Friday links: a botanical brainteaser, hippos as invasive species, tau > pi, 2>55, and more (UPDATED)

Also this week: twitter as a chatty officemate, important questions in ecology that (apparently) have no answers, the post-publication review/witch hunt lottery, is your PI out to get you, population ecology vs. the British government, and more.

From Meg:

Last week, Chronicle Vitae ran a series on pregnancy, motherhood, and academia. I found this piece, an account of a woman putting off having a baby so that she could focus on her career, only to later struggle with infertility, the most compelling.

This is an interesting post from Katie Mack on the benefits of using twitter. (I’ve covered this topic before, but I don’t have over 11,000 followers.) I especially like her concluding paragraph, “Being active on Twitter is like having a chatty officemate; you can put on headphones if you want to, but if you have a question, or if you want to take a moment to chat (and are willing to risk being interrupted by a particularly amazing cat video), you might end up learning something, and it’ll certainly make those solitary nights in the office a heck of a lot more fun.”

Here’s an interesting post on the benefits of active learning, using a comparison with teaching people how to play card games. The author, physicist Sarah Demers, describes an experience of giving a great, clear explanation of how to play a game that everyone followed . . . only to realize as soon as they tried to play the game that none of the “students” had a clue of how to do that. (It also describes what sounds like a great physics active learning activity that encourages students to use their cell phones in class.)

Finally, the National Zoo in Washington, DC has closed its Invertebrate House because of budget concerns. Very sad.

From Jeremy:

Shane Hanlon reacts to Meg’s post on the mid-grad school doldrums with a series of posts on how, for him, almost everything went right in grad school. Almost everything went right for me too. I’m sure some of that was luck and some of it was skill (on my part, my adviser’s part, etc.).

Hippos have gone feral in Colombia. Yes, really. They escaped from Pablo Escobar’s personal zoo. Apparently models for predicting which species will become invasive need to add “is this species kept as a pet by drug kingpins” as a predictor. And apparently Colombia is awesome hippo habitat because the animals are reaching sexual maturity way earlier than they do in Africa. The linked article quotes ecologist Rebecca Lewison with what seems like a pretty natural reaction to a crazy situation: “Gosh, I hope this goes well!” I assume this story will have Floridians thanking their lucky stars they only have to deal with alligator-eating pythons. Joking aside, this actually isn’t funny at all for the local residents. Hippos are really dangerous. And as the linked article discusses, there are no easy options for dealing with the problem.

Charley Krebs muses on when academics should retire. Or be forced to do so by their employers, but as Krebs notes this theoretical possibility is rarely enforced.

Another one from Krebs, this one on important questions in ecology. Worries that a lot of ecology’s important questions seem to be awfully long-standing, suggesting that they’re unanswerable because they’re ill-posed. I don’t worry about that as much as many other people (Krebs is hardly alone in his concern here). I think it’s ok for a field to be motivated and organized around some “questions” that are too broad and vague to be answerable, as long as the field makes progress on narrower, tractable versions of those questions. For instance, Krebs uses “What are the mechanisms governing species’ range margins?” as an example of an unanswerable question (given that it goes back to Alfred Russel Wallace and we’re still asking it today). But I dunno, I feel like recently we’ve actually made some real, concrete progress on narrower versions of that question (e.g., Hargreaves et al. 2013). See also this old post, where I explain why I don’t care (much) what the biggest question in ecology is.

Arjun Raj asks a good question: how come the post-publication reaction to the apparently-wrong STAP stem cell work has been so intense and negative (there’s talk of shutting down the entire research institute where the work was performed)? While the post-publication reaction to some recent, equally high profile–and equally wrong–physics work (faster-than-light neutrinos and gravity waves) was basically “meh, the mistakes were found eventually, so no harm no foul”? And don’t say it was because the stem cell work was obviously fraudulent or incompetent, as it wasn’t any more obviously fraudulent or incompetent than the physics work. I can think of various answers to Raj’s question (some better than others), but even so, I think Raj has a point. As I and others have said before, post-publication review is here to stay (for high-profile papers), and in many ways that’s a good thing. But like Raj, I’m uncomfortable that there’s sometimes little rhyme or reason to who ends up being subjected not just to post-publication review, but a witch hunt, and so ends up suffering consequences completely disproportionate to whatever mistakes they might have made or even whatever unethical conduct they might have engaged in.

And as long as I’m linking to Arjun Raj, here’s a recent post asking “Is my PI out to get me?” Answer: almost certainly not. A meditation on the nature of mentor-student relationships, and why it might not always appear to students like PI’s are looking out for their interests, even though they are.

It’s mostly liberals who think that GMOs are a health risk and that vaccines cause autism, right? Wrong. In fact, it’s actually pretty rare for public attitudes about risks and other science-related matters to correlate with political affiliations. The exceptions–like global warming–are just that, exceptions.

Population ecologist Tim Coulson takes the British government to task for willfully ignoring scientific advice on badger culls.

How do you teach multi-level selection to undergrads? An example of the general challenge of teaching hard concepts to classes including students who vary widely in their abilities and background preparation.

Why we should replace π with τ (=2π). Seriously. (ht Economist’s View)

How to fight zombie ideas, in cartoon form. 🙂

And finally, this has nothing to do with ecology, but that’s ok: a video of two professional soccer players vs. fifty-five children. (ht Marginal Revolution)

Hoisted from the comments:

Brian shared an edible botanical brainteaser he once made for a potluck. I couldn’t solve it; can you? 🙂 (Spoiler alert: don’t click the link if you don’t want the answer) (UPDATE: link fixed)

I once composed an edible botanical puzzle for a botany lab potluck. The following foods were arranged in order:
mango, broccoli, squash, yams, blueberries, roasted chestnuts, corn/maize. The question is what food comes next?


1 thought on “Friday links: a botanical brainteaser, hippos as invasive species, tau > pi, 2>55, and more (UPDATED)

  1. Pingback: (Almost) everything went right in grad school: Part 3 | ecoroulette

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