Recommended reads #46


What happens when you get paid 18 grand from NASA to stay in bed for two and a half months?

Ever wonder what it’s like to remove your own appendix?

How should we be selecting our grad students? This study indicates that we shouldn’t be looking at stuff like general GRE scores, GPA, and the fanciness of the undergraduate institution. Well, duh. But it’s nice to have numbers to point to your graduate committee when you go to bat for a great student that they don’t want to pick.

Undergraduate tokenism at its finest, from the good people of Nature.

From Black Geoscientists (tagline: Geology isn’t just for crazy white people!), “What’s with all the blackity-black blackness all the time?!

Building insect manipulators for working with museum collections, made of LEGOs.

A guide to Bayesian model selection for ecologists. “Our aim with this guide is to condense the large body of literature on Bayesian approaches to model selection and multimodel inference and present it specifically for quantitative ecologists as neutrally as possible.” Another interesting this about this paper is that it has just two authors, but six institutional affiliations. Huh?

The story of the non-tenure-track faculty member did some great research, and leaves people stunned because adjuncts aren’t supposed to do stuff like that.

Here is a very short and very forcefully on-point argument about why academics need to spend time engaging the public to shape policy.

This obituary for Colleen McCullough, neurophysiologist and author, tells a fascinating life story.

Here is a blog about people in R1 universities who are teaching at teaching-centered institutions to learn how to teach better.  It’s been around for six months, but I just caught wind of it. It’s really mighty awesome stuff. Here’s hoping for more of the same for good long while, and lots of great work coming from that end.

Here is a short article in Scientific American that explains the details of the absolutely horrific, and totally avoidable, disaster of the Nicaraguan Canal that is in progress. The article doesn’t mention how this is a Chinese canal, and how this is one piece of a big overall strategy of the Chinese government to become the primary economic force in Central America. I’m not saying the Monroe Doctrine is a good thing, but it’s interesting that people don’t seem to be noticing that it’s no longer in operation.

Can a tenured professor lose his job because of what he says on his blog? Apparently, yes. I’m not shedding any tears for him, though I am concerned about the effects of his actions on others. Something that hasn’t cropped up in this conversation, as far as I am aware, is the fact that he was tenured at a private religious institution, in which there is little to no transparency about retention and tenure policies. If he was unionized, I wonder if he’d be able to keep his job despite his horrible behavior. The mechanism that allowed the university to strip his tenure could also allow the university to do the same thing to a professor who did precisely the right thing but pissed off the wrong person. That he lost his job? Not a bad thing. The specific policy that allowed it? Hmmm.

this is what p-hacking looks like. (Beware: Don’t click through unless you are equipped to travel paragraph after paragraph through a desert bereft of capitalization.)

In defense of the p-value. This comes to you from Scientist Sees Squirrel, Stephen Heard’s new blog which has lots of good insights on perennial topics, brings up new important ones, and is really interesting and entertaining and deserves a big start.

In the last 15 years, ecologists have shifted from simple ANOVA models with a couple independent variables to models with 5-8 terms. Is this messed up, is it helping us discover new things? What should you be doing? A very interesting read, and, as always at Dynamic Ecology, don’t forget overlook the comments.

Swirl. “swirl teaches you R programming and data science interactively, at your own pace, and right in the R console!” I haven’t used it, it just looks interesting and user-friendly. Just passing word along. And like everything related to R, it’s free and open, of course.

If you’re interviewing for jobs, have you ever wondered or worried whether the order of interviews reflects initial rankings or final outcomes? Well, it probably doesn’t.

Last month, the groundbreaking Leopold Leadership Foundation picked 20 researchers as 2015 Leopold Leadership Fellows. Congratulations to them! I have no doubt that all of the Fellows are deserving of the honor and opportunity. I mentioned in November that they had a history of failing to include scientists from teaching-centered institutions. This year, the pattern remains, as just one new Fellow comes from a teaching-centered institution. (I didn’t apply, so I don’t have sour grapes about this.) I don’t know if they are failing to recruit applications from excellent environmental researchers at teaching-centered institutions, or if they are actively choosing against them. I do hope they make an effort next time around. It’s hard to lead from a position of exclusivity.

Important and Valid Point: Vilifying Parents Who Don’t Vaccinate Their Kids Is Counterproductive

Counterpoint: The Anti-Vaccine Movement Should Be Ridiculed, Because Shame Works, with a dissection of the difference between guilt and shame.

A grimly hilarious illustration: I’m an Anti-Braker

A study in Harvard used GoPros to track actual lecture attendance in nine different courses, and finds that students skip class a lot. Here’s a presentation with the data.

Scientists need more non-scientist friends. This, so much.

Claussen pickles are crazy good. I attempted this facsimile, which comes close enough for me. Who would have thought they have fennel, cinnamon and allspice among everything else in there?

for links, thanks to Darren Boehning, Amelia Chapman, David Clark, Meg Duffy, Tugrul Giray, Karen Lips, Loreall Pooler, Neil Tsutsui.

7 thoughts on “Recommended reads #46

  1. Thanks for sharing the article on p values.

  2. Just had a look at that UCSF study of predictors of success in grad school. I worry that people are making inferences from it that aren’t warranted.

    First of all, don’t you want to know how much the grad students in question varied in the attributes being used to predict their success? If some of them have several years of prior research experience and some have none, but they all have reasonably high GREs and GPAs, well then of course the former, but not the latter, is going to do a better job of predicting grad school success.

    Second of all, in selective grad programs the whole reason admission committees look at GREs, GPAs, research experience, etc. is to decide who to admit. Predictor variables that do a good job of discriminating between who to admit and who not to admit won’t necessarily (and shouldn’t be expected to) do a great job of discriminating among the admitted students.

    This is like complaining about how NSF panel rankings of funded grants aren’t good predictors of which funded grants go on to produce the most highly-cited research. That’s not the panel’s purpose; the purpose is to decide what research to fund.

    The fact that it’s difficult to make fine distinctions among any set of individuals or entities using criteria X and Y does not show that criteria X and Y are inadequate for making coarse distinctions.

  3. Did someone really say this, “…There are people who try to work nontenure jobs, of course, but usually they’re nuts and have very dysfunctional personalities and lives, and are unpleasant to deal with, because they feel disrespected…”?

  4. I’ll leave it to the gentle readers to decide for themselves whether Deane Yang himself must have a dysfunctional personality to be able to say something like that.

  5. Every week, I’m surprised by the top-clicked links. The one from Nature that simultaneously praises and minimizes undergraduate researchers is the top, followed by the New Yorker article that simultaneously praises and minimizes the accomplishments of an non-tenure-track mathematician.

  6. I don’t think you have to be dysfunctional to say something like that… you just have to be or feel entitled.

    And I clicked through on the Nature article because you mentioned “tokenism”, and I was curious what you meant by it…

  7. The wikipedia definition of token is, “the policy and practice of making a perfunctory gesture towards the inclusion of members of minority groups.”

    I think that’s a very apt description of this article about undergrad researchers. The whole tone of the piece, describing how to do real research with undergraduates, has the tone you might find in a housekeeping magazine about how to housebreak a puppy. It starts with the presumption that undergraduate research is an uncommon practice that can surprise you by being worthwhile.

    In my view, it’s a pretty hard slap in the face to all of the PIs who read Nature who train undergrads as their bread and butter and get serious research done that way every day.

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