Summer is sometimes a contemplative time for me. It used to be long hours in the field would give me time to think but now it is just as often that I’m weeding my garden or some other summer activity. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about negative results.
In scientific conferences, the talks are often the least constructive part of the meeting. That’s my experience and opinion, at least. This is ironic, because at least in theory, the talks are the raison d’être of a conference.
When people fly in from great distances to be together, should we really be spending most of the day in dark rooms listening to canned talks from our colleagues? Should we be spending our time on things that we could just as easily do in a webinar?
I recently had an exchange with a colleague, who had just written a review at my request. They hadn’t written many reviews before, and asked me something like, “Was this a good review?” I said it was a great review, and explained what was great about it. Then they suggested, “You should write a post about how to write a good review.”
So, ta da.
I’m familiar with the arguments for and against the March, from major newspapers and social media. If you’re not familiar, don’t worry, I won’t rehash them for you.
I think it’s possible for some people to have an ethical position to oppose something, and for others to have an ethical position to support the same thing. Nobody’s got a monopoly on being right.
I’ve been getting more requests for advice about setting up a blog — usually to elevate awareness about one or two particular issues. Now that I’m more than four years into this game, I’ll no longer call myself a neophyte. Regardless, I have no shortage of opinions, some of which might even be useful.
I don’t remember my New Faculty Orientation that well. Why is that?
A few days ago Canada was abuzz with messages about mental health for Bell Let’s Talk day. The social media campaign resulted in Bell donating 6.5 million dollars to mental health initiatives in Canada, which is great. But I’m not sure that one day a year when everyone feels comfortable talking about mental health publicly actually helps reduce the stigma around mental health, one of the stated goals of the Let’s Talk campaign. Any other day of the year, it’s still pretty difficult to bring up mental health issues, so this post is partly an effort to continue the conversation.
I want to talk about the Who and the How of public engagement.
We should be bringing science to the table with people who aren’t in the market for science. A lot of outreach is preaching to the converted, and that is a valuable form of service. But we also have the ability — and perhaps an obligation — to make science a part of everyday life for a society that just doesn’t think about science on a regular basis.
Teaching basic science is difficult when some folks deny the validity of science. Facts are facts, but there are powerful interests working to convince us that facts aren’t factual. Meanwhile, our incoming government is collaborating with a group that operates a watch list to track the activities of liberal professors. Earlier this year, a leading advisor to the new administration proposed reviving the House Un-American Activities Committee. I imagine that some faculty would be high up on the list of targets.
So, what should we change about what happens in our classrooms?
Authorship disputes are not uncommon. Even when there are no actual disputes over who did what on a project, there may be lots of authorship resentments. That’s because a lot of folks — by no mere coincidence, junior scientists more often — end up not getting as much credit as they think they deserve when a paper comes out.
I’d like to tell you a story about speaking out.
If you don’t ask hard questions about yourself, then you probably aren’t going to hear what you need to hear.
That’s what I learned* from the best fake turkey sandwich** in the world.
When I start a new batch of students in my lab, my spiel includes:
Two problems can prevent success. The first is poor communication, and the second is poor data management.
At the moment, I think this is true. As poor data management is a by-product of poor communication, it really just boils down to communication.
Earlier on in my career, I was too quick to attribute communication failures to my lack of approachability, or poor decision-making by my students. I don’t see it this way anymore.
The Guardian chose to publish a piece from a “serious academic” who made an argument that we shouldn’t share our work on social media.
So who is this “serious academic?” Well, we have no idea. They are an anonymous “young” PhD student. Does this mean they’re some kind of whistleblower, warning the world about the rampant public sharing of academic information?
Anyway, what does the phrase “I’m a serious academic” mean?
My experiences are leading me to worry that strident attitudes against religion are harming efforts to diversify our scientific communities.
As I was avoiding real work and morning traffic, there were a bunch of interesting things on twitter, as usual. Two things stood out.
First was a conversation among science writers, about how to find good science stories among press releases. I was wondering about all of the fascinating papers that never get press releases, but I didn’t want to butt into that conversation.
Scientists regularly contend with irrational denialism of simple facts. In our classrooms, communities and the media, we hear patently absurd things like:
- The world isn’t getting hotter, or even if it is, it’s not from carbon emissions.
- Humans didn’t evolve from nonhuman ancestors.
- Transgenic foods are unsafe.
- Vaccines cause autism.
Any scientist who operates on the basis of evidence will regard those ideas as total bunk*.
But, as I’ve mentioned before, people aren’t rational beings. Especially when their emotions are involved (and they usually are), they’re not prone to think an expert is correct if their intuition tells them otherwise.
So I am not entirely surprised, but I am disheartened, when scientists are guilty of their own flavor of denialism: Education Research Denialism.
“Open Science” is an aggregation of many things. As a concept, it’s a single movement. The policy changes necessary for more Open Science, however, are a conglomerate of unrelated parts.
I appreciate, and support, the prevailing philosophy of Open Science: “the movement to make scientific research, data and dissemination accessible to all levels of an inquiring society.” Transparency is often, though not always, good.
In the sciences, most exams are a closed-book affair. Is this a good thing?
On some tests, I’ve allowed students a 3×5 card, or a one page “cheat sheet.” This is usually met with relief, or joy, or gratitude. When I tell students that they can bring in their textbook for the exam, they get even more relieved.
I might say, “Don’t be so happy, because this just raises the bar for what I’m asking on the exam.” But then, my students say that they feel like it’s not useful for them to have to memorize stuff. And they would prefer solving problems and applying information in novel ways. Even if memorizing stuff is important, it causes a lot of anxiety.
Has Small Pond Science helped increase broader awareness and respect for university scientists and students working outside the R1 environment?
I think, well, maybe, a little bit. Enough to keep me from closing shop. There are a lot of known unknowns, but I’ll focus on some known knowns.