Friday links: community assembly vs. Go, Hurlbert vs. neuroscientists, and more (UPDATED)

Also this week: paying for the party, Dan Simberloff interview, brazening it out, “just so” stories, why Meg almost had to punch Jeremy, and more…

From Meg:

According to this article, which reports on an analysis of statistical methods in neuroscience articles in Nature, Science, Cell, and Nature Neuroscience, “No adequate correction was made in any of the 53 percent of the 314 papers that contained clustered data when surveyed in 2012 and the first half of 2013.” That is, they treated multiple measurements of a single neuron as though they were as independent as measures of different neurons. My first thought? They need to read Hurlbert. (UPDATE: A commenter provides a link to a very good blog post discussing this paper and reporting correspondence with the paper’s authors. Turns out the headline number of 53% would be better stated as “at least 23%”, which is still worryingly high. The post also is really interesting because the author was initially sceptical–how could so many neuroscientists possibly be making such a basic mistake–but now is convinced there’s a serious problem.)

This post from drdamebbiolock at Tenure, She Wrote talks about how students address her and the assumptions and implications that go along with that. She says, “Whether someone refers to you as “Dr.” or “Mrs.” or “Ms.”, and whether or not you correct them is in some small part about the politics of respectability. … [Titles] shape how people speak to you, whether they respect your opinions, whether they validate your work, how your work gets covered in broader science communications pieces.” Personally, I expect undergraduate students in my classes to call me Dr. Duffy or Professor Duffy. When undergrads start in my lab, I tell them that it’s fine with me if they call me Meghan or Meg, but that I also understand that they might prefer to call me Dr. Duffy and that’s fine too. Grad students call me by my first name, but I do appreciate when the first email from a prospective student is addressed more formally (e.g., “Dear Dr. Duffy”).

Jacquelyn Gill asks which just so stories in ecology and evolution persist (or need testing).

From Jeremy:

Those of you who teach at (or attended) colleges and universities with a significant fraternity presence might be interested in this: Paying for the Party. It’s a book about how many colleges and universities (knowingly?) facilitate a “party path” to a degree, which students from well-off families can take without much risk to their future prospects. This party scene then creates risks for other students who get caught up in it, especially women. Good review and discussion here, which includes reactions from undergrads who read the book for a class. (disclosure: I haven’t read it but it’s on my [lengthy] list).

Interesting but only very tangentially related to ecology: why computers find Go much more difficult than chess. The very tangential connection to ecology comes from an old post in which I compared community assembly to certain chess endgames, and suggested that both were “inherently complex” phenomena that humans can never fully understand even if we can build perfect computer models of them. The difficulty computers have playing Go, and the fact that Go-playing programs work totally differently than chess-playing programs, suggests that I should revisit that analogy to community assembly at some point. (ht Marginal Revolution)

BioDiverse Perspectives has an interview with Dan Simberloff. It’s mostly about invasion biology. Includes Simberloff’s take on Peter Kareiva’s work with the Nature Conservancy (Simberloff himself sat on the Conservancy board at one time). Also a lot of material on Simberloff’s agreements and disagreements with Mark Davis on invasive species management. I was struck by one of his (many) responses to Davis, which is basically to say that Davis must be wrong because he hasn’t had much impact or changed many minds (at least not the minds of people whose job it is to make policy). I hope I’m misunderstanding Simberloff here, because I don’t like appeals to authority (here, the authority of the majority). It’s a recipe for perpetuating bandwagons and zombie ideas. Simberloff also takes issue with what he sees as Davis’ polemical language (or Davis’ claimed unwillingness to disavow polemical language used by others). In general I disagree, I think there are times when even scientists writing for their fellow scientists are entitled to use rhetoric and strong language. But this specific case is complicated and isn’t one I know much about, as I’m not an invasions guy. More broadly, one kind of gets the vibe that Simberloff dislikes contrarianism and strong language, which surprised me a little as he himself is kind of known for both. But perhaps I’m misreading his comments.

Retraction Watch with the story of two chemists who see critics of their work (well, one critic in particular) as “cyberbullies”, and have set up a website to make their case and collect stories of “cyberbullying” from other scientists. In general, I do think that scientific cyberbullying happens, and that it can happen even to quite prominent scientists. But in this particular case, the work in question is work that the US National Science Foundation’s Office of the Inspector General and the authors’ former employer wants retracted because the results were “recklessly falsified” (the words of the Inspector General). So it hardly seems like “bullying” for other scientists to criticize the work, and the two chemists who performed it and continue to defend it. But give these two chemists credit of a sort–if you decide to brazen it out, you might as well go all-in, I guess.

For more on the broader issue of post-publication review vs. “cyberbullying”, see this discussion from one of the central participants in another recent dust-up (in physics). I found it particularly interesting because the author has some telling criticisms of post-publication review in its current form even though he’s a strong advocate of post-publication review. The suggestion for leading journals to somehow embed or incorporate moderated post-publication review (or maybe moderated, pre-publication “crowd” review) into their reviewing process is an intriguing one. And Andrew Gelman continues to muse on how what seems like purely negative criticism of the work of others can actually have positive value.

This post on differentiation of research vs. teaching roles among Ontario universities notes that increasing the existing level of differentiation seems infeasible (and I would add, not necessarily desirable). It then raises an interesting suggestion: what about differentiation of roles among individual faculty members within departments? The post suggests assigning much higher teaching loads to faculty who aren’t research-active, but notes that in practice this doesn’t happen in Ontario universities (or elsewhere, in my experience). Perhaps that sort of differentiation doesn’t happen because it’s informal, which might make it awkward to implement for various reasons? In contrast, here at Calgary there is formal differentiation of roles among individual faculty members. You’re hired, tenured, and promoted as either “professorial stream” or “instructor stream”. The former are expected to do research, the latter are not and so have higher teaching loads. Calgary’s system seems to work well, in my experience. For instance, instructor stream faculty aren’t looked down upon by professorial stream faculty. Rather, we all see each other as colleagues. And I’m sure there are other formal and informal differentiation systems out there. For instance, it’s my impression that at many British universities, there are either formal or informal systems that dramatically differentiate the teaching loads of individual faculty, based on how research-active they are. Perhaps a British reader can confirm or correct my impression here.

And finally, earlier this week I was toying with the idea of doing an April Fool’s post, something like Andrew Gelman did. But it’s a good thing I didn’t, because Meg retweeted this:

I don’t want Meg to punch me. 🙂

4 thoughts on “Friday links: community assembly vs. Go, Hurlbert vs. neuroscientists, and more (UPDATED)

  1. I thought that I should leave this link as a response to the statistical problems in (systems) neuroscience:

    I think the original article was not suggesting that the problem was using multiple measurements of the same neuron as independent, but rather multiple neurons from the same animal (but I can’t tell because the Nature website has been on the fritz the past couple of days).

  2. Certainly Swansea University (in Wales, UK) has clear teaching and research streams for academic staff, with a clear effort being made recently to recognise that promotion pathways and opportunities should be equal in both, recognising the different contribution that staff make. There are also possibilities to switch streams where appropriate. This is all a good thing.

    I’m not sure how widespread this is across the UK – there may be differences in expectations across unis – e.g., no matter how research focussed you want to be, if you’re in an academic job in some UK universities, you will simply have too high a teaching load to get much research done.

    This probably won’t improve in the near future, as the Westminster government have removed the caps that English universities have on recruitment (not a good thing). As far as I know Welsh unis haven’t done so yet, but may. There is still a cap on the number of Welsh students they can recruit, as the Welsh government contributes towards their fees, but there may not be a cap on the number of non-Welsh students that can be recruited to Welsh unis. I’m not sure what Scottish unis do these days, but it’s likely to be similar to the Welsh situation, as the Scottish government pay (at least some part of) the fees for Scottish students (a good thing).

    Just in case you weren’t aware, higher education is devolved across the UK regional governments. But I’ve only been back for 1.5 years, in a different part of the country to where I did my UG & PG, and things are constantly changing!

  3. If you need to be convinced that pseudoreplication remains an issue closer to home (in applied ecology) despite Hurlbert and others, you may be interested in this review by Ben Ramage and colleagues (including myself)
    Ramage, B.S., et al. 2013. Pseudoreplication in tropical forests and the resulting effects on biodiversity conservation. Conservation Biology 27.2 : 364-372:

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