Starting experiments with a “nut fig”

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The term “backwards design” is often applied to curriculum design. If you want your students to learn a particular thing, you start with identifying what that outcome should look like at the end of the semester. Then you design your class backwards from that outcome, to make sure your students have a way to get there.

I think we should be talking more about backwards design when when it comes to statistics and the design of experimental and observational research.

Journalists call the key passage of each story a “nut graf.” Shouldn’t we have a “nut fig” for each experiment, and know what the axes and statistical tests will be before we run an experiment? Continue reading

Bringing ecology blogging into the scientific fold

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We’re co-authors on a new paper on “Bringing ecology blogging into the scientific fold: measuring reach and impact of science community blogs”. Of course we encourage you to go ahead and read the paper, because it doesn’t just have our perspectives but is the work of a collection of great bloggers. You can read what our coauthors make of our new paper, too: Manu Saunders of Ecology is Not a Dirty Word, Jeff Ollerton’s Biodiversity Blog, Meg Duffy from Dynamic Ecology, Simon Leather’s Don’t Forget the Roundabouts, Stephen Heard’s Scientist Sees Squirrel, and Margaret Kosmala’s Ec0l0gy B1ts.

If you don’t get to read the publication, our main take home is that there is a large group of people who do read science community blogs, and the influence of these blogs is larger than many realize. Continue reading

What’s up with preprints?

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image from prepubmed

Preprints are not a standard practice in biology. Nowadays, most papers that get published in peer-reviewed journals were not uploaded to a public preprint server.

Maybe this is changing? It looks like preprints are starting to take off. It’s not clear if this is a wave that will sweep the culture of the field, or just a growing practice among a small subset. Continue reading

When scientists are dishonest

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A case of scientific dishonesty has hit close to home and got me thinking. This isn’t a post of the details of the case (you can read more here if you’re interested) or the players involved (I don’t know them more than to say hi in the hallway) or to comment this particular case since I don’t have any more information than what is publically available. So if you’re looking for insider gossip, the following is bound to disappoint. Instead this example has got me reflecting in general about scientific dishonesty and what I can do about it. Continue reading

How many rejections should scientists aim for?

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Earlier this year an article on aiming for 100 rejections a year in literature was being passed around. The main idea is that by aiming for rejections, rather than accepted things we’re more likely to take risks and apply broadly.

Since reading that article, I’ve been pondering how many rejections I should aim for. What is a good number for a scientist? Continue reading

Negotiate authorship before collecting data

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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. Continue reading

Negative results, weird results, and other secrets

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Science is a community endeavor. Much of our knowledge is unwritten, and subsists in the hive mind of our collective social unit. Some of the cooler and bolder — and perhaps more important — ideas are the ones that might not make it to print. My fellow ecologists don’t publish most of what we know, as Mike Kaspari recently reminded us with a quote from Dan Janzen.

We rarely share our piles of negative results, or the little curiosities for which we can’t find the time. Getting a peer-reviewed paper out the door is a non-trivial amount of work, and just mentioning it in a conversation is easier. But, hey, I have a blog where I can mention this stuff.

So let me tell you about two things that I find rather weird, but haven’t put more resources into figuring out. Continue reading

Towards better titles for academic papers: a hermeneutic approach from a blogging perspective

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I think a lot of academic article titles are pretty bad. What do I mean by bad? The title doesn’t really tell you what the paper is actually is about. It could be buried in jargon, or overselling an idea, or focuses on details that most of the intended audience won’t care about.

Does the title of a paper affect how it gets read and cited? Probably. In what way? That’s not so simple, based on my short browse of some scientometric findings. Continue reading

Using blogs for sharing negative results

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I’ve now been blogging for a little over three years. I’m no longer a newbie, but clearly am not an old-timer. Nonetheless, I’ve seen the standard topics of the scientific “blogosphere” (for lack of a better word) get cycled through again, and again. These are topics that are often important to our community, dealing with equity, justice, accessibility, and leadership. That said, I feel like blogs can do more, and serve our own academic communities better. Continue reading

Impatience with the peer review process

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Science has a thousand problems, but the time it takes for our manuscripts to be peer reviewed ain’t one. At least, that’s how I feel. How about you?

I hear folks griping about the slow editorial process all the time. Then I ask, “how long has it been?” And I get an answer, like, oh almost two whole months. Can you believe it? Two months?!” Continue reading

“Open Science” is not one thing

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“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. Continue reading

Natural history, synthesis papers and the academic caste system

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It’s been argued that in ecology, like politics, everything is local.

You can’t really understand ecological relationships in nature, unless you’re familiar with the organisms in their natural environment. Or maybe not. That’s probably not a constructive argument. My disposition is that good ecological questions are generated from being familiar with the life that organisms out of doors. But that’s not the only way to do ecology. Continue reading

What is creativity and how creative are scientists?

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As often happens to me, I have a post idea banging around in my head (or sometimes started on the page) but before I fully flesh it out, some amazing scientists post about the idea even better than I was thinking. Sometimes that inspires me to finish my own post and put it up, others times I let it drop because what has been said feels like it fills the niche.

This week was no different. But reading the connected posts actually speaks to the topic itself so I’m inspired to write my own piece.

I’ve been thinking a lot about creativity and what is novel in science. There are two great posts on creativity (Experimenting with Creativity) and novel ideas  (Where do ideas come from and what counts as “novel”?). Both are worth the read.

My own inspiration started outside science with a gift of a colouring book this Christmas. I haven’t coloured in years and here was the opportunity to try again. Perhaps it would even allow me to create a kind of meditative peace to deal with all the unknowns of unemployment*. The book sat around for a few weeks (we had a puzzle to finish) but I eventually picked up the pencils and a picture and went for it. Is colouring in someone else’s lines creative? I’m sure it isn’t nearly as creative as drawing the original outline but the act of colouring is not without choices. Obviously what colour you use is a choice but also how to combine them, how hard to press, whether to use texture all affect the outcome. Here’s an example of the independent choices made by me and my six year old daughter for the same picture:

Can you guess which one is mine and which the 6-year-olds?

Can you guess which one is mine and which the 6-year-olds?

Continue reading

Ant science: Thieving ants know how to be sneaky

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Ectatomma ruidum. Image by Alex Wild

Ectatomma ruidum. Image by Alex Wild

The most recent paper from my lab is a fun one. We show that thieving ants have a suite of sneaky behaviors, to help them avoid being caught in the possession of stolen goods. These differences are dramatic enough to classify thieves as a distinct and new caste of ant.

Continue reading

Review unto others as you would have them review unto you?

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I am going to go ahead and assume we all want quality reviews of our journal submissions, however you define ‘quality’. Reviewers that take time to seriously evaluate your work, provide constructive feedback and ultimately improve the paper should always be appreciated. But as reviewers ourselves, we know that sometimes we don’t always give each paper our full attention. In general, I try to give good and helpful (to the author and editor) reviews. I try not to take on reviews when I know I don’t have the time to do a good job. Perhaps I am naïve but the impression I get from my colleagues and reviews of my papers is that in general most people are also trying to give good reviews. Continue reading

I’m going to stop ignoring ResearchGate

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LinkedIn, Facebook, ORCID, Twitter, Instagram, Klout, Mendeley, ResearchGate.

I’m signed up for all of these things. Some are useful, some can be annoying, some I just ignore.

Some vague time ago, a friend in my department mentioned that I should sign up for ResearchGate. I said something like, “It’s just another one of those social networks, yadda yadda so what.” But I signed up anyway*.

At the time I signed up, I halfheartedly connected some of my papers, and since then I’ve ignored it. Jump to last week, when one of their emails was creative enough to find its way through my spam filter:

rgateclipI was like, huh? I chose to click over to my profile on ResearchGate.

Continue reading