Recommended reads #96


I feel a bit guilty that I came upon some cool reads, in the precise moment that my country stopped being a proper democracy. This list is more decline-of-democracy-related than usual. But still even if you’ve had enough of this, there’s enough in here about other things I hope it’s worth your time. In part, because there’s a link in here about how to keep on keepin’ on while still doing your best to resist the the new authoritarian government that has taken over the US.

But I do have things to share, some of which aren’t even about our brave new world.

Just in case you didn’t know, is a for-profit venture that exists primarily to gather our information and sell it. Ungood. I’ve stayed away from it for this reason – this article explains how they ended up with a .edu even though they’re not a .edu.

America’s great working class colleges. This is such a great piece of journalism (admittedly  I think this in part because it says things I try to say here often and get it better than I could). Here’s the interactive feature that accompanies the article, which I really suggest you play around with – if anything to get an idea about how the institutions that you are personally familiar with compare to others in ways that you might not have seen visualized before. It was an education for me, surely.

This is a good visualization of gerrymandering. Which (I don’t argue here) is specifically how we got into this hideous mess.

This story about Maria Sibyl Merian, a pioneering scientist in the late 1600s, is captivating.

If you haven’t seen the latest movie about mathematicians and engineers, Hidden Figures is wonderful – and offers lessons for resistance for today.

Tenure is important. Duh. But, there are effective ways of defending tenure against attack, and then there are defenses of tenure that actually do more harm than good. The Do Nots and the Dos of defending tenure.

A survivor’s guide to being a muzzled scientist.

This explains how Facebook’s hiring process was designed with the goal of increasing diversity — but nonetheless falls short. Seriously, please read this, because it applies to academic job searches and the grad student recruitment process and so much else in life.

How do you argue for diversity?

The admittedly useful list of predatory journals maintained by for-profit publisher advocate Jeffrey Beall went dark. There is some intrigue about how and why he pulled it. A much briefer writeup is in Retraction Watch.

Speaking of the price of college, this is (supposedly) the bottom line in this story about a fake news masterpiece, from headline to photograph. Davidson College must be so proud of its students.

Eric Pianka writes about the challenges facing today’s lizard ecologists.

Size, science, and scientific truth. (shorter: Does Jerry Coyne have a friend that can talk to him in a friendly manner to convince him that he might apply an ounce of forbearance when he’s writing beyond his ken?)

A Chaos of Delight. Andy Murray creates gorgeous photographs of mesofauna.

From Nadya Tolokonnikova:

A miracle happens just when your wish for it is so real so you could eat it for breakfast instead of eggs.

The fearsome power of words.

Meg Duffy has (another) great idea: when you email your students or other people over whom you have authority, be specific about things even when you think it’s not a big deal, just to make sure folks don’t think it’s not a big deal. Because, otherwise, something like “Could you drop by to chat for a few minutes on Friday?” can sound like an Email Of Doom.

Obama’s parting gift: the power to not fear white racism.

The science press must rethink its habits.

A peer-reviewed article about institutional priority and rhetoric involving “excellence” is after my own heart: “In the final analysis, it turns out that that “excellence” is not excellent. Used in its current unqualified form it is a pernicious and dangerous rhetoric that undermines the very foundations of good research and scholarship.” I haven’t read it yet, but the abstract makes me want to say, “Preach!”

On transitioning from biology to data science.

Here’s a small selection of editorial cartoons on the eve of the inauguration.

5 minutes, 5 calls. If you want to work to change things in the US as a citizen, picking up the phone is probably the most efficient and effective use of your time. Don’t even bother emailing, or posting on social media, if you’re trying to influence decision makers. Take a few minutes out every weekday and make a few phone calls. Seriously. And while we’re at it, here’s a Resistance Manual. By the way, I’ve added this image to my profiles and such on social media.

The retreat from empiricism. (I remember the Tucker Carlson speech when it first hit the news. And I thought, I hope he wins this argument with Republicans, but I doubt it.)

Why we need a project to document hate crimes.

Thinking about running for office?

Obama’s Secret to Surviving the White House Years: Books. He was a busy guy, I am sure, but he found the time to read.

How to stay outraged without losing your mind.

How science helped swing the Canadian election (from October 2015)

Translating Trump’s inaugural speech from the original German

“Liberals must listen to and understand Trump supporters. But what you end up understanding from even the sweetest among them still might chill you to the bone.”

A few notes on gaslighting.

Once, a fearsome murderer invaded a Zen master’s home.

Syllabus: Calling bullshit in the age of big data

The Washington Post conducted a survey asking people to evaluate relative crowd sizes on the national mall. The results are simultaneously shocking and wholly expected.

By the way, if you’re messaging with people (including me), consider using the Signal app instead of texts or Facebook Messenger or What’s App. Nobody is eavesdropping on Signal and (By the way, did you know Mark Zuckerberg’s big goal for this year? To visit all 50 states. What politicians might call a “listening tour.”) What’s App is owned by Facebook, by the way.

This short writeup in the Boston Globe, from shortly before the inauguration, explained exactly how it is that the US is off of its rails. Like really messed up. Not in the normal way messed up, but seriously in irreparable trouble. Just these few short paragraphs can help put a pin in it, just to help us get our heads around the situation that has unfolded around us.

I hope you have a nice weekend. (My new copy of Zadie Smith’s Swing Time has sat mostly unread at bedside, which is currently in Dunedin while I’m visiting with the Jandt Lab at the University of Otago. But so far it’s really good and I hope to be able to get back into it.)


4 thoughts on “Recommended reads #96

  1. As usual, a great list of links this week, Terry.

    I wanted to point out, however, that Whatsapp uses the same encryption protocol as Signal, and is generally agreed to be easier to use. Chats in Whatsapp are now end-to-end encrypted, which means that, without the keys linked to your phone, no one, not even Whatsapp, can decrypt them en-route. If someone does have access to your phone, both Signal and Whatsapp will only be as secure as your phone password anyway.

    The Guardian recently published an article pointing out what they claimed was a security hole, but a large number of independent security researchers have said the Guardian article painted a very misleading picture (, and they are worried that people will read it, try Signal instead and realize it’s not very user friendly, then just switch to SMS, which has zero security.

  2. Eric, that’s a good point about WhatsApp, yes it’s encrypted, but unlike Signal, WhatsApp keeps more information about its users and, frankly, I don’t trust Facebook to keep its information secure and private. They have a very long history of acquiring information from its users, using this for profit, and consistently altering users’ privacy setting so that more information is public than they want to be public. Even if WhatsApp is secure now, I had 0% confidence that it will be in the future. I mean, if it’s a free product with no information they’re getting from us, then why did Facebook spend almost 20 billion dollars on it?

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