Friday links: paleontology real and fake, the real “problem” with scientific publishing, and more

Also this week: WWW: 1994-2015, teaching vs. brain surgery, and Stephen Heard’s unconventional pedagogical preferences.

From Meg:

My only links this week relate to the discovery of Homo naledi, a new species of human found in South Africa. The backstory to how the cave was found and about the caver-scientists (all women) who retrieved the remains is really interesting. I had watched a video about the expedition (known as the Rising Star Expedition) about a year ago. It was neat to see then, but even neater now that I know more about what they were finding.

Updated to add this tweet, which has a very good commentary on the image showing what the caver scientists had to do to get to the cave:

From Jeremy:

This week in Dog Bites Man: authors whose papers are accepted think very highly of every aspect of the editorial process (were the reviews thoughtful, did the editors understand the paper, etc.). Authors whose papers are rejected think much less highly of every aspect of the editorial process. Changing the editorial process–but not acceptance rates–to try to make authors happier (for instance by not asking authors for multiple rounds of revision) has precisely zero effect on author happiness. Consider this your latest reminder that the only fundamental “problem” with scientific publishing is that we all disagree with one another about what work is interesting and important (and even technically sound). Good luck “fixing” that. And Brian, now you know how to attract authors to submit to your journal: somehow accept everyone’s papers while simultaneously rejecting everyone else’s so as to remain a desirable outlet!

Brad DeLong mourns the death of the open, bloggy, authorial web. Makes me glad to be blogging for a niche audience. The trends that Brad identifies don’t apply to blogs aimed at one’s fellow professional scientists. And I kind of like how that makes Dynamic Ecology simultaneously a newfangled thing (compared to older forms of scientific communication), and an old fashioned thing (compared to newer forms of online publishing and social media).

Harry Brighouse on how teaching is more important and harder than brain surgery. Too much of a loose apples-to-oranges comparison for my taste. I find it too easy to imagine drawing the opposite conclusion from the same analogy. But those of you who lack my pedant’s soul may find it inspiring start-of-term reading. (in fairness, the piece isn’t intended completely seriously) Includes some familiar but useful broad-brush advice on improving your teaching.

Stephen Heard would rather teach non-majors science courses. I assume he also prefers broccoli to chocolate.🙂 (just teasing, Stephen!)

And finally: paleontologists discover one-boned dinosaur.🙂

21 thoughts on “Friday links: paleontology real and fake, the real “problem” with scientific publishing, and more

  1. Best link this week is definitely the dinosaur one (apologies to everyone else). But to confirm Jeremy’s speculation, I actually do prefer broccoli to chocolate… Don’t worry, I’m not completely bizarre: I’d rather have nachos than either🙂

    • “But to confirm Jeremy’s speculation, I actually do prefer broccoli to chocolate”


      When I was writing that passage, I tried various other jokes of the same form before I went with the broccoli vs. chocolate one. Now I’m wondering if those other jokes are actually true too. Do you prefer committee work to teaching? Do you actually like doing your taxes?🙂

      • “Oh, I’m pretty weird. But I’m not THAT weird”

        That presumes that preferring broccoli to chocolate is less weird than preferring committee work to teaching, or enjoying filing one’s taxes. I’m not so sure about that! Meg is a chocoholic and so should be better able to comment.🙂

      • Yeah, I was going to say that I agree with Stephen about some of the things fun aspects of teaching non-majors. I haven’t taught non-majors, but teaching Intro Bio has similarities. You can routinely expose them to really exciting things that they’ve never thought about, which is a lot of fun. But then Stephen had to go and say he prefers broccoli to chocolate, and now I don’t know what to say!

      • Much as I enjoy teaching upper level courses myself, I have let my head of department know that I’d be up for teaching intro bio someday. For the same reason you cite, Meg.

      • Just wanted to confirm that the third DEer, like Stephen, also prefers broccoli to chocolate. Although beets vs a good sorbet is a whole different story.

    • Thanks for the link! A problem I ran into this morning was that I’d read so many things about it yesterday that I could no longer recall which piece was the source of a quote I wanted to mention in class. (In the end, I found it in Ed Yong’s Atlantic piece, linked above.)

  2. The Atlantic piece on the Homo naledi find is indeed a great read. But I have to say, I agree with one of the people quoted in the article that it’s very weird that this find was written up and published without any attempt at dating. And the reason given by the lead scientists for not dating it (at least not yet) is odd and unsatisfying, at least to my eyes. I hope there’s a totally reasonable explanation that for whatever reason didn’t make it into the Atlantic piece. And that the find gets dated ASAP.

    • Did I miss something? I’ve not seen any explanation given by Berger or Hawks for not (yet) publishing any dates. From other sources I’ve picked up that dating these kinds of fossils, from a cave context, is not at all straight forward.

      • Hmm, ok. But is it so hard that one wouldn’t even want to try?

        And in the Atlantic article the PI doesn’t cite the difficulty of dating them as an obstacle, instead just making a (to my eyes) puzzling remark suggesting that it’s nicer or more interesting not to know how old the fossils are.

        I don’t mean to suggest that anything untoward is going on. I’m just puzzled.

      • A bit of googling reveals this FAQ from the study authors, including commentary on why the find hasn’t been dated:

        Says that they’re hard to date from the context (lack of other associated fossils, partially-reworked soft sedimentation, few flowstones). That three (unspecified) approaches to date the fossils themselves have failed. And that they don’t want to publish dates until they’re sure they have good numbers, because they don’t want to create confusion over the age.

        I’m still a bit puzzled why they didn’t just say all this to the Atlantic and other outlets (or if they did, why it hasn’t been more widely reported). But “we tried three different dating techniques, all of which failed” seems like a good answer to me.

  3. See the Guardian writeup on the Homo naledi find for some less-than-breathless quotes from experts not involved in the work. Not everyone’s convinced that it’s not “just” a big Homo erectus find (which of course would be a *great* find, just not *as* great as “a whole new species”). And Jeff and I are far from the only ones who are puzzled that they wrote this thing up and published it before being able to date it.

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