Also this week: a radically traditional publishing model, secrets of community college jobs, BAHfest, and more. Oh, and this week in Links of Interest Only to Jeremy: why the British are the way they are.
UPDATE: Just found this, didn’t want to wait until next week with it: Terry McGlynn of Small Pond Science fame is starting a podcast! He’ll be chatting with a colleague of his about scientific and non-scientific topics. I’m impressed with the ambition. Good luck with it, Terry!
Kansas State ecologist Joe Craine has been fired after alleging that colleagues misrepresented data in an Ecology paper. The university decided his accusations were “malicious, or at the very least frivolous”, and NSF denied his request for whistleblower status. Craine stands by his accusations, and says his dismissal was illegal. Newspaper articles here and here. I don’t know anyone involved, haven’t read the paper in question, don’t work on the topic, and have no other information besides what’s in the links. It sounds like a complicated and unusual situation, with some history behind it. So while I’m passing on the news, I don’t have any opinion on it, am not drawing any larger lessons from it, and do not consider it an illustration of any broader problem, trend, or phenomenon. (ht Retraction Watch)
A rant against academic quit lit. I agree that these pieces ultimately are just reporting people’s purely personal career decisions. But I disagree that that’s useless; it’s useful to the extent that others happen to find it useful, just as with sharing any anecdotal personal experience that others might find useful. I agree that the authors of some (not all) quit lit pieces overgeneralize from their own preferences and experiences, and seem to want credit for recognizing some deep flaw in academia that everyone else can’t or won’t recognize. Meg and I both nearly quit academic science. I hope we both made clear that we were merely sharing our own personal experiences. And I don’t think the prevalence of academic quit lit says anything special about academia–that it’s uniquely good at sucking in idealists and then crushing their ideals or whatever. Academics aren’t uniquely prone to writing quit lit. Every profession or even hobby that people want to join has its share of quit lit. There’s quit lit about baseball, finance, elementary school teaching, football, football fandom, acting, organic farming, the military, basketball, the Congressional Research Service, baristas, foreign language teaching (that person quit to become a barista), management consulting, medicine, dentistry, painting, dancing, private accounting, public accounting, programming, the Mafia, the US Senate, orchestra (that person quit to become an academic), tv show hosting…Basically, some people who quit any profession or hobby they once wanted to join will feel the urge to publicly explain their choice. The only activities that don’t have quit lit are the ones nobody wants to do in the first place (“I used to love filing my taxes. Here’s why I quit doing it…”)
Three things you might not have realized about a career teaching at a community college. Items #1 and #3 are “the pay and benefits might well be better than at an R1 university” and “the teaching load often isn’t insanely high”. Written by an English prof, so I’m not sure if #2 on her list (“you can still do research”) applies in the sciences. And I think #1 only applies to people with some sort of permanent or long-term full-time contract, not people hired to teach a single course on a one-time basis. Hopefully some of you can comment on this.
Via a commenter, news of an arXiv overlay journal. Basically, it’s a totally traditional selective peer reviewed journal, except it takes advantage of arXiv hosting of the articles to bring the costs of publishing and reading down to near-zero. This is the kind of publishing experiment I tend to like: narrowly targeted to solve one specific problem. It’ll only work for fields that already make heavy use of arXiv or a similar service, of course, and in which many people still like to filter the literature in a traditional way. Curious what others think of this. In particular, I’m curious to hear what strong advocates of wide-ranging, revolutionary publishing reform think. Because this journal does something revolutionaries want (free publishing for authors and readers), but also uses and thus helps entrench some practices they want to get rid of.
Philosopher Deborah Mayo defends Karl Popper’s views on how to distinguish science from pseudoscience (or stronger science from weaker science, I’d add). Worth reading both as a corrective to oversimplified, n-th hand cartoon versions of Popper, and because the issues raised are still live in ecology. For instance, see this recent exchange of comments between Brian, Mark Vellend, and I on “pattern hunting” research approaches in ecology (starts about here), or this old comment from Jim Grace on searching for evidence for one’s ideas with a broad vs. narrow-beam “searchlight”. And for readers of a more philosophical bent interested in the “demarcation problem” of separating science and pseudoscience, see this old post.
I’m kind of glad I’m not at a big US university, so that I don’t have to worry about this kind of thing.
A novel way to check if your students read the syllabus: hide an easter egg in it. 🙂 I’m totally doing this next term. And I’m giving bonus marks for finding it.
And finally, the British, explained. 🙂