Friday links: Science Cafe at the ESA meeting, Peter Medawar > EO Wilson as a source of advice, and more (UPDATEDx2)

From Meg:

This is a rather depressing summary of a new book that focuses on women and parents in academia. One sample quote from one of the book’s authors: “Certainly our most important finding has been that family negatively affects women’s, but not men’s, early academic careers. Furthermore, academic women who advance through the faculty ranks have historically paid a considerable price for doing so, in the form of much lower rates of family formation, fertility, and higher rates of family dissolution.” I warned you that it was depressing!

And here’s a post from Chris Buddle on trading field biology for a desk job, which is something that many faculty will be able to relate to, I suspect. I certainly can. At some point while at Georgia Tech, I realized that it made a lot more sense for me to be at my desk writing manuscripts and grant proposals than it did for me to be out in a boat. I love field work, but, at the same time, there are only so many hours in the day, and those desk tasks need to get done. Hopefully I’ll be able to get out in the field a bit more often; at the same time, I think I’m glad the days of really intensive field sampling are behind me. (Jeremy adds: On my sabbatical a few years ago, I got to do some bench work, as there was no one in the lab I was visiting to act as my technician. I badly underestimated how long it would take to set up my experiment and had to stay in the lab until 2 am to do it! I was actually pretty pleased with myself–it made me feel young, like “Hey, I can still do this kind of work and live to tell about it!”)

From Jeremy:

Last year I suggested that the ESA annual meeting should have Science Cafes. Turns out I wasn’t the only one who thought so. This year the ESA has partnered with local Minneapolis science cafe program Sip of Science to do a science cafe on Wed. Aug. 9 at the Aster on the Minneapolis riverfront. And rather than just going with somebody who’s already well-known for doing outreach-type events, they are holding a contest to pick the speaker! You have until June 23 to enter the contest. Kudos to ESA for having a go at this, I think and hope it will be a great success.

Ace science blogger Athene Donald reviews E. O. Wilson’s new book, Letters to a Young Scientist, from which Wilson’s recent and much-discussed editorial on math was drawn. She compares it unfavorably to a similar 1979 book, Nobel Prize winner Peter Medawar’s Advice to a Young Scientist. Whatever you think of Wilson (and I’m guessing that to many of you he’s a hero, or at least someone you greatly respect), you really ought to click through. Athene began Wilson’s book with high hopes, based on positive reviews it had received elsewhere. She ended up very negative, in ways that I think are very insightful and astute. The problems with Wilson’s book go way deeper than his dislike of math or his tendency to overgeneralize from his own example.

Speaking of advice to young scientists, here’s advice from Zombie Marie Curie. An oldie but goodie.

When is it ok to do a regular ol’ least-squares linear regression with a binary (0,1) response variable? If you said “never”, you are wrong. As Brian has noted more than once, routinely insisting on complex procedures (here, a logit or probit model), without bothering to consider the purpose of the analysis, is the hallmark of people who think they know more about statistics than they actually do. (HT The Monkey Cage) UPDATE: Ace statistician and blogger Cosma Shalizi pops up in the comments to note his own disagreement with the linked post. I’m a fan of Cosma’s work so I’m flattered he stopped by. And while I found the linked post interesting and provocative (my own training was of course to always use logistic regression with binary response variables), I freely admit I’m not a statistician. So I could be mistaking “way off base” for “interesting and provocative” here. Cosma’s views here certainly are going to be better-grounded than mine, so if you want to just pick someone to believe rather than clicking the links and deciding for yourself, you ought to go with Cosma rather than me. 🙂

John Bruno publishes and discusses the reviews one of his papers received from marine ecology journals. He also suggests that sloppy, biased, and overly-critical peer reviews are much more common at specialized journals (in his case, marine ecology and coral reef journals) than at leading general journals like Ecology and Ecology Letters. Do you agree? I have no idea, since I don’t have the option of publishing in specialized journals (there aren’t any for the sort of work I do).

Andrew Gelman asks about the statistical properties of the “smartest person you know” network. That is, if you asked every one of a large number of people “Who is the smartest person you know?”, and then drew an arrow from each person to the smartest person they know, what would the resulting network look like? He notes that you could do the same thing with any referral network. So, who wants to do this for “Who’s the best ecologist you know?”

Carnival of Evolution #60 is now up.

The ultimate univariate probability distribution explorer. Great free resource from the makers of Mathematica (HT Economist’s View)

Frequency of beards among Nobel Prize-winning economists. An amusing riff on the stereotype that economists all have beards. Someone should do a similar analysis for MacArthur Award-winning or Mercer Award-winning ecologists. (UPDATE: In the comments, Brian crunches the numbers and finds that MacArthur Award winners are indeed significantly more likely to have beards than the general population!)

Extinct For A Reason: a funny compendium of invented extinct species. Behold, the neapolitan zebra! Some of these creations are reminiscent of the sidehill gouger. Then again, are you so sure these animals would be “evolosers”? Because actually-existing species are every bit as implausible.

22 thoughts on “Friday links: Science Cafe at the ESA meeting, Peter Medawar > EO Wilson as a source of advice, and more (UPDATEDx2)

  1. Graduate student pro tip: need a little extra help with that fieldwork? Invite busy faculty to come out and assist for a day — or just a morning. Many of them miss the field, but can’t commit to a large amount of time doing their own projects. During the summer, especially, they can often swing a few hours or even a day to get away from the desk — they’ll have a good time and feel happy about helping a grad student. Wins all around.

    Meg: what do you think about the balance of all the depressing studies on women in academia with hope for the future of women in academia? Not long ago I used to enjoy reading this sort of research because I knew it meant the issues were getting some attention. Now I avoid them, because I find it all so discouraging.

    • Hi Margaret. I also initially found reading the literature on women in science interesting, but then decided that I had to start ignoring it because it was so discouraging. I touched on that some in my post on the ecolog hubbub on women in science:
      At this point, I feel conflicted. It’s still depressing, but I also feel like I *should* read it, and like maybe I especially should because I have been fairly successful so far. But I have to do it in small doses still. I definitely plan more posts on this topic, but time is somewhat limited right now. Hopefully in the next few months!

  2. By far your most important link was on beards in economic Nobel prize winners. You asked and I shall answer! Although your link decisively disproves the beards in economics theory, I conducted my own study. I examined the 15 ESA MacArthur award winners. Only two were women (bad but not as bad as economics which had only one). Of the 13 males, five are bearded (two impressively so: Wilbur & O’Neill and three with more standard beards: Carpenter, Murdoch & Schoener). This is a significantly higher fraction than the population as a whole (about 10%) (p<0.001). On the other hand, there are no mustaches which is a significantly lower fraction than the population as a whole. One has to conclude the beards help male ecologists think 🙂

      • Right you are – I was going by the Wikipedia list (which ironically is more complete than the ESA website) but is still out of date – make it 6 of 14. And looking at the last 10 eminent ecologist winners (all male, sigh) it is 5 of 10. We ecologists are a scruffy lot!

    • Hmmm… is it that beards helps male ecologists think? Or that you’re more likely to be awarded a MacArthur award if you happen to have a beard? This latter hypothesis may help explain why so few winners are female… 😛

      • I’m betting my career (or is it my grooming) on beards increasing the chance of winning a MacArthur :).

        On a more serious note, it was somewhat satisfying to see that in terms of gender the early career award (Mercer) was less skewed than the mid-career (MacArthur) which was less skewed than the late-career (eminent ecologist) award. Although even the Mercer was skewed if you accept that the sex ratio in ecology is (or should be) about 50/50. Whether this is just confirmation of the leaky pipe skewing things more and more in advanced career stages, or as I hope, just that the start of the pipes for the mid and late career awards reach back past societal patterns that really have changed.

      • Good to know about the Mercer. But now that makes me think that you need to do an age-adjusted analysis for the beard thing. I mean, what if middle-aged guys are more likely to have beards?

      • “Hmmm… is it that beards helps male ecologists think? Or that you’re more likely to be awarded a MacArthur award if you happen to have a beard?”

        Only one way to find out. We’re going to have to shave off Brian’s beard and see if he gets dumber. And we’ll have to have Meg wear a fake beard to see if she gets smarter. I’m sure they’ll both happily agree to this. You know, in the name of science. 🙂

    • Damnit man – enough about p-values, they’re so last century (unlike beards, which clearly remain popular). I want effect sizes. Moustache:sideburn length ratios in particular.

    • But is the fraction of the ecologist population who have beards > the fraction of the general population who does? It wouldn’t surprise me if the answer is yes.

      • Ah – a null model analysis! I am certain the fraction of bearded ecologists is higher than the general population. Alas, I may have to retract my claim that a beard improves ecological thinking in males.

        I recall walking into a restaurant in Montreal when ESA was there (but it was a restaurant several miles from the convention center and I was with my family who were living there at the time – no particular reason to expect lots of ecologists). I told my wife 3 tables that had ecologists. She laughed at me but 30 minutes later she confessed she had listened in on conversations and I was right in each instance (and in the tables around us that I didn’t identify were not ecologists).

        There is definitely an ecologist phenotype recognizably distinct from the average North American or European population. I’m not sure if I’m bold enough to write it down in print though and risk offending everybody (both those who conform and who don’t).

        And Margaret – the Mercer award data did not show a significant beard pattern (only one in the last 10 years – Anurag Agrawal – and if I recall correctly 3 were women – including of course Meg – so it is 1 out of 7). There may be an age based trend of fewer beards among younger ecologists.

        This group is too sharp for me to slip anything by! I hope you’re not reviewing my next paper 🙂

      • Not a null model analysis so much as a question of what the relevant population is for determining the baseline rate…

        Age related trends in what the “typical” ecologist looks like are interesting to consider. A couple of years ago Jon Shurin suggested to me that tatoos had become so common among the young that he now felt like a rebel for not having one. But it wasn’t clear if he was referring to an increase in tatoos that was specific to ecologists, or an increase in the broader population.

    • Wow, a comment from the Cosma Shalizi! I’m a fan of your work, thanks very much for stopping by. I confess I found the linked post cogent, but as a non-statistician my impression should be taken with a large grain of salt. I’ll update the post to note your comment and the link.

  3. As always, I love the Friday Links!

    Re, Meg’s post on families: This is a depressing book. One objection – the careers of men that are involved with their children certainly suffer as much those of their female partners. The statement from the book was poorly worded; on average men may not be measurably affected, but I bet that is because of the huge variance in male parental care of offspring. My partner is a vet, works full time and with three kids (8, 10, 12) there are certainly things I am not doing at the uni that my childless co-workers are. One big one is regularly attending Dept faculty meetings, seminars, social events, etc; all of which happen after 4PM and often after 5. When your kids leave day care and are in school – which closes a 3! – you realize how hard it is to juggle duel career families. I have been getting the “why don’t you attend the fac meetings/seminars/etc more regularly” “I rarely see you” “were you off in the field AGAIN” guilt trip from older, male, full profs for years. I once completely lost it and lectured one old fool about what modern fathers DO at 5 or 6 in the evening most days. I soon left that Dept and moved to Biology.

    The incoming chair of my Dept is the first female, however, like the last 3 male chairs, she does not have children and I suspect will not be especially sympathetic to creating a family friendly workplace. Yes, we have a breastfeeding room. No, Meg, I have never used it. We do have family leave (one semester off teaching, etc) for men and woman.

    Re, Chris Buddle’s piece: I read it yesterday, while in the gym, and loved it. I can related to so many of his experiences.

    Re, E. O. Wilson: Where to begin. I read Athene’s review and totally agree. I heard the Ant King on an NPR talk show (On Point:, ranting about how we need more young people who want to be scientists. Repeatedly arguing that was the limiting factor in science progress. More applicants to grad school… Not JOBS in science. Not FUNDING for science, etc. The man has no sense of how science is actually practiced away from the well-funded confines of Harvard and would never be hired in todays market. What a tool…

    Re, MacArthur Award winners: few are woman and even fewer are marine scientists. Make of that what you will.

    • It’s been really nice to see how supportive people have been of me trying to juggle young kids and work. A couple of my senior male colleagues seemed genuinely disappointed when I showed up to a recent meeting without my baby. (He had attended — and slept through — the prior meeting of this committee.) It’s really unfortunate that that attitude isn’t more widespread.

      • I am curious how they would have felt about whether a new father brought or didn’t bring a baby. In my limited experience, it was more acceptable for my female colleagues to bring their baby to work than it was for me to do so. (Then again, it was a Catholic school.)

      • I’m pretty sure they would be equally accepting here of a father bringing a baby. But I realize that is not true everywhere, unfortunately.

  4. +1000 for Science Cafe and ESA’s decision to hold one during the ESA 2013 meeting. The Faculty of Science at U Regina, where I’ve recently moved too, have Science Pub once a month in a great micro-brewery pub in town and is an excellent way of engaging the public in interesting science in a friendly atmosphere. Is this a common Canadian tradition?

    I’m not so familiar with similar initiatives in the UK, though a good example, that I got involved in, was at the Natural History Museum in London which sought to bring the scientists that work behind the scenes of the museum to front of house to explain what they do. A great idea they had was to have a bar area set aside with a scientist at each table and the public could sit down and ask questions related to the scientists work etc whilst enjoying something wet and possibly alcoholic. I went along to help out a colleague and spent most of the evening discussing climate change and global warming with a really informed bunch of people eager to learn more.

  5. Pingback: Love It or Logit, or: Man, People *Really* Care About Binary Dependent Variables | Marc F. Bellemare

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