Also this week: Caroline Tucker vs. microbial ecology, the prehistory of the replicability revolution in psychology, and more.
Do a few Google image searches for “scientist”, or for specific scientists, or just look at some lab websites, and you’ll find that the pictures run to type. Lots of shots of scientists in the lab or at their field site, or with some obvious stand-in for their lab or field site. For instance, here’s E. O. Wilson with an ant sculpture,
Based on some conversations I’ve had with colleagues recently, I’m starting to wonder whether I should do more intensive mentoring* of the students in my lab, especially related to long term goals and whether they’re on track to achieve those goals.
To start out with what I currently do: almost all of the students who work in my lab are paired with a grad student or a postdoc. That person does the day-to-day mentoring on a particular project. In addition, I meet with students more sporadically, with those meetings focusing more on bigger picture things – what projects they are working on, what their career goals are, applying for summer research positions, applying to grad school, etc. It’s tailored to the student’s interests, but, at the same time, I’m starting to wonder if it’s not specific or intensive enough.
Many ecologists, including me, want to discover generalities. We want to see the forest for the trees. That often means abstracting away from certain details so as to focus on features shared by all cases of interest.
But is there such a thing as too much generality, or the wrong kind of generality? It’s a good thing to step back and see the forest for the trees, but what if you step back too far (into deep space, say)? Don’t you lose sight of the forest, or end up mistaking the forest for something else?
Also this week: the boy who cried wolf vs. type I errors, pre-registered replication vs. stereotype threat, update on double-blind reviewing at Am Nat, myths of scientific software, scientific texts vs. Google Ngrams, and more.
tl;dr: Making scientific debate faster can be a good thing, but only in combination with other good things. But the combination of “speed plus other good things” may not be a stable combination, because changes in technology and norms of scientific practice that promote speed also tend to inhibit those other good things.
Functional Ecology just published a bunch of data from the past 10 years (i.e. as long as
the journal has existed data are available) on correlations between gender and various aspects of the peer review process (ht Retraction Watch). The headline results that most caught my eye (click through for much more):
When I teach, I often note to students when there is a word that is used differently in ecology than in everyday speech, since I think this can contribute to confusion for students. So, I found this tweet really interesting:
This would be really interesting to try with ecology students!
I think one of the biggest ones is “competition”. In my experience, this is one of the most difficult concepts for students to grasp, and I think it’s because, for most students, “competition” evokes thoughts of a basketball game or boxing match or something like that. I think this leads to two sources of confusion: first, competition is often subtle (at least, from our human perspective). As I told my students last week, you might not look at a field of plants and think, “Whew! That is some fierce competition going on out there!”, but the competition is, indeed, fierce. Second, in competition, both players suffer, even when we talk about one species “winning”. My guess is that the idea of something like the Super Bowl being a competition that has a winner is part of why that idea is hard to grasp.
One thing I like about blogging as a form is that it’s natural to revisit topics you’ve discussed before. A blog is a record of your evolving thoughts.
Or sometimes, your “living fossil” thoughts that haven’t evolved at all. Earlier this week, I posted on questions you should ask yourself if you’re thinking of starting a blog. It was a really easy post to write, I banged it out quickly. Presumably because, as I just discovered, I’ve written it before.
They say the memory is the first…wait, what was I talking about? :-)
That recent post was pretty popular despite being a total rerun. Which illustrates how any old post that doesn’t come up high in common Google searches gets flushed down the internet’s collective memory hole. I’m now tempted to take a break from writing new posts, and just repost old ones, but without telling anyone I’m doing it. Then I’ll wait and see if anyone notices. I’m betting nobody will–since after all I just did it and even I didn’t notice! :-)