Recommended reads #88


Without tenure, professors become terrified sheep.

The terrorist inside my husband’s brain. This piece by Robin Williams’s widow, written for practicing neurologists, is an important read for all of us.

Why people wince at talk of “flipping classrooms.” This phrase has pretty much lost any specific meaning or utility, and that’s why I haven’t really used it. I’m a fan of active learning approaches but not a fan of flipping sensu stricto.

Here’s a story explaining how classrooms are being designed differently because we’re teaching differently.

How ecologists (and actually, all scientists) can engage with the public to increase our collective impact.

How do you tell if a colleague is a friend or foe? This crowdsourced piece by Stacey Patton is designed for junior faculty.

Improvising in field biology.

Do field ecologists need field stations to do research?

An elm that was thought to have been driven to extinction by Dutch Elm Disease has been rediscovered. Where? Huge and smack in the middle of a big lawn at the Queen’s Royal Place Garden in Edinburgh.

Here’s a good op-ed piece about how the Nobel Prizes are out of date. The example they use is Bob Paine, ecologist extraordinare who recently died, who would have been a prime candidate for a Nobel Prize if one were awarded in the field of ecology.

On academic burnout. Yup.

How to publish without institutional support (written by someone at a community college)

This story by Nate Silver, on his site 538, is admirably adept at explaining some not-so-simple statistical concepts. (But yeah, it’s about the election.)

The New York Times reviews a new book about the ascent of Hitler. The review is brilliantly assembled with wit and sincerity to mirror our current times.

The Royal Society decided that the best popular science book of the year was The Invention of Nature. A media editor at The Guardian though that this was somehow a gendered decision, and The Atlantic discusses this in an informed manner. Meanwhile, if you read the book, it’s a pretty easy call. (I mentioned this book in recreads #60, for those keeping score. Just sayin’.) Shortly after I got the book I asked a friend if he read it, and he said, “I’m two thirds of the way through it,” but he said it with a tone that suggested he wasn’t in a hurry to read the last third. But he said it was a wonderful book. Having gotten two-thirds of the way through, I know what he was talking about. Still, man, you gotta read the first two-thirds.

I just learned that universities in South Africa are in a huge economic mess, with some well-established universities having closed down and other high-profile ones struggling to stay afloat. [update 07 Oct: please read the first comment in this post from Taryn Morris, who unlike myself, actually knows what she’s talking about when it comes to higher education in South Africa.]

The easy failure of male feminism. This short piece explains how really hard it is to get it right, or not wrong.

Good enough.

I heard this crazy piece on NPR by Shankar Vedantam, about a new study that came how showing that Southwest Airlines increases collaboration among scientists. The rationale is that when Southwest moves in, airfares get cheaper, and collaborations are more likely to form and/or flourish as a result. I wonder how robust the paper is.

This is a particularly auspicious post of recommended reads. Or a particularly Trumpian edition. I’ll take the first choice.

The folks running the bookstore featured in Portlandia are officially fed up with the show. Here’s their say, “Fuck Portlandia.

HBCU enrollment is going up as “racial tension” increases in the US.

An interesting post on Dynamic Ecology yesterday discussed a relatively novel way of doing a job search at Duke, in which the search committee is having applicants submit applications for blind review for the initial process of winnowing applications to a long short list, by redacting self-identifying information. Interestingly enough, they still have applicants list their institutional affiliations, but they don’t list the names of their coauthors, ethnicity, or gender. For papers, you provide the whole citation but exclude the names of authors, just listing the number of authors and your relative position in the list. Most notable were the comments. Two extraordinarily eminent ecologists took the trouble to share comments that downright mocked the process. One guy said that the folks at Duke had “lost their minds.” The other one said it’s “complete nonsense.” This is a totally crappy way for them to treat their colleagues at Duke who have chosen to try out this approach. One comment was, “I would accept some training to help eliminate implicit bias [your proposed ‘solution’], but I would never serve on a search committee that restricts my access to legit indicators of quality.” (Well, if men who shun efforts to remove bias refuse to serve on search committees, that’s a good thing, right?) Anyway, how does removing names of people serve as a legit indicator of quality? Names will tell you who people are connected to and their gender and hint at ethnicity. You don’t need to know that. The level of snark in their remarks revealed a clear disdain for this procedure designed to minimize bias in the hiring process. (The only valid argument I noticed was the idea that the committee would need to read the actual papers to narrow down to the first short list. Which, frankly, I’ve never seen in a search committee at this early stage in the process. I’m sure these guys have enough time on their hands to read papers from hundreds of applicants though!) What’s really funny to me is that no useful information was being redacted in any of these applications. You know where they went to school, what papers they published, what journals they were in, and everything that they chose to share in their cover letter and statements in the application. It’s probably possible you could know or guess who the applicants are anyway, if you’re well read or working on similar things. That doesn’t mean you need to actually know the name of everybody. Silly, you take away the ability to see the names of applicants and their PIs and coauthors and the eminent guys have a hissyfit*. Why do you need to know the names of the people involved, guys? Are you just put out that you can’t make sure the students of your buddies elite colleagues are going to be on the short list? Meanwhile, one commenter had remarked they had gone to the trouble to do a similar thing in their own search a couple years earlier at UConn, and reported that it was a positive experience. Another commenter indicated that she would welcome this process because it would prevent the committee from identifying her as a woman, which is well established as a major bias preventing advancement in academic careers. I gotta say we fellow tenured faculty have to speak out when prestigious dudes just crap over efforts to remove bias. I do recommend reading that post, and the comments, just so we know the obstacles in the road toward equity. (This reminds me of the time when another really eminent person likened a colleague to a “whore,” and few spoke out because, well, he has a lot of power.) These Fellows may or may not be right about whether or not these redacted applications are effective or a good idea. That’s a discussion worth having. I’m not sure if it’s workable, but I would never accuse my colleagues of being nonsensical or having lost their minds in writing in such a public forum. (Apparently, though, it seems I’m okay with pointing out how some colleagues are obstructing progress.) Expressing a disrespectful and dismissive attitude towards colleagues who are genuinely working to improve equity is counterproductive. To the folks at Duke, I just want to say: Good on ya! Your efforts are noticed and valued. Thanks for working to find ways to build a community that includes all of us. I’m only speaking for myself, but I imagine this is a widespread sentiment among folks that you’re trying to bring into the fold.

Science Magazine published a short and moving first-person story about Doing Science While Black. Hopefully it’s moving in the sense that people will move and do something about it in their own labs and professional organizations. I wonder if the gents who I was talking about above have read this piece?

Have a nice weekend, y’all. Have a bit of spare time and want to feel like you’re making a difference for the hot mess that is the United States? Why not try some phone banking? If you’ve never done it before, let me reassure you that it sounds really intimidating but once you do it, it’s pretty good. Like jumping in a pool that seems cold but once you’re in there for a minute, it’s just the perfect temperature.


*Okay, maybe it’s me having a hissyfit.

3 thoughts on “Recommended reads #88

  1. Hi Terry

    We met many years back in La Selva.

    I LOVE reading your blog and your suggested reads THANK YOU

    I do have to take acceptation to the statement “ I just learned that universities in South Africa are in a huge economic mess , with some well-established universities having closed down and other high-profile ones struggling to stay afloat”

    I guess this in a sense is true. South African Universities are struggling, as are many academic institutions around the world but particularly so because the budget in our governmental spending for tertiary expenditure is extremely low. This means that usually only the wealthy have access to tertiary education.

    A movement sparked last year with students protesting at the high level of fees for university that perpetuate the disparities in education and opportunities historically created by apartheid. The current protests are a continuation of this discussion and in many ways despite the sensationalist media and trouble causes by a small minority on campuses – has created an unprecedented opportunity for reform and conversation.

    The Universities have not “closed down”. They have closed yes. But this is temporarily a) for safety of staff and students but b) mostly to provide space and time for constructive dialogue and action to occur so that solutions and compromises can be made and wheels set in motion for more equitable access to tertiary education for all South Africans. From where I sit – we will talk of this moment for many years to come. It is a time of positive and radical transformation creating dialogue and understanding in a system that was long too stagnant.

    Rather than reading the LA times, I would encourage you and your readers to have a look at the multitude of articles written by people in the know, in the thick of the transformation from .

    Sometimes things have to get worse before they get better. This is hard and very disruptive road for all involved BUT I am hoping that positive change will stem soon enough.

    Warm regards Taryn

    Dr. Taryn Morris Coastal Seabird Conservation Manager

    19A Foregate Square, Heerengracht St, Foreshore 8001, Western Cape P.O. Box 7119, Roggebaai 8012, Cape Town, South Africa Tel: +27 (0)21 419 7347 Cell: +27 (0)82 334 4167 E-mail:


    • Thanks so much Taryn, for the details, and pointing out that I should not be flippant about something so important for so many. (And it’s great to hear from you!)

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