Friday links: Ilkka Hanski passes away, Ed Yong vs. David Attenborough, and more

Also this week: Aristotle on trolling, naturalists, self-funding your research, Audobon the prankster, Obama vs. bison, and more. And this week’s funniest webpage is one that doesn’t exist.

From Jeremy:

Very sad news: Ilkka Hanski has passed away. I never met him, knowing him only through his hugely influential work on metapopulation dynamics. He made important contributions as a modeler (e.g., core-satellite hypothesis), methods developer (e.g., incidence functions), and empiricist (e.g., butterfly metapopulation dynamics, evolution of dispersal and other traits in spatially structured populations). He also worked on a range of other problems, such as the causes of population cycles in microtine rodents. After receiving his PhD at Oxford in 1979, he returned to his native Finland and built a world-leading center for metapopulation research at the University of Helskini. Among his many awards and honors, he was a member of the Finnish Society of Sciences and Letters, a foreign member of the Royal Society of London and the US National Academy of Sciences, and a recipient of the Crafoord Prize.

This week’s winner of the intertubes: “Aristotle” (really, University of Toronto philosophy professor Rachel Barney) on trolling. (ht Brad DeLong)

I missed this at the time, but this great news was last week’s intertube winner:

Long-term changes (or not) in the publication careers of PhD recipients in various fields of science and social science. The average PhD recipient in most fields now starts publishing a year or two earlier than in the 1950s. The proportion of PhD recipients who never publish anything has fluctuated over time differently in different fields. Most interestingly, the distribution of publication career lengths for PhD recipients who publish at least one paper has hardly changed since the 1950s. In particular, the proportion of PhD recipients with short publication careers (<6 years) is flat or only slightly increasing. The apparent lack of change could be due in part to truncation of the data. You can’t yet tell if, say, someone who got their PhD in 2000 will have a 20+ year publication career. But if there has been a change since the 1950s, it’s happened recently. Because there’s no hint of an increase in short publication careers among PhD recipients from the late 90s or early oughts.  (ht Retraction Watch)

Jeff Leek’s advice on social media for new scientific users. Good for newbies, though it’s not very detailed and there are a few bits I disagree with. I doubt you’ll build much of a following on Twitter just by retweeting anything you find interesting or important, even if you focus on some specific topic. And while it’s good to recognize what will and won’t gain you social media followers, if you approach social media by asking “How do I gain followers?” or “How do I make myself and my work more well-known?”, you’re doing it wrong. It’s like offline networking in that way.

Wait, Audobon invented a bunch of species to prank a rival? (ht Not Exactly Rocket Science)

Terry McGlynn asks if you’d self-fund your entire research program. He’s considering it. Related old post. As Meg points out in the comments on Terry’s post, a related question is whether to pay yourself summer salary from your research grant, or spend all your grant money on science.

This is from last year but I think I missed it at the time: predictors of retractions and corrections. The take-home: no, pressure to publish in high impact journals is not what causes misconduct.

What are universities for, and who’s responsible for running them and making the public case for them? (ht Brad DeLong) From a British, leftist perspective, but has many insights that generalize. Here’s one:

[A]cademics have had a passive aggressive attitude towards the university: They think they should be running the place, while lacking enough interest in its total operations to put in the relevant effort.

The bison is now the official US national mammal. Here’s a list of national animals (and birds). A few comments on the list:

  • Algeria has the best national animal. Multa novit vulpes. 🙂
  • White-tailed deer? Seriously, Costa Rica and Honduras? Being from the eastern US, I think of white-tailed deer as giant rats with antlers.
  • I like Hungary’s, Serbia’s, Bhutan’s, and Indonesia’s choices to go with mythical birds or animals. And once you’ve crossed that line, why stop at traditional mythical creatures like the turul? I think weresharks, ROUS’s, gelatinous cubes, and jackalopes deserve serious US consideration. 🙂
  • Not content with a mere national animal or national bird, India has a national bird, national animal, national reptile, national aquatic animal, and national heritage animal. I assume that Meg will now start lobbying the US to adopt a national cladoceran. 🙂

In the comments, tell us what you think of your country’s national animal/bird/whatever. And if you don’t like it, tell us what it should be instead! 🙂 (ht @kjhealy)

David Attenbingo.

And finally, one of the benefits of not being a naturalist is that I’m at no risk of being mistaken for…something else. 🙂

From Meg:

Ed Yong ranked (and summarized) every episode of David Attenborough’s Life series, in honor of his 90th birthday (Attenborough’s, not Yong’s 😉 ). Or should that be that he summarised it in honour of his 90th birthday?

An excellent “page not found” page. Maybe we need a special ecology-themed one?

This gif showing global temperatures through time is really compelling and would work well in a class on climate change, I think:

I love this post by Acclimatrix at Tenure, She Wrote on self-care, hobbies, and work-life balance. Not surprisingly, I especially liked this paragraph:

“How do you find the time?” is pernicious. It’s a form of concern-trolling, because the person seems like they have your best interests at heart, but they’re really just shaming you for not being at work all the time. Don’t listen to them. First, you don’t need to work eighty hours a week to succeed in academia, and most people probably aren’t anyway, even if they think they are. Secondly, having hobbies and outlets is good. Breaks make you more productive; this is one reason the tech industry is all about having Lego stations at work, or things like the Pomodoro method are so effective. Strong networks and interests make you healthier and happier. Healthy, happy people are more productive. Knitting, beer-brewing, and tending to your SCOBY won’t get you tenure by themselves, but they’re almost certainly helping more than hurting.


12 thoughts on “Friday links: Ilkka Hanski passes away, Ed Yong vs. David Attenborough, and more

  1. Ilkka Hanski has died? That hurts. He was in the generation of ecologists that I looked up to as a grad student, the ones I thought would be around to guide me forever. I’m not ready to step into their place.

    • Richard Levins was of an earlier generation. But between his passing earlier this year and Hanski’s, I had the same realization that the giants of the field that I “grew up with” as an ecologist are passing on.

    • Ooooh! I like! I’m curious to hear what Jeremy says though.

      For me it just harkens back to my recurring theme that if we are not testing ourselves by making predictions we’re not scientific (whether we is economists or ecologists). The one thing the article didn’t even touch though is where econometricians fit into this. I read the article as mostly an attack on differential equation equilibrium model economics. As the ecological equivalent of an econometrician (i.e. a macroecologist) I like to see myself differently. Indeed i don’t call myself a theoretician. Not sure how others would see it though.

      • Meh. I hang around econ blogs enough that much of it rang too familiar to excite me much. Plus, the notion that economics clearly has gone off the rails because it didn’t predict the financial crisis is silly. One of the successes of economics is to explain why you *can’t* predict such things with any reliability. Plus, as Paul Krugman never tires of pointing out, standard economic theory actually provided a pretty good guide for how to respond to the financial crisis, but it was used only half-heartedly at best for political reasons.

        Bottom line for me: it’s not a bad piece, but it’s not great. Not one of the most accurate or incisive critiques I’ve seen. Which is kind of unfortunate given that many better critiques have already been published. If you come later than others, the bar for you is higher.

        In any case, the critique is now at least 5 years out of date. Empirics are what’s hot now in economics:

        (not that everyone’s happy with the currently trendy empirical methods in economics:

      • Even the author said the criticism is old – he cites a critique from 1886. But that’s all a prelude to pursuing the question, why? At least some of academics admit they know they are in the game of building models of air but that correcting this would jeopardize their position and status. And maybe employers are complicit because they also enjoy the status. Other’s seem to be in denial and create religious-like apologetics. Others are probably simply ignorant but continue to practice and teach what they learned in school (see your link on “unlearning economics”) because the math is so Macho. Not unlike Zombie ideas in Ecology (IDH received large treatment in the edition of Campbell that we use in Intro Biology).

      • @Jeff:

        I agree that that “why” question is hugely important. Why do entire subfields (or in the case of macroeconomics, arguably just certain schools of thought within the subfield) settle on a certain way of doing things and then stick with it? Maybe until something big like a financial crisis (or the replication crisis in psychology) comes along and shocks them out of it?

        I don’t have any good answers in general, or in the case of economics specifically (well, I could try to summarize what I’ve read on econ blogs, but it would take too long…) Just arm-waving, but I think that in general the answers are positive feedback loops, collective action problems, and failure modes. You’re looking for mechanisms of self-reinforcing behavior. You’re looking for situations in which reasonable decisions by individuals (e.g., regarding what research questions to pursue and how) create collective failures by the group. And you’re looking at the characteristic ways in which the field’s approaches will fail, in those cases when they fail.

        So for instance, it’s perfectly reasonable to stick with the econ tools you learned in grad school, and to teach them to the next generation of students. And to focus on teaching and using the most popular tools. But all those individually-reasonable decisions create a self-reinforcing conservatism at the level of the entire field.

        I don’t think what you’re looking for are things like ignorance or laziness or naked careerism, at least not mostly. Academics mostly aren’t ignorant, lazy, or naked careerists in my experience.

        Of course, to fully answer your “why” question you’d also want to explain why a bunch of people would converge on a certain way of doing things in the first place. And there I suppose the answer is that, if they didn’t, the field wouldn’t exist at all. It’d be like how I hear cultural anthropology is–just chaos, no agreement on what the questions even are, much less what would count as an answer.

  2. “tell us what you think of your country’s national animal”

    Seems Ireland doesn’t have a national animal! I never realized we were missing out before!
    Options: the Mute swan (Cygnus olor) would be a good candidate (given folklore) but I’d also vote for the European pine marten (Martes martes), the Golden Eagle ( Aquila chrysaetos), and, given the need for more invertebrates, the Spotted slug (Geomalacus maculosus).
    But why restrict this to animals? Surely we need a modern and inclusive view of the tree of life (national fungi?) in which the Guinness yeast strain would get a mention.

  3. Pingback: Friday links: Bob Paine passes away, and more | Dynamic Ecology

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