Also this week: how being a cyclist is like being a woman, scads of advice for navigating the tenure track, against rejection without review, and more. Oh, and the National Science Foundation has been reading our old posts. At least, I like to think so.🙂
Read this great post by Andrew David Thaler at Southern Fried Science. It covers several stories from the past week that relate to women in science, and has the blunt title “These things are related”. As he summarizes,
So, to reiterate, in the last week, we’ve been asked to ignore the profoundly misogynistic behavior of one long-departed scientist because his contributions to the field are too important; a graduate student is suing her former university for what appears to be systematic sexual harassment by her superiors; 1 in 5 researchers in the field report being victims of sexual assault; and one of the leading scientific journals thinks is perfectly appropriate to feature a dehumanizing image of sex workers on their cover.
Your amazing natural history video of the week: a great blue heron catching and eating a gopher. (ht Jessica Light)
I just ordered this book, Girls Who Looked Under Rocks: The Lives of Six Pioneering Naturalists, even though my daughter is younger than the intended audience. It looks great! (ht: @bug_gwen)
How being a cyclist is a lot like being a woman. (ht: Tracy Teal)
Joan Herbers had a melancholy post on life after lab closure. She gave up her lab researching ants to focus on work related to gender issues in STEM. This part was particularly painful:
As I transitioned to my new career, piles of old notebooks were relegated to the recycle bin. Some contained data collected to tackle questions that have been answered or are no longer interesting. Many more data were still useful and could fortify other lines of inquiry. Even so, nobody wanted my notebooks and I needed the space. So out went all those numbers, gels, charts, computer printouts, and methodology notes.
I’ve written about having data go unpublished for lack of time before, but, still, the thought of throwing away raw data is so sad. (I’m not saying I don’t understand her decision, just that it’s sad to have to do that.)
Here’s a post on how to mitigate bias in a job search. This department made the long list based on anonymized CVs, but then based the short list on full, non-anonymized applications. It includes suggestions for what they would do differently in the future, and made me think of UConn EEB’s efforts to do a gender blind search.
The latest issue of the Ecological Society of America Bulletin has a bunch of short pieces by prominent ecologists talking about old papers that influenced them. All the pieces are open access, I believe. And Caroline Tucker of The EEB and Flow writes about papers that influenced her here.
Also from the latest Bulletin: how to plan for safe field work. Also includes discussion of lines of authority and power relationships.
And one more from the Bulletin: ecological papers that are rejected without review commonly end up getting published in similarly-selective journals. Which doesn’t necessarily prove the original editors wrong. Maybe they were right and subsequent editors and reviewers were wrong, or (more likely) maybe people just differ in their opinions. But it does prove that papers receiving editorial rejections often are not obviously worse (on any dimension) than papers that get sent out for review. Which is a problem, since many journals say that they only reject papers without review if those papers are obviously uncompetitive for publication. The claim is that rejection without review just saves everyone time, because those papers would get rejected anyway. Not so. In an ideal world, I think rejection without review would be unnecessary or very rare. But failing that, I personally would like to see selective journals that reject lots of papers without review state a different, and I think more accurate, rationale for doing so. Something like this: “The whole point of a selective journal is to provide filtering, on various grounds including but not limited to technical soundness. A lot of our filtering is done by our editors, without the aid of reviewers, because that’s easier and faster than lining up reviewers. No doubt other editors, or reviewers, would make different filtering decisions, but so what? People’s professional judgements differ, and judgment calls are inherent to any process for filtering scientific results. So if you don’t like the professional judgements of our editors, stop reading and submitting to our journal.” (Note: the linked data don’t necessarily represent a random sample from a well-defined population, but I think they’re good enough data to prompt and inform a blog discussion). (UPDATE: see the comments for some typically-thoughtful and measured pushback from Ben Bolker. Ben correctly notes that editorial rejections for “lack of fit” that eventually get published in an equally-selective journal with a different profile arguably represent editorial successes rather than failures.)
Meg posted on this one yesterday, but I wanted to comment as well. Clancy et al. report results of a web-based survey of field scientists (mostly archaeologists and anthropologists) of their experiences with sexual harassment and sexual assault in the field. It’s a follow-up to an earlier, smaller survey we’ve discussed before. Substantial proportions of respondents reported experiencing sexual harassment and even sexual assault, most commonly trainee women victimized by male supervisors. I don’t think it’s worth getting too caught up in the exact numbers, which could be off for various reasons the authors discuss. I think it’s clear there’s a serious problem that needs addressing, even if we aren’t sure exactly how accurate the numbers are. The biggest take-away for me was that respondents mostly had little awareness of codes of conduct or reporting mechanisms. This seems like something that ought to be at least partially addressable (e.g., see link to ESA Bulletin piece above). I used to be fairly casual about training my grad students and their undergrad assistants for field work and talking about issues that might arise. I guess I felt like I knew them well enough that I could trust them to conduct themselves appropriately. And apparently that attitude is common. But I’m trying to get my act together and do better. See the comment thread in that old post of ours for some good discussion of practical steps you can take as a PI (including from Katie Hinde, a co-author of Clancy et al.).
Say you currently have a long-term academic position. How do you decide whether to apply for another one? A guest poster at Crooked Timber discusses his/her own decisions on whether to apply for several positions, each with their own pluses and minuses. Also discusses the issue of whether to apply to jobs you think you wouldn’t take (or even jobs you’re sure you wouldn’t take), just to get the interview practice or some leverage with your current institution. (Personally, I wouldn’t take an interview someplace if I was sure I wouldn’t take the job, as I wouldn’t want to waste other people’s time, money, and interview slots). Written from the British perspective but most of the issues raised apply more broadly. Though in contrast to the post author, in my experience candidates who don’t precisely fit the job description often are quite competitive.
Economics blogger Noah Smith with a bird’s eye view of changing modeling approaches in macroeconomics. I always find it interesting to compare and contrast what seems to be going on ecology with what’s going on in other disciplines that have some things in common with ecology. Touches on different uses of mathematical models–making quantitative predictions vs. sharpening your intuitions and checking your logic. Questions the value of verbal arguments, especially “classic” ones. That bit has some good lines, about how physicists do not write papers about the Newton-Aristotle debate, or worry about whether their equations capture what some Important Person “really” meant. That bit is definitely relevant to ecology (e.g., this). Concludes with a discussion of the impact of blogs on the direction of the field, suggesting that it’s been modest but positive on balance, but with the downside of injecting too much acrimony and aggression into professional debates. (That last one is a hard one; the optimal level of civility is a tricky issue. And at least in macroeconomics, acrimony also arises from the high political stakes.)
Lots of discussion on the internet this week over how we should think about Richard Feynman, who was a brilliant scientist but also behaved very badly towards numerous women. See here, here, here, and here (and also this old post, which is belatedly relevant). Got me thinking about a lot of things, but my thoughts are still kind of inarticulate, plus they’re not specific to Feynman or to how men behave towards women, so I’ll save them for another time. (ht to the Southern Fried Science post Meg linked to above)
This is old, but it’s still interesting to contemplate: what widespread behaviors, attitudes, or policies will be regarded as immoral in the future? I was wondering about this in the context of science, whether there are current widespread scientific practices that in future will be regarded as immoral, or at least professionally unethical.
Jeremy Yoder on a proposal in the popular press for peer review reform. He’s kind enough to give Owen Petchey and I a shout-out. Also gives a shout-out to Axios Review, with which I’m involved.
Speaking of peer review reforms proposed by Owen Petchey and I, the NSF is experimenting with exactly the same idea for their grant reviews: obliging those who submit grants to do reviews in return. NSF didn’t get the idea from us (others, before and after us, have thought of the same idea independently). But it’s gratifying to see that people whose job it is to make sure that peer review works are thinking along these lines.
Hoisted from the comments:
This is old, but I think I forgot to hoist it at the time: an interesting exchange between me and a commenter on what constitutes “self promotion” online, and whether or not it’s ever a good thing. This is a topic on which people have widely varying opinions. The exchange of comments starts here. Semi-related to the Feynman stuff, since Feynman seems to have been a quite deliberate self-promoter.