Updating my perspective on “predatory” journals


It took a while for the rise of the internet to destabilize the academic publishing industry, but still the major for-profit publishers have been adept at consolidating their racket. Academic institutions, and individual academics such as myself, continue to be fleeced and are donating money to corporations in a sector with an absurdly high profit margin. If you’re reading this site, you presumably are aware of all the disruptions in academic publishing that have been facilitated by the internet: preprint servers, scihub and libgen, open-access fees, journals that are entirely open access, and so called “predatory” journals.

Let’s talk more about “predatory” journals.

These journals seem more parasitic than predatory. These publishing venues are merely taking advantage of the perverse incentives that we have developed in higher education.

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On the legacies of Ed Wilson and EO Wilson


After E.O. Wilson died in the final days of 2021, we have have been treated to detailed remembrances of his accomplishments, his kind and gentle nature, and his immeasurable impact on several fields of science. Among fellow myrmecologists, Wilson indubitably is one of the greats, and for many, he was the greatest. When I once had the fortune of presenting in a conference session that Wilson had attended, that was an honor. I didn’t know him personally, but I have many colleagues, and some friends, who were mentored by him, and benefited from his generosity and good will. Everybody I know who had interacted with him in any substantial way had wonderful things to say about him.

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(Not) all rankings are bad


Standard university rankings may or may not be bollocks, but they are a destructive force.

This is because of Goodhart’s Law: “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”

What a world we live in, that the country’s largest and most wealthy universities have collectively decided to cede institutional power to the editors at the US News and World Report.

A new national ranking came out, and they found that my campus is #2 in the country! So maybe I’ll start caring about rankings? wink. But I do think it’s worthwhile to see what we might learn from The Economic Mobility Index. It ranks “schools [that] enroll the highest proportion of students from low- and moderate-backgrounds AND provide them with a strong return on their educational investment.” Here’s a thread from one of the authors with a bit of an explainer.

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Recommended read #200


Welcome to the “what he said” edition of rec reads.

I have one link for you: An essay by Dr. Jeremy Yoder about the response of the evolutionary biology community to a poorly crafted essay about the legacy of E.O. Wilson.

I could excerpt bits but really, the whole thing is a must-read, so just go on and read it.

Not only does Dr. Yoder have valuable things to say about how our scientific community has allowed a destructive person to remain in their community as a peer, this also is a gorgeous piece of prose. I didn’t write about this whole affair because I wasn’t sure if I could hit the mark just right, and I’ve seen others miss the mark. Here goes Jeremy getting it right with tone, context, kindness, clarity, and strength. It takes time to write so well and I think he’s done a public service to give us a lodestar as we move forward.

Recommended reads #199


Hi, it’s been a while. I hope you had a nice holiday break? I think there are some real gems in here.

The Professor: “Maybe the most powerful person is the one who dares to refuse the gift.”

Lessons from Dr. Henley’s PhD

Why the science of teaching is often ignored

Note the date on this article and you’ll find it was quite prescient: The Pandemic Movie of Our Time Isn’t Contagion. It’s Jaws.

A nice bit of science blogging from Brian Enquist about Yoda’s Power Law and the origins of macroecology.

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Yes, things are hard for everybody right now


This was the worst semester ever. We all are worn too thin. I’ve had one conversation over and over this semester, with colleagues who are now in their fourth iteration of pandemic teaching:

“Is this the worst semester ever for teaching?”

“Yes, yes it is.”

While each phase of this pandemic was rough, the consensus seems to be that this semester might have been the roughest. A lot of us have already tapped out our reservoirs of resilience. We’re also seeing an amplification of a mental health crisis.

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We know exactly what to do about sexual misconduct in the field


Last Thursday, many months of investigative reporting culminated in a comprehensive and detailed article about the prevailing atmosphere of sexual misconduct in the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. The article describes the tolerance of multiple serial offenders, and how STRI has not shown any sign of yet attempting a substantial process to repair this culture. Many survivors came forward for interviews, and yet this is only a tiny fraction of those who could have come forward. And there are even more who have stayed away because they were forewarned.

If you haven’t read this article yet, please do so. Here’s the link again.

This story hit close to home for me in a few ways: as a tropical biologist, as a person who personally knows a few of the survivors in the article and more who were not in the article, as a PI who has regularly sent students to work in tropical field stations, and as a director of a field station who is responsible for developing a healthy and safe institutional culture.

There’s one thing I want everybody to know about this situation: We know what should have been done. It is easy to know what needs to be done. There is a clear literature for this situation. The National Academies released a major report in 2018 that specifies clear steps that leaders must take to address the epidemic of gendered misconduct in STEM. Just weeks ago, the Workshop To Promote Safety In Field Sciences produced a report that provided “52 recommendations targeted at improving field science culture change, as well as misconduct accountability, policy, and reporting.”

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Recommended reads #198


On the origin and development of the Birds Aren’t Real movement.

How learning feels now (after so many months of COVID)

preprint: Gender Imbalance in the Editorial Activities of a Researcher-led Journal [which happens to be eLife]

A Giving Pledge for Rural Public Universities

And yes, it’s been a month since the last one of these posts, but honestly that’s all I’ve got for the moment! I haven’t been reading much journalism of late. But in other reading, I’ve been enjoying the trilogy of the Third Body Problem by Cixin Liu and the Broken Earth trilogy by NK Jemisin. And I’ll be starting on Klara and The Sun soon.


Can we talk about Field Camp?


A few years ago, I was spending time with some geologists and they were telling me about Field Camp. That it’s a standard requirement of most Geoscience programs, but also that it’s highly problematic.

I just googled a bit, here’s what I learned. According to UW Milwaukee, “Field camp is a tradition in the education of a geologist. It is an intensive course that applies classroom and laboratory training to solving geological problems in the field.”

Gotcha. My colleagues are saying how problematic field camp is, but I don’t quite see it yet. Could you tell me more?

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Startup funding opportunity for new PUI faculty in Biology


This is just a drive-by post to let you know that NSF-Biology just launched a new opportunity to provide start-up funds for new faculty working in Primarily Undergraduate Institutions and Minority-Serving Institutions.

This is the link to that program.

For this program, “new” faculty means within your first three years of a tenure-track position. If you’re at an MSI that is not a PUI, then it needs to be not a very high research intensive institution (Non-PUI MSIs with Carnegie Classifications R2, D/PU, and M1-3 are just fine. For example, UC Irvine is an MSI, but it’s also an R1, so new PIs there don’t qualify. But that’s okay, because I can imagine the startup available to new PIs at UCI get for startup.)

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Recommended reads #196


A short quiz for my students in lieu of asking about their vaccine status or requesting that they wear masks

You do not have to be a revolutionary to see that some kind of [climate] upheaval has already started and that it can only really be delayed or mitigated than stopped entirely. If the goal of the Biden era is to slow history down, he needs to admit that this new, dangerous era has already begun, and that the old solutions no longer work.”

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Project management software for you and maybe your lab


It’s really easy to get caught in short-term minutia and lose focus on the big picture stuff that really matters.

I’ve been trying out some project management software, because I think I’m juggling enough short-term, medium-term, and long-term projects and goals that this might be the a better for me to stay on track. I’m hoping that this can help me align my time and effort in a manner that represents my priorities.

Up to now, I’ve just been using a Moleskine (and some notes on my computer/phone), and it’s done the job really well. No real complaints. My attempt at a switch isn’t being triggered by a particular time or project management crisis that I’m trying to avoid, it’s more about staying on track with my evolving priorities.

The one that I’ve heard the most about is Trello, which I know some bigger labs use to manage all kinds of operations, though this seems to be a rather weighty and designed for teams, and organizations with many teams. I’m more interested in just keeping track of stuff for myself, and maybe looping a few people in if they’re interested.

So, what to use? I asked this question on twitter, and the response thread has a lot of useful responses. Below is the upshot that I’m taking out of this.

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Research productivity during mid-career and beyond


Apparently, I am “mid-career.” When I registered as a reviewer for the NSF GRFP, that’s the box I checked because according to their registration form, “mid-career” is 10-25 years of experience. (If you’re counting from my first full-time faculty position or from receiving my PhD, I’m 22 years in. If you’re counting time in grad school, I’m 27 years in.)

Though I’m arguably mid-career now, soon going to be a “senior scientist.” Hmm.

My job has evolved over the last several years, from actively avoiding admin work, to taking on faculty leadership roles part time, and now I’m doing this stuff even more*. I’m doing the kinds of service leadership work that is taking up a good part of my time. A lot of my job is no longer about promoting the success of my lab and the students working with me, but instead about helping build the success of other people in my academic community.

This is the kind of transition that is typical for senior scientists. However, the way this transition plays out for those of us in PUIs is very different than how it plays out in R1s and other doctoral-granting universities.

What’s the difference? Productivity is limited by the personnel at hand, and this effect become more and more pronounced for PIs at PUIs as they advance in their career. My N=1 of personal experience tells me this, but also, I do see this reflected in the complicated career arcs of peers and what we expect of others.

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Recommended reads #195


These recommended reads are all about reviews.

A review of an essay: The problem with rigor. “The rhetoric of rigor turns pedagogy into pathology.”

A review of a tv show: the chair is peak jeans in church culture – I think there is something for absolutely everybody in Brandon Taylor’s review even if you are one of the academic who have yet to watch The Chair. I thought it was insightful about the what TV is and what TV isn’t.

A review of a book: How not to talk to a science denier.

A review (the other kind of review) of Long COVID.

A review of the geographic distribution of GBIF records: “Sampling biases shape our view of the natural world

and lastly a historical review of the ethnocentric origins of the myth of learning styles, which I had absolutely no idea about and this is something that I wish I knew many years ago. Here’s a link to the journal article but here’s one you can read.

NSF needs more non-R1 GRFP reviewers, please sign up!


I have a little something to admit. I just registered as a potential reviewer for the NSF GRFP for the first time. (That’s the Graduate Research Fellowship program, for the noobs). I’ve been on here for years talking about the program: how it works, how the outcomes are inequitable, how we can do our part to increase representation in the applicant pool, yadda yadda, but I’ve never even tried to put in the work and become a reviewer until now. Does that make me a hypocrite? A little bit, yeah.

Are you interested in becoming a reviewer? You can sign up here with a copy of your CV and let NSF know that you’re available. The whole process took me about five minutes.

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Planning lab “boot camps” for after the pandemic

A pair of gloved hands holding a micropipette and twisting it to adjust it.
image by Figueiredo

My department just had a great idea: We’re planning “boot camps” to train students with the basic lab skills that they missed out on during the pandemic. The pandemic isn’t over yet, so we’re still in the planning phase. What is your department doing to get your students caught up?

The idea is that over winter, spring, or summer break, students can sign up for a 1-unit course (at no cost to them), and they will be able to do the stuff that we couldn’t do when labs have been virtual. Lab skills like pipetting, serial dilutions, PCR, electrophoresis, microscope use, slide preparation, plating, centrifuging.

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Recommended reads #192


Ten simple rules for productive lab meetings

I Signed Up to Write College Essays for Rich Kids. I Found Cheating Is More Complicated Than I Thought.”

What The ‘Return To The Office’ Fight Is Really About – I thought this was a fascinating explanation about how people want to use the office environment as a way of exercising their soft power over others.

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Update on fixing a racist common name for an ant (and a moth)


A couple years ago, I shared with y’all about an old screwup of mine, and how I was planning to take steps to fix it.

To make the long story short, I explained how I had coined a new official common name for the ant Aphaenogaster araneoides, back in a prior decade. I only realized later that this name was problematic and constituted a racial slur.

The good news is that problem is fixed, thanks to the leadership of colleagues running the “Better Common Names Project” in the Entomological Society of America. So the former common name of A. araneoides is now surpressed as of this week, and now we can just call it A. araneoides. Which is fine with me. After mulling over a variety of alternative common names, I realize this species doesn’t need a common name.

While I’ve been concerned about this for a few years, I wasn’t able to change this when I wrote the original blog post. Because it was an official common name approved by the Entomological Society of America (a status that I had applied for back in the day), then this change would also have to be approved the common names committee of the ESA. After some informal inquiry, I was led to believe that a name change would be contentious and not likely to be approved — in part because there was a moth named with the same slur (and a worse entomological etymology), and the major economic and environmental role of this species, with broad use of the common name, would mean it would be an uphill battle. So what did I do? Well, I have to admit, I did very little. I was mulling over how I would go about my proposal to the committee, and was trying to find a new and better common name, but simply stalled. And then the movement last summer related to civil rights awareness seems to have resulted in a change of heart in the ESA, also with a change of leadership. So now, now only were they open to suppressing the old common name — they took the matter into their own hands and did it without me formally asking. How about that, eh?

It’s nice to see this kind of tangible movement on this issue in my professional society. I realize that of course there is a long, long, long way to go to build an equitable community of scientists, and that we’ve seen very little or no actual progress in the past few decades. Just look at all that money that has been poured into diversity initiatives, that hasn’t changed the composition of our field. So clearly, we need to do more, and do things differently. Is changing a common name going to fix all that? Of course not. But it’s a slight indicator that folks are more willing to change now than they were two years ago.

I’ve talked to a few media outlets about this, and if you wanted to dig into the news about this, that’s straightforward enough. But feel free to discuss this here and I’m glad to discuss this in the comments here.

A personal existential crisis about biodiversity and climate change


When did you first realize the scope and the scale of biodiversity loss and the impact of climate change? Did it hit you like a metric ton of bricks falling from a pallet at a construction site? Did you feel like you were slowly sinking underwater in a still lagoon when you realized the weight tied to your ankles? Or was it like you finally put the pieces of the puzzle together just enough to make the picture? Was it like you were in a darkroom, creating prints of your negatives and you see what’s been hiding in the shot the whole time? Or was it like you watched the basketball video and saw the gorilla on your second view?

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Time for summerbatical


After three semesters of fully remote work, I feel like I really could use a sabbatical. I imagine a lot of you feel the same.

Being able to have a sabbatical is kind of quite a professional perk, but I’m not yet eligible to apply for another sabbatical, as I was on sabbatical during 2016-2017. (How did I spend that sabbatical, you might ask? Here you go.)

But I have the next best thing: a combination of tenure and spending this summer off contract. No employer can expect anything of me until mid-August? That’s not so bad, eh?

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You can connect postbacs to research opportunities in biology!


It’s hard to be a newly graduated student who is trying to get into grad school. Some advisors don’t realize how hard it is to gain access to opportunity once you’ve left the institution. Postbacs can’t participate in summer research opportunities, are not regularly interacting with students, don’t have access to a university writing center, and probably even lost their library access. Just being on campus on a regular basis provides momentum and support towards grad school.

It’s so much worse because of the pandemic. The people who graduated last year, and those who are graduating right now, really need access to opportunity and support. What can we do?

This is where NSF-BIO has stepped up. They’ve launched a new program this week: REPS: Research Experiences for Post-Baccalaureate Students. Here’s the blog post about this on main BIO blog for NSF, and here’s a post with a bit more information on the BIO-DEB blog. And here’s the official Dear Colleague Letter for this opportunity, which is numbered NSF 21-085.

To make the long story short, if you have recently received your bachelor’s degree, then you have the chance to get funded to do research project that is very similar to an REU. You can even participate in an existing REU site!

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Should journals pay for manuscript reviews?


It’s not rare for people to remark, “Why should journals expect me to work for free? Reviews are hard work and my time is valuable, and journals since people are paying to publish and journals have revenue streams, so I should get paid!” Or something like that. It doesn’t sound unreasonable.

I don’t think having academic journals pay for reviews as a general proposition is a good idea. Is it good for people to be compensated for their work? Yes. However, would it be worth the necessary consequences if it became standard practice for journals to use a fraction of their budgets to pay reviewers? I don’t think so. If you happen to be one of the “I don’t want to review unless I get paid” crowd, please hear me out.

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Competence is underrated


Academics spent a fair amount of time focusing attention on people who do exceptional things. Fauci’s h-score. Doudna’s career of research that led to the development of CRISPR. Banner’s masochistic desire to stay in grad school. The fawning over Nobel laureates in general.

This makes sense. After all, exceptional things are, well, exceptional. They stand out. It’s hard to not notice this stuff.

But you know what I find really impressive in a scientist? What really makes me jealous and wish I was like them, and what I aspire to? Competence. People who straight up have their act together and do all aspects of their job in a fully professional capacity, meeting the needs of the people they work with and work for.

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