Also this week: #IAmAResearchParasite, parenting in the age of climate change, #52books, science really does advance one funeral at a time, conferencing for introverts, a couple of unusual retractions, email translation, and MOAR! Lots of good stuff this week!
A tough task for any teacher or adviser: when and how do you break it to your student or advisee that they’re not likely to achieve their goals and need to make some hard decisions? Say, that they’re not likely to get into med school or succeed in grad school. Lots of good advice in the post and comments. The only point I’d add is that if possible students should be given advice and information about what it takes to achieve goal X before they go too far down the road of trying to achieve it. For instance, I ask prospective grad students about their long-term career goals before they even decide whether to join my lab. I want to make sure that, if they have academia as a goal, that they’re going in with their eyes open about what it will take to achieve that goal.
Plos One just published a paper saying in the abstract and conclusions that human hands are “the proper design by the Creator”. I skimmed the paper, and I’m not a biomechanicist, but it looks to me like normal biomechanics, with some awkward phrasing because the authors are from China. In comments at Plos One one of them disavowed creationism and blamed language issues. To no avail: Plos One has now retracted the paper. No word yet on how the “Creator” phrase got through peer review in the first place. I don’t think it should have. Editors and reviewers shouldn’t worry much about correcting minor problems with the English in papers by non-native speakers. But I do think they should have caught even a passing reference to “the Creator” and politely told the authors to rephrase or delete it. I’m passing on these details because if all you saw was the outraged social media reaction–the vast majority of which was from people who hadn’t looked at the paper–you might well conclude that Plos One published creationism. Indeed, that was my initial reaction, but then I decided I’d better check. I’m glad I did, because while I could be wrong, it doesn’t look to me like that’s what this is. Assuming I’m right about that, I feel for the authors that they’re now caught in a media s**tstorm. (UPDATE: Marc Cadotte also seems to have read the paper, and he thinks it’s intended as creationism. So I dunno. If I cared enough about having an opinion on this, the obvious and right thing to do would be to go read the paper carefully myself, but I’ve got more important things to do.)
Speaking of unusual retractions: A high-profile Journal of Ecology paper from three plant ecologists has been retracted because the data were falsified by tampering with soil samples. This is the 7th retraction for the senior author, Jorge Vivanco, and he and his former postdoc Harsh Bais have been debarred by the NSF’s Inspector General’s office. I feel badly for the first author of this JEcol paper, who from the sound of things was an innocent victim of the tampering.
Stephen Heard with tips on attending scientific conferences as an introvert. Some of the tips in this old post might be useful as well, though it’s not aimed specifically at introverts. And remember: it’s normal to wander alone at conferences. No one will notice you or judge you if you do it, so don’t be self-conscious about it.
A post-publication review by Rich Lenski of a new paper on the evolution of citrate use in E. coli. Clears up some misunderstandings that authors of the paper, and the associated commentary, seem to have about issues ranging from speciation to historical contingency to genetic “information”. Even if you’re not interested in these evolutionary topics, you might want to read it as a model example of post-publication review.
Speaking of post-publication review: Jeff Leek on how preprints and post-publication review could (I’d say likely would) fail if treated as a substitute for the current scientific publication system rather than a supplement. I wouldn’t take his simulation studies of the peer review system quite as seriously as he does, but overall he’s spot on. Makes the very good point that even the strongest advocates of post-publication review don’t, you know, actually do much of it. Also takes on the increasingly-common argument that most papers aren’t important enough to need any reviewing. As Cosma Shalizi wrote a while back, if peer review didn’t exist we’d have to invent it. Click through and read both pieces, they’re very good.
And one more: writing in Science this week, Gilbert et al. question the stats of that big psychology reproducibility project from last year. Gilbert et al. are mostly wrong, and some of their mistakes seem to be pretty basic, but they have some good suggestions for improving the reporting of replications. Good discussion here and here. Good fodder for an undergrad stats course. (ht Andrew Gelman)
Studypool: Uber for cheating on your assignments. Ok, that’s not the explicit intent, but that’s apparently how it’s mostly used in practice. And if you think it’s a sad comment on current US education that there’s a demand for this: there’s always been demand for this. But there wasn’t an internet until recently, so a lot of the demand went unmet. Oh, and I love that many students using these sites are downrating their “tutors” because the answers they purchased were low quality and/or plagiarized. Sounds to me like what you’re buying are lessons in economics, kids.
The joke that science advances one funeral at a time has a lot of truth to it, according to a new working paper analyzing the publication records of scientists before vs. after the death of a leader in the field. Interesting. I think I’ve linked to this before, but to the working paper, which wasn’t open access. Today’s link goes to a blog post.
#365papers is so last year. How about #52books? Ecology grad student Nicole Knight has set herself the goal of reading and blogging about one ecology book per week. Her first book: Brian Maurer’s Untangling Ecological Complexity.
And finally, Mammal March Madness is back! Hashtag #2016MMM. I’m torn between arctic fox (obviously), and snow leopard, because you can only defeat snow leopards by LEAPING TO YOUR OWN DEATH. Oh, and here’s what’s going to happen to Meg’s UW Badger in round one when it faces the mascot of my parents’ alma mater, the Penn State Nittany Lion. 😉 (From Meg: You stole my link! Anyway, my building has pumas gracing the entrance, so I think I win either way in that match up. Plus wolverines are in #2016MMM, too, just over in the Chill Mammals division. 🙂 ) (Jeremy adds: I assume this is how Meg imagines #2016MMM in her head. 🙂 )
Here’s a thoughtful post from Jarrett Byrnes on parenting as a scientist in the age of climate change.
Thanks to Jacquelyn Gill on twitter, I learned about the Noun Project, which looks like it has really handy cartoons for talks and figures. After I lamented the lack of Daphnia in a reply tweet, Emily Jane McTavish pointed me to Phylopic, which also looks like a great resource. It’s even better than the Noun Project because it includes Daphnia. 🙂
Let me translate my email for you! (Except, for me, when I say something was helpful, I really do mean that. I’ve had some people seem offended by that phrase, and maybe this explains why!) (Jeremy adds: that reminds me of this. Which in turn suggests that people who read Meg’s emails think she’s British. 🙂 )
Hoisted from the comments:
To what extent do you think the steep increase in rate of publication has optimized the paper writing process? I am left feeling that the monumental task of editors to make fast decisions on so many papers may have ‘tuned’ the way papers are written (structure and style).
We are conforming to an approach that makes it easier for busy editors to make a decision, but maybe diminishes the creativity or at least the variety of approaches to writing a paper. I am casting my mind back to papers you could find in Am Nat in the 60s and 70s. There was a much greater variety of styles of writing papers then (not all Martini glass papers!). I enjoy reading those too.
Click through for responses from Brian and me. Brian’s response is better than mine.