Friday links: Rich Lenski is blogging (!), scientist goes rogue (!), shark-bear (?!), and more

From Meg:

I like this post on dealing with rejection (which is an essential skill in academia, since we all get rejections often). I agree with all four points. I certainly find that I need to take some time away from the reviews before I can really read and process them. And I agree that complaining about reviewers on twitter is not a good idea (especially from a named account). As the post says, it doesn’t make you look good, and the person who wrote the review may very well see it. h/t: @highlyanne

On a related note, DrugMonkey has a post on the rarity of positive feedback in academia. I do try to make sure to give positive feedback when I think it’s warranted, but it would be interesting to know what my lab folks think.

And, finally, Rich Lenski has started blogging and tweeting! I think this is fantastic, and look forward to following both his blog and his tweets. (Jeremy adds: here are the slides from the talk on social media for scientists that convinced Rich to start blogging and tweeting)

From Jeremy:

In the wake of the recent ESA and INTECOL meetings, I thought this was timely and thought provoking: Political science blog The Monkey Cage points us to Mark Rom, who argues that big academic conferences are “lumbering dinosaurs”. The article begins by rehashing some familiar complaints about big conferences–multiple talks you want to see all being scheduled at once, talk quality varying widely, speakers getting little feedback, etc. And then suggests a radical solution: the “customized conference”:

  • Conferences should consist of two kinds of talks: “teaching” and “learning”.
  • Teaching talks are for polished presentations on finished work. They should teach the audience something. These would be more or less like traditional conference talks.
  • Learning talks are for describing work in progress, or even ideas for new work. The presenter wants feedback–wants to learn something from the audience. These talks would be more like posters in some ways.
  • Here’s perhaps the most radical bit: “customization”. The teaching talks would be chosen via an online vote. Only those who get sufficient votes get to give a teaching talk. This is intended to ensure that the teaching talks are high quality, and are the ones attendees want to see.

There are lots of immediately-obvious objections one could raise to this system, such as that it more or less guarantees that only people who are famous (often for stuff they did years ago) will get to give teaching talks. The linked article tries to address many of those objections. I mostly disagree (I love the ESA meeting and don’t think it would be improved by this proposal). But I could see incorporating elements of this proposal into the ESA meeting (e.g., a few “learning talks” sessions would be an interesting experiment).

Via The EEB and Flow, news that the British Ecological Society has published a how-to guide to peer review in ecology and evolution. My own advice on how to write a peer review is here.

Evolutionary pharmacologist Ethan Perlstein has “gone rogue”: he’s set up his own independent lab, supported by crowdfunding. And rather than publish in traditional journals, he puts all his results on his website in real time. Read his story here.

Hoisted from the comments: conservation biologists are working too hard. Data on the time of day to which manuscripts and reviews are submitted to Biological Conservation reveal that weekend submission rates are increasing 5-6%/year. Approximately 27% of submissions are now made on weekends or outside of regular working hours. Which recalls the following cheesy-but-famous verse:

My candle burns at both ends;

It will not last the night;

But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends–

It gives a lovely light!

Here are two nice recent posts from Andrew Hendry at Eco-Evo Evo-Eco. One is on how evolutionary responses to medical treatment are likely to differ between infectious diseases and cancer because only the former are transmissible. Another argues that “parsimony”, aka “Occam’s razor”, doesn’t really have a place in the evaluation of scientific hypotheses. I agree. (And by the way, that old post of mine has a short but excellent comment thread, well worth your time if you’re interested in the post topic).

An engineer, a chemist, and a statistician are working in a lab when a fire breaks out… 🙂 (HT @StatFact)

And finally, don’t you wish this was how hybrid speciation worked? Thanks to the wonders of Photoshop, now you can have your very own gerbilion! Or a frogopotamus, or a mushtopus. And then there’s the shark-bear, the sharknoceros, the hammerhead shark-gull…Sadly, the smallest one is the bee-lion, so Meg will have to create her own shark-Daphnia and I’ll have to create my own sharkmecium. #hopefulmonsters #hilariousmonsters #griffensareforamateurs (HT Photoshop Disasters)

16 thoughts on “Friday links: Rich Lenski is blogging (!), scientist goes rogue (!), shark-bear (?!), and more

  1. Meg, do you think Rich Lenski blogging is a game changer for some non-blogging evolutionary biologists in terms of how they perceive blogging?

    Now we ecologists just need to get Dave Tilman blogging… 🙂

  2. I find kinda disturbing that a single blogger/ scientist,however popular and good and incredible he/she is,should move the masses to better places (i.e. blogs).What about critical and independent thinking?Never been a fan of follow the leader arguments,maybe it is just me.

    • Well, I don’t know that he’s moved anyone yet! And it’s possible some people might react to the news not by following his lead, but by just shaking their heads in bemusement (“What’s gotten into Rich Lenski? Why the heck would he bother blogging and tweeting?”), or shaking their heads in awe (“Wow, not only is Rich Lenski a great scientist, he also somehow finds time to blog and tweet! What a uniquely amazing guy he is! I wish I was that amazing so that I could blog and tweet too!”)

      More importantly, I don’t think Meg meant to invoke the fact of his blogging and tweeting as proof by authority (“Rich Lenski is blogging and tweeting, therefore blogging and tweeting must be good things and everyone should follow his lead.”) I certainly didn’t mean to invoke such proof by authority. Instead, I was wondering if it could be a game changer because it would get people’s attention and so encourage them to reconsider their views on blogging or tweeting. I was wondering if Rich Lenski’s blogging and tweeting creates a “teachable moment”, if you like. A lot of people who think negatively of blogging or tweeting just think that way as a knee-jerk reaction, and often don’t really understand how scientists use blogging or tweeting. For such people, hearing that Rich Lenski has begun blogging and tweeting could make them stop and think, make them curious about what blogging and tweeting are good for.

      Now I suppose one could object to that as well, on the grounds that a “teachable moment” could or should be able to come from anyone’s blogging or tweeting, not just the blogging or tweeting of someone famous. But in practice, one “filter” that people use to decide what to pay attention to is “pay attention to what famous people say and do”. Personally, I’m not too bothered by that, as I don’t see how it’s all that different from, say, reading papers that having been highly cited (or widely shared or tweeted…), or reading blogs that lots of other people read, or reading the top hits from a Google search (which basically amounts to reading the stuff other people have linked to most often), or etc.

      That’s not to say I don’t value independent thinking–I value it hugely! I just don’t think there’s any such thing as totally independent thinking–independent thinking doesn’t mean “totally ignoring what anyone else thinks or does”, obviously. So no, nobody should just mindlessly copy Rich Lenski! But I think even the most independent thinker has good reasons to take notice of what someone as good and famous as Rich Lenski says and does (and might have a hard time avoiding taking notice even if he/she wanted to).

      • Jeremy, I see your point. But if one famous scientist (Dawkins, Lenski, Wilson) after two weeks says “blogging in worthless”, “tweeting is ridiculous”, “publishing in OA journal thing is as terrible as smoking cigarettes all day long”, what should people do? Take notice? I do not in terms of who is saying that. He is talking about experimental evolution, you bet I do.
        And I repeat, I am not talking about the guy, I am talking about ‘authority’, I hope I am not misunderstood.
        Should catholics listen to the pope? Apparently yes, but you know, I’d much prefer sometimes not to (I am sure what I am referring to is clear). When Wilson said what he said about math, did you take notice? I mean, it is not that you take notice when something is going in your direction, and ignore or criticize when not. Wilson was teaching, but you did not agree and I am sure you would have preferred him not to write what he wrote. E.O. Wilson said that! One of the most famous scientists of the last 50 years!!!!
        I do not know how many terrible advices I received from ‘famous’ people who do not have a clue about what’s going on, but due to the halo effect are listened to.
        I blog (just started), but is it valuable for everyone? Should everyone blog? I am sure the answer is not, both for them and for the blogosphere. Totally 100% sure.
        Senior faculties are skeptical of blogging? Well, senior faculty, I am sorry you are still wandering in the 18th century, but you know, things changes and it might be valuable for me and I tell you why. I did that many times, I am still here, be polite, be honest (quite often), and nothing terrible will happen.

      • I guess all I’d say is that it’s up to each of us to decide what to pay attention to or what to ignore, and live with the consequences, good and bad. This is more of a general remark, not really directed at you or your comments specifically. But it’s related to the topic you and I have been discussing.

        There are basically two reasons to pay attention to things other people pay attention to (and “famous people” are among the thing people pay attention to). One is that the things lots of people pay attention to might be ‘better’ in some way. Like the old advice about how to find a good restaurant in an unfamiliar city–go to the busy restaurant. Obviously, there are many cases where such “wisdom of the crowds” fails, where the crowd is “mad” rather than wise (think of bandwagons, for instance). But even an imperfect “filter” is presumably better than no filter at all.

        Another reason to pay attention to things others pay attention to is that it’s often hard to function as a member of some group if you’re ignorant of what everyone else knows about, and they’re ignorant of what you know about. For instance, I know of some people who would prefer to ignore papers published in Science or Nature (regarding them as oversold rubbish). But they find it difficult to do so in practice, because that means ignoring papers that everyone else in their field pays attention to. Not that everyone else in their field believes Science or Nature papers–but they do at least take note of them. To the extent that you consciously ignore what others pay attention to, you’re separating yourself from those others, intellectually.

        As to whether anything “terrible” will happen if you ignore something that others are paying attention to, I think that’s very case-specific (and I’m guessing you’d agree). I’m quite sure, for instance, that many people can still function great as scientists without reading any blogs, much less blogging themselves. Different ways of working work for different people. But I do think there are limits. For instance (and this is a totally made-up example), I don’t think it’s feasible in ecology at the moment to only read or cite papers published in open access journals. If you did that, you’d be too uninformed about what’s going on in the field. Presumably, it’s for that reason that even the strongest advocates of open access publishing–people who only submit to and review for open access journals, for instance–don’t go so far as to not read or cite papers in non-open access journals. At least I’ve never heard of anyone going that far.

        Note that I say all this as someone who quite consciously makes an effort to pay attention to a wide range of stuff, who doesn’t want to end up trapped in a “filter bubble” as far as I can possibly avoid it. And as someone who worries about the effect that things like bandwagons have on the direction of science.

        I agree 100% that it’s unfortunate when someone who works in one way advises everyone else to do the same, or assumes that everyone who doesn’t do the same must be doing it wrong (see But in my experience, it’s not just senior people who do that. Every way of working, including new ones like blogging, Tweeting, etc., has advocates who are ignorant about other ways of working and who incorrectly assume that anyone who doesn’t do as they do must be doing it wrong.

        I also agree 100% that someone who is an expert in one area isn’t necessarily an expert in all areas. I guess I would just add that expertise can be construed too narrowly as well as too broadly. I’m sure Rich Lenski himself wouldn’t claim to be an expert on the use of social media by scientists. But he does know an awful lot about doing and communicating science. And so if he decides that blogging and tweeting is something that will help him do science better and communicate it better, I think that’s something people ought to take seriously. Rich Lenski absolutely should be regarded as an “authority” on more than just experimental evolution. Similarly, E. O. Wilson himself isn’t a mathematician. But as a prominent scientist and professor, he’s absolutely an authority on the role of mathematics in science, and in how we should teach mathematics to undergraduates. So while I disagree strongly with his views on these matters, I have no problem with the fact that lots of people paid attention to what he had to say. It’s absolutely right and proper to regard E. O. Wilson as an authority on the teaching and conduct of science, and so to take notice of what he has to say on those subjects.

        Finally, if someone famous says or does something I approve of, and others pay attention purely because that person is famous, am I happy about that? Yup! 🙂 Because I’m a realist. In my ideal world, everybody would come around to my way of thinking purely due to empirical evidence and logical arguments. And in my ideal world nobody would ever follow someone else’s lead or take someone else’s word for anything purely on grounds of fame. But we don’t live in my ideal world and never will. So while I try to do what I can to help bring the real world a bit closer to my ideal, I’m not going to say no if, say, someone starts reading blogs because the famous Rich Lenski told them to! 🙂

      • Jeremy said:
        “I was wondering if Rich Lenski’s blogging and tweeting creates a “teachable moment”, if you like. A lot of people who think negatively of blogging or tweeting just think that way as a knee-jerk reaction, and often don’t really understand how scientists use blogging or tweeting. For such people, hearing that Rich Lenski has begun blogging and tweeting could make them stop and think, make them curious about what blogging and tweeting are good for.”
        Yes, that is exactly what I had in mind. Some people, who had previously dismissed blogging or tweeting as frivolous without really thinking much about it, might give it more serious thought now. And, of those who do, some may end up finding blogs and/or twitter interesting and useful.

  3. Jeremy, you explained very well your thinking and we are not distant from each other, and it is a nice discussion. I am perfectly aware that famous or relevant people are more “inspiring” that less famous and less relevant people, I agree with you.

    You wrote:

    “But he does know an awful lot about doing and communicating science. And so if he decides that blogging and tweeting is something that will help him do science better and communicate it better, I think that’s something people ought to take seriously.”

    I’d like to briefly add that as new restaurants often close in the first 6 months – 1 year, most blogs are over before that. Especially when there is a rush of posts in the first few weeks. And (I do not want to repeat myself, just briefly) what would the message be in the case the famous scientist stopped blogging? That blogging is not relevant/important etc.? I see his blogging (your blogging) with curiosity and I am definitely looking forward to read what he (you) is (are) writing, but yes, after reading Khaneman’s I cannot avoid thinking about the halo effect.
    Well, blogging is not relevant for him/her, maybe he had other 1000 thousands other things to do (like everyone else pretty much), maybe he/she discovers he does not enjoy writing non-technical things, may be he/she had a bad week and lost momentum. Oh well, I might think, he/she does not think it is important, why should I bother?

    Ok, final message I think I will share: in the case he will go on blogging, it would be a very nice message especially to senior faculty that apparently (I have never witnessed this myself) consider social media a waste of time. Let’s just (cynically) wait a bit.

    • I very much enjoyed reading this thoughtful discussion Simone raises important points, including some that I’ve pondered. Will I stay involved on twitter? Will my blogging survive for a week, a month, a year? So far I’ve survived six days on the blogging front ;>)

      Truthfully, I don’t know. I decided to try these things after hearing a talk by my colleague Titus Brown on the potential benefits of social media for science and science communication. By engaging in social media for the last week, I’ve certainly been exposed to lots of interesting things, from scientific discoveries to news stories to humor, that I would have missed otherwise. But these take time, and that’s our more precious personal resource.

      So I see my social-media activities as experimental at this stage! And, of course, many experiments are abandoned or otherwise fail.

  4. Pingback: Friday links: significant excess of (barely) significant results, sympathy for the dean, and more | Dynamic Ecology

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.