Friday links: synthesizing data on “synthesis” in ecology, new blog on women in science, and more (UPDATED)

From Meg:

A new study in JEB entitled “Fewer invited women in evolutionary biology symposia” has received a fair amount of attention. I haven’t read the study carefully yet, but liked ProfLikeSubstance’s post on it. (This link in that post, courtesy of SciCurious, is depressing, though.) I did not like the headline on this Science Insider post related to the JEB study, though – women turning down invitations to speak does not mean they are “avoiding the spotlight”!

The Junco Project is something that I learned about based on a postcard at the back of the SSE Education Symposium at the Evolution 2013 meeting (which is where I heard the fantastic talk by Betty Smocovitis). I’ve only watched the first two segments so far, but it seems like it could be useful for my Intro Bio class in the future when covering diversity, evolution, and/or behavior.

And, finally, a blog to keep an eye on: Tenure, She Wrote. It’s a group blog being written by pseudonymous women at various career stages. The first post focuses on mentoring, which includes this wonderful line:

I don’t think I want to be known as the Funny PI, or the Hard PI, or the Motherly PI, or even the Badass PI as much as I’d like to be The PI That Taught Me to Get Shit Done and Do it Well Without Dehumanizing Me.

I’m looking forward to future posts!

From Jeremy:

Over at Oikos Blog, Chris Lortie has two new posts here and here on synthesis in ecology. He summarizes results from two new preprints of his (posted on PeerJ), one of which concerns different types of review papers (systematic reviews, “narrative” reviews, “vote counting” reviews, meta-analysis) as tools for synthesis, and the other of which concerns the practical interpretation of meta-analyses. Among his findings are that ecological journals now publish something like 15x more meta-analyses than systematic reviews, that the historical “signal” of past narrative reviews persists in modern syntheses, and that meta-analyses are more likely than systematic reviews to lead to “evidence-based transformations” of the field. Chris posted his pre-prints in hopes of getting feedback, so if you’re interested please do click through, read, and comment.

Andrew Gelman highlights new work on statistical inference of causality. It turns out that standard multiple regression-based methods for estimating average causal effects from observational sample data will produce biased estimates of the true causal effects in the population, even if the sample is a representative sample. “External validity” apparently is tricky to obtain; it’s not simply a matter of having a representative sample.

Axios Review is a new peer review reform, albeit with strong similarities to several other existing or proposed modifications (e.g., this one and this one). It’s basically an independent editorial board unaffiliated with any particular journal or publisher. You send them your paper, along with a ranked list of four target journals. They put the ms through traditional peer review (i.e. they get reviews from 2-3 external referees). They give you the reviews along with a decision on where they’re willing to refer your paper. They then approach the highest-ranked journal to which they’re willing to refer your paper, asking the journal if it would like to invite you to submit a revised version based on the reviews you’ve already received. The benefit to both authors and participating journals is that it improves matching of mss to journals, while cutting down the wasted time and effort associated with rejections. See here for a few more details. It’s just getting started so the website is still under construction and many details, such as who pays for it and the subject matter coverage, are lacking (although evolutionary biologist Tim Vines, Managing Editor of Molecular Ecology, is involved, so presumably evolution is among the fields covered). An interesting idea worth watching. (HT Jeremy Yoder)

I’m very late to this, but for the recent Evolution meeting Jeremy Yoder designed conference merit badges. Fun idea. Anybody want to design some for the ESA? Or maybe we need some “demerit” badges too? (“Overlong talk: moderator is forced to cut you off.”) 🙂

Google Reader is now dead. Here’s why one prominent user, professional political blogger Ezra Klein, isn’t replacing it with another RSS reader, but is instead going back to bookmarks. He is cutting back his Twitter use, too. Basically, he doesn’t want to live in a self-imposed “filter bubble”. As someone who doesn’t use RSS, and who rarely uses social media to help me decide what to read, I share his view. The advantages of RSS readers and social media-based filters do not always outweigh their drawbacks, at least not for people like me.

Science Can Dance is a new blog on using art to convey science and make it resonate in memorable ways. The author is an experienced artist and educator who does a lot of collaborative work with scientists. Looks interesting.

A while back I asked whether scientists ought to be more prepared to make bets based on their beliefs about how the natural world works. My post was inspired by economist Alex Tabarrok, who argued that “a bet is a tax on bullshit.” Tabarrok’s post inspired a lot of discussion in the econ blogosphere, much of it concerned with what you can actually learn about an individual’s beliefs by observing their bets, and the many legitimate reasons one might have not to bet one’s beliefs. For those interested in dipping into this discussion, here’s a compilation of the recent activity.

Carnival of Evolution #61 is now up. Meg will be interested to hear that there’s some stuff on plasticity in Daphnia. And ecologists will be interested to read about this analogy from Evolving Economics between the greater adaptive evolutionary potential of large populations (because they have more chances to produce beneficial mutations), and the greater “innovative potential” of large human populations. With implications for human population growth. One reason I find this interesting is because it highlights a tension in ecologists’ thinking. On the one hand, ecologists as a group are keenly aware of limits to growth, and skeptical of the claim that ongoing technological advances will forever allow more and more people to enjoy higher and higher living standards. On the other hand, ecology is a sister discipline to evolution, and ecologists as a group are keenly aware of the power of evolution by natural selection, including its power to overcome seemingly insurmountable limits. Those two views aren’t necessarily contradictory, but there is a tension between them, given the strong analogies between economics and evolution. Evolving Economics looks to be all about evolution-economics analogies. Will have to have more of a look when I get a chance.

Tenure, She Wrote is a new group blog on women in academia. Most of the authors are pre-tenure faculty; a couple are PhD students. All are scientists, including at least one ecologist. All use pseudonyms, to enable them to be totally honest. It’s early days, they don’t have much content yet, but worth keeping an eye on. And yes, I know Meg plugged it above, but I actually saw it first. It’s my link, mine! [grabs link from Meg] (HT Terry McGlynn)

Some tips to help undergraduate students read papers from the primary literature, from my buddy Greg Crowther.

Andrew Gelman thinks it’s ridiculous to be invited to write a paper for an author-pays open access publisher (UPDATE: phrasing of this sentence corrected in response to a comment from Andrew Gelman). I found this interesting as an illustration of culture clashes in science. The publisher in question, Frontiers, is one with whom I once accepted an invitation to publish, though I don’t know that I’d ever publish with them again. So while I don’t entirely agree with Andrew on this one, I can definitely see where he’s coming from. But from the comments on Andrew’s post, you’ll see that some people completely agree with him, not just about Frontiers, but about author pays open access publishing in general, to the point where they struggle to understand how anyone could disagree. Any others completely disagree with him, to the point where they can’t understand how anyone could possibly agree! And note that this isn’t a matter of Andrew and those who agree with him being too old to appreciate the intertubes. Andrew Gelman is an active blogger for multiple blogs, he publishes his preprints on arXiv, he writes free open source software, and he collaborates a lot. He’s certainly not closeminded, ignorant, or set in his ways about how scientists should go about conducting and communicating their work! But yet he still doesn’t get author-pays open access publishing–and his opponents still don’t get how he could possibly fail to get it! I find this quite striking. Also a little depressing. When smart, well-informed, well-meaning, honest people disagree strongly, that should be a signal to all concerned that neither side is obviously right or wrong. But when it comes to the debate over open access (and other matters that seem to have been sucked in to that debate), for some reason a fair number of people on both sides seem to be convinced not merely that their views are correct, but that they’re obviously correct. Which is not conducive to productive discussion. I admit that I’ve made this same mistake myself in the past. One way in which my recent TREE paper on the zombie IDH improves on my original blog post is that the paper is careful to emphasize that the conceptual mistakes underpinning the IDH, while serious, are non-obvious mistakes.

And finally, I assume this dolphin is in the midst of evolving into a flounder? 🙂

5 thoughts on “Friday links: synthesizing data on “synthesis” in ecology, new blog on women in science, and more (UPDATED)

  1. Regarding Andrew Gelman’s confusion. The issue here seems to stem from Andrew operating in a manner that is already exceedingly open. His use of preprint servers is very common in certain fields, less so in others, especially ecology/biology – though I note in the same set of Friday links you mention not one but two pre-prints on the excellent PeerJ pre-print system.

    Andrew has already given his work away for free and hence I can understand his surprise and confusion over what to many other scientists would seem a reasonable offer; you cover the publisher ‘s costs and they make your work in a journal freely available, for ever. This is *not* vanity publishing as one commentator suggested – the manuscript in any reputable OA journal will have been vetted to some degree for scientific soundness. It is simply another means to pay the publisher for publishing research – either the author pays for their research to be published or they pay (indirectly) to read the work of others.

    Pre-prints are incredibly useful means to engage in discussion with others about works during the review stage but they aren’t a solution to widening access to research output long-term.

    Your remark about the nature of the debate/disagreement is well made. It is one thing to debate these questions of how we conduct the wider business of science. It is quite another if that debate descends into an endless back-n-forth over whose opinion is correct. An interesting twist in this one is that usually it is between OA advocates and researchers that follow the reader-pays path *and* who *aren’t* making their papers available freely/openly elsewhere. Yet here Andrew has already given his work away, which raises another topic for debate; do we even need journals in the traditional sense? Why not a big server like ArXiv accepting papers (what we might call pre-prints) with Google being our entry point to this uptopian/dystopian future?

  2. Thanks for the coverage of Axios. We are indeed starting out with just evolutionary biology papers for the moment, but we’d like to expand to ecology and other fields in the near future.

    Our big goal is to eliminate decisions like ‘this paper is fine, but not appropriate for our journal’, as these are a big drain on the time and patience of the community. With our review process you’ll only be submitting to a journal when they think your paper is within their scope and can be revised to an acceptable standard, so the overall chances of acceptance should be much higher.

    By way of comparison, it’s a bit like being given a ‘reject, encourage resubmission’ decision – the journal has seen external reviews, and they think the paper has the potential to be a worthwhile contribution. Data I’ve seen suggest that 75% of resubmissions end up getting accepted.

    We are an author pays service, but we think our fee ($250) is well within the reach of most groups, and good value given how much time (and frustration) we can save authors. We’ll also be giving reviewers a $50 discount from their next submission, so I suspect that most groups will only end up paying $200 in due course.

  3. Pingback: Tenure, She Wrote | the roxana monologues

  4. Pingback: Links: art/science conference, LinkedIn group, Hadron Big Bangers, students of Garg | Sing About Science & Math

  5. Pingback: I’m joining the editorial board of Axios Review. Here’s why. | Dynamic Ecology

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