Friday links: women in science x3, Peter Godfrey-Smith at 3 am, Dr. Zen on postpublication review, and more

Also this week: Meg has started reading the internet again, happy 50th birthday kin selection theory, the changing nature of academic celebrity, pretty pictures of Jeremy’s “backyard”. Also a link specifically for longtime reader Jim Bouldin!

From Meg:

Here’s an interesting infographic showing where people who start biology PhD programs end up (hint: mostly not in tenure track positions).

I feel like maybe I’ve linked to this in the past, but I can’t remember for sure. Either way, I enjoyed this take on being a mom in academia. The author talks about her strategies for balancing work as an academic with having three young children. I found the last part of the post particularly interesting:

So there you have it. A confluence of luck, good choices, hard work, and support have meant that – whisper it – its not terribly stressful to be an academic working mother, for me. It would be much, much harder work to stay at home looking after 3 small boys day in, day out. I’ve done it. Believe me.

I don’t like being called superwoman. It suggests I’m heading for a fall, in lots of ways. So how about this, I’ll let you call me superwoman if I maintain my academic trajectory and my boys all make it to a happy, healthy adulthood, and are fulfilled and settled in their own ways (whatever that may turn out to be). Then you can call me superwoman. But for now, I’m just a woman who happens to have a larger-than-usual young family and a job that I really enjoy (and how lucky am I, in both counts?). There are lots of us around, all doing our best: it can be done without fanfare.

You’ll also spot that I havent mentioned “work-life balance”.  I dont believe in it. There are only 24 hours in a day, and its all my life. My work is my life and my home is my life and my family is my life and my addiction to mid-century Belgian ceramics on eBay is my life. Going to the British Museum for a work meeting is as much my life as scraping squashed peas off the floor from under the dining room table, or cranking out a book chapter, or leading a sing-song of She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain, or looking at the UX of an iPhone App, is. Life is full, round, packed, joyous, tiring, exhilarating, exhausting, fast, fun, and being lived. I love my family. I love my job. And this is how I do it.

Here’s an interesting, interactive infographic on the percentage of women authors in different academic fields through time. For the 1991-2010 time period, ecology and evolution papers had 22.8% female authors; if you click through, you’ll be able to look at the percentages in different subdisciplines.

And keeping with my women in science theme, this article reports the results of a study (from a few years ago) on differences in the amount of departmental service men and women perform. I found this part particularly interesting:

One duty studied was serving as director of an academic department’s undergraduate program. Of associate professors, one third of women but only 17 percent of men had served as undergraduate directors. “Because undergraduate directors spent more time teaching and working with undergraduates — tasks that research universities tend to undervalue — gendered norms may contribute to women associate professors spending more time in devalued roles,” the paper says.

In fact, the study finds that women associate professors who served as undergraduate directors took, on average, 12 years (rather than the typical 7) after receiving tenure to be promoted to full professor. Male associate professors who served as undergraduate directors moved to full professor at the normal pace. While the study acknowledges that a range of factors beyond serving as undergraduate director may be involved, it notes the significant gap in years.

From Jeremy:

3:AM magazine has been doing a long series of interviews with philosophers. Here’s an interview with Peter Godfrey-Smith, a top philosopher of biology. I’ve read some of his work, it’s really good, very much at the interface of biology and philosophy and motivated by the same questions practicing evolutionary biologists ask. Indeed, he’s actually published papers in biology journals as well as in philosophy journals (e.g., this). The interview touches on things like why he became a philosopher, his views on evolutionary theory, and why biologists should pay attention to philosophers.

Zen Faulkes (“Dr. Zen”, a longtime blogger at NeuroDojo) has a nice paper in Neuron on postpublication review. Good overview of the current state of play, and I agree with most of it. Makes some points that aren’t made often enough, like the fact that much postpublication review actually is positive rather than critical. Interesting suggestion at the end that we don’t really need a centralized venue or formal system for postpublication review. Instead, we should just view online postpublication review in its various forms (blog posts, tweets, Facebook comments, whatever) as more like the informal exchanges at scientific conferences rather than part of the formal scientific record. I can appreciate the motivation for that, but I don’t buy it. It’s true that blogs, tweets, etc. are importantly unlike peer reviewed papers and so shouldn’t be treated as such (and it’s to push back against that mistake that Zen suggests the alternative analogy to scientific conferences). But they’re also importantly unlike scientific conferences, and so shouldn’t be treated as such.

Kin selection theory is 50 years old. Here’s a good article recounting its history and marking its continued relevance. (ht Ed Yong)

A nice post on what mechanistic models are, their contrasts to standard sorts of statistical models (including so-called “causal” models like structural equation models), how mechanistic models often have non-mechanistic bits, and more. Uses an ecological example (SIR models).

Anecdotal but interesting article on the changing nature of academic celebrity. In particular, how new ways of becoming a well-known public intellectual, such as TED talks and to a lesser extent blogs, seem to favor certain fields over others. And also favor certain sorts of people over others. Includes comments from evolutionary biologist Sara Lewis, one of the few ecologists or evolutionary biologists to become famous via TED talks. (Aside: I hope Sara’s right that TED can be a vehicle for shifting the public’s views on controversial issues like evolution vs. creationism, but I highly doubt it) Of course, previous ways of becoming a public intellectual also favored certain fields, and certain sorts of people, over others–just different sorts of fields and people than are favored by blogs and TED talks. I wonder if the same changing dynamic of fame is happening on a smaller scale within fields; I suspect it is.

An experimental study of a psychological mechanism by which zombie ideas persist.

My Calgary colleague Lee Jackson is a really good nature photographer (one of several in my department). The link goes to a gallery of his best shots, many of which depict our local mountains.

This is old but I missed it at the time: how the US Forest Service helped reduce the rate at which maple baseball bats shatter. Don’t say I never did anything for you, Jim.🙂

And finally: it’s final exam season! So here’s a music video that gives voice to what your undergraduate students are probably thinking right now. (NSFW)🙂 (ht Frances Woolley, via Twitter)

8 thoughts on “Friday links: women in science x3, Peter Godfrey-Smith at 3 am, Dr. Zen on postpublication review, and more

  1. Jeremy, can we reschedule these “Friday links” posts for Saturday? Because they’re seriously messing with my productivity! Much better for relaxing on a weekend morning with a cup of coffee.

  2. Thanks for the commentary on my article. Much appreciated!

    I agree that some forms of post-publication review are not like conferences. I think you’re right that I was fumbling for an imperfect counter to the poo-poohing of “anonymous bloggers should publish their criticisms in the journals of record.” Online commentary is its own emerging thing, and how they people use them those comments is going to be variable, and will be changing as we go forward.

  3. Isn’t the cachet associated with giving a TED talk waning a bit? Especially with all the TEDx events, the pizazz of the talks and the quality of the brand seems to be diminishing. At the beginning, they were exceptionally polished presentations reminiscent of Steve Jobs at an Apple Developer’s Conference. Now they’re little more than slightly above average academic seminars (but watered down from a technical perspective).

  4. Thanks Jeremy. I’d been reading about that over the last couple years. Here’s a link to Kretschmann’s original engineering study: Very interesting work, showing it’s not really the maple itself causing the problem, but the difficulty in assessing the spiral grain therein, which greatly reduces strength. it’s much easier to see the grain in white ash (ring porous) than maple and thus avoid the spiral grained wood. I tried to find good numbers on the amount of switching to maple that has occurred but could not.

    There is also an interesting ecological tie-in here: the effect of the ash borer invasion on the switch to other species, including maple. No major effect yet, but when the borer infests the area in Pennsylvania and New York that H&B (“Louisville Slugger”) uses as their main white ash source, it will be interesting to see what happens.

    I’m also noticing an increase in the number of hockey sticks breaking on slap shots recently–about one a game in my recent experience. Wondering about that too and would not be at all surprised if the cause is similar.

    • Hmm, good point re: the ash borer, that will indeed be interesting to keep an eye on.

      And you could be onto something about hockey stick breakage. I vaguely recall reading something about that a while back, but the memory is too vague for me to even try to search for what it was.

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