Friday links: drunk ecologists vs. lampposts, 2015 job wiki, and more

Also this week: overwork, why Karl Popper never answers your email, should journals ban controversial research approaches, great science + jerk = ???, and more.

From Meg:

There’s a new job wiki for tenure track jobs in ecology & evolution for this year.

Anne Curzan (a professor at Michigan) had a piece in the Chronicle on the importance of making time for non-work activities. In it, she mentions something I realized as an assistant professor: my work “to do” list will never be empty, so I might as well go for that run. Or, as Anne says,

The list will still be there tomorrow, and we need to be comfortable with the idea that we will never cross everything off and say with relief, “I have everything finished!” It is not the way academe works.

It’s not that we don’t need to work hard. Of course we need to work hard. But we don’t need to work all the time.

This links with my post on how you do not need to work 80 hours a week to succeed in academia (which is my most popular post by far). And it also relates to this new piece from the Harvard Business Review, which asks,

Is overwork actually doing what we assume it does — resulting in more and better output? Are we actually getting more done?

The conclusion:

In sum, the story of overwork is literally a story of diminishing returns: keep overworking, and you’ll progressively work more stupidly on tasks that are increasingly meaningless.

10 things this instructor loves: a positive spin on what professors like to see in students in their class. One of them is for students to ask questions – yes!

Writing every day is a really good way to be productive. Maren Friesen had a blog post on this, which is based on Robert Boice’s research. I found his book a really interesting read when I was starting my first faculty position.

While at the BEACON Congress in East Lansing earlier this week, I participated in a social media session where people tweeted links to blog posts. I was particularly interested in this one by Kyle Card, who wrote about his experience as a first year graduate student with disabilities. In it, he asks some important questions including:

I realize that many institutions have diversity groups made up of students and faculty who support and encourage minority students, while simultaneously acting as liaisons between these students and the institution itself. However, how many of these groups seek to encourage disabled individuals who may be apprehensive about joining in the first place? Moreover, how many of these groups are actively trying to foster a culture within the institution that is disarming and welcoming to the hesitant, yet qualified, aspiring disabled researcher?

This made me think of Elita Baldridge’s efforts to create an Inclusive Ecology section for ESA, and her poster from the recent Baltimore meeting on facilitating access for chronically ill and disabled ecologists (which can be viewed here.)

A bit outdated now, but still of interest: This Science News piece describes some major changes to NEON (the National Ecological Observatory Network funded by NSF).

From Jeremy:

Should a field’s journals ever adopt a policy banning a popular-but-highly-questionable approach in the field? Or at least adopt a policy obliging authors to explicitly address objections to the approach? Andrew Gelman and Dan Kahan discuss the issue in the context of psychology, but the issue is much broader. I have an old post on this topic in an ecological context, which I think stands up in general although I’ve since learned that one of the specific examples I used is a little unfair. Short version: I generally don’t like it when authors gloss over or ignore criticisms of their approach. But this is one of those grey areas in which reasonable people are likely to disagree in any particular case. Which is why I think obliging authors to discuss criticisms of their approach is better than banning certain approaches. There’s too much risk that a journal will ban something that actually shouldn’t be banned (like, um, all statistical inferences from sample to population).

Gordon Fox and Simoneta Negrete-Yankelevich say that ecologists use statistics as a drunk uses a lamppost: for support rather than illumination. Gives a shout-out to Brian’s notion of “statistical machismo”, which at this point has probably passed “zombie ideas” as our highest-penetrance meme.

Terry McGlynn with a typically-thoughtful post on the pros and cons of self-centered scientists. I have a lengthy comment, musing on whether people, including scientists, are perhaps more compartmented than we generally recognize. So that the things that make Dr. Famous a great scientist have little or nothing to do with the things that make Dr. Famous not so great in other areas of life. And even if people mostly aren’t compartmented, maybe we shouldn’t try to somehow sum up the good and bad things they’ve done. Even if those good and bad things did have a common root in the same personality trait (self-centeredness or whatever). Can’t someone be both a great scientist and a huge jerk without the former somehow making up for the latter or the latter somehow diminishing or canceling out the former?

It’s often said that extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence. Tim Poisot’s inner contrarian says that extraordinary claims are no big deal. Very good post. The slogan “extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence” is one of those things that just seems totally obvious–until you stop to think about it.

How to game the false discovery rate.

Frequent guest blogger and commenter Margaret Kosmala just launched her latest citizen science project, Season Spotter.

And finally, this week in Links of Interest Only to Me: Existential Comics. Although the third and fourth ones in this little series will give a chuckle to any scientist who knows a little philosophy of science. 🙂

4 thoughts on “Friday links: drunk ecologists vs. lampposts, 2015 job wiki, and more

  1. Jeremy, just substitute the word “competitive” for “depressed” in the first comic.

    FYI: Years ago I organized two symposia, co-organized a week-long workshop, put together an edited book, and wrote a summary journal article all in an attempt to develop a consensus understanding of the word. Not at all sure how much was accomplished by the effort. I think I can legitimately say I know the meaning of the word “depressed”!

  2. Our comment in was a bit more nuanced than you suggest. We pointed out that there are several different senses in which one might use statistics as a drunk uses a lamppost, and that some of those senses are problematic while others are, well, annoying but not really all that bad.

     We were also a bit more nuanced about statistical machismo – our argument was that the problem isn’t so much that effort is wasted (which was central to Brian McGill’s original blog post) as that overly complicated methods can falsely give impressions that one’s argument is stronger or more stable than it really is.

    By no means do we think that using advanced methods is a bad thing – see, for example, the contents of, which mostly concerns ideas not addressed in standard grad-level courses for ecologists. But one should use those methods when they’re useful, not just because they’re new or prestigious.

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