Also this week: the science of Finding Dory, banning p-values accomplishes nothing, LTER sites vs. LTER scientists, a downside of open data (?), responding to preproposal rejection, and more.
Very sad news: Bob Paine has passed away. Paine was one of the founders of modern ecology. His 1966 paper, “Food web complexity and species diversity” is a foundational classic, giving rise to the concept of “keystone species” (a term Paine coined in 1969). Much contemporary research on food web ecology–the interplay of predation and competition, interaction strengths, alternate stable states, and more–traces back to Paine’s work. More broadly, his example helped establish manipulative field experiments as a standard approach in community ecology, and helped establish the rocky intertidal as a model system for community ecology. He was also an exceptional mentor, leaving a massive family tree of academic descendants: Jane Lubchenco, Bruce Menge, Steve Palumbi, and many more. He served as President of the ESA, was a member of the US National Academy of Sciences, and received numerous awards including the ESA’s MacArthur award. I never had the privilege of meeting him, though I wanted to join his lab back when I was a prospective grad student, and sometimes wonder how my career might’ve turned out differently if that had worked out. Perhaps others who knew him will share their recollections. Brief remembrance from Ed Yong here. With Richard Levins and Ilka Hanski having passed away earlier this year, one gets the sense of a whole generation of giants–the people who defined much of modern ecology–is passing on. (Meg adds: I like this short (4ish minutes) video interview with Bob Paine, where he talks about developing the keystone species concept.)
Long-term Ecological Research: Changing the Nature of Scientists. A forthcoming must-read on the LTER program and how it has affected the scientists participating in it. It’s based on short essays by many LTER scientists in response to a series of survey questions. Google Books already has excerpts, so here are a couple of choice quotes. From David Tilman, an interesting remark on the power of combining diverse approaches, especially if you’re doing so yourself:
My long-term work at Cedar Creek has taught me, time and again, how much more rapidly science can progress when a major question is simultaneously addressed with new theory, experiments, and long-term observations…[This] approach…proved to be particularly powerful when doing long-term research at the same site, perhaps because it eliminates the time lags that occur when some individuals do observations or experiments and others do theory.
From Elizabeth Borer–someone who works at both LTER and non-LTER sites and chooses not to describe herself as an “LTER scientist”–some interesting remarks on the risks of clubbiness in long-term site-focused collaborative research:
There are opportunities for increasing participation and recruiting “new blood” into the LTER network…The LTER program is intended to generate deep insights from long-term study of a research site through many lenses. The approach is undeniably valuable as one approach to the science of ecology. However, LTER sites, in my mind, are the people and ideas as much as the place. For many sites, the same researchers have been involved since the outset–or even before–and their scientific contributions are associated with both their name and the name of the site. However, the questions of the survey and format of this book reflect the perspective that there is a site-based experience in the LTER program. For some this certainly reflects their experience, but for many in the field of ecology, this assumption risks being alienating, creating “insiders” and “outsiders”–those who perceive themselves as having an “LTER experience”, and those who do not…Yet, despite all of this, I have felt very welcomed as a researcher at several LTER sites, so this need not be an impediment.
Dan Lakens checks out what’s been published lately in that psychology journal that banned all inferential statistics–not just p-values, but anything that might support an inference from sample to population. Lakens is not impressed. His conclusion:
The absence of p-values has not prevented dichotomous conclusions, nor claims that data support theories (which is only possible using Bayesian statistics), nor anything else p-values were blamed for in science. After reading a year’s worth of BASP articles, you’d almost start to suspect p-values are not the real problem. Instead, it looks like researchers find making statistical inferences pretty difficult, and forcing them to ignore p-values didn’t magically make things better.
As far as I can see, all that banning p-values has done, is increase the Type 1 error rate in BASP articles. Restoring a correct use of p-values would substantially improve how well conclusions authors draw actually follow from the data they have collected. The only expense, I predict, is a much lower number of citations to articles written by Trafimow [the journal editor] about how useless p-values are.
Parker et al. suggest guidelines for how ecology and evolution journals can promote transparency and openness in research, drawing on ideas from psychology. Here’s Ecology Letters’ response to the editorial.
Margaret Kosmala on a potential downside of open data–people no longer have to contact you and invite you to collaborate in exchange for access to your data. Yep. Like it or not, sharing data is rapidly becoming something that’s expected or required of everyone, though we’re not all the way there yet. Which means that nobody who publishes open data should expect to benefit personally from doing it. Although I’m not sure you could ever expect to build your career by waiting for potential collaborators to approach you wanting access to your data. So I don’t know that the trend towards expecting/requiring open data actually affects any individual’s career prospects all that much.
The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland presents data on the occupational mix of people working at US colleges and universities since 1987. Confirms some things you probably believe–yes, full-time faculty are a steadily-declining proportion of all employees. Refutes other things you probably believe–no, administrators are not an increasing proportion of all employees. A future post will examine trends in spending on salaries and amenities.
This is from earlier in the spring, but I missed it at the time: Jeremy Hance’s 4-part investigative series on whether “big conservation” has gone astray starts here. Not at all my area of expertise, but I’m looking forward to reading it as a curious outsider.
NSERC is reviewing its allocation of basic research funding to different fields. So, how would you decide how much money to allocate to fundamental research in, say, chemistry vs. ecology and evolution? A very important question I have no idea how to answer.
I enjoyed this post from Joan Strassmann on what to do if your preproposal was not invited, including her perspective on whether you deserve substantive comments on why your preproposal was not invited. But I think the most important part of the post is the second paragraph:
First of all, remind yourself of what a great scientist, teacher, and mentor you are. Do not fall into the trap of low expectations for yourself. This is really hard to do when you have had a punch in the gut from NSF, particularly as you face the real consequences for funding your lab, getting tenure, and retaining respect at your institution. Don’t let them take away your self esteem. Don’t let them make you feel terrible. Figure out somewhere to get satisfaction anyway. This often comes best from remembering to give. Find something to do for someone, in science, teaching, or otherwise.