Recommended reads #34


By analyzing more than 18 000 articles published by the preeminent ecological societies, we found that (1) ecological research is becoming increasingly statistically complex, reporting a growing number of P values per article and (2) the value of reported coefficient of determination (R2) has been falling steadily, suggesting a decrease in the marginal explanatory power of ecology.

It was covered by Science, though I am more partial to the thoughts offered by EEB & Flow. I think the steady rise in p-values is no surprise by any means, but the shrinking r2, and the high r2 of that relationship itself, is particularly curious.

The perverse incentives that make academic life hard for women (and for many men too) are administered by HR departments (with the collusion of mostly elderly male academics). They are the very same people who write fine-sounding diversity documents and lecture you about work-life balance.


It’s time they woke up.

Regular field work takes you to the periphery of your study system. It is normal to focus on one or a few organisms, hypotheses, and/or systems. Scientists need a substantial level of focus to be successful. But what are the things that are happening around the edges of the system? What other organisms or environmental factors affect my study system? What is my organism doing during times of the season when I may not be normally collecting? These sorts of questions can only be answered by scouting around the edges of your system. And scouting the edges can only be done by taking the time to observe the natural context of your organism in the field.

  • You might have heard about Steven Salaita, would-be professor of English at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign who had a job offers rescinded after having said some provocative (albeit mostly reasonable) things about Israel on twitter. One piece about this is “Could I have been Steven Salaita? Could you?” This piece short enough to allow you to sound informed but not long enough to get bogged down in the politics of this ugly situation.

  • This is a wonderful story about Robert MacArthur from the alumni magazine of his alma mater, Marlboro College. If you’re not familiar with Marlboro, it’s a very, very tiny unconventional school with lots of self-directed work and very close relationships among students and faculty. (hat tip to Jay Lennon)

  • This is a charming, albeit twee, “shadow syllabus” of all the things that professors may think but not tell their students.

  • How using twitter changes the experience of a scientific meeting, for the better.

  • The perennially spectacular Female Science Professor explains what a good external letter for a tenure package looks like. And what a not-so-good letter looks like. (Meanwhile, my university actually forbids the use of external letters.)

Super Pato shows advantages of whole-organism sampling. Another demonstration how museums are amazing.

  • The Chronicle of Higher Education has singled out some disciplines in which they are attempting to systematically keep track of who gets tenure-track jobs to learn about predictors of success. The fields they picked are: ecology, anthropology, communications, economics, English literature, history, math, musicology, philosophy, psychology, and religious studies. I wish them luck, and I am sure many people would be interested in the data at the end of the hiring season.
  • The Organization for Tropical Studies has recorded oral histories of some key figures that played a role in the establishment and growth of OTS. Unfortunately, these histories primarily feature the people who have gone on to become very prominent researchers, and many others who were critical in the early days of OTS have yet to appear in this set of videos.

  • “Politeness buys you time. It leaves doors open. I’ve met so many people whom, if I had trusted my first impressions, I would never have wanted to meet again. And yet — many of them are now great friends.”

And this: