaus, @sarahkendzior, @leafwarbler, @KateMfD and @natesandersUTK. These are all interesting people to follow, by the way.

4 thoughts on “Friday Recommended Reads #5

  1. FWIW, I think Alan Townsend’s story may be atypical (one certainly hopes it is). Here at Calgary the discussions of tenure and promotion decisions are frank. If members of the FPC (Faculty Promotions Committee) have concerns about a candidate for promotion or tenure, they voice them, and the concerns get discussed.

    • Jeremy, yes I hope it is rare too, though sadly I know it’s not unique to my experience per feedback from colleagues at several other institutions. In part, it seems to depend both on unit culture and procedure – e.g. for the latter, some places have structures that really don’t allow hiding behind anonymity in poor ways. Which is good.

      • I once saw a similar phenomenon occur, too (quite a few years ago, in a different institution than my current one). The number of secret “no” votes exceeded what one would expect from the discussion preceding the vote. While I have some guesses about who and why it happened, in a very small department a couple ‘no’ votes from people who had not verbally expressed concerns in the discussion (or might even have spoken against a ‘no/ vote) is a problem of cowardice and a major failure as a colleague.

        I’ve avoided saying much about actual tenure reviews and how they happen and so on, because of my own experiences that I’ve yet to share are so far out of the norm that I’m not sure my perspective would be informative or representative.

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