Recommended reads #61


Do you know who discovered that VW was cheating on its emissions? Researchers at West Virginia University, who were working on a $50K grant. In addition to the previous link from the Atlantic, here’s the shorter NPR story.

This Goes All the Way to the Queen‘: The Puzzle Book that Drove England to Madness

Does your field station have a guide for responding to sexual harassment and sexual violence? Here’s one from Kathleen Treseder that will be in use with UC Irvine facilities. And UC Irvine has an Equity in Fieldwork initiative.

Now we have video footage of the squirrel that officially (?) has the world’s fluffiest tail. And rumor has it that it is a predator of deer. In all seriousness.

Ta-Nehisi Coates was picked for an extraordinarily well-deserved MacArthur Fellowship. Here is a hilarious interview with him about how he is a certified “genius.”

Lower test scores for students who use computers often in school, 31-country study finds.

Gangolf Jobb wrote Treefinder, software that you use to build evolutionary trees using data from genetic sequencing. Americans are forbidden from using his software because of imperalism. And most western and northern European nations are forbidden because of their immigration policies. In addition to the software manual, the Treefinder site has some primo xenophobic ranting that can’t found on any other phylogenetic software website, at least not that I’m aware of. Yikes.

Jerry Coyne, evolutionary biologist, atheist activist, and blogger, officially announced his promotion to Professor Emeritus. He reflects at length on his career, the state of science today, and his plans for retirement. One tidbit in there that raised my eyebrows is that he was able to renew his grant from the NIH for thirty years of consecutive funding. Another other thing that piqued my interest is that over the course of those thirty years of funding, he had four graduate students. His two big pieces of advice for junior scientists? Work hard, and don’t engage in “gratuitous co-authorship” on the papers produced by members of your lab. I guess with his extensive record of mentoring so many students over the length of his career, he’s earned the right to give that advice.

On an entirely unrelated note, check out this very brief youtube that shows the change in the age structure of NIH grantees between 1980 and 2010:


Nine Ways to Improve Class Discussions

It sounds insane that the US and China might go to war. But in the history of civiliations, a shift of power as big as this one has almost always been associated with war. Are conditions any different now or are we destined to fall into “Thucydides’s Trap?” This is a really interesting read.

The grass may look greener: a post by David Baltrus about being a microbiologist in a research institution that doesn’t have a microbiology program to house the many microbiologists at the university. He’s dealing with intellectual isolation issues that those of us in teaching-focused institutions deal with, and it has good insights. (My university just hired a microbiologist. So now, we have one microbiologist in the whole university. I bet she can relate to this.) My experience has been that if a colleague is in a different building, or a different floor of the same building, they might as well be across town or on a different continent.

What one college discovered when it stopped accepting SAT/ACT scores

Four behaviors I had to overcome to move forward in my career. Robert Talbert explains that his teaching went through a progression of phases, each improving his teaching. The post in which he explains these professional transitions is pure gold. I think a lot of the ideas in there crystallize the central message about respect for students that underpins the ideas about teaching on this site:

  1. Moving from unprofessionalism to being a professional.
  2. Moving from the reflex of assigning blame to the process of solving problems.
  3. Moving from having it be about me and my personality, to having it be about students’ lives.
  4. Moving from thinking of students as objects to students as human beings.

Math with Bad Drawings: What does probability mean in your profession?

The “doomsday” seed vault in Svalbard has been opened for use, because of the crisis in Syria.

The Power of Grace Jones

Amid budget fight, Illinois State Museum prepares to close. This is tragically shortsighted.

The shockingly racist campus salute for USC’s student body president

Don’t tell me what’s best for my students,” finally a take about trigger warnings with adequate nuance that seems to pretty much reflect what I think, for what it’s worth.

I was chatting with some people the other day who hadn’t heard of the term “microaggressions.” If you have been inclined to dismiss this term, or the ideas associated with it, this explainer might just change your mind, I hope.

“Remembering the Vela Incident” – did you know about the nuclear test in the south Indian ocean, from a joint Israel-South Africa venture — or was it something else? An interesting mystery that persists.

Three universal New Yorker cartoon captions that work with every New Yorker cartoon.

Philip Morris knew that smoking caused cancer and COPD back in the 1950s. And Exxon precisely knew how their product was causing climate change long, long before Al Gore started to write Earth in the Balance and before anybody else was talking about climate change.

If you can handle the p-word, this is a really informative interpretation of the extreme wealth that pervades the administration of elite universities and what that means for us and our students.

Why I don’t recommend the Pomodoro technique” Endorsed.

How to Dress in Academia and Not Feel Like You’re Dead Inside.

How can p = 0.05 lead to wrong conclusions 30% of the time with a 5% Type 1 error rate? – this is a rebuttal to a paper that I linked to in recent months. Good stuff.

This Trump situation is depressing. Or is it? “Donald Trump Is Saving Our Democracy

Choosing the Best Approach for Small Group Work

If I had to identify the best blog about academia, I wouldn’t pause before saying it is Tenure, She Wrote. The recent story about Title IX, which I would classify as a must-read if I thought it’s my business to actually tell you what to read, is just one of the many amazing things that come from the folks who run that shop.

If you’re an ecologist who hasn’t been pointed to the blog of Manu Sanders, I’m rectifying that situation. Here’s a recent post about art history, in a series about the importance of humanities in science.

The Heartbreak of Watching Richard Dawkins Implode

Putting kids into college: Here’s a story about a family that hired a college admissions advisor.


4 thoughts on “Recommended reads #61

  1. Thanks for the link to the piece on Masquerade. I remember getting that book out of the library when I was a kid and finding it fascinating, though of course I didn’t have any idea how to solve it.

    If you haven’t seen it, you should check out The Westing Game. Newberry medal winner back in 1979 if memory serves. One of my favorite books. It’s about a bunch of heirs to a fortune, but the will is a puzzle they have to solve. The book is structured so as to let the reader try to figure it out along with the characters. It’s a terrific book. The characters are great and they grow throughout the story. It’s not like a Dan Brown book or something where the puzzle-based plot is grafted onto cardboard characters and lousy writing.

  2. Hi Terry. I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who hiccuped over Jerry Coyne’s piece. Easy to say don’t take any credit for your own hard work (mentoring, editing, writing grant proposals, and even collecting parts of the data) when sitting in a position of supreme privilege, I guess. And, 4 grad students??? Where did all that grant money go to? Why not into training?

  3. The Westing Game! That’s probably the most likely gift a kid is going to get from my family. Highly recommended read!!

  4. Terry, I really appreciate your rejection of hero worship in science, here with respect to Dawkins and Coyne. People can do great things for science and still miss the boat in other areas, or in fact turn out to be reprehensible. Or their science can start floundering and everyone looks the other way…

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