Friday links: Am Nat humor, writing advice, and more (UPDATED)

Also this week: eco/evo faculty jobs wiki for 2016-2017, a common question you shouldn’t answer, parent accommodations at the ESA meeting, what ails higher ed, great (animal) escapes, and more.

From Meg:

The new ecology and evolutionary biology faculty job wiki for the 2016-2017 job season is up! (ht: Chris Klausmeier) Update: a shorter link you can bookmark is

NSF’s DEBrief blog had a post summarizing the spring 2016 preproposal results. I’m sure I’ve said this before, but I love that NSF-DEB has a blog where they share this sort of information.

Accommodations for parents at this year’s ESA meeting. The Early Career Section, led by Sarah Supp, has done a great job of working to make the meeting friendlier to parents. This includes making it so caregivers can enter the conference center; this is something that has been an issue for folks in the past, making it difficult to get a hungry baby to mom. Thanks to the Early Career Section for their work on this! (ht: Margaret Kosmala)

From Jeremy:

John Hutchinson’s powerful personal tale of life as a diminishing scientist. And here’s the epilogue. (ht Meg from a post earlier this week; I thought it was worth highlighting again, because many people will go through the struggle of adjusting to a major change in their lives.)

Long-term data on authorship in economics since 1980. The trends mirror those in other fields. The mean number of authors per paper is climbing steadily. Sole-authored papers, once common, are now somewhat rare. The number of papers with at least one female author has been rising steadily and now stands at 35%. Interestingly, that’s actually higher than the proportion of women among economics PhD recipients, even in recent cohorts.

Functional Ecology’s tips for writing a good paper. Related: Brian’s advice on how to write and structure your paper, my advice on structuring your introduction, and how not to begin your paper.

Speaking of Functional Ecology: EiC Charles Fox’s choice quotes from the best and worst reviews of his work. I actually hesitate to link to this. There’s a risk that some readers will mistakenly think such quotes are typical. They’re not. Just read it for a chuckle, and for a reminder, if one were needed, that everybody gets the occasional bad review.

Faculty: next time a student or trainee asks how many hours you work, don’t answer. Instead, say this. (ht Terry McGlynn, via Twitter)

Speaking of Terry, he suggests that grant reviews should be double-blind. I respectfully disagree. I don’t think program directors should be left to evaluate whether the people submitting the grant have the expertise, facilities, experience, etc. to do the work, with no input from reviewers. There’s much more that could be said here, and that I did say in an earlier draft of this linkfest. But then I decided to not be me and just leave it at that.🙂 As always, comments are welcome.

Writing in Plos One, Murray et al. present data on NSERC Discovery Grant reviewer scores by size of applicant institution. Scores tend to run lower for DG applicants from smaller institutions, a fact which Murray et al. argue indicates bias against applicants from small institutions. Kudos to them for asking an important question and compiling data to address it, but I’m not convinced by their conclusion. Researchers aren’t assigned randomly to institutions, and there are lots of contextual factors that vary with institution size and that will directly and indirectly affect everything that goes into a researcher’s DG application. My own view is that reviewers ought to scale their evaluations of DG applications relative to at least some key contextual factors, particularly previous grant size. Again, much more that could be said here if folks would like to comment.🙂 (ht Stephen Heard) (UPDATE: Thanks to a comment from Terry McGlynn, I now see that what I’ve written here was at least unclear, and possibly worse. I replied to clarify some of what I wrote, and will be reflecting further on Terry’s comments and thinking harder before I say anything more. I apologize for expressing hasty thoughts, and for not expressing them better. In light of Terry’s comments, I’ve struck through one remark that was particularly hasty and particularly unclear.)

Harry Brighouse discusses a new book on what ails American higher education and how to fix it. I found it interesting because it questions some widespread views that I myself held. The most provocative bit:

[I]t is hard to see why a sensible legislator concerned with improving education, or with improving fairness in education, would prioritize additional funding for higher education. Why? It’s not a priority if you care about fairness, because higher education is not a universal program, but one which less than 2/3rds of the cohort participate in, and is not even available to those who have received the worst education up to that point, who are almost exclusively among the less advantaged people in society…It’s not a priority if you just care about getting an educated population because we know that investments in early childhood and k-8—the education levels in which everyone participates–are more cost-efficient up to some saturation point which we are still quite far from.

Am Nat humor.🙂 (ht Brown-banded Homo mathematicus)

Oops, funny division.

Oops, not funny division.

9 thoughts on “Friday links: Am Nat humor, writing advice, and more (UPDATED)

  1. Just wanted to register how stunned I am at that last link (it’s about an Amur leopard that escaped its cage at a Utah zoo and was sleeping on the roof of the viewing area when it was tranquilized). If I understand correctly, the cat just squeezed through the 6 in x 6 in mesh. Why on earth would you put a cat in a cage with mesh big enough for the cat’s head to fit through? I thought everybody knew that cats can get pretty much anywhere their heads can fit. I’m guessing (hoping?) there must be more to this story, because on its face this just seems colossally dumb…

  2. There is a whole section for Facilities in NSF grants where you list what facilities you have to conduct the project to explain that you have what it takes to get it done. This can totally be done in a double-blind fashion. You don’t need to know the name of the person or their institution for a proposal to explain that the facilities meet the needs of the project, unless the person lies in the proposal.

    • True, but availability of facilities is just one aspect of the issue here.

      Here’s what it comes down to, I think: does knowing attributes of the investigator help grant reviewers predict how successful the proposed work would be if it were funded? By “attributes” I am primarily thinking of stuff like your publication history and the grants you currently hold.

  3. Jeremy, I’m now returning to this of yours which I hadn’t read earlier today: “Researchers aren’t assigned randomly to institutions, and there are lots of contextual factors that vary with institution size and that will directly and indirectly affect everything that goes into a researcher’s DG application.” I know at least a few biologists outside U15s in Canada who are seething at this, but are wiser than me because they’ve chosen to not say anything. I wouldn’t say I’m seething, because I’m used to it, but I would have hoped that one bias wouldn’t have been replaced by another.

    • Thank you very much for this Terry. In light of your comments, and reading what I wrote again, I can see that I should’ve expressed myself better and spelled out my thinking more. And possibly, the thoughts I was trying to express were bad ones that I ought to rethink.

      By contextual factors I had in mind the sorts of things you often write about at Small Pond Science that affect your ability to run your research program. Teaching load. The ease with which one can get relief from teaching and/or admin duties to focus on research. Whether or not one’s institution has a PhD program, or any graduate program. The expectations that the administration has of you in terms of how you’ll allocate your time to teaching/research/service. Etc. Am I way off base to think that at least some of those sorts of contextual factors affect one’s research program in various direct and indirect ways, and that some of them might possibly covary with institution size? Possibly I am way off base–I didn’t think about it much when I wrote the post, but in light of your comments clearly I should have.

      My remark that researchers aren’t randomly assigned to institutions isn’t one I thought about much, and in retrospect I should have. That’s my bad. I was expressing my general, reflexive suspicion of the ability of any observational study of anything to isolate one effect (here, reviewer bias against small institutions) from others without random assignment. I now see that it reads very badly, and that it looks like what I’m saying is that the best researchers get jobs at big universities and the less-than-the-best researchers can’t and so get jobs at small universities. That wasn’t my intent, but I’m responsible for what I wrote and that’s a natural reading of what I wrote.

      Thanks again for taking the time to comment, looking forward to any further comments you feel moved to make. I’ll update the post to point to this conversation.

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