E. D. Hirsch Jr. on how most educational research is “cargo cult science”. There are lots of rigorously conducted randomized experiments with statistically-significant results–but yet little if any generalizable policy guidance. Hirsch argues that this is because the research is atheoretical and phenomenological. A “just the facts” approach aiming for purely statistical description and prediction of what works and what doesn’t leads to what’s effectively a stamp collection of case studies that can’t be extrapolated to even seemingly-similar contexts. Hirsch argues that there’s no prediction without explanation–you can’t discover or predict what works without the guidance of good theory about why it works. Go read, argue if it’s right, discuss relevance to ecology (it’s a great read, not too long, and not technical). As part of your discussion, try to think of counterexamples–successful, predictive sciences based on phenomenological experiments that treat the study objects as “black boxes”. Some chunks of medicine, maybe? (indirect ht Denim and Tweed)
Science blogosphere makes contact with outside world. Very sharp and funny satire, with more than a little truth to it. “It is believed that 80% of science blogs are actually about other blogs.” Maybe it’s for the best that there’s no ecology blogosphere! And before someone points it out, yes, I am aware of the irony of blogging about this piece. (ht Terry McGlynn, via Twitter)
Ten reasons why scientists should read non-scientific literature. I totally agree with the general point, although I’d quibble with the details. Somewhat contra the post, I don’t think there’s much correspondence between the type of literature you read and what you gain from it, except for history and biography. And I don’t know that scientists necessarily are more likely to appreciate, or get more out of, literature with scientific themes as opposed to any other sort of literature. But while the recommendations do skew towards literature with scientific themes, they span a really wide range of time periods, forms, genres, and styles. (ht Small Pond Science, via Twitter)
Data on changes since 1990 in the number of people employed in various roles in US higher education, both overall and on a per-student basis. Basically, expanding student numbers have been dealt with by hiring more part-time and time-contract faculty. And also by hiring more administrators, the justification for which isn’t always clear. (ht Economist’s View)
The wolf population on Isle Royale may be on the verge of dying out, which would terminate one of the longest-running and most famous studies of natural predator-prey dynamics in history. I have a bit of personal interest in this as I did my undergraduate honors thesis on Isle Royale (on rockpool microplankton). I have fond memories of all the moose I saw–I was there in the summer of 1994, just before a big crash in the moose population. Deciding what, if anything, to do about the possibly-imminent wolf extinction isn’t an easy call, either on scientific grounds, or conservation or legal grounds.
My friend and Seattle resident Greg Crowther notes that the crowd size at the Seattle Seahawks Superbowl victory parade was badly overestimated by the media–and that people in Seattle do not like it when you try to point this out. Another blowout victory–for motivated reasoning over facts.
A Twitter robot that automatically generates fake New Scientist headlines. “Tomorrow’s technology today: inflatable pregnancy tests.” “Isolated moose deaths hint that time itself could be reversed.” 🙂 (ht Scholarly Kitchen, via Twitter)
And finally, phrases from scientific papers that would make good band names. My addition to the list would be Chaos Chaos*. Chaos chaos is the Latin binomial of a giant amoeboid protist (actually, the more accepted name is Chaos carolinensis, but that would be a terrible name for a band). I’ve long dreamed of somehow rigging up culture conditions that would cause this organism to exhibit chaotic population dynamics, just so I could write a paper titled “Chaos in Chaos chaos“. 🙂
*Turns out there is a band called chaoschaos! No idea what sort of music they play. Or if they realize they’re named after a giant amoeba. 🙂