Recommended reads #57


If this piece of writing doesn’t move you, then you must be a very very heavy object: Oliver Sacks, the periodic table, and mortality.

Museum dioramas are inspirational, if not educational. And “endangered as the animals they contain.”

Beatrix Potter was a mycologist.

You really can be an academic parent and “have it all,” so long as that notion of all is realistic. This is a moving and inspirational post from Tenure, She Wrote.

And for men to have it all, let’s realize that all includes being a responsible parent? Dads need to bring more of home to work.

Isn’t it amazing that Netflix is giving its employees unlimited parental leave? Well, no. That “unlimited” leave reflects a unhealthy work-obsessed environment that is not good for families. It would be truly healthy if they actually gave employees a year or six months or some specific time, rather than “as much as you think you need” which is not so good. Here’s an insightful take from the inside.

And what’s the more hideous thing about the Netflix policy? Only their fancy-dandy white collar workers get parental leave. What about the regular working stiffs in the warehouses? Fuck them, said Netflix.

What really is a food web, anyway? You talk to different people and they have fundamentally different notions about what one is. (And you talk to K-12 teachers, who often have food webs featured heavily in the curriculum, you get something even different!) Here’s a review about the evolution of the idea of food web in ecology.

The Ecological Society of America announced that it is moving its publications over to the mega-publisher Wiley. This doesn’t seem to sit well with some advocates of “open science” – this post by Russ Mounce seems to provide a full summary of the misgivings.

I don’t have those misgivings. I think the shift to Wiley will strengthen society finances, and keep things sustainable as the publishing industry evolves. I agree that it would be a very good thing for all scientific papers to be instantly available to everybody as soon as they were published, and that it is a bad thing that anybody hits a paywall whenever they want to access a paper. Ecology and its sibling journals (aside from Ecosphere) have always had a paywall, of course, and this paywall has actually been growing in size as subscriptions to the journal have been sliding. [Correction – all ESA journals have been, and remain, “green open access,” meaning that you can’t get them for free from the journal but authors can self-archive them. Which means you can get them for free from the author or from a site like google scholar which will find self-archived articles. This is ESA’s current deal with Wiley. So really, nothing has changed.] This switch to Wiley isn’t removing that paywall, but will allow libraries that have agreed to the evil Wiley bundle to be able to include ESA journals. So it’s anticipated that more people will be able to get Ecology than if the switch did not happen.  So why didn’t ESA just go open access instead of shift over to Wiley? That’s a remarkably naive question that doesn’t take into account the financial aspects of publishing and marketing a journal, and the razor-thin financial margins on which academic societies usually operate. I don’t think anybody can predict what the publishing landscape will look like ten years from now, and thought the big publishers like Wiley, Springer and Elsevier are going through what the music industry went through ten years ago, where things will evolve is hard to see. But going open-access would greatly increase author costs, and considering how many students and postdocs publish in ESA journals, it’s not financially reasonable to ask them to assume those publication costs (which frankly are more than the price tag associated with PeerJ). As things sort themselves out, I think ESA is doing well and ride the financial wave of the big publishers for a while, who actually don’t make a profit off of society journals anyway. If there is any real crime here, it’s not failing to go open access, which currently is not financially viable. It’s using the name of ESA to sustain the legitimacy of an endangered corporate financial predator.

Yes! Putting the Ph back in PhD

Here is an interesting short explainer about how the contemporary way we eat meat was driven by the US military.

A recently-finished undergrad has tips for new ones.

I just finished Steve Martin’s Born Standing Up. (It’s funny, I was just about to buy it at the Festival of Books, but on an uncommon whim I decided against it. Then after moving away from the booth, saw it was in the stack of books my spouse bought. So it was meant to be.) Martin wrote a memoir about how he became famous as a stand-up comic, in an era when comedy clubs didn’t really exist. His insights about how he built his career, and how he took more than a decade to hone his craft, can be really informative to scientists. The way that you become popular as a comic isn’t that different than how you become popular as a scientist. Seven years ago, Mike Kaspari read the book right after it came  out and wrote a post about it. It’s no coincidence that the quotes that he pulled out convergently tugged at me.

The liberal arts degree has become tech’s hottest ticket, allegedly.

Some points for students about technology in the classroom. Here are some non-tech-phobic thoughts about how students might consider how they use technology in the classroom to help themselves learn, or do do well in class (which is not the same thing of course).

To the [UW] Eau Claires of the world, I say, keep fighting. No disrespect to Madison, or Boston, or New York City, but sometimes things look different from here. It would be nice to see that acknowledged before terrible decisions were made.”

White dreadlocks as cultural appropriation.

How do we build a diverse scientific community? Here’s a place to start:

Latino women and Black men had the highest levels of discouragement— half in the sample for both groups.

And who were the worst offenders?

Their college professors!  Almost half of those pointed to their college professors as the chief source their discouragement, and 60 percent reported they experienced dissuasion in college. African-American women were dissuaded the most by their professors — an alarming 65 percent.

Essay questions written by a first-year instructor who does not have the time or wherewithal to do the required reading.

George Washington University — (I’m sorry, it’s actually The George Washington University) — is no longer requiring standardized test scores for applicants. Before you think it’s about increasing diversity, evening the playing field, and just generalized sanity, keep in mind that the more parsimonious explanation is that they’re just gaming the university rankings, by attracting more applications and increasing their rejection rate.

A very high quality and easy-to-follow explainer about the fact of evolution from the BBC. Good for teaching non-majors, or alienating your creationist family members on Facebook.

The story about a renegade fishing vessel chased around the whole world by people committed to bringing them to justice, and to stop the illegal exploitation of the world’s fisheries. My gosh this was a good story and also a great lesson about the loosey goosey state of things once you leave the land.

Here is a great well-animated 4-minute explainer video about El Niño. Which actually is not as simple as people realize

There was yet another op-ed in the New York Times that sought to mock the idea of a university, or something like that I guess. Forget the original, but this response is worthwhile.

Reddit gonna reddit: “I fabricated some data for a term paper. My professor wants to publish it with me. What do I do?” Just in case that thread gets deleted or certain things get removed, here’s the web archive of as of Thursday morning.

On being the only one in the room.

This is the best thing I’ve ever read about the danger of DWB, by Tressie Cottom.

Why IFLScience is anti-science

In a public relations coup, the meth lab explosion at the NIST has actually not been in the news! This is the only update I could find, which is intriguing.

Why we work so much. Accompanied with interesting data.

Wait, so General Chemistry doesn’t help you do more advanced chemistry?

People who work with arthropods in biodiversity and community ecology projects often fail to store vouchers. The crustacean people are particularly bad about it. This is problematic. (And yeah, I think I’m part of this problem.)

No victor believes in chance.

Why being a straight A student isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Suicide on campus and the pressure of perfection.

Most climate models have most of southern Florida underwater in a hundred years. Yet the people in Miami are acting like this isn’t even happening. It’s totally bizarre. And it’s particularly problematic because the whole city is on porous limestone, so levies and similar machinations won’t do the trick. Here’s a story from The Guardian about the state of denial in Miami, which already is experiencing major problems from the tides.

Classroom observations are only really useful if the observers are capable and appropriate for evaluating. Considering that almost no college faculty are trained in pedagogy, who is qualified to evaluate teaching at the university level?

Just in case you somehow haven’t yet seen the Key & Peele Teaching Center video:

And not least by any means, is Ta-Nehisi Coates’ new book, Between the World and MeI’m halfway through it now, and I’m finding it revelatory.

Have a great weekend.

4 thoughts on “Recommended reads #57

  1. Terry, you wrote, “Ecology and its sibling journals (aside from Ecosphere) have always had a paywall,” Reports in Ecology have been open access for a decade.

  2. Always look forward to your posts.

    I was wondering if the Key & Peele link to the video might be missing. After the colon another comment appears but no link.

    A few times you mention evolution and I ran across a reference in Dan Simmons Hyperion Cantos to Stanley Salthe and his research on hierarchical systems. I was curious to know how much experience you have with such, how much Salthe has influenced biology and evolutionary thought. I bought one of his books, used, on Amazon to explore.


  3. Particularly good link list. Have several queued to read. The meat article was particularly interesting. Looking forward to reading the classroom observation article. My dept heavily uses them (in addition to student evals). I’ve found d them useful but that may largely be because my dept has several Science Ed faculty and I usually ask them to be one of my observers.

  4. I should say that ‘peer’ classroom observations in my dept are primarily developmental and/or to distinguish between bad/poor teaching and better than bad/poor teaching.

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