Friday links: against quit lit, ecologist fired, syllabus easter egg, and more (UPDATED)

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.

From Jeremy:

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.

BAHFest is coming! A hilarious and biting example of what to expect. Watch that video if you’ve never seen it–it’s one of the funniest and sharpest things I’ve ever seen.

And finally, the British, explained.🙂

14 thoughts on “Friday links: against quit lit, ecologist fired, syllabus easter egg, and more (UPDATED)

  1. The rant in the Atlantic against quit-lit is terrible, I am surprised it got published. Sounds like some anger management classes should be already in place. Of course people who are rejected (in academia it is mostly people getting rejected, it is very rare to find academics with a great job [there are some] or 10 offers [never heard for obvious reasons] who quit) are angry, annoyed. In the internet and social-network age, feelings that once were private are now shown to thousands of people through posts, blogs, tweets, facebook posts.

    • “people who are rejected”

      Hmm, I think you slightly misread the piece and my comments. You’re thinking of a different sort of “quit lit”. The “quit lit” literature that the Atlantic author and I are both thinking of is mostly from people who were *successful* in their chosen professions and decided to quit anyway.

      • I read the article in Vox a few days ago as it was linked to in another blog. I found it very interesting. That article is an exception. The vast majority of quit-lit pieces in academia are postdocs (who cannot find a job) or fresh PhDs who realize something.

      • “That article is an exception. ”

        Quite possibly. I have no idea of the relative frequency of different sorts of quit lit pieces (by people who were established in a profession vs. people who never got that far). But I do think it’s important to distinguish between them. Although the distinction is a bit fuzzy sometimes. I’m sure there are some successful people who’ve quit their professions for the same reasons as people who never established themselves in those same professions.

      • @Simone:

        p.s. Having re-read the post just now, I see that I wasn’t sufficiently clear that I was most interested in quit lit from people who’d first established themselves in the profession they were quitting. Should’ve been clearer about that.

  2. Thanks for the podcast love, Jeremy!

    It does feel ambitious, and there was a big amount of activation energy to get started. It’s far from perfect, though we’re not shooting for high polish. It took a while for HK to convince me to do it – one day I had the realization that a lot of people really love listening to podcasts, more so than reading blogs. It feels like so much “science communication” by scientists is created for people who are already members of Team Science. A personal angle to science and a rational way approaching the world — personal meaning through the perspective of two specific people — might do some good. We’ll see. I think HK is a really interesting guy and people might want to listen to him despite me, and I apparently HK thinks I’m interesting enough that people will tolerate him. We’ve committed to doing this for at least a year, and probably more than that.

    • Years ago, we polled readers on their suggestions for how to improve Dynamic Ecology. One of the suggestions (though far from the most popular) was to do a podcast. We thought about it for about two seconds. It just seemed like way too much work. Certainly too much work relative to my own motivation to do it, which is low because I don’t listen to podcasts myself. Though now that you’re doing a podcast, I may start!

      “It feels like so much “science communication” by scientists is created for people who are already members of Team Science. ”

      I think that’s right. But surely the reason for that is that “push” communication is difficult to impossible. To convince lots of people who are uninterested in something, and who have their own busy lives to lead, to get interested in that something (thus likely obliging them to stop doing or pay attention to something else)…That’s a real uphill battle, surely?

      • The podcast *is* plenty of work. (If you want to get started, I can give you lots of tips. It’s funny, there are lots of people out there with advice about how to start one but the pesky details seem to not come up.) Aside from getting initially set up, and the quality audio equipment and software involved, then even in a bare bones one like ours there still is editing involved. A lot more work than doing a blog post, surely. That’s why we’re only doing one every two weeks at the start.

        We’re handling the “push” communication problem by not pushing. HK helped me realize that the reason like podcasts is because they feel an affinity for the people doing them. Blogging made me realize that even though most people won’t be interested, the small proportion might be interested is still a substantial crowd.

        For all of the non-scientists who tune in on a regular basis, they’ll be hearing folks like me and HK talking about science on a regular basis, just in the midst of a normal conversation about other stuff in general. (For example, the one we just recorded started with advice for people visiting LA, but we did end up talking about probability theory, and why I’m not so keen on Radiolab. And come to think of it, some of the things to do in LA were science-related.) If someone is tuning in primarily about science, they’ll be disappointed. But for those who tune in for their other reasons, then they’ll get a dose of science on the way, in an organic manner, just in the course of regular conversation among scientists.

        Ultimately, the hope is that people listening to this who don’t have scientists in their life will think that, in a slight way, that they do, and that thinking about science is kinda normal. When they talk to anti-science people in the course of the day, they can think, oh, scientists are really normal people and talk about normal stuff. Science makes life more interesting.” It’s feels oddly egotistical to think that anybody would just want to be a part of our conversation, but that’s what podcasts are and people apparently do it, and we’re not holding a gun to anybody’s head t make them listen. Okay, that’s probably more than you wanted🙂

      • Cheers for this Terry, thoughtful as always.

        “It’s feels oddly egotistical to think that anybody would just want to be a part of our conversation”

        Yes, in your shoes I’d feel the same way. But it’s exactly as you say: there probably is an audience out there for your conversations. So why not give the people what they (are about to discover they) want? Worst case scenario, you decide after a year that it’s not worth doing anymore. Which is fine, because it’s an experiment worth trying and the only way to find out if it will work out is to try it.

  3. I taught community college in WA state a while back. Contracting pay was horrible and I doubt full time pay was all that much better, aside from retirement and healthcare. Most people that teach at CCs in Seattle area have well-paid spouses. Its a hobby job.

    • Thanks for sharing. The linked post does specify a rural community college, noting that they use high salaries to attract and retain staff. So that might explain the difference with a CC in Seattle.

      • Aye, yes, and also if CC pay is set by the state as it is in many states, “relative pay” is higher because living costs are often much lower in rural areas. Median home cost here in King Co (Seattle) is $430K and across the Cascades in Okanogan county it’s $166K.

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