Also this week: are your colleagues mutualists or competitors (“yes”), why academics blog, mid-career mentoring, bad science from good scientists, in praise of “self-promotion”, why somebody always hates the dean, pranks as experiments, reproducibility webcomic, cognitive biases vs. football announcers, and more! More! MOAR!!!!11!!1!11!!!!! Seriously, the intertubes were on fire this week. 🙂
A (small) survey of blogs by academics reveals that they’re mostly written for one’s fellow academics, not (say) the general public or policymakers. So we’re in good company, apparently. Or at least in company. (ht Economist’s View)
Andrew Hendry asks a fun question: what’s on your evolution bucket list? His list includes the usual suspects–the Galapagos islands, Down House–and some more unusual choices (I’ve never even heard of bolas spiders). What’s on your evolution (or ecology) bucket list? My own list would include Down House (check), the Galapagos, (not yet), the Serengeti (check), the Burgess Shale (hopefully soon), Archaeopteryx (check), Australia (not yet), great white sharks hunting sea lions (not yet), and a really good coral reef (not yet, though I’ve snorkeled on ok coral reefs). Not the most imaginative list, I confess, but that’s fine–some things are popular for good reason. 🙂
Really good scientists sometimes make really serious mistakes, badly misinterpret their data–and then refuse to change their minds. A sobering series of case studies of lost causes and fringe science in biology that should be required reading for grad students in particular. Among the lessons: don’t get too stuck on your own ideas, don’t be impressed by evidence that’s merely “consistent” with your hypotheses, and for god’s sake don’t take something as gospel just because a famous person says it. (ht Retraction Watch)
Making peace with self-promotion online. (ht Ed Yong) Good, nuanced discussion of an issue near and dear to any blogger’s heart. I especially like the point that some level of self-promotion is good not just for you, but for science as a whole (much as traits like ambition, self-confidence, and a willingness to evaluate the work of others can be good for science as a whole as well as you personally). Of course, everyone has to decide for themselves what sorts of “self promotion” they are or aren’t comfortable with. For instance, Brian, Meg, and I don’t talk about our own scientific work on this blog, unless it’s at the service of making some broader point. But on the other hand, I’m sure there’s someone out there who thinks the fact that we blog at all makes us self-promoters (in a bad way). I think the key is that you recognize and live with the predictable consequences of your choices on this issue. For instance, if you decide that you want your work to “speak for itself” and choose to publish it in an obscure venue, don’t complain if nobody reads it. My only quibble with the linked post is that it repeats the myth that “information superabundance” and “the attention economy” are creations of the internet. They’re not; they go back centuries (probably as far as sometime not too long after the invention of the printing press). For instance, here’s John Stuart Mill writing in 1836. He sounds like he’s complaining about blogs, but he’s actually complaining about newspapers:
[W]hen almost every person who can spell, can and will write, what is to be done? It is difficult to know what to read, except by reading everything…A book produces hardly a greater effect than an article, and there can be 365 of these in one year. He, therefore, who should and would write a book…now dashes down his first hasty thoughts, or what he mistakes for thoughts…[N]ot he who speaks most wisely, but he who speaks most frequently, obtains the influence.
Euan Ritchie is an Australian ecologist with a fairly active blog I just stumbled across. Some of it is about his group’s own research, but much of it is other stuff–commentary on Australian conservation issues, interviews with other ecologists, crowdfunding scientific research, and more. Worth a look.
Commercial journal publishers typically negotiate their prices with academic libraries–and then insist those libraries sign confidentiality agreements to keep the prices secret. Bergstrom et al. used Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain information on how much various institutions are paying for their journal subscriptions. Related old post from Brian here.
An admirable book burning. (ht Economist’s View)
Pranks as natural experiments. Can anyone think of any other examples?
How does having productive peers affect your own productivity? Does it help you via collaboration, or positive “spillover” effects? Or hinder you because your productive peers compete with you for institutional resources? This study of Russian mathematicians says the answer to both questions can be “yes”, depending on exactly how your peers’ work relates to your own. I haven’t read the study so can’t vouch for it, but I thought I’d throw it out there. Apparently there’s a decent-sized literature in economics on these questions. Relates to Brian’s old post on deans as hen breeders. (ht Economist’s View)
Speaking of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, here’s it’s take on commencement speaker protests. You wouldn’t have thought that commencement speaker choice would have anything to do with the handicap principle… 🙂 (ht Marginal Revolution)
The best new optical illusions. They are really strong! Much stronger than many of the classic illusions you’re probably familiar with. (ht Ed Yong)
Speaking of optical illusions, here’s Ok Go’s new music video.
And finally, in honor of the World Cup: cognitive biases in football commentary. (ht Economist’s View)
Female Science Professor has a post at Scientopia (where she writes as just Science Professor) on mid-career mentoring. She primarily discusses issues related to outside offers, but also asks people to add to a list of issues people face once they’ve received tenure that they could use some advice on. She’s working on an article for the Chronicle of Higher Education on the topic, and is looking to expand the list she currently has.
I found this article on whether coding is the new literacy, on efforts to teach coding to kids, and on diversity and programming really interesting. Depressing, but interesting. (ht: Rachel Ludwick)
This infographic shows the sleep schedules of various historical figures, including Darwin. If you take an afternoon nap, you can say you’re emulating Darwin!
And, just in time for summer conference season, ProfLikeSubstance has a post reminding us of one of the undesirable aspects of conferences – namely, that women often feel the need to be on the alert for inappropriate advances, to the point of avoiding certain types of social interactions altogether. As he puts it, “If nothing else this conference season, just ask yourself what type of culture you are supporting for the women in your field.”