Recommended reads #63


The New York Times published a stunning piece about what is happening to the Greenland ice sheet. It’s an extraordinary piece of journalism and a really important read. Especially if you live somewhere that’s not too far above sea level.

How to Not Drop Out of Grad School. Like everything else I’ve read in Mary Anning’s Revenge, this is great. It’s about how to take care of yourself, and be a happy and balanced person. Working long hours consistently doesn’t make you more productive.

The Odds That a Panel Would ‘Randomly’ Be All Men Are Astronomical

The Frontiers series of journals is now on Beall’s list as a possible predatory series of journals. Here’s a long take on the how/why/what of this move. Beall’s List of predatory publishers — created and run by a rogue librarian — is a useful service for academia, but I am reluctant to even mention, much less endorse, the List because it’s clear that Beall really doesn’t understand the distinction between predatory publishing and open access publishing. Or, if he does understand the distinction, he is deliberately conflating the two because of his social and political views on the value of the for-profit scientific publishing industry. It’s a hot mess and I hope that someone — Retraction Watch maybe? — can step in to keep tabs on predatory publishers instead of leaving these judgments to a source as specious as Beall.

Tools for Change in STEM identifies the two biggest things that need fixing to increase the representation of women.

Daylight Savings is a dumb idea, I say. Why do we still have it? One reason is that Big Candy sells more candy at Halloween.

The new head of the University of North Carolina system is bad, bad news for higher education: “For those of us who think that universities exist for academic purposes — to teach academic knowledge and skills, to pass on academic virtues, and to sustain academic research — the stakes could not be higher.”

Empirically Testing a Three-Step Intervention to Increase Faculty Gender Diversity in STEM. If your department is hiring and you don’t have the gender ratio you should have, then this looks like a very useful guide to make the change we need. Seriously. If you’re on a search committee, print this out and give it to everybody else. Why? “Searches in the intervention were 6.3 times more likely to make an offer to a woman candidate, and women who were made an offer were 5.8 times more likely to accept the offer from an intervention search.”

A nice explainer why we need diversity in science published in The Hill. So some congressional staffers are now more enlightened. (By the way, why it is that they are “staffers” and not “staff?”) Also, the ideas in here are good for boilerplate for your broader effects section. But if you’re like 89% of people, then your broader impacts aren’t targeting underrepresented groups.

The so-called Freshman 15 might be because of bad sleep patterns.

Many reviewers reject papers for pseudoreplication, and this occurs more often if they haven’t experienced the issue themselves. The concept of pseudoreplication is being applied too dogmatically and often leads to rejection during review.” Really? I’m not inclined to buy this idea. (First of all, reviewers don’t reject papers, editors do! It might sound like a mere semantic difference but does show a lack of appreciation for how the editorial process works, which is the focus of the article.) How often do papers get seriously dinged because the experimental system isn’t amenable to highly replicated units? In my experience — as reviewer, editor, and author — reviewers are understanding of the notion that some kinds of systems can’t be perfectly replicated, because they are taking place in someone else’s plantations or in streams, or habitat fragments that are scarce or difficult to access. Really, this is keeping good science from getting published? Hmmm.

“’You can’t infer process from pattern’ is just one of those things people like to say because they think it makes them sound rigorous and clever. It’s a slogan. Politicians like to bandy these about, and sometimes, we scientists do too. Real rigour and cleverness don’t lie in slogans; they lie in careful thought that recognizes the complexity of nature.”

Six myths about a teaching persona. This is a really good list if you’re wondering what kind of persona that you should be adopting with your students.

Do you know anybody who complains that the approach to math in common core is dumb? Here’s a straightforward explainer why the “new math” in Common Core is way better, and how Americans have been learning math as kids makes no sense and deprives the chance to develop number sense. (If you’re not familiar with Common Core, it’s a new set of standards for K-12 education in the United States, that emphasizes problem-solving and integrative thinking, and definitely an improvement over what we’ve been doing. It’s not a panacea but it does provide teachers more latitude to teach effectively as these are less prescriptive standards and emphasize critical thinking and problem-solving. You might hear trash talk about Common Core standards, but rarely from those who are in charge of teaching it. Implementation varies, of course.)

George Saunders on his development as a writer. (And if you haven’t read anything else by Saunders, it’s amazing stuff, put it on your list. I’d say start with The Braindead Megaphone. And Saunders’s commencement speech is up there with David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech.)

Monkeys compensate for small gonads by being more loud and annoying. (Here is the press release.)

How Back To The Future‘s vision of the future was off. We don’t have that middle class that Marty and his kids were living in. The neighborhood-of-the-non-horrible-future was filmed pretty close to where I live, and this article in the LA Times really resonated with me.

The New York Times published a hideous op-ed that criticized a strawman version of active learning in higher education. It had a fair amount of the get-off-my-lawn-kids-need-to-sit-down-and-listen BS. She only addressed the educational needs of marginalized students in one line, and then in the subsequent line dismissed those concerns as inconsequential. Josh Eyler was up to the task of debunking the false claims in this op-ed. What to think about whether or not to lecture or do active learning? I think we should listen to The Little Professor on this matter.

Why white parents don’t choose black schools.

On Taphonomy:

Dinosaurs teach kids certain things about the monsters they will encounter: that scary things look scary, that scary things are dead, and also that scary things are exciting and anthropomorphic. Dinosaur fights suggest a singular, definitive battle, like a dragon, something you see coming from a mile away, ready yourself for, slay, and move on from. When, of course, real problems are the opposite: boring, small, creeping, not singular but sprawling. And: extant. A grown-up problem is nothing if not alive.

Why is academic writing hideous? “Academics play an elitist game with their words: They want to exclude interlopers.”

Have a great Halloween weekend, y’all.

10 thoughts on “Recommended reads #63

  1. Thanks for sharing the info about Beall’s list & Frontiers. It seems like the main issues are with Frontiers’ medical journals. It is unfortunate that the whole publisher is being tarred with the same brush and could result in folks judging papers published there as less meritorious than traditional journals. I am a coauthor on a paper in Frontiers in Zoology, which was initially rejected, then went through 2 rounds of peer review (at least 3 reviewers). The peer review process, at least, seemed just as rigorous, if not more, than at other journals I’ve published in.

  2. I’m a bit puzzled by your comments on Beall. Surely what matters is not his attitude towards open access publishing, but whether the journals on his list are predatory or not. Frontiers is indeed a debatable borderline case, though personally I agree with Beall’s call. But maybe I missed something in my skim, but it looked to me like his list is mostly obvious scam artist publishers. Of the ones I know, Frontiers is the only borderline case on there. I didn’t see Plos One or BMC on there. Are there lots of other debatable cases on there in fields I don’t know? Are there any unquestionably-legit publishers on there who are on there just for being open access?

    • I have two major concerns. The first is that what constitutes ‘predatory’ is essentially a judgment call involving some subjective criteria. I’m not comfortable just trusting his judgement, though my limited knowledge of predatory journals fits his calls so far. My other concern is that using his list — with his name on it too — provides him with more legitimacy than he deserves. He doesn’t just call them predatory journals. He calls them predatory open access journals. As if the fact that they’re open access is a bad thing! But that truly is what he thinks. People all over the place are learning about the publishing industry from him. This is a horrible source because he has a clear agenda that is out if line with most academics I know.

      • “I’m not comfortable just trusting his judgement, though my limited knowledge of predatory journals fits his calls so far.”

        I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on that. When it comes to deciding whether to trust Beall’s judgment (or at least take his judgments seriously), I put the most weight on his past judgments. You (and lots of other open access advocates, from the sound of it) put more weight on things he’s written about open access publishing. Which I can appreciate, even if my own view is that it’s best to judge his list by looking at who is and who isn’t on it.

        It’s not clear to me how many people are “learning about the publishing industry” from his list. I’d have thought that what people learn from his list is mostly what publishers are indeed predatory (in a sense that everyone agrees is predatory). Put it this way: I’m not aware of any evidence that his list is slowing take-up of legit open access publishers to any extent worth worrying about. At the risk of overgeneralizing, my impression is that strong advocates of author pays open access publishing tend to get disproportionately upset with anyone who says anything negative about author pays open access publishing. This tends to spill over and distort their judgment about what are really unrelated matters (like “are the publishers on Beall’s list actually predatory or not?”). But on the other hand, I’m also not aware of any evidence that his list is slowing take-up of predatory publishers. So possibly, asking for evidence that his list is materially injuring Plos One or whoever is asking for too much.

        “He doesn’t just call them predatory journals. He calls them predatory open access journals.”

        Well, except their method of predation is to charge authors fees to publish. So while I see your point, I can also see a point to highlighting the mechanism of predation. I guess what I’d say is that, if any predatory publisher ever comes up with a way of taking money from authors that doesn’t involve charging authors a publication fee, I’d hope Beall would list it.

        To be clear, I think the best thing would be for Beall to list predatory publishers, note that most (all) operate by charging authors a fee to publish, but also emphasize that there’s nothing inherently evil about charging authors a fee to publish (perhaps by also maintaining a second list of legit open access publishers).

  3. Huh, so I just found out Frontiers in Zoology isn’t a Frontiers journal at all, but a BMC journal. I should have known that but it’s been a while… certainly sounds like a “Frontiers in” member!

  4. Yes, ESA also has a journal that starts with “Frontiers”, which has nothing to do with the publisher of that name.

  5. I don’t understand the anti-Daylight-Savings thing, because I want Daylight Savings Time to happen all year round and be the new normal. Why do so many people want it to get darker an hour earlier? It’s terrible in Boston Decembers when it’s dark by 4pm. Completely demoralizing. Not that 5pm would be great but it would be, by definition, a little better than 4pm.

    Even the anti-Daylight-Savings speaker at that link talks about how an extra hour of light gets people doing things outside the home. He does it to explain why it doesn’t lead to energy savings, but isn’t it good in its own right when people, families, feel more free to do stuff instead of being cooped up inside?

  6. Whether we stay on DST year-long or on standard time, the switch back and forth twice a year wrecks havoc on our circadian rhythms. Circadian biologists have been railing against the switch for years. It’s like the whole populace gets jet-lagged twice a year for no good reason. How about the economic losses of that? (I think there are also studies on car accidents in the week after the switch?)

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