Also this week: the crowdfunded mammoth, you vs. your mistakes, childcare in academia, Nature goes open access, can you trust your collaborators, and more.
The Chronicle of Higher Education ran a piece by David Scholnik, better known as the scientist who made shrimp run on a treadmill. This experiment has become a favorite example of wasted taxpayer dollars in the US – according to the piece, Forbes listed it as costing $3 million. In reality, it cost $47. I’ve cited Scholnik’s research on shrimp in a grant proposal – it was interesting, important work, and I’m glad to see Scholnik defending his research.
Bad news: access to childcare at higher education institutions is falling, especially at community colleges, but also at public 4-year institutions.
Carl Zimmer had a New York Times piece on the importance of museum collections in understanding the current decline of bees. I don’t know if any of the collections they used in the featured study were from the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, but I’m very happy that my lab is located in the Museums Building – there is such important natural history information contained in those collections! And, on a similar theme, here’s a great TedEd video by Joshua Drew on the values of natural history museums. As he says, the exhibit portion of museums is just a small fraction of what goes on in natural history museums.
You’ve seen Brian’s post on the ideas and discoveries that have most shaped ecology over the last 100 years. Now go check out Expiscor’s, The EEB and Flow’s and Small Pond Science’s. See also the #ESA100 hashtag for tweeted responses, and the discussion on Metafilter.
Jacquelyn Gill of The Contemplative Mammoth raised over $10,000 for her research via crowdfunding. Here’s a very detailed post on how she did it. The message I took home (which perhaps wasn’t the one intended) was that crowdfunding isn’t likely to be a good use of time for most people. It’s like blogging in that way.
Tim Coulson muses on the willingness to admit your mistakes, and on the importance of recognizing the size of the stakes. In passing, gives a shout-out to William Provine’s provocative argument that population geneticists have been wrong about the difference between genetic drift and inbreeding since the founding of the field.
Evolutionary biologist Michael Lynch has told Nature he no longer has confidence in the data underlying Fernandez and Lynch (2011) and asked to be removed as an author, causing Nature to issue an Expression of Concern. First author Ariel Fernandez continues to stand by the paper. Fernandez has a long history of retractions, expressions of concern, and odd corrections; see here, here, and here. Lynch’s request to have his name removed from the paper had me thinking back to the recent case of Robert Trivers, who fought successfully to have a Nature paper of his retracted after discovering that his co-author had faked the data. From the perspective of science as a whole, I’m not too worried about such incidents. I think it’s rare for entire lines of research or whole subfields to be thrown off course by fakery and other things that would cause us to totally lose confidence in someone’s work. But speaking as a PI, I’m terrified by even the remote prospect that the work of one of my collaborators or trainees couldn’t be relied on, whether because they were faking data or for some other reason. Not least because I’m not sure what I could reasonably do about it. At some level, you have no choice but to trust and rely on your trainees and collaborators (and your fellow scientists more broadly, of course). Related: this old post in which I mused on the apparent rarity of misconduct in ecology and evolution. Also related: Brian’s old post on discussing scientific ethics in your lab meetings.
Nature papers will now be free to read for anyone, though not free to download in pdf form.
When mandatory retirement at age 65 ended in Canada, one of the arguments for ending it was that it disproportionately harmed women. But Frances Woolley argues that, at least in academia, this turned out to be precisely backwards. It led to old, mostly male profs remaining in their jobs, when their retirements would’ve opened spots for younger, more productive–and in many cases female–faculty.
Philosopher Patrick Suppes has died. Among other things, Suppes did important work on causality and causal inference that helps underpin structural equation modeling.
A reminder that life is full of publication biases.
Terry McGlynn is doing a poll on what reference management software people use. So far, there’s a wide split, with Mendeley in the lead, and my own choice (“none”) far behind.
Jurassic World vs. the CITES treaty. 🙂 (ht Jeremy Yoder)
And finally, #bakeyourstudyorganism:
The U.S. government is also reducing access to subsidized and on-site childcare. It’s one of those perks that large institutions no longer feel they can afford, and I expect them to disappear entirely over the next couple decades.
For its employees, I mean.
Most popular link so far, to my surprise: Tim Harford on how life is full of publication biases.
The link in David Scholnick’s to Forbes “Thirteen Silliest Uses of Taxpayer Money” no longer contains the ‘shrimp on a treadmill’ study. Win!
Does anyone have a link to where Forbes (and others) got the $3 million quote from in the first place? Was it part of a much larger “seafood protection” or some such grant (in which the shrimp treadmill was one small experiment)?