Friday links: science on stage and screen, petri dish art, and more

Also this week: Plos One may be struggling, NEON is definitely struggling, musings on the MacArthur “genius awards”, and more

From Jeremy:

Last week’s Science had a series of news articles on how NEON is struggling. Here’s one. Indeed, judging from the articles, “struggling” is too mild a word.

An interview with the creators of The Martian, on the role of science in the film. Related: my recent post on how science ends up on screen in Hollywood movies.

From science on film to science on stage: writing in Nature, Philip Ball reviews Nicole Kidman as Rosalind Franklin in Photograph 51. Sigh; I remember when I could’ve gone to see this sort of thing rather than settling for reading about it. 😦 Other reviews from the NY Times, the Guardian and Variety. The Variety review includes particularly thoughtful comments on the larger issues raised by the play. (Irrelevant aside: if I ever do something so great as to cause someone to make a play or a movie about me, I want to be played by Jeff Goldblum.)

How do MacArthur “genius grant” winners spend the money? It varies; Sally Otto is giving it away.

Speaking of the MacArthur genius grants, computational population geneticist John Novembre just got one.

Related: here are two pieces discussing whether the MacArthur awards go too often to people who are already established. And see the comments on the first piece, where a couple of people recommend former population ecologist and now “cliodynamicist” Peter Turchin for a MacArthur. What do you think? If you were writing $625,000 checks to a small number of people whom you hope will go on to do great scientific, artistic, or other world-improving work, to spend on anything they wanted, would you write any checks to ecologists? If so, who? And why?

Also related: here are your options for how to react when you don’t win a MacArthur. πŸ™‚ (ht Crooked Timber). A sample:

“Well, it’s hard to get a MacArthur when so much of my work has been classified by Executive Order, anonymous by personal choice, or published under the pseudonym ‘Samuel Beckett.’ ” Taking this line has the advantage of not requiring you to be able to point to any unrecognized achievement in particular.

Is Plos One struggling? Their output has been plummeting. Their impact factor is declining (though that decline may be stabilizing). And now they’re raising their author charge to $1495. Which you’d think would further discourage submissions, though I have no idea by how much. I don’t actually know anything about the economics here. I’m just surprised that, with so many open access advocates trying to get publishing costs down, that Plos One would move in the other direction. Even if the stated reason is to invest in their infrastructure. Anybody know more about this? Is it possible that the real reason they’re raising the fee is to try to make up for the decline in submissions? (ht Retraction Watch)

Speaking of author pays open access publishing, its origin (at least when it comes to BioMed Central) is a hardheaded business calculation, not an idealistic passion for access. (ht Scholarly Kitchen)

A new study of the effects of open peer review (i.e. everybody involved knows the identities of the authors and reviewers), and of the use of reviewers suggested by authors. Uses various lines of comparative evidence. The evidence on open vs. single-blind review is mixed, which leads to the conclusion that open peer review isn’t clearly better or worse than single-blind review. Also finds that reviews by author-suggested reviewers are equal in quality to those of other reviewers on average, but that author-suggested reviewers are more likely to recommend acceptance (though those recommendations don’t affect editorial decision making). I can believe that last conclusion. When I suggest reviewers, I don’t recommend them based on whether I think they’ll recommend acceptance of my ms. But I do suggest people whom I’m confident will “get” my ms, which I’m sure is correlated with their likelihood of recommending acceptance. Note that the study focuses on review quality and doesn’t address other issues, such as that many scientists won’t do open review.

Shane Hanlon on why he stopped seeking a tenure track job in ecology, even though he was getting interviews.

Yet another person who thinks that the primary obstacles to post-publication review (or to online “peer feedback” more broadly) are to do with the technical design of commenting and reviewing systems. Don’t misunderstand, I think it’s great that people are trying out new ways of communicating, and I’m sure this one will hit the spot for some people. But I doubt it’ll ever take off in a big way. Semi-related recent post here. (ht Retraction Watch)

Ok, this is just a silly, trivial political gaffe, and linking to it probably slightly contributes to the decline of our political discourse. But I’m linking to it anyway because I can’t wait to vote against the current Canadian government. The government that promoted its salmon-protecting credentials in British Columbia with a picture of an Atlantic salmon. From the UK. With this government, we’re lucky it wasn’t a picture of a rainbow trout or a shark or something.

Entrants in the American Society of Microbiologists’ petri dish art contest.

What “probability” means in different professions. Professions covered include “weather forecaster”, “political journalist” and “Mission: Impossible agent”. Funny and true. πŸ™‚

Sticking with Math with Bad Drawings: a (somewhat strained) positive spin on the dumbest mathematical mistake you’ll ever see on an official sign. Actually, it’s possible the mistake is an intentional joke. I sure hope it is, because as a commenter over there points out, there are other examples! πŸ™‚

Finally found a self storage place that slowly crushes my stuff over time.” πŸ™‚

5 thoughts on “Friday links: science on stage and screen, petri dish art, and more

  1. A correspondent passes on the information that ~40 ecologists and evolutionary biologists (broadly defined) have gotten MacArthur fellowships since the award began in 1981. Here’s the list:

    The names I recognize (which may well just say something about how few people I know):

    Joel Cohen and Stephen Jay Gould were part of the original class in 1981.
    Jared Diamond in 1985
    Ric Charnov in 1997
    Leo Buss in 1989
    Paul Ehrlich in 1990
    Jack Horner in 1986
    Dan Janzen in 1989
    Stuart Kauffman in 1987
    Claire Kremen in 2007
    Russ Lande in 1997
    Rich Lenski in 1996
    Jane Lubchenco in 1993
    Nancy Moran in 1997
    Sally Otto in 2011
    John Terborgh in 1992
    Geerat Vermeij in 1992
    Heather Williams in 1993 (my animal behavior prof; I recall the other students and I giving her silly suggestions about what to spend the award on–a Porsche, an in-ground pool…)

    My first reaction is that the list of winning ecologists nicely illustrates the larger issue with the MacArthur awards. For instance, some of the ecological winners were already very senior and well-known (e.g., Paul Ehrlich in 1990). Others were mid-career and have continued to do brilliant stuff (e.g., Rich Lenski in 1996, one of the most inspired choices on the list, I think). But at least among the names I’m familiar with, there aren’t really any people who were picked out while quite junior, just as they were starting the work that would make them famous. Imagine giving a MacArthur to Joel Cohen in the mid-70s or to Russ Lande in the late 70s (ok, I know the award didn’t exist then, but you get my point). Of course, if you take those sorts of risks too often, you’re going to “miss” on a lot of people, which in the long run might compromise the prestige of the award.

  2. Some further commentary on Plos One’s price increase:

    Notes that Plos One is profitable (indeed, has a healthy profit margin by industry standards, though that depends on what you consider the standard) even though it’s a non-profit entity. Which leaves some vocal open-access advocates even more confused and upset about the price increase. Plos One has counterarguments to these complaints, of course. Basically, that open access idealism can’t survive long-term without some pragmatic business decision-making. As I said in the post, I don’t know much about the economics here, just passing on links to a conversation in which I’m a curious outsider.

    • PLOS margins are about 10%. Much higher than that on PLoS One which subsidizies money losing journals like PLoS Biology. But overall 10%. The scholarly kitchen blogpost says this is “high”. It all depends on your comparison point. In comparison to the Elsevier/Springer/Wiley this is quite low (they all make about 30-40%). The blogpost argues a better comparison is Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, etc. The author thinks these are below 10% but didn’t look them up. To be honest 10% strikes me as very reasonable. Indeed business people, absent other information like industry would say 10% is the “normal” profit margin. And PLOS *IS* a non-profit which is highly relevant. A for profit that 10% is taken out of the business into the pockets of the owners/shareholders. At a non-profit that 10% is plowed back into the organizaiton in future years – it cannot by law go to the shareholders or officers.

      In short, I was underwhelmed by the article. I have no special love for PLOS but, their “profit” margins seem very reasonable to me. A 10% price increase for the first time in 6 years seems pretty reasonable too.

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