Recommended reads #111


Hope Jahren’s New York Times piece about the Norwegian summer is achingly gorgeous.

The biggest misconception about today’s college students. Yep.

When memorization gets in the way of learning. It’s from 2013, but so what.

If you’re a research biologist, then you probably know all about how NSF switched to a preproposal system, for a variety of reasons. The report on this “experiment” is in. There is a take on this in the always-helpful DEB blog. I’ve read much of the report and I think the upshot can be limited to a single word: Meh.

The next five links about gender and equity are really good, and the sixth ain’t so bad. They’re all well above par for this kind of thing. If you’re the kind of person who shares links on Facebook, I’m betting you’ll want to share at least one of these, or at least post a comment to say, “thanks for all of the cool and important reading!”

An excellent short overview of recent events in our chronic harassment problem in science.

Challenging the stereotypes of the invisible workload.

Programs meant to encourage women in STEM may be backfiring — because it’s not women who need to change.

Two women running a business invented a third business partner — a dude — who did business for them on their behalf because people would take them more seriously. And it, sadly and comically, worked. (This was the premise of the TV show Remington Steele, by the way. Yeah, I know that because I’m old.)

“Women had to be 2.5 times more productive than the men in order to be rated equally scientifically competent by senior scientists.” Why men don’t believe the data on gender bias in science.

There’s a job board for folks in economics, in which they frankly talk about the job market and other things related to academia. And it’s ragingly sexist, as reported by The Washington Post. These are our future economics professors, people.

A review of James Costa’a new book about Darwin, as a backyard biologist.

I wrote a glowing review of The Insects and Other Arthropods of Tropical America for the Quarterly Review of Biology. It really is such a good book. They’ve threaded the depth-vs-breadth needle in way I didn’t think was possible for something as diverse as tropical insect biodiversity, and there are oodles of gorgeous and informative photos.

Why ecology needs natural history.

Yes, there are some minority students in “top” universities in the US, but black and Hispanic students are even more underrepresented than they were 35 years ago. We are not doing better than previous generations. Please read and heed.

Don’t fall for the Babylonian trigonometry hype.

There’s a new paper out that tells us it’s a bad idea to use a simple citation-based metric to evaluate the quality of graduate program. But that’s what they did anyway. (And they’re just shocked — it was unexpected! — that some smaller and less prestigious institutions stack up well using their metric.)

The looming decline of the public research university.

MacEwan University, in Canada, was duped out of more than $10 million in a phishing scam.

Who is responsible for student achievement?

Short term bootcamps to train grad students with new skills don’t seem to work.

Here’s a story about a full-time member of the faculty at San Jose State University, who takes home $2500 a month, and lives in her car. In Silicon Valley, that kind of money doesn’t go far. (Keep in mind that she’s represented by the California Faculty Association and we have a relatively robust Collective Bargaining Agreement. Non-tenure-track faculty in this university system are better off than many other places. Which tells you how bad things are all over the place.)

An adjunct at the University of Tampa got fired because he said, on his private twitter account, that the horrible events in Houston were karma for supporting Trump. That’s not a good thing to say but, really, a firing offense? Clearly the thought police are winning this victory here — ironically by accusing campuses of not allowing free speech.

The University of California system is making a big PR push for all of their first-generation faculty members, as a way to recruit and support a large population of first-gen students in the UC. Which I have mixed feelings about. The UC is way, way behind on hiring faculty from underrepresented groups, though a lot of the first-gen students in the UC system are URM. So as they’re trumpeting their first-gen faculty as a source of inspiration and support, I picture so many of these first-gen students look at these white first-gen faculty, tilting their head, and thinking, “…and this means what to me?” If the UC system really wants to serve their students, they need to hire faculty that have the same backgrounds as their students. There’s no shortage of competitive applicants that fit the bill, as long as you’ve got search committee members who are going to do the work to hire people who doesn’t look like themselves. But there’s the problem.

Extremely rich guy Peter Thiel is funding an unethical test of a live herpes vaccine on a Caribbean island without any FDA approval and without any IRB clearance. But of course the Heartland Institute — the global warming dismissing merchants of doubt that send out that book we all got about the ‘climate change controversy’ — are fine with it. (And, by the way, if you think you had a rough day in the peer review department, check out the reviews of this paper about a herpes vaccine.)

At a meeting of the Ecological Society of America this month, there was a presentation at the diversity lunch that was greeted with some dismay, and some outrage that extended to other continents. (I couldn’t find a link about what happened, other than responses on twitter. There was a public letter, but that was taken down. I ate lunch elsewhere, so I can’t describe what happened, and this is a can of worms that would take a lot to unpack, and I’m not equipped to open that can.) Anyway, the ESA published a blog post by the folks who organized this session, in which they describe their activities. If you heard about this, I imagine it could be a useful read.

A new paper came out about a follow-up on an experiment started 20 years ago in Costa Rica by Dan Janzen and Winnie Hallwachs, where tons of waste orange peels were dumped on a pasture to facilitate forest regeneration. It worked.

On bridging the gap between experimentalists and modelers. (I was going to write a post on this topic, as a followup to my experiences at the Ecological Society of America meeting this year. But, ta da! this paper said everything I wanted to, and then some.)

I was an Exxon-funded climate scientist.

It was disappointing to learn that Francis Crick wanted to set up a twin study on to figure how why some ethnicities are less intelligent than others, by breaking up twins and having them live with families of different ethnicities. Sigh.

As for what I’m reading non-professionally, I just finished All the Light We Cannot See which is just a wonderfully crafted novel and the prose is what you’d expect from a book than what the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. I just started on the new edition of Sarapiquí Chronicle by Allen Young. The Sympathizer (pictured above) might be next. I hope you have a nice weekend.

2 thoughts on “Recommended reads #111

  1. Cheers for the tip on James Costa’s new book. His annotated edition of the Origin of Species is fantastic. Highly recommended whether you’re teaching a class on the Origin (as I do), or just reading it for your own interest.

    Cheers as well for the debunking of the hype over that Babylonian “trig table”. I read the BBC writeup and wasn’t clear on exactly what new information had been discovered. Now I know that’s because there wasn’t any new discovery.

    Re: that paper on the null effect of “boot camps” on long-term grad student outcomes, I wonder if part of what’s going on is not just that students who don’t go to boot camps can acquire the technical skills they need to succeed at least as well in other ways, but also that acquiring specific technical skills is just not a major determinant of long-term success in science. In general, I think grad students tend to overrate the importance of acquiring specific technical skills. (Also, chalk up another bit of evidence that people are lousy at assessing what pedagogical methods are best for their own learning.)

  2. I really like that Atlantic piece on memorization. Prior to reading the piece, I would have said I struggle with how much to have students memorize. But, based on that piece, I guess really my struggle is with how to have students learn some concepts that seem to require particular pieces of information for them to really understand what’s going on. As one example: I was bothered a few years ago by the standard in the Intro Bio course I teach (which is taught by different people in different semesters) of expecting students to memorize dates for different events in geologic history (e.g., formation of Earth, origin of life, Cambrian explosion, etc.). So, three years ago, I told the students they didn’t have to memorize any dates, and just needed to focus on the order. But that backfired because many ended up with really no sense of relative scales — was the evolution of animals something that happened pretty close to the origin of life or not? I’ve been thinking about this again as I update that lecture and also as I think about what to teach and test related to shared derived traits. So, thank you for sharing that article!

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