Recommended reads #40


A peer-reviewed paper in a computational biology journal called “Ten simple rules for better figures.”

Lisa Buckley explains “Why I will always give new students scut-work.” Sounds mostly right to me, at least in that experimental system.

Jon Christensen, a historian at UCLA, wants us to abandon the legacy of John Muir. “‘Muir’s a dead end,’ he said. ‘It’s time to bury his legacy and move on’.” Or maybe Christensen wants some press. Which is a more parsimonious explanation?

As species decline, so does research funding, writes Terrie Williams. A powerful and on-point op-ed piece.

The University of British Columbia is opening a big fancy new college. Which is not open to Canadians, and designed primarily for high-spending international students, primarily from China.

In my opinion, a lot of ecology is a mess right now because we lack a clear vocabulary to discuss how processes vary with spatial scale. What does it mean that a phenomenon or a process is “scale-dependent?” You’ll get a different answer depending on who you ask as well as the context. Brody Sandel writes in Ecography in an attempt to clean this mess up, seeking a “taxonomy of spatial scale-depenence.”

Have you heard of The Knowledge? It’s the supremely difficult evaluation required to become a licensed London taxi driver, requiring years of study. If you’re not familiar, then this is a fascinating article about The Knowledge and whether or not it’s required in the era of GPS and uberlyft. If you are familiar with it, the article might be even more fascinating.

As far as I’m concerned, the science policy news of the decade or the century might be that the US and China have agreed to some mighty substantial cuts in carbon emission rates. It’s a helluva a lot better than what any of us have been expecting, and I bow deeply to Barack Obama, John Kerry, and their team for some incredible diplomacy.

“University sued after firing creationist fossil hunter.” Excerpt: “In recent years, a schoolteacher, academic and NASA employee who were creationists have claimed that they were fired unjustly for their religious beliefs. (None were reinstated.) But what makes this case different is that Armitage managed to survive for years in a mainstream academic institution and to publish research in a respected peer-reviewed journal.”

The BBC reports: It’s hard to get an academic job at an elite university in the UK. Duh.

Amanda Graves, a senior at a public high school in New Jersey writes in the Washington Post, “Dear elite colleges, please stop recruiting students like me if you know we won’t get in.

Jon Wilkins asks: “Is EO Wilson senile, narcissistic, or just an asshole?” I imagine that some are now asking the same question about Wilkins. (As for myself, I’m not trying to figure that out about either of them.)

Meanwhile, let’s consider the notion that Wilson floated that invoked the ire of Wilkins. Wilson called Richard Dawkins a “journalist.” Should be we thinking of Dawkins as scientist or a journalist? When I’m asked to assess someone’s science credentials, one of the first places I’ll go are their lab website and google scholar pages. Let’s go look at Dawkins’ page on Google Scholar. Oh, wait, he hasn’t created one. Let’s look at his lab page. Oh, he doesn’t have one that I can tell. I can just find a website for the Richard Dawkins Foundation. But here’s the result of a search for Richard Dawkins in google scholar. You can decide for yourself whether or not he’s more of a journalist than a scientist. Is Dawkins narcissistic? That’s an easier question to answer.

It’s not your kids holding your career back. It’s your husband. This about CEOs and other exec-types, but I think it applies just as well to scientists.

Eighty-nine percent of all fathers took some time off after their baby’s birth, but almost two-thirds of them took one week or less” and a lot more interesting stuff about paternity leaves.

Simon Leather explains that he’s been using social media for work for the last two years, and is still digging on it.

NASA creates a lava lampesque video showing CO2 emissions of the planet over a year.

A wikipedia page that lists the titles of deleted Wikipedia articles with “freaky” titles. Including: “Bring your Pez dispenser to work day,” “Chesterfield Snapdragon McFisticuffs,” “CNBC anchors who have never held even a moderately high position in the financial field,” and “Debated questions regarding the procreation and existence of certain Narnian creatures.” However, the majority appear to have been written by prepubescent boys.

As more academics use twitter, more people are live-tweeting talks from conferences. Is this okay, and if so, under which conditions? Here are a few pieces about the topic: “Let’s have a conversation about life-tweeting academic conferences” and “We need a clear policy on tweeting from academic conferences” and “Live-tweeting at academic conferences.” Tweeting is banned from the Neuroscience meeting. That should cover the bases. (Next time I talk, I encourage it!)

A few years ago, six scientists were convicted of killing civilians by inadequately predicting an earthquake. The good news is that they were just cleared of manslaughter charges by an appeals court. The bad news is, well, that scientists were convicted of manslaughter by failing to predict an earthquake.

If you’re Australian, probably know who Tim Winton is. If not, then it might be a good idea to pick up a book or two of his for a read. For a short taste, here is an account of Winton’s relationship with hospitals.

What does macroecology say about economic diversity?

Here is the entire abstract of a new paper by David Colquhoun:

If you use p=0.05 to suggest that you have made a discovery, you will be wrong at least 30% of the time. If, as is often the case, experiments are underpowered, you will be wrong most of the time. This conclusion is demonstrated from several points of view. First, tree diagrams which show the close analogy with the screening test problem. Similar conclusions are drawn by repeated simulations of t-tests. These mimic what is done in real life, which makes the results more persuasive. The simulation method is used also to evaluate the extent to which effect sizes are over-estimated, especially in underpowered experiments. A script is supplied to allow the reader to do simulations themselves, with numbers appropriate for their own work. It is concluded that if you wish to keep your false discovery rate below 5%, you need to use a three-sigma rule, or to insist on p≤0.001. And never use the word ‘significant’.

There’s been a lot about That Shirt. Here are two good ones: That Shirt and Science isn’t the problem; Scientists are. If anybody still thinks that That Shirt was okay, then I recommend “A guide for science guys trying to understand the fuss about that shirt” as well as “Slurstorm, and the flaws in “Shirtstorm” arguments.”

About that comet. It has organic molecules on it.

How the changes in the media environment alters the perception of public work:

These days, being attacked isn’t just the result of saying something badly, it’s the result of saying anything at all… 

But a funny thing has happened since the rise of professionalism. The tenets it embraced—that some people are more qualified than others, that training and apprenticeship have value, that not everyone can or should (or needs to) gain admission into the club—have become unfashionable. And that is because haterade is not exclusive to the media world. It’s not merely an occupational hazard of being a bigmouth. It affects just about anyone who tries to do anything that is subject to public (which is to say online) discussion. It affects the business owner who’s at the mercy of random, nameless Yelp reviewers who might well be his competitors in disguise. It affects the physician for whom the few patients who post reviews on medical-ratings sites are inevitably the disgruntled ones. It affects the educator who can’t give a poor grade without risking retribution via the websites Rate My Teachers or Rate My Professors. It takes the very essence of what it means to be a professional—training, experience, sheer chops—and reduces it to a stage act to be evaluated with an applause-o-meter.

You might have seen this make the rounds, and it’s a good one. The makers of Barbie wrote a really sexist book, showing how Barbie needs boys to code for her. And Casey Fiesler, a computer science PhD student, went ahead and fixed the book for all of us.


For links, thanks to those shared by Kate Bowles, Kate Clancy, Susan Letcher, Amy Parachnowitsch, Timotheé Poisot, Nate Sanders, John Thomlinson, Ed Yong, and Carly Ziter.

2 thoughts on “Recommended reads #40

  1. On a train journey a couple of years ago I overheard a group of what sounded like social science or humanities students discussing Richard Dawkins. One of them confidently stated that “Dawkins is well respected as a scientist by other biologists”. I had to interject and say that this was not the case, and explained why. They were very surprised, and I suspect that most of the British public would likewise not be aware that Dawkins has not published any original, peer-reviewed science for many years, was not entered into the national Research Assessment Exercise by the University of Oxford, and has rather a low rate of citation given his age and profile.

    Is he a journalist? I think of him more as a writer. Is he a scientist? Not any more: remember, his title at Oxford was Professor for Public Understanding of Science. And on occasion he’s made a hash of the “understanding” bit, in my opinion – see:

  2. Re: the Wilson interview, meh. Yeah, Wilkins’ tone is over the top. But you don’t have to be a big Richard Dawkins fan (and I’m not, The Selfish Gene and The Extended Phenotype aside) to see that interview as Wilson just being a famous guy and indulging in sniping at other famous guys. Wilson’s attempt to declare victory and go home on kin selection was pretty laughable.

    Re: the US-China C emissions agreement, I wish I felt more confident it would actually be implemented, but I don’t know nearly enough to judge. Here’s a bit of skepticism:

    Re: macroecology and economics diversity, presumably both of them are just discovering statistical patterns that are common because they can be produced by many different underlying mechanisms. See here for a bit of discussion in a different context:

    Thanks for the link to the Sandel paper, on a quick skim it looks very good. I particularly like the pushback against the badly mistaken idea that biotic interactions only matter at small scales. But I would say that. :-)

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