Friday links: Is NSF biased against aquatic ecology?, Should we ban computers in class? and more

Also: The hiring process at teaching colleges, when researchers should eat chocolate (always!), when prairie dogs should eat chocolate (when it arrives via drone!), how to figure out what you’re seeing out your plane window, and even a link from Brian!

From Meg:

When to eat chocolate: a guide for researchers (by @ErrantScience). I fully endorse this:

In an unexpected follow up to the above link: the US Fish and Wildlife Service is shooting M&Ms (that is, the tasty little chocolate candies) from drones. Why? The M&Ms are smeared with peanut butter that is laced with a vaccine that protects the prairie dogs against plague. It’s hoped that this, in turn, will help black-footed ferrets, which eat the prairie dogs.

The hiring process at teaching colleges. That post, by Kevin Gannon, has a lot of very specific advice. Terry McGlynn also has a compilation of posts on the general topic, available here. (Somewhat related: Jeremy’s post on the hiring process in ecology at research universities)

This app lets you figure out what geological features you are seeing from an airplane. This is very exciting! I’ve tried asking flight attendants what we were seeing as we flew over a neat feature (e.g., the Nebraska sandhills), but they aren’t always able to say. This will be very nice to have! (ht: Elena Bennett)

DEBrief tackles a question of interest to me: Is aquatic ecology underrepresented in awards from the Population and Community Ecology program within the Division of Environmental Biology at NSF? The conclusion: fewer aquatic proposals are funded, but that is because fewer aquatic proposals are submitted. I was surprised to see that approximately 70% of submissions to PCE are focused on terrestrial systems. Only 17% of submissions to PCE focused on aquatic systems, while 9% focused on both aquatic and terrestrial systems.

Is it time to ban computers from classrooms? This is an interesting piece on a new study that randomly assigned students to one of three treatments: 1) a ban on all computers and tablets, 2) unrestricted use of computers and tablets, or 3) the ability to use a table face-up on one’s desk. They found that students in the treatments that allowed use of computers or tablets performed significantly worse on the final exam than did students who had not been allowed to use computers or tablets. (Note: I haven’t read the original study; this summary is based on the linked piece.) The piece goes into some remaining open questions — the most important, to me, being the question of whether this effect might be modified if technology was integrated with the instruction. (ht: Jung Choi)

A study is underway that revisits MacArthur’s spruce trees to see if the distribution of warblers has changed. It seems likely that it has (though the work is still ongoing), but also likely that the years that MacArthur studied these warblers were unusual (because of a spruce budworm outbreak). This blog post by Irby Lovette has lots of interesting information about MacArthur’s study and the follow up. One thing that I found amusing is that, while no one knew where the site was for a long time, it turns out that lots of folks walk around with a picture of it in their pocket — it’s shown on the 2012 US quarter (coin) that shows Acadia National Park. (ht: Jacquelyn Gill)

Why not to trust statistics

From Brian:

Warning nerd cool alert. They have recently scanned the source code that ran the Apollo 11 mission that landed on the moon and made it available in github. Its all written in assembly language (it might take several commands just to do a single calculation). Its an amazing story. The original engineering plans had no notion of the need for computer programs and there was zero budget for programming. This was the first portable computer. The programs took up 12KB and were literally hardwired into the computer by seamstresses who wove the wire, while there was only 1KB of memory. Unlike all the stories you hear about spectacular software failures, this was a case where robust software saved the humans from their own mistakes. And something you never hear about, the hero/lead programmer was a woman with a young child, Margaret Hamilton, in the days (early 1960s) when that was unheard of. (Added by Meg: I love this photo of her standing next to her code.)

From Jeremy:

The ecology blogosphere (if that’s the right word) just got smaller: RIP Arthropod Ecology.

7 thoughts on “Friday links: Is NSF biased against aquatic ecology?, Should we ban computers in class? and more

  1. Hey Brian, cool stuff! My dad worked for Hamilton on the Apollo program and has printouts of the original code. (He likes to say that his code is sitting on the moon!) It’s *amazing* what they had to invent and code from complete scratch, including system interrupts. (And scary that people’s lives depended on it.) What the online stories tend to gloss over is the toll the program took on people’s personal lives. Divorces were rampant. If you’re interested in learning more about the people and technology behind the moon landing, there’s a series called Moon Machines in which Hamilton, my dad, and others are interviewed:

    • Hi Margaret. That’s really cool about your dad. It looks like there is an interview with what I presume is your dad here: I’ll have to check out the series.

      I can well imagine there was an immense toll on personal lives.

      I think most people underestimate how much our whole modern computer industry traces its roots to the moon landing and that handful of people.

      • Yep, that’s him. And some of his buddies that he still keeps in touch with. (The kids he refers to are my older half-sibs. I came later…)

  2. Thanks for the the link! In addition to the Kevin Gannon piece on hiring at teaching institutions, everything else that he writes is golden too. And on twitter he is @TheTattooedProf. I’ve learned a lot from him, about education and history and higher ed.

  3. “This article was amended on 15 July 2016. An earlier version incorrectly reported that the drones would shoot vaccine-laced M&Ms. In fact the vaccine takes the form of pellets made in-house by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.”😦

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