Recommended reads #37


Yep. It was like a religious conversion. And suddenly, I was no longer panicking about statistics. I, in fact, started to love statistics. I stopped seeing stats at the thing that was going to objectively tell me if I was sciencing good enough and producing significant results and started to see stats as a set of tools to help me understand patterns in my data.

  • NSF changed up its postdoc fellowships in biology. If you are doing collections-based work or are into the National Plant Genome Initiative, you’re in luck. And, they’re still receiving applications from postdocs who are members of groups underrepresented in the science. Thanks to NSF for keeping these up and for picking (what seems to be) good priorities when Congress gives you such little to work with. If any postdocs or would-be postdocs in that last category are looking to get some experience working in a teaching institution, please contact me I’d be glad to see if I could identify a good postdoc mentor and host institution, depending on the kind of project you have in mind. I’ve seen some evidence that NSF is taking postdoc applications to work in undergradate-focused institutions really seriously, as they have a good handle on the job market and the importance of undergraduate research.

McArthur noticed that Blau and Fladry had used her course to teach 175 students in seven sections. “All they did was delete my name and email address and fill in the blanks with their own personal information,” she said.

To McArthur, this was appalling. She felt that Blau and Fladry had passed off the personal stories that peppered her lectures as their own. There was the trip she took to the Tate Gallery in London in 1992, when she was a senior in college, which prompted her to change her mind about becoming an art historian instead of a lawyer. There was the trip to Rome where she saw Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s “The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa.” (She told students in her written lecture that she had gotten a nasty virus and had to be hospitalized.)

  • The site Easter Eggs in Scientific Papers is a celebration of the odd things that make it into manuscripts. Stuff like shooting a crossbow into beer cups filled with gelatin, snarky acknowledgments, song lyrics in paper titles, schematics of the hydraulics of penguin pooping, and more.
  • Here is a handy-dandy guide to debunking myths about tenure in Higher Education, from the National Education Association. It’s entitled “The Truth about Tenure” but though the title suggests that it’s preaching to the converted, it’s well reasoned, not dogmatic, factual, and can explain things to people who aren’t familiar with how this whole professor gig works. It does obviously has a bias, with which most of the people reading this will share, but it’s a transparent one that doesn’t obfuscate the matter.
  • If you haven’t read Daniel Pinkwater books, I heartily recommend them, maybe starting with The Hoboken Chicken Emergency, The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death, or Lizard Music, or maybe sets of his short essays that David Sedaris might have used to model his own after, like in Fish Whistle or Chicago Days / Hoboken Nights. But if you’re not going to read those, then check out this short piece called “How Daniel Pinkwater became my own personal guru.” It’s crazy entertaining and might make you want to read more Pinkwater. If you’re more of an audio guy, you could browse through and listen to some of the bits by Pinkwater for NPR that he’s done over the years.
  • I’ve long appreciated Meghan Daum’s column in the LA Times. This latest one, about how feminism has been in the headlines recently, is worthwhile. I think the title isn’t representative of the piece, by the way, and it had a totally different headline when it ran in print.
  • Did you hear about how Amtrak was supporting Writers Residency fellowships, by giving out free long rides on the train? They’ve picked their 24 residents. It’s worth a click-through if only because the accompanying photos hilariously conform to the genre of dust jacket author photos. You got the sideways-folded-arms, the sitting-at-a-microphone, the brooding-and-backlit, the international locale, the slightly-fuzzy-and-black-and-white, and the brightly-lit-white-office-with-bookshelf-of-brightly-colored books. No scientists, though. I don’t know if any applied.

I have been trying to water the grass, but this grass needs a lot of water. It needs a whole fucking irrigation system, and the people who have the resources to build that system are exactly the ones diverting the water.

  • David Barash published a rambunctious op-ed in the New York Times, about how he gets in his students’ business with religion and evolution. His point, with which I am sympathetic, is that most attempts at reconciling religion and the facts of evolution are failures. While it might be possible for religion and science to coexist distinctly from one another, most ways in which Christian belief systems try to accommodate scientific discoveries are not logically consistent. I can’t say I disagree on that matter, but I doubt that giving his students a preachy talk (which he calls “The Talk”) about it will improve science education or enlighten more people than will be disenchanted and disenlightened. Don’t professors need to allow for the personal growth of students, and give them the space to come to their own understanding of the nature of our existence? And telling them what to think is probably the least effective way of actually convincing them to think it. I don’t know if Dr. Barash has heard of inquiry-based teaching, and that students are more likely to learn and understand something if they discover it for themselves. If he sorts that out, maybe he should lay off on The Talk and search for new ways for students to understand the nature of our existence for themselves. Our job is to do more than teach science, to be sure. But not to preach science or anything else for that matter. If only because it’s not effective in a classroom.

We’ve all been outraged by the nit-picky, irrelevant, or downright wrong-headed criticisms that show up in proposal reviews. How could they have rejected the proposal because they didn’t like the number of replicates? Or the details of the statistical model? Or because you didn’t cite the right references? Or even worse, because they didn’t read closely enough to see that you had cited those references? The answer may be that they didn’t reject your proposal for those stupid reasons. They rejected it because they just weren’t that into it.

For links, thanks to Chris Buddle, Kate Clancy, Nash Turley, Alex Wild.

For your mild curiosity (and to invite comments if you are so inclined), here are some my thoughts about how I attribute authors and how I may come upon these links. This might seem obvious, but I don’t think that it’s necessary to mention the author of the pieces that I am linking to, because the authorship should be evident. I do sometimes mention authors by name (in this case, I mentioned Michael Balter, David Barash, Kate Clancy, Meghan Daum, Jason Goldman, Daniel Pinkwater, and Melissa Wilson-Sayres). I haven’t a specific set of guidelines or a philosophy. I think I’m less likely to mention the names of journalists writing news pieces for traditional outlets (like pieces in the Chronicle of Higher Education and the New Yorker. And am less likely to mention authors of pieces that look like they’re making the big rounds through social media (like the McSweeney’s bit about unvaccinated kids). It looks like I’m more apt to include opinion pieces and people writing on their own blogs. I usually don’t know the authors. As for how I find things, I haphazardly note when bookmarking a link (I use pinboard, thanks to a tip from my departmentmate HK Choi) from whom I saw the link, but I’m admittedly not great about it. If it’s a particularly obscure link and I don’t think I would have ever bumped into it otherwise, I try to mention the source, but I don’t get too obsessive with the hat tip (ht). I list the hat tips at the end of the post just to keep the flow of the text (…as I write a long and blathering paragraph with too many parentheticals that has no flow whatsoever). If you’d appreciate a change in practices, please let me know. Nobody has mentioned to me that they’ve been cheesed off about being inappropriately or inadequately acknowledged, but this is something that I thought I’d just clarify for the 1.3% of you that might notice or care.