Friday links: Most. Awkward. Department. Meeting. Ever. And more. (UPDATED)

Also this week: Jacquelyn Gill’s new podcast, bear cam > your productivity, the upside of professional gossip, you never get a second chance to make a first impression (with whoever’s reviewing your grant proposal), a question ecologists should stop asking, Excel vs. your data, and more.

From Jeremy:

Very interesting post from Arjun Raj on scientific reputation, gossip, and reproducibility. A bit specific to molecular biology, a field in which labs routinely repeat each others’ experiments, but much of it generalizes. tl;dr: reputation and gossip arguably serve useful scientific purposes, albeit imperfectly.

Ecology is not the only field in which author order conventions are changing or have recently changed. (ht Retraction Watch)

Peter Keil reports on a discussion he had with Jon Chase, asking which is more fundamental to ecology, statistics or natural history? Without meaning to criticize Peter or Jon at all, and recognizing that I may very well be oversensitive on this, I think you’ve already gone astray if you’re even asking that question. And not just because both natural history and statistics obviously have their place. Nothing is “fundamental” to ecology, as evidenced by the fact that the list of great ecologists includes such totally different minds as Gause and Clements. Ecology is a big tent that developed by combining the diverse approaches of people with totally different motivations and intellectual commitments. So when you say that “X is fundamental to ecology”, all you’re really saying “I like X” (and sometimes “I dislike not-X”). It’s great that you love whatever “X” is for you. Ecology wouldn’t exist if people didn’t love doing it! But with respect, try not to sound like you think ecology is identical with or defined by X, because that sounds a little exclusionary to people who don’t share your love of X. In the linked post, Jon notes that G. E. Hutchinson’s line about how MacArthur knew his warblers really speaks to him. But personally, this lovely passage from Ben Bolker really speaks to me. Which says something about Jon, and something about me–and nothing about what’s “fundamental” to ecology. (UPDATE: See the comments, where Jon Chase was kind enough to stop by and provide some context and background, which wasn’t reported fully in Peter Keil’s post. Jon’s not actually concerned with what is or isn’t “fundamental” to ecology in the sense I took it in this post, and I can attest he’s not a curmudgeon. :-))

Andrew Hendry takes a data-based look at what journal special issues are good for.

You may have heard about the current controversy in economics over a leading journal’s publication of a paper of debatable originality, with the publication decision being taken by an editor who arguably had a conflict of interest with the authors. I have no opinion–this is one of those situations that’s both difficult and unpleasant to try to fully understand as an outsider. There are a lot of econ-specific cultural factors at work in the background, some of them pretty ugly. But if you want to dig in and try to sort out what’s going on for yourself, here’s Noahpinion with some broader context.

Joan Strassmann says, correctly, that you have 10 minutes to impress the reviewer of your grant proposal. I’d emphasize that this is not just a matter of presentation. My experience as both a proposal author and reviewer is that poor presentation often is a symptom of poor content. If your ideas aren’t clear and compelling on the page, it’s often because they’re not clear and compelling.

Data on whether referee reports and editorial decisions at leading economics journals predict future citations. Includes data relating citation rates to various features of authors and papers (e.g., how prolific the author is, how many authors the paper had). (ht Marginal Revolution)

Pablo Escobar’s hippos are still a problem, and management focus is shifting towards containment.

What to get for the cat-loving, R-using woman in your life. (ht Simply Statistics)

And finally, you thought your department meetings were British awkward.

p.s. I’m on holiday July 7-17. Comment moderation and replies to comments will be slow at best. (From Meg: Hey! Is that a comment on my comment moderation speed?!) (From Jeremy: Ok, comment moderation will be even faster than it usually is. And if it’s not, complain to Meg. 😉 )

From Meg:

Jacquelyn Gill is co-hosting a podcast called Warm Regards; Eric Holthaus (Slate) is the host, with Jacquelyn and Andy Revkin (NY Times) as co-hosts. Jacquelyn says, “Our goals for this podcast are to create conversation about the front lines of climate change, but also to humanize the scientists and communicators (and to foster dialog among them). To that end, we very much want to create space for discussions that aren’t happening, like dealing with uncertainty, or the emotional impacts of working on climate change.” You can find the blog on iTunes, SoundCloud, and Stitcher, as well as Twitter.

The Brooks Falls brown bear/salmon cam is back! For those who aren’t familiar from previous years, this is a live cam that shows a salmon run in Alaska, letting you watch bears catch salmon. Sorry for the hit to your productivity. (Updated 7/8/16 to fix link)

Margaret Kosmala had a post warning about ways Excel can mess up data (and how to avoid the problem). (Jeremy adds: Hey, that was gonna be my link! Stop, link thief! Or I’ll say “stop” again!)

6 thoughts on “Friday links: Most. Awkward. Department. Meeting. Ever. And more. (UPDATED)

  1. “Ms Bateman, a lecturer has researched the development of the European economy, sat at the two-hour meeting without anyone mentioning her nudity they just went on with a normal meeting”

    MYPTBB 🙂

  2. OMG, when did I become the crotchety old curmudgeon that everyone uses as a blog flog? Of course it’s hard to get your points across when they are taken out of context on one blog and then out that blog’s context in another blog… So, shall I defend my statements, which are nothing more than a caricature of my original intention (and Hutchinsons’s) or just shut up and leave well enough alone? Well, probably the latter… But heck, I’m a crotchety old curmudgeon–so, here I am, wearing an onion on my belt..

    What I was trying to say is that I am concerned that we are training a generation of ecologists who are brilliant coders, but perhaps many are less brilliant understanding how the world is actually working. I absolutely agree with Jeremy that it’s silly to argue primacy of one approach over the other. But when we see the pendulum swing too far one way, i think it’s important to push back. My comments emerged from a group discussion we had where one postdoc was discussing patterns of diversity, its spatio-temporal turnover, macroecology, etc. in some stream invertebrate data of his. And a bunch of other postdocs became obsessed with the analysis–all they wanted to talk about was the tools for how to do the analysis, new and better analysis they could do, etc. Without stopping for one second to realize that the analysis they were discussing was simply absurd from the start. But no one in the room realized it, because they had no idea that the hypotheses they were suggesting the presenter should test simply didn’t fit with the natural history of the system (i.e., turnover over a 3 month period having something to do with population dynamics when the generation time of the organisms is often more than a year). It was probably the most surreal conversation I’ve ever seen in its absurdity… And this is why I started spouting off about Hutchinson and MacArthur and warblers. The plausibility of the arguments of the postdocs–with respect to to the analyses they were suggesting–was just about the same as the plausibility of a recent conversation between my 5 year old son and 3 year old daughter, where it emerged that the toy purple unicorn and the toy green rat snake were the parents of the toy red-eyed tree frog, and they were all getting ready to go on a trip to America to see real live dinosaurs…

    Anyone who’s spent anytime hiking in the temperate woods and knows a bit about tree identification knows that certain types of oaks like drier sites, others wetter sites, some hotter, some cooler. Same with maples, hickories, etc. Put this all together, and we might actually make some interesting predictions about community assembly and scaling of patterns of phylogenetic, functional and taxonomic diversity. But when asked to come up with those expectations based on observations one might make on any hike in the woods (or a snorkel trip, or whatever the data may be), I usually get agnosticism or blank stares from people I would otherwise consider to be smart people. Or as Petr, the author of the original post, likes to say–“I have no priors”. Seriously, do we really have no priors when we choose a question, decide which data to analyze, set up an experiment, etc? Obviously, our intuition based on natural history, etc. is often incorrect when we actually ‘do the math’, and this is where it gets interesting. But if you go out into the world with a bunch of R code, a bunch of data, and no clue about what it is you’re actually looking at, I worry for our future… And for the future of the aforementioned unicorn/snake/frog family.

    Let me update my comment about my historical heroes, Hutchinson and MacArthur and their water boatmen and warblers, which is a bit of a cliche now, i suppose. Brian M. is one of my contemporary heroes.. A brilliant quantitative mind; knows how to code in multiple languages, etc. But that guy really knows his birds! And plants! And geology… And pizza.. Well, you get the picture…

    • “I am concerned that we are training a generation of ecologists who are brilliant coders, but perhaps many are less brilliant understanding how the world is actually working.”

      Absolutely, Jon, I couldn’t agree more. It’s something I’ve discussed in comments on DE in the past and also on my blog; if you’ll indulge me I’d like to quote directly from a post of mine from 2014 about the BES Macroecology meeting in Nottingham:

      “After coffee there were papers…. [that]…. neatly demonstrated one of the strengths of macroecology: the 21st Century tools it can marshal to use secondary data for understanding ecological patterns and processes at very large spatial scales.

      But secondary data can also be a weakness of the field if the quality is poor and it is limited in scope. This was the subject later in the day of a polemical lecture by Shai Meiri entitled “Laziness in macroecology: a crime and no punishment” that railed against researchers who sometimes fail to augment ready-made data sets with even the most rudimentary of additional data. My favourite of Shai’s examples was a study which had used a mammalian ecology data set in which the diet of anteaters was coded as “unknown”! The tee-shirt Shai wore during his often very funny rant read: “If you are not outraged, you were not paying attention” and there was plenty for the audience to feel outraged about, not least his suggestion that we “ban taxonomy” and (even more controversially) get away from our computer screens and into the libraries to source information to fill in the gaps in data sets.

      I’d go further and say that some field work would not go amiss as well! In comparison with using ever more sophisticated analyses, developing better software, and building ever more complex models, collecting field data seems to be low on the list of priorities for many macroecologists, particularly some of the PhD students. Not all of them by any means ….. but it strikes me as a trend. That’s worrying on many levels, and good data are hard won, but then I’m an old-fashioned, muddy boots kind of ecologist who realises that our knowledge of biodiversity is built up from a very small set of data in comparison to what we don’t know: we’ve scratched the surface of the tip of the iceberg as a colleague used to say.”

    • Thanks very much for the context Jon, much appreciated. As I hope was clear, all I had to go on was Peter’s post.

      I’m on holiday, no time to reply at length I’m afraid. I guess I’d only say that your experience hanging out with ecologists who aren’t field oriented has been quite different than mine. I’ve literally never met an ecologist, quantitatively-oriented or otherwise, whom I worried would choose a silly question/analysis/experiment through lack of background knowledge about the system or lack of natural historical “feel” for the system. So I don’t know that I’d generalize from one conversation with a few postdocs to a worry about the training of an entire generation of ecologists. Of course, perhaps it’s my own personal experience with quantitatively-oriented ecologists that’s unrepresentative…

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