Recommended Reads #100


One hundred baby! Woo hoo!

Why is it when we talk about science outreach and science education/communication, it’s always focused on kids? The adults are also where it’s at.

This short piece about how and why scientists use social media fits just perfectly in with my perspectives and experiences.

The Joint Task Force on Undergraduate Physics Programs came out with their Final Report. At a glance, it looks incredibly useful.

McGill gave a resign-or-be-fired ultimatum to the director of their Institute for the Study of Canada after writing this piece. Which is definitely some sharp social critique, but something to lose your job over? The folks over at McGill definitely could be more supportive of academic freedom. I’m rather surprised at the short-sightedness of this institutional response. I imagine this story will evolve over time, hopefully as reasonable minds prevail.

Junior women scientists are being robbed of credit they deserve.

From The Guardian: “Sexual harassment: records show how University of California faculty target students. Documents reveal patterns in how officials appear to target vulnerable students they oversee – in some cases dramatically impeding their studies and careers.”

A former student says UC Berkeley’s star philosophy professor groped her and watched porn at work.

Here’s a great article by Cissy Ballen and Harry Greene, about the useful and not-useful ways to teach about biodiversity: emphasize evolutionary transitions and what separates clades, as opposed to just dealing with taxonomic groups. This makes sense, and a lot of us do this, but also, textbooks tend to not be organized to support this approach.

Grades are going up, but students are studying less. Is this because of grading leniency associated with teaching evaluations? Here’s an academic article about that.

The view on academic mid-career deadwood from inside prestigious small liberal arts colleges.

Deeply aggrieved.

The most charismatic and evolutionarily significant taxon in the history of life just got revised with a new phylogeny! (By the way, one of the authors of this study quietly resigned from his tenured position from UC Davis “for health and family reasons” and now awaits trial for sexual misconduct, specifically “invasion of privacy.” No, I’m not going to let our community sweep misconduct under the rug when it happens.)

(Oh, there’s a new tree for dinosaurs, too.)

A history of The Journal of Jocular Physics.

A cell phone use rubric to establish expectations for class time.

Science Friday does “How to talk climate change with a denier.”

A research study on Teach for America participants, about the effects of “the advantaged” working directly for extended periods with “the disadvantaged.” Can you learn away prejudice with experience?

Does the field of “animal personality” provide any new insights for behavioral ecology? I enjoyed this probably more than I should have enjoyed it.

The University of Michigan is making substantial efforts at increasing diversity and inclusion, and here’s a story about their growing pains. This is one of the reasons I’m excited to visit campus soon for a 2-week tour as a part of my sabbatical.

The most lucrative export of the US is higher education.

Here’s a story explaining how entomologists routinely deal with delusory parasitosis. I’ve been contacted by maybe a dozen folks over the years, presumably because if someone is tracking down an “entomologist” then my name doesn’t pop up. But this is a super-routine issue for museum staff, folks in entomology departments and especially in extension. It’s a medical problem, but not one for entomologists. But the people with the problem are convinced that it’s a problem for entomologists.

What ‘white folks who teach in the hood’ get wrong about education. This is spot on, though at least based on my own experience, I think the main point is a strawman argument. Most of the folks I know who teach K-12 in South LA (often characterized as ‘the hood’) aren’t white, but the white folks who stick around for more than a few years don’t seem to manifest symptoms of a white savior syndrome, though I’m not the best positioned to make this diagnosis.

The March For Science is having some organizational discord. I think it’s fitting that we take multiple times to get it right, but they still aren’t getting it right, it seems. The folks who are running the show aren’t quite ready to include all scientists. The head of the “Diversity and Inclusion Committee” said: “There has been some push by some people to centralize diversity in a way that diminishes science.” Now matter how you slice it, that’s problematic. Putting diversity at the center enhances science, and it can’t diminish it! That would definitely be the position of the person in charge of diversity and inclusion for the March for Science, right? So, ugh. The best analogy I have for my current feelings about the March is how  Ta-Nehisi Coates explained his vote for Bernie Sanders, he’s voting, but not endorsing. If I do march — I honestly have no idea what the best decision is here and I see good arguments from many directions — then I’m leaning towards having  sign that says, “Everybody needs science – Science needs everybody” or something like that. What do you think would be a good sign for the march?

If you feel like evaluating the emails that students send to you for professionalism, here’s a rubric for that.

The Trump regime’s lost generation in American research.

Scientists are conspicuously missing from Trump’s government

Why giving up hope is not an option.

What calling Congress achieves. Please, call your congressperson on a regular basis to resist what is happening. Whether or not you think they are on your side. Calling literally counts. This article will enlighten you with what happens with the information when you call, about how they keep track of numbers and what this means.

What an effective protest could look like.

Have a nice spring weekend, y’all.

Taxonomist Appreciation Day is coming up


pun by by @phishdoc, illlustration by @verdanteleanor.

It’s been hard to wait a whole year, I know! Taxonomist Appreciation Day is coming up, on 19 March!

I imagine museums, science departments, and libraries will have costume shows, trivia, art competitions, and potluck taxonomic salad festivals. Meanwhile, the talented scientific artists of BuzzHootRoar are running their annual taxonomy pun contest!

Here are their instructions: Continue reading

Recommended reads #98


Five practical ways you can help a first generation student succeed. If you’ve ever thought positively about anything I’ve written or shared on this topic, I bet you’ll really appreciate this piece by Abigail Dan. I bow to its wisdom and excellence.

Obsessed with smartness, by James Lang. I love this almost as much as the preceding piece.

Advice for my conservative students

Why facts don’t change our minds, by the inestimable Elizabeth Kolbert. Continue reading

Knowing your animal and your question


I’ve read a lot of research proposals and manuscripts. Some manuscripts were rejected, and some proposals didn’t fare so favorably in review. What have I learned from the ones on the lower end of the distribution?

Here’s an idea. It can’t explain everything, but it’s something to avoid. Continue reading

Recommended reads #97


Alan Townsend wrote an op-ed that I think you really need to read: Science might save my daughter. Don’t kill it. (And in his blog, which I absolutely love and have linked to on previous occasions, he explains why he wrote the piece.)

Science censorship is a global issue – a short letter to Nature written by three Aussie ecologists.

Unlearning descriptive statistics. I thought this was really interesting. Continue reading

Taking action at this critical moment


I’m going to have to suspend business-as-usual. Please stick with me, while I connect some dots to explain how critical this time is for the United States, and, as a corollary, for the world. If you’re reading the news, but not yet marching in the streets, I think this is for you.

Right now, everything counts on Americans who may choose to stand up for our democracy. We’ve been cramming for this exam for months. Now we’ve got our number 2 pencil out, and we’re heading into the exam room. Are we going to pass through this test?

There is a lot going on, but I’d like to point out the central issue at hand. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

In teaching, less is more


Question: When you’re teaching, how much should you cover?

I propose a couple answers:

Answer A: You shouldn’t cover much, because the more you cover, the less they learn.

Answer B: Trick question! You’re not supposed to “cover” anything! If you teach a topic by just making sure it gets covered in a lecture, then you’re not really teaching it. Continue reading

Recommended reads #95


In the United States, a woman died a few months ago of a bacterial infection. This microbe was resistant to all antibiotics available in the US that we were capable of throwing at it.

A paper came out this week, looking at predictors of publication rates among 280 graduate students accepted and enrolled into a biomedical grad program. And — shocker, I know — grades and standardized test scores didn’t matter. The best predictor was the content of the letters of recommendation. You want to know which undergraduates have the greatest research potential? Listen to their undergraduate mentors. Here’s a drugmonkey post about this paper. Continue reading

Knowing something really well doesn’t mean you can teach it well


Over the holidays, I taught my niece how to throw a frisbee with a forehand. It took five minutes, and she totally picked it up. It was awesome. And then we just played catch for a good long while. There may not be a more pleasant thing than throwing a frisbee on warm afternoon in the park with good company*. Continue reading