Recommended Reads #73


Can you believe it’s been fifteen years since Randy Johnson vaporized a mourning dove with a 100 mph fastball? Here are some ornithologists looking back on this unfortunate chance encounter.


The National Science Foundation has suspended funding its Biological Collections program. This is a major source of support for museums to keep their collections up to date and, you know, protected from the ravages of time. Basic fundamental infrastructure kind of stuff. They just funded a bunch of postdocs to work in biological collections, but they’re not funding the collections themselves anymore. Grrrr. They’re looking for input and want to know what you think. Please tell them. Here’s a very cogent argument for the importance of this program. Here’s a blog post about it from someone who is on a first-name buddy basis with the person who runs Biological Sciences at NSF. It remains to see what will happen, but it’s actually possible that what the community says might matter.

Speaking of biological collections, What good is a library full of dead plants?

The history of science is really the history of people doing science. (Even if it’s not about the people, it’s about the people.) If you want an perhaps astonishingly frank perspective of ecologists who have built the field we have inherited today, Earth Days is quite a read. I’ve been sitting on it for maybe a decade but I finally got around to reading it. The reader is ostensibly walked us through some of the major concepts in ecology in the latter part of the 1900s, but really it’s about the personalities doing the science and mighty gossipy. One of the blurbs on the back of the book is from Gene Likens, “I learned some things about myself.” Which could be read more than one way.

Some folks have argued that open pre-publication peer review of preprints is a way to advance and democratize science. If this is what democracy looks like, then I want something else. The existence of this kind of “peer” review of preprints is precisely why you can count me out. I would prefer to not regard the author of this as a “peer.” At least the comments on the site are an encouraging sign.

I am unwilling to relocate again (and it will probably cost me my academic ‘career’)

The Washington Post interviewed Donald Trump. This is the transcript. I wish this was satire. Notwithstanding that, the prospect of Ted Cruz as president is arguably even more terrifying. The prospect that my fellow citizens are capable of electing a brilliant moron such as Trump is tragic, of course.

Randall Munroe’s comics are going into high school science textbooks.

In which Richard Nixon’s domestic policy advisor freely admits that their “war on drugs” was really designed to target black people and hippies. They didn’t so much care about the drugs, they said, but wanted a way to “disrupt those communities.”

This week in academia sexual harassment part I: A Columbia faculty member, about to come up for tenure, sued her university because a senior faculty member who was serving as her mentor became her harasser. It’s a pretty odious story. “I think my story is awful, but my sense is that many women go through this…The school has failed me, and it might have failed other people as well.”

This week in academia sexual harassment part II: The president of the UC system seems to give a bigger damn about sexual harassment than the administrators that work for her. Or at least a bigger damn about the consequences to the public image. Let’s see if all of the UCs get serious about consequences.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, absurdly low funding rates are finally translating into tenuring faculty at research institutions who aren’t bringing in major federal grants. At least at not-super-prestigious research institutions. Of course, when people are being interviewed, it seems to me they’re still being told that they need to bring in the dough to get tenure. So, how it is that some people get slack and people don’t get slack when they submit their files? Oh, I’m sure this procedure is highly objective and without bias. Most definitely. (The article is silly to complain how administrators wouldn’t name people. Of course they’re not going to give you those names. That’s why journalists are supposed investigate, right? What kind of article says, “They didn’t give me this information so I’m just going to say they’re not talking about it rather than find out.” You just have to look at who got tenure, and then check major federal agencies to see if they’ve been a PI, then call up those PIs and I bet some of them  might want to talk. Come on, Chronicle, step up your game. You do want to set yourself apart from academic blogs that just say what they want like I’m doing right now, right? That was a news article, not a blog post or an opinion piece.)

Michael Balter, who has written for Science for a few decades, describes how he was laid off because he was doing his job as a journalist in reporting about a sexual misconduct story. You know, Science is published by AAAS, which is just a scientific society that is supposed to serve its members. But what representation does the membership have in decisions and how are the members served? Their board of directors, who have say in how the place is run, are actual scientists. The ones that I know (of) are good people. Can they help change Science and its publishing model in a way that serves us better?

Being black in wildlife.

The fascinating story about how a US Economist disappeared in Brazil. Really. It’s fascinating.

The Wildlife Society Bulletin published an article about how unpaid field assistantships are a bad thing, which got a huge amount of attention at the time. The authors have written a substantial blog post summarizing the response of the scientific community. (disclaimer: I was acknowledged for comments on the original manuscript by Fournier and Bond.)

We all know how how fat cat graduate students are overpaid. It looks like Yale is doing something to fix that situation.

This “perspectives” piece in Genetics has maybe just the slightest whiff of eugenics? “Unlike global environmental change, there is no obvious technological fix for the uniquely human goal of intentionally ameliorating the effects of mutation, nor is there a simple ethical imperative for doing otherwise, short of refocusing our ethical goals on future descendants.” As I read this piece it’s asking us to seriously consider what a change in genetic load will mean. I have no idea whatsoever what other human geneticists and ethicists are making of this. I’ve only given it a mild read so I haven’t formed an opinion.

Just making sure, y’all have checked out the comics in Kapow! Ecology, right?

In the previous rec reads, I linked to a story about Emily Temple-Wood, who is bulking up Wikipedia’s entries for women scientists. This short interview explains how she started with Wikipedia and the amazing work she does:

3 thoughts on “Recommended Reads #73

  1. I agree with your sentiments on the Dan Graur “review” but don’t think it has anything to do with pre-publication vs. post-publication peer-review. This specific case just happens to be about a paper posted to a pre-print server.

  2. If Graur had noticed it was already published in a legit journal (which apparently, it has been), then I imagine he would be excoriating the reviewers and editors that allowed what he perceived to be a flawed paper to get through the system. Instead, he chose to wage a diatribe against a single junior scientist.

  3. That “review” by Gruar made me sick. I think pre-print reviews can be powerful tools if they provide feedback earlier in the process, but this type of behavior obviously demonstrates the risks that researchers take in doing so. Graur tweeted that his views of ENCODE are even harsher (see final few paragraphs of, but that commentary all stuck to the content and were not harassment. I don’t know why he thinks that is justifiable behavior.

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