Also featuring: women in science stats, what to ask during your grad school interview, what scientists actually look like, and more! Oh, and the Rolling Stones get a shout-out.
The Matthew Effect is a rich-get-richer phenomenon; it occurs in many walks of life. One context in which it might occur is scientific citations. Do more famous authors get cited more just because they’re famous (thereby making them more famous, thereby causing them to be cited more, etc.)? Hard to say, since lots of things affect how often a paper is cited. A new study from researchers at MIT tries hard to isolate the Matthew Effect for scientific citations. Here’s the press release, on which I’m relying (can’t find even a preprint of the paper…) (UPDATE: see comments for a link to the paper) The study looks at the rates at which researchers receiving a prestigious award (HHMI awards) were cited before vs. after receiving the award. If getting the award makes you more famous, it should increase the rate at which your pre-award papers are cited, compared to otherwise-similar papers by otherwise-similar researchers. And that’s what happens, though the effect isn’t massive. The effect is strongest for researchers who previously weren’t prestigious, and for recent papers that were otherwise likely to be little-cited.
Terry McGlynn has a “novel”* idea: have you ever assigned a work of fiction (like, say, a novel) when teaching a science class? If not, maybe you should consider it. The post and comments have a good discussion of the whys and hows of doing this, and suggestions for works to assign. A. S. Byatt’s Morpho Eugenia, the basis for the film Angels and Insects, is the first idea that occurs to me, at least for a class on animal behavior or social insects.
The journal Ecology now rejects 50% of submissions without external review. Wow, I had no idea it was that high. I’d be curious to know how fast the rate has increased over time (pretty fast, I’d guess), and what the rates are at other leading journals. I don’t like the rate being that high, as I think it introduces too much stochasticity into the review process (and I say that as someone who very much sees a role for peer review on grounds besides “technical soundness”, and who’s comfortable with fairly high levels of stochasticity in peer review at selective journals). One motivation behind the idea of PubCreds was to try to bring about a world in which rejection without review wasn’t necessary.
Of Models and Meanings is the new(ish) blog of Giles Hooker, who works on machine learning. He’s thinking out loud about why we should care about the interpretations of our models. Why should we care about why our models work, not just how well they work in terms of predictive accuracy and precision? If you like Brian’s posts, but wish there were more of them (don’t we all!), Of Models and Meanings should be right up your alley. 🙂
The International Studies Association (an academic society for international studies) is trying to ban the editors of its journals from blogging. Like, any blogging, even LOLcats. I like imagining them taking the same approach to solving other perceived problems:
As the linked post explains, the ban is probably illegal as well as being ill-advised. That the ISA even noticed that its editors might blog, much less cared enough to have a policy about it, illustrates how much times have changed. But that the policy they chose was basically “KILL IT WITH FIRE!” (as opposed, to, say “here are some sensible policies, drawn from the extensive experience that journals in many fields have with editors who blog”) illustrates how much times have yet to change.
Using evolutionary theory to explain institutional change. I wouldn’t blame you if you’re skeptical, since there are lots of vague, arm-wavy applications of evolutionary theory to all sorts of things. But the authors (political scientist Henry Farrell and statistican Cosma Shalizi) are both really sharp, and write blogs from which I’ve learned a lot. And Cosma Shalizi in particular certainly knows his way around evolutionary theory. So if you’re interested in creative applications of evolutionary thinking, this could be worth your time. (ht Brad DeLong)
Last week I linked to a suggestion for statistical software that prevents the user from fishing for statistical significance. Perhaps it doesn’t exist because there’s no market for it? Because apparently there’s a market for the opposite. Very funny (as are the comments). Apparently the Rolling Stones had it exactly backwards–when it comes to statistical software, statistically-uninformed users can only get what they want, not what they need. 🙂
And finally: not sure what to major in? Don’t sweat it–every major’s terrible. (ht Denim and Tweed)
*Pun intended. I’m not sorry. 🙂
I’ve already linked to this article on the “7 year postdoc” before, but I’m going to link to it again because I find it keeps coming up in conversations I have with grad students, postdocs, and new faculty. (Plus, I checked my official Dynamic Ecology Rulebook and it doesn’t seem to be against the rules to post the same link twice.) I really like the idea of deciding what you are okay with doing (maybe you aren’t willing to move anywhere in the country/world, or you really want to do a particular type of research but aren’t sure how “tenurable” that line of work will be), and then using that to set boundaries on what you do as a faculty member. I think this perspective is really valuable for people who are considering stepping off the tenure track primarily because they’re worried about work-life balance or quality of life. Obviously getting tenure will require working hard, but the lore that it requires 80 hour work weeks and ignoring one’s non-work priorities is simply wrong, and I think this perspective is a good one for thinking about how to balance things.
This blog post has an excellent – if depressing – summary of statistics on women in science. It’s really well-written, and I think it’s really important. Even better, it includes a “solutions” section at the end. Definitely worth reading and thinking about, in my opinion.
On a somewhat related note: The dean of the Harvard business school has publicly apologized for his school’s treatment of women students and professors. One of the changes they’ve pledged to make is to have more women protagonists in the case studies that are used (which also get used at 80% of business schools around the world, which seems pretty remarkable on its own). Currently 9% of the case studies have female protagonists; they are aiming to increase that to 20% over the next five years.
For those who are about to head off on grad school interviews, here’s an interesting post on what to ask while on your interview. It’s geared towards biomedical programs (as a result, the section on what to ask first year students is not likely to be relevant to most ecology programs), but I think it’s an interesting take on what sorts of questions will reveal the most useful information on a recruiting/interview visit.
A tumblr “This is what a scientist looks like”, which aims to “change the perception of who and what a scientist is or isn’t”.