Poll results on statistical machismo

An ongoing theme to some of my posts has been the notion of statistical machismo. As noted recently, statistical machismo is not really about using (or not using) complex statistics. It is about using more complex statistics for bad reasons (e.g. to impress people) or forcing other people to use more complex reasons again for bad reasons or out of the ill-conceived notion that there is always one correct, best way to do statistics. The discussions on the last posts raised interesting questions about whether statistical machismo is really a problem or if it occurs just as often in the other direction (forcing people to use simple statistics). So of course that called for a poll . I am going to report on the results here. Continue reading

Concerned about the US tax bill? Here’s what to do.

Last week, the United States Senate passed a tax bill that would have major implications for universities. This comes on the heels of a bill that passed the US House of Representatives, which contained provisions that would make it much more costly to be a student. To quote from a piece by the University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel and Michael V. Drake,

The House bill would repeal current tax incentives, including the Student Loan Interest Deduction (which in 2014 helped 12 million taxpayers), the tax-exempt status of tuition waivers for graduate students serving as teaching and research assistants (which helped close to 145,000 people in 2011-12), and the above-the-line deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses.


This means interest on student loans would be treated just like credit card interest — neither would be deductible, at a time when many are struggling to repay their student loans. Graduate students who work their way through school by serving as research or teaching assistants receive tuition waivers that would be taxed. And students and parents from families with moderate incomes will no longer be able to deduct up to $4,000 in qualified higher education expenses from their taxable income.

The House bill would also repeal or devalue key credits that help low- and middle-income students, including the Lifetime Learning Credit, the Hope Scholarship Credit and the American Opportunity Tax Credit. The lower-income students who use these credits are those who can least afford to pay more for their educations.

The main hope at this point comes from the House and Senate having passed very different bills. The House bill contains the provision that would mean tuition waivers are no longer tax-exempt. The Senate bill does not contain this provision.

We’ve now reached the stage where the House and Senate bills have be reconciled — that is, where legislators and their staffers need to work out the differences between the two bills (which, as I said above, are pretty different). Universities are working hard to make sure that the final legislation does not include the House version of the grad student tuition waiver (or lack thereof).

One piece of information that came to light yesterday about a mistake in how the Senate bill taxes corporations means that it is more likely that the reconciled bill will also get rid of the grad student tuition waiver, which is not good news for graduate students or universities. The reason for this is that legislators will want to fix that mistake to add back corporate tax deductions, which will increase the cost of the bill. They’re already at the $1.5 trillion max, so they need to do other things to increase revenue. Like tax grad students. In other words:

That’s the bad news. The good news is that the mistake also means the Senate is likely to have to vote again on the bill. But I think focus yesterday was on how ridiculous it is that Republicans passed legislation with such a major mistake in it (which is true), without also focusing on the implications of this for the grad student tax.

I asked people who know a lot about this what someone like me or the students I know who are concerned about this can do. There was universal agreement that it is really important for students and others who care about this to contact their Representatives and Senators to let them know how they feel. The National Humanities Alliance has a tool that will make this easier for you. You can use the standardized language they provide, or you can personalize things to your situation. I always get nervous when calling my policymakers (even though I usually end up just leaving a message rather than speaking to an actual person and, when I have spoken to a person, they’ve always been very polite). So, I write out what I want to say ahead of time.

One thing to consider for students: if you live somewhere like Ann Arbor where our representative (Debbie Dingell) already shares our concerns with the bills but are still registered to vote in another area (say, the place you grew up) and the person in that area does not share your concerns about the bill, it might be more effective to contact the person who does not currently share your concerns. And, if the debate continues through the holiday break, you can try to visit your Representative and Senators at their district offices!

Another question that comes up is whether to contact the local office number or the DC office. I’ve been told by some people that it’s better to call the DC office (and the tool I linked to above will help you figure out those numbers). But if you can’t get through there, you can try the local offices. If you are unsure of who your representative is, you can click here. (By the way, other folks say it doesn’t matter which office you call. Everyone agrees that the most important thing is that you call somewhere, with where you call being less important!)

So, I like Ethan White’s strategy:

You can change “review big chunk of PR” to “count one sample” or “write two paragraphs” or “make two slides” or whatever works for you. But, if you’re concerned about the potential changes to the tax code, make sure you carry out steps 2, 4, and 6!
December 8th Updates:
  1. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has more information on the proposed tax overhaul, suggestions for things you might want to highlight when talking to legislators, and information on how to take action.
  2. The National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) is organizing a #DontTaxEducation campaign. Their message “Don’t let Congress deliver a disproportionate and unprecedented hit on higher education. Ask lawmakers to accept the Senate position on these provisions.” Their page will help you contact your legislators.

Skype-based seminar series?

My department has a weekly EEB seminar series. But we’re strapped for cash to bring in visiting speakers. One of my colleagues had a good idea: remote speakers who’d speak and answer questions via skype or videoconference.

Anyone have any experience with this, whether as a host/organizer, speaker, or attendee? Any tips to offer?

My first question is what tech you need to do this well. A few years ago I gave a talk as an invited speaker that was simulcast to other sites. All the sites involved had slick videoconference equipment, which allowed me to see and hear everyone at every site. And the audience members could see me and my slides, not just hear me talk while only being able to see my slides. We have a videoconference-equipped seminar room in the building, though I’m not sure exactly what kit it has. Is there a more low tech way to do it that will still be a good experience for the speaker and the audience?

Guest post: Women and relationships in academia: a curious journey of self-reflection

Note from Meghan: This is a guest post by Merritt Turetsky (@queenofpeat on twitter)

It’s not the first time a survey caught me by surprise. There was that time I glanced through a Cosmo survey – a guilty pleasure on a long flight – and realized that I was now lumped into the oldest age category.

How did that happen?

I actually like being mature, so was able to brush this off fairly quickly. But this survey was different. It somehow felt more personal. And I can’t stop thinking about it.

This survey was part of a department-wide review of gender balance issues. For years, I talked glowingly about my department, with a sense of pride that came from being part of an environment with strong women. When I was hired, I negotiated with a female chair. There was a good balance of female professors across full and associate rankings. Plus, there were several couples in the department. In my mind, this was all evidence that my department supported women in STEM and work-life balance. And as my husband and I accepted separate advertised positions and joined the department in 2008, we became yet another couple in a family-friendly work place. As a group, we seemed like we were on the right track towards gender equity.


Over the past month, we’ve taken on some self-analysis and it has revealed a few surprising trends. Despite our feel-good aura, our gender balance has not budged in the past 20 years. Females comprise 20% of our faculty, and this has been more or less constant.

Continue reading

Guest post: Doing ecology on a rollercoaster in Brazil

Note from Brian: This is a guest post from Marco Mello a professor at the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil. A while back we had an ask us anything question on perceptions of ecology coming out of developing countries. This post stimulated a lot of discussion and it was suggested to solicit some first person experiences. This post is the fourth of several on this topic. Marco is the most senior of all of the guest posts solicited and I think you will notice the long term perspective in his post. I am indebted to Marco for inviting me to speak at the 25th anniversary celebration of the ecology department at his university and for getting me excited about the great ecology happening in Brazil. Marco also blogs at Surviving in Science (in Portuguese but Google Translate is pretty effective).

Have you ever tried to write a paper in a rollercoaster? Let me tell you how it is to do science in a developing country, where the long-term funding policy changes constantly. Continue reading

On what ecological topics do the opinions of specialist and non-specialist researchers differ most?

We talk a lot around here about the opinions of ecologists as a group, and the direction of the field of ecology as a whole (e.g. this, this, this). The opinion of the field as a whole on any broad topic is an amalgam of the opinions of specialists and non-specialists. The specialists work on the topic. But they’re generally outnumbered by the non-specialists who’ve read a couple of papers on the topic, or seen a few talks on it, or heard about it from colleagues, or read about it in a textbook, or etc.

Sometimes, the opinions of the non-specialists will reflect those of the specialists; the non-specialists just take their cues from the specialists. But sometimes, the opinions of the non-specialists and the specialists will differ. For instance, this might occur when early research on a topic makes a big splash and becomes widely known and influential, and later specialist work revising or even refuting the early research gets much less play. Or, one could imagine a subfield that specialists all think is very exciting, but that non-specialist outsiders see as stagnant or insular. And I’m sure there are other reasons why opinions of specialists and non-specialists might differ. And when they do, it’s not necessarily the case that the specialists are right and the non-specialists wrong.

Hence my question: on what ecological or evolutionary topics do you think specialists and non-specialists have the most divergent opinions?

Continue reading

Friday links: why philosophy of science, evolutionary biologist vs. divining rods, and more

Also this week: the Trump administration’s latest attacks on, and neglect of, expertise and information, and how to push back against them. Which is pretty depressing, so there’s an Abba vs. Unix link to make up for it. Also, new experimental data on single vs. double-blind peer review, what to get Stephen Heard for Christmas, and more.

Continue reading

Poll on experiences with statistical machismo

In a couple of recent posts on statistical machismo, it has become increasingly clear to me that there is disagreement about how common statistical machismo even is. Which is an irresistible invitation to produce a poll (as also suggested by a commentor). So please take the following poll. Results will be published after Thanksgiving (week of Nov 28).

Clink here to leave Dynamic Ecology and enter unframed google survey (or link to share): https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSea-c6lbTGCPgj0iJ2rgk38X6HQ6bo2LQ8gj1rsZQyvWKZVUQ/viewform?usp=sf_link

Or take the poll directly here: