Here’s what Meg and I did this week:
Also this week: when flunking tests is good for you, don’t fight sexism by pretending nobody has kids, bad advice for graduate students, active learning the easy way, the two cultures of mathematics, a picture (of your methods) is worth a thousand words, the calculator that will never die (apparently), a devious trick to stop students from complaining about their marks, and MOAR. You really ought to take a long lunch today so you can click through on all this stuff. Our links 1, your productivity 0. 🙂
I like the main point of this post from Athene Donald: yes, it is sexist when headlines and articles point out the number of children a woman has, but the solution to this problem is not to omit the children of successful women, but to include those of successful men. As she writes:
If we sanitise all articles about people of both sexes so that parenthood is taboo, we deny our young the chance to work out how they might want to balance their own lives. Young girls want to know whether it is possible for them to aspire to be senior professionals in whatever field and have children. Young men should be thinking about this too. Maybe we should push the media to have more stories about high-powered men who are dab hands at nappy-changing and the school run rather than berate them for mentioning the fact that a senior woman has given birth at some point.
I enjoyed this post from PsychGrrrl on mentoring. It raises lots of good points. And here’s a Chronicle Vitae post on bad advice that grad students get, which includes (as an example of bad advice) “Depression is normal among doctoral students, so you should just tough it out/exercise more/throw yourself into your work/do some yoga.”
This post from David Colquhoun is a reminder that academia has certainly made a lot of progress on gender equality since the 1960s (even if it still has work to do!) The post focuses on the integration of University College London’s common room in the late 1960s, and was inspired, in part, by a tweet about Kathrine Switzer’s ground-breaking Boston Marathon run in 1967. It also includes anecdotes about women who ignored the rules and used the room anyway, which I enjoyed reading.
Here’s some excellent spoken word poetry from Emily Graslie on the need for more voices in science, and the cues that send girls away from science.
I also enjoyed this piece on the experiences of transgendered scientists, who have a unique perspective on gender bias. It includes an interview with Joan Roughgarden, who said “men are assumed to be competent until proven otherwise, whereas a woman is assumed to be incompetent until she proves otherwise”.
Finally, FemaleScienceProfessor had a piece on writing tenure letters. I know this is in my future, and found this interesting to read.
Ecologist Stephen Heard has a fun new open access paper on whimsy, jokes, and beauty in scientific writing. He addresses the various objections scientists have to writing in anything other than a bone-dry style, and argues that we could all make our papers more enjoyable to read without sacrificing (and indeed, sometimes even enhancing) clarity. Here’s a question, inspired by Stephen’s paper: how will blogs and Twitter affect the writing style scientists adopt in their papers? Blogs and tweets often are casual, whimsical, funny, and forceful. As we all become more comfortable with that sort of writing in our daily lives, will that sort of style start to creep into our papers? Maybe somewhat like how dry newspaper journalism is being replaced by alternative models written in a more entertaining style? Or alternatively, will blogs and Tweets function as an outlet for scientists’ jokey, entertaining urges, so that it becomes even less acceptable to write papers in anything other than a dry style? “Save the jokes for your tweets and the colorful analogies for your blog,” we might imagine a reviewer saying.
Andrew Gelman highlights a nice exchange he had with Deborah Mayo on falsificationist vs. confirmationist approaches to science. I think Gelman’s right that, in practice, a fair bit of null hypothesis testing in science is actually confirmationist rather than falsificationist. And that two big reasons for this are vague scientific hypotheses, and investigators “testing” those scientific hypotheses by checking predictions that are only loosely and indirectly derived from them. Gelman’s examples are from psychology and social science, but I think this is an issue in ecology as well. See for instance this guest post on the hypothesis that species interactions are stronger and more specialized in the tropics. A hypothesis that, judging from the comment thread, seems to be poorly defined (since otherwise why would be people be arguing about what exactly the hypothesis is and whether piles of empirical studies actually test it?)
Speaking of poorly defined hypotheses…Andrew Hendry with a post on how the currently-popular hypothesis that adaptive plasticity promotes adaptive evolution isn’t being tested properly. Because however the data come out, people seem to interpret it as favoring the hypothesis. I’m not qualified to judge it, but I found it provocative in a good way.
Terry McGlynn with a great post on how to do active learning the easy way. The main thing you have to give up on is teaching students a great breadth of material. Your goal instead is to have them really grasp and retain a few key concepts. And a side benefit is that you actually spend less time on teaching prep.
Semi-relatedly: when flunking a test is good for you (or your students). When it’s a pretest, of course. (ht Marginal Revolution)
Why students (probably including yours) still use TI-84 calculators. (ht Economist’s View)
Joan Strassmann on what kinds of evolutionary biology questions her undergraduate students struggle with, and why. I sometimes avoid problems with students assuming they know more about the organism than they do by asking questions about silly, made-up organisms like jackalopes.
Here’s a great essay on the two cultures of mathematics: theory builders vs. problem solvers. Worth reading both from an anthropological, how-do-other-fields-work perspective, and because it applies to theoretical ecologists as well (more on that in a forthcoming post). Includes wonderful discussions of what makes a mathematical problem “interesting”, what makes for work of lasting value to future generations of mathematicians, the various ways a field can be more than just a stamp collection of special cases, and more. (ht Mike, via the comments)
I don’t usually highlight ecology papers, figuring y’all can filter those without any help from me, but this was particularly provocative: DNA barcoding as a method of species identification may be on the brink of irrelevance even before it fully emerges, thanks to advances in sequencing technology and the resistance of barcoding’s advocates to those advances. I know nothing of barcoding, so don’t have any useful comments–anyone care to chime in? (ht The Molecular Ecologist)
Acclimatrix of Tenure, She Wrote with some good advice on surviving year 1 on the tenure track. I’d add that it helped me to keep in mind that lots of other people were going through, or had gone through, the same stuff. Keeping that in mind helped me to deal with those times when I felt overwhelmed. Everybody feels overwhelmed sometimes. It doesn’t mean you’re in over your head. It just means you’re in your first year in a new job in a new place.
A commenter on Joan Strassmann’s blog has a devious trick to keep students from complaining about their marks.
Theoretical ecologist John Harte is everywhere these days. Well, two places, anyway: here’s another interview with him, focusing on his MaxEnt work. (ht Not Exactly Rocket Science)
Your methods section will be much easier for readers to understand if you include a figure or two illustrating what you did.
Camera trap images of a hitchhiking genet. (ht Chris Klausmeier)