Also this week: salamander cartoon, scientific papers as Sleeping Beauties (and nursery rhymes), LIBOR for universities, it’s called self-esteem for a reason, the non-crapshootiness of peer review, Amy Parachnowitsch vs. academic hazing, mathematical biology vs. biological math, mature vs. immature scientific fields, the FOIA vs. your funded grants, and MOAR. The internet took names and kicked butt this week.
I love this comic by Rosemary Mosco (of Bird and Moon) on the threats to salamanders. New goal: a Bird and Moon cartoon on Daphnia!
This is a great post on getting back into the ecological workforce after having children, and on accounting for time off due to having children. (ht: Stephen Heard)
This Chronicle piece on advice for a career in academia resonated with me (and, based on the twitter reactions, with many others) this week. This part is something I still work on (as I discussed a bit in this post):
Don’t tie up too much of your self-esteem in someone else’s evaluation of your work. Academe is not for the thin-skinned. In the course of a career, you get lots of flak thrown at you. If your self-esteem depends on other people’s evaluations of how good you are, you’re very likely going to spend a lot of time feeling badly about yourself. …
But don’t let others, whose opinions often are not worth much, be the deciding factor in your self-assessment. Listen to critics but, in the end, find your value from inside yourself. And if you can’t value yourself from within, you never will find value from without. Because there will always be one more person to please, one more stone left unturned.
Stephen Heard on his most undercited paper (relative to how much he was expecting it to be cited). Includes the following very interesting comments on how hard it can be to swim against the tide of one’s field, and how this can lead to whole fields getting stuck. I’m particularly intrigued by his suggestion that it’s getting harder to prevent whole fields from getting stuck:
I think there’s a more general point here. I think every field has questions that we all agree we’re supposed to ask, and questions that we’ve all somehow decided aren’t worth asking. (Perhaps Thomas Kuhn’s scientific revolutions are times when we change our minds about which questions belong in which category – although I’m not arrogant enough to think our travel-costs paper should spark a Kuhnian revolution.) Our question about whether insect herbivores could regulate populations of their hosts just isn’t part of the accepted agenda of population ecology as a field…It’s hard to change the direction of a field, and it might be harder now than ever with our enormous literature and our emphasis on citation rate as a metric for impact. You can think of this as a bootstrap problem, if you like: a question won’t be recognized as important until there are a bunch of highly cited papers about it, but we won’t write or cite papers about a question until it’s widely recognized as important. This is a good recipe for being stuck.
Following on from the previous link: which scientific papers are Sleeping Beauties? That is, papers that went unnoticed for a long time, before generating intense interest? Interesting that the biggest sleeping beauties come mostly from physical science and mathematics. In ecology and evolution, George Price’s original Price equation paper (Price 1970 Nature) is the biggest sleeping beauty I can think of–barely cited through 1981, never cited more than 10 times in a year until 1995, now cited dozens of times annually. Can you think of any others?
And since the previous link is from Wayne Maddison’s blog, here’s a quote from another recent post of his, on the limits of phylogenetic comparative methods:
A successful but immature field shouts “Wow, look at what we can do!” A mature field ponders “What are the limits of what we can know?” After decades of almost unchecked enthusiasm, fueled by oceans of new data and computational capabilities, we are waking up to our limits. The success in reconstructing phylogeny has perhaps made us overconfident, believing that we should have similar success in phylogenetic studies of ancestral states, character correlation and diversification. However, the optimism shouldn’t transfer: reconstructions of phylogeny itself gain their power from the entire genome, while methods using phylogeny to answer evolutionary questions usually have sample sizes limited to the number of species at best.
I like to think that one role of Dynamic Ecology is to help ecology mature. Which raises the paradoxical question of whether immaturity can aid maturation. 🙂
I’m out of segues, so I’ll just move on and ask: is the next LIBOR-type scandal going to involve universities? Meaning not necessarily a financial scandal, but a scandal based on common practices that are well known within the industry but that would look terrible to outsiders. Written from a British perspective, but provocative and interesting for academics anywhere. Notes that the standard defense in these sorts of scandals goes as follows, and is ineffective:
After seeing the LIBOR, expenses, phone-hacking and similar scandals unfold, I’ve noticed that English has another irregular verb.
I am the victim of a perversely designed set of incentives
You game the system
He is a crook.
Hey, I just found another segue under my desk: Speaking of scandals, turns out Michael LaCour made up a teaching award too. And then when challenged on it by a journalist, uploaded a revised version of his cv lacking the award and flat out lied about doing so. He also updated his cv to remove the claim that he graduated magna cum laude. Oh, and there’s now evidence that he faked a second paper. (UPDATE #2: Yep, he faked that second paper.) I’ll never understand the psychology of this sort of thing. At this point I’ve given up trying to guess how this will end; I’m just hoping it doesn’t end tragically. Oh, and Science has now formally retracted his paper–a retraction to which LaCour did not agree. (UPDATE: Here’s a great story with the blow-by-blow of how grad student David Broockman uncovered LaCour’s fraud. Based on extensive interviews with Broockman, who comes off as thoughtful and brave.)
Relatedly: via Twitter, Leonid Kruglyak notes that frauds on the scale of LaCour aren’t just a natural outcome of the pressures of modern science, recalling the case of Mark Spector back in 1981. Spector was a star biochemistry grad student who faked a series of high-profile results–and then after being caught went on to involvement in a computer scam and faked it as a medical doctor. Shades of Catch Me If You Can.
Peer review at at least one ecology journal is mostly not a crapshoot. Primack et al. looked at 4575 papers submitted to Biological Conservation over the past 7 years, including 2093 that went out for review, and tallied up the reviews the papers received and their ultimate fates. Among the headline results: the two reviewers’ recommendations (accept, minor revision, major revision, or reject) agreed in 36% of cases and disagreed by only one “step” in 43.5% of cases. And reviewer recommendations correlated with paper fates, especially when the reviewers were both very positive or when at least one reviewer recommended rejection. Related: this old post and links therein. (ht Mason Ryan, via Twitter)
Theoretical Population Biology EiC Noah Rosenberg on the difference between theoretical biology and biologically-inspired mathematics. TPB only wants the former. Good short piece. Related post here.
Great minds think alike: in quick succession (and independently of one another), Meg, Andrew Hendry, and Stephen Heard all posted great advice on how to write a response to reviewers. Nature News did a nice piece on all three.
Terry McGlynn on what it’s like to receive an FOIA request for your funded grant.
And finally: what if you dated like you write your papers? “Also, you probably want to date some other people with more power, better control, and a larger N.” Which raises the question: what if you wrote your papers like you dated? Insert your own joke about “writing two papers at a time” here. 🙂