Via Owen Petchey, a classic little piece from Charles Krebs on why your research will almost certainly never make it into an ecology textbook. Short version: it’s because you haven’t provided an appropriate summary. Well worth reading as presentation advice, even if you have no ambitions to have your work appear in a textbook.
A little while back, the famous Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) research facility seemed to have gotten a new lease on life after the Canadian Federal government cut off its funding as part of what many observers see as a systematic attack on the country’s basic research capacity. But it’s a much-reduced life: the whole lake manipulations that were ELA’s bread and butter are now illegal. That’s because ELA’s land and lakes are owned by the province of Ontario, but under a long-standing legal agreement with the province the Federal government is the entity with the legal right to conduct experiments on the lakes. The feds have now pulled out of that agreement. Which hasn’t stopped them from trying to claim credit for “saving” ELA. That that claim is totally unsurprising doesn’t make it any less appalling or shameful.
The cover story (!) of The Economist this week argues that the way scientists do statistics and publish their results needs fundamental reform, to improve repeatability and eliminate publication bias. Echoes what’s been said many times here and elsewhere–but the fact that it’s The Economist that’s saying it is noteworthy. I’m just a nobody blogger, and indeed in the grand scheme of things pretty much every garden-variety scientist is a nobody. Even if the editorial board of Science or Nature says something it’s mostly only scientists who take any notice. But if The Economist says something, policymakers and others with real power take notice. Of course, the cover puts it rather more provocatively than even I would have. (HT Rees Kassen, via Twitter)
A tough critique from some UC Berkeley profs of student evaluations as a way to measure the effectiveness of faculty teaching. Part 1 here, part 2 here. Notes that the only two randomized controlled trials of teaching evaluations ever conducted find that good evaluations are negatively associated with teaching effectiveness. It’s only two trials, and results of further trials no doubt would vary substantially, but still. By the way, I write this as someone who gets good teaching evaluations. I think that’s in part because I actually am a good teacher in some ways (in other ways I need to improve). But it’s also in part because I’m a decent-looking male with good stage presence who cracks jokes–attributes that probably help my evaluations at least a bit without doing much for my actual teaching. (HT Brad DeLong)
PubMed Commons is a new system for commenting on articles in the PubMed database. Andrew Gelman passes on details here. The basic idea seems to be that journal-based commenting systems are little-used because they’re clunky, and that a centralized system will fix that and encourage the development of a culture of commenting on the literature. Good luck to them, but I’ll believe it when I see it. I think they’ve misdiagnosed why journal-based commenting systems are little-used. I think all the worries about the technical design of the commenting system, who should be allowed to comment, whether anonymous comments should be allowed, whether to have upvoting of comments, etc., are small potatoes in the grand scheme of things. Most scientists, including many who are active on social media and as blog readers, simply have too many other higher priorities to take the time to write comments on published papers. There’s no professional norm that people should do it, and no incentive to do it, and I don’t see how building a commenting system on PubMed will change that. The analogy to commenting systems on popular websites like IMbD is a bad one on multiple grounds. Those sites are far more popular than PubMed Commons ever will be (no matter who’s permitted to comment), and so have a large absolute number of commenters even though only a small proportion of users comment. And the vast majority of comments on popular websites are short and non-substantive. And while you can argue that even brief comments have some value, there’s already a system that some scientists use to make brief comments on published papers–Twitter. But that’s social media, and I don’t think that’s at all analogous to PubMed Commons. Nor is PubMed Commons going to be much like a blog, and so I can’t see it developing a sufficiently large and active community of commenters to ensure that most papers get commented upon, the way most posts on a good blog draw lots of comments. I predict that PubMed Commons will fail just as most existing journal-based commenting systems have failed: the vast majority of papers will attract no comments. Don’t misunderstand, I don’t want PubMed Commons to fail. It’s just that I’ll be (pleasantly) surprised if it succeeds. More than happy to completely eat crow if I’m wrong on this. Certainly plenty of smart people (like the folks who developed PubMed Commons, Larry Wasserman, and the folks at Retraction Watch) disagree with me and think that PubMed Commons will be a great success if only they get the commenting policy right. And I suppose there’s an argument to be made that, even if PubMed Commons fails, the attempt helps to bring forward the time when the culture of scientific communication has changed sufficiently for a similar attempt to succeed.
A story that you probably have no reason to care about, but that caught my eye since I’m an alum of a financially well-endowed liberal arts college (Williams) that offers need-blind admissions. I was very fortunate not to need any financial aid myself, but it’s important to me that Williams does right by applicants who aren’t so fortunate as I was. At least, I sure hope they do right by less-fortunate applicants, and haven’t been basically lying about their admissions policy for years the way George Washington University has. (HT counterparties.com)
Terry McGlynn talks about his goals for Small Pond Science–to write a blog that’s inviting and interesting to professionals (especially those who don’t ordinarily read blogs). I enjoy it when bloggers go “meta” once in a while and reveal the thought process behind what they’re trying to do, though of course too much of that sort of thing would seem like navel-gazing. My goals for my own blogging are similar to Terry’s, and I liked seeing someone else articulate those goals. See also this neuroecology post for another articulation of the same goals, and a lament that few science bloggers seem to share those goals (see here, here, and here for more on why that might be). Of course, there are all sorts of good reasons to blog, and your approach to blogging needs to be tailored to your goals. Approaches that help achieve one goal can inhibit achieving a different goal. I think Terry’s right that achieving the goals he wants to achieve and reaching the audience he wants to reach means making sure his blog doesn’t start picking up any elements of a social network or “club”. Although as I noted in a comment over there, there’s obviously more than one way for a blog to fail to attract the sort of audience the author hopes to attract. And it was amusing to see some prominent science bloggers attempt to refute Terry in the comments, only to end up unintentionally illustrating his point.
Venomous crustaceans have been discovered! Aaaaah! Run for your…oh, they’re tiny, blind remipedes that live in underwater caves, you say? Ah. [smooths clothes, coughs, shuffles in embarrassment] But wait–you speculate that they could be responsible for otherwise-unexplained deaths of divers? Aaaaah! Swim for your lives! :-) Just kidding; maybe we need someone to explain how, no, you weren’t really bitten by a
brown recluse spider remipede. :-) Zen Faulkes has more on this intriguing discovery. Lots of other arthropods are venomous, but no known crustaceans–until now. In extremely tangentially-related news, the silly Roger Corman crab monster movie I linked to earlier apparently inspired a poem by Lawrence Raab, a prof at my undergraduate college. It’s a good poem, it’s in at least one major poetry anthology. C’mon, you have to click through to a poem inspired by a Roger Corman movie about giant crabs! :-) Dynamic Ecology: we take a back seat to no one when it comes to free association! :-)
The 2014 SEEDS Undergraduate Research Fellowship application deadline is coming up on November 15th. SEEDS lists its mission as being “to diversify and advance the ecology profession through opportunities that stimulate and nurture the interest of underrepresented students to participate, and to lead in ecology.”
Caffeine is a favorite substance of academics, so there might be interest in this infographic showing caffeine content of different food and drinks.