Also this week: Mammal March Madness, replicating a hoax, in praise of tough questions, good writing in action (literally), Deborah Mayo on banning statistical inference, Meg’s shoes, and more. Even Brian read the internet this week!
From Brian (!):
Anybody who is not reading the blog Ecological Rants should be. I found this post particularly compelling. Although every graduate student I’ve ever talked to who reads Platt’s paper on strong inference (multiple competing hypotheses with decisive tests of which is right) says that is how ecology is done, its not how we’re doing ecology. And it may be even worse than Charley’s data suggests – he briefly notes that most of the “multiple competing hypothesis papers” are doing model selection using AIC which I would say is not at all (or only extremely weakly) Plattian. (Jeremy adds: jeez, if it’s not Meg stealing my links, it’s Brian!)
I’ve written several posts on the past on the process of good writing (here and here) because it is an interest of mine. This is a truly fascinating piece – somebody invented an app that lets you watch the writing of a google doc speeded-up (i.e. in time lapse). Including all the crossouts, rewrites, fluctuating pace, and the long stares at a screen without typing etc. I haven’t applied it to my own writing but I can’t wait to do so. It is amazing and very educational to literally watch somebody go through the process of writing.
Nature had a follow up to the Clancy et al. SAFE13 study that we’ve linked to before. The Nature piece talks about ecology specifically, including mentioning a panel that Josh Drew and Jacquelyn Gill will host at ESA this summer. As Jacquelyn says in the piece, “We need to create a culture where incidents are rare and reporting is easy.” The box in the piece has a depressing story about a case of harassment at a marine field station.
NPR had a piece on how we’re not taking enough lunch breaks. As a grad student, my favorite part of the day was going to the lunch room at KBS and having lunch with everyone there. More recently, my lab used to get together to all eat lunch together once a week, but we got out of that habit for reasons I no longer recall. Perhaps we need to start that practice up again!
How’s your Mammal March Madness bracket looking? I was only 4/8 in my picks for the Mighty Mini Mammal bracket, but 8/8 for the Critically Endangered one. Good news: the fox advanced to the next round! (Jeremy adds: The fox knows many things. Like how to eat food.)
A degree from an “elite” institution gives a boost on the job market . . . but being white gives a much bigger boost. Or, as the study’s author put it, “Education apparently has its limits because even a Harvard degree cannot make DaQuan as enticing as Charlie to employers.”
A British girl was upset that dinosaur shoes are only sold for boys, not girls. (I totally get it. I’d have been upset, too!) She took to twitter, and twitter created the #inmyshoes hashtag for women scientists to show off their shoes. I shared mine!
(ht: Trowel Blazers)
Charley Krebs surveyed two recent issues of Journal of Animal Ecology to see how often ecologists do “strong inference” sensu Platt (1964) (UPDATE: link fixed). That is (roughly): how often do they set up alternative scientific hypotheses and then collect the data needed to distinguish between the alternatives? Answer: depressingly rarely. As Charley notes, following this up with a more systematic and careful survey would be a great exercise that would lead to a high-impact review paper. Grad students: rope in some friends who want a side project, and do it! Closely related: my old post on the power of “checking all the boxes” in scientific research. And if you haven’t read Platt 1964, do click through–it’s a short, readable classic. Here’s a 50th anniversary discussion of it.
Paige Jarreau responds to my post on whether blogs are dying by noting that, according to survey data, very few science blogs are aimed at other scientists. So perhaps rather than asking if that sort of blogging was dying, I should’ve asked if it was ever alive in the first place! Paige also comments on how blogs now fill a narrower niche than they used to thanks to the advent of easier-to-use tools for doing some of the things blogs used to do; I agree. She also provides demographic data on science bloggers; the majority are students. And she comments at length on other topics covered by her extensive survey data.
If you’re a bemused but curious bystander to the ongoing kin selection/inclusive fitness battle, Birch and Okasha 2015 is a very clear, accessible paper by two philosophers, clarifying what the fight is about. It’s mostly a philosophical battle disguised as a scientific battle, so it’s very useful to have a couple of actual philosophers step in. Philosophers who both know the relevant scientific literature inside-out, and who can put it in a broader philosophical context.
As with Andrew Gelman, the entire internet apparently asked philosopher Deborah Mayo for her opinion on that social psychology journal that banned all inferential statistics. She obliges here, comparing the policy to “don’t ask, don’t tell”. My (brief) comments are here. It occurs to me that maybe the journal’s policy isn’t their real policy, but rather is a devious plan to goad top people like Andrew Gelman and Deborah Mayo into telling them what their policy should be. Sort of the statistical policy equivalent of Calvin and Hobbes shoveling snow. 🙂 Oh, and I love Clark Glymour’s comment over on Deborah Mayo’s blog: “Why don’t they go all the way and just ban data?” 🙂
Yet another zombie idea in psychology that is still shambling through the textbooks eating peoples’ brains when it should be long dead. I found it interesting because it’s what I now think of as a “paradigmatic” zombie idea: an idea that was high profile when it was proposed, gave rise to a major line of research–and that was subsequently discovered to be seriously flawed. But nobody but a few specialists realizes this because the original idea is now in the textbooks, which present the idea uncritically and without much detail. So the original idea is now something most people learn as undergrads or grad students and then never work on (or even think that much about) again. It’s just supposed to be part of their general background knowledge, not the subject of active research that might reject it as opposed to trying to build on it or modify it. (ht Andrew Gelman, who comments)
Emilio Bruna wonders if American ecologists are going to start moving abroad en masse in search of better career and funding opportunities. There certainly are a few well-funded institutes in Europe that have hired friends of mine in the past few years–ETH Zurich, iDiv in Germany. But I’m not sure if we’re talking about enough people overall to constitute some sort of trend. And the job market for top scientists has long been international. (UPDATE: Emilio comments to clarify his thoughts, which I didn’t summarize quite right.)
Finally, sad personal news for me: Terry Pratchett, my all-time favorite author, has died. In his honor, and in an attempt to justify sharing this news on an ecology blog, I give you an extended quote from his humorous fantasy novel Pyramids. It describes the natural history of the ambiguous pazuma, a mythical mammal that unaccountably didn’t make into the Mammal March Madness bracket:
[T]he fastest animal on the Disc is the extremely neurotic Ambiguous Pazuma, which moves so fast that it can actually achieve near-lightspeed in the Disc’s magical field. This means that if you can see a pazuma, it isn’t there. Most male pazumas die young of acute ankle failure caused by running very fast after females which aren’t there and, of course, achieving suicidal mass in accordance with relativistic theory. The rest of them die of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, since it is impossible for them to know who they are and where they are at the same time, and the see-sawing loss of concentration this engenders means that the pazuma only achieves a sense of identity when it is at rest–usually about fifty feet into the rubble of what remains of the mountain it just ran into at near light-speed. The pazuma is rumored to be about the size of a leopard with a rather unique black and white check coat, although those specimens discovered by the Disc’s sages and philosophers have inclined them to declare that in its natural state the pazuma is flat, very thin, and dead.