Friday links: Choose Your Own…study organism, lab philosophies, and more

Also this week: ordinating the Olympics, draw your dream figure, surprising gender biases, practical scientific writing tips, Jonathan Swift vs. Twitter, and more.

From Jeremy:

Joan Strassmann’s lab philosophy. Now I’m wondering if my lab needs one. Trouble is, there aren’t always enough of us to make it seem worth it.

Claudia Sahm on what it’s like to be one of the few blogging women in economics. (ht Economist’s View)

Writing in Science, Breda & Hillion report results of a big study looking for gender bias in marking of the competitive exams all French secondary and postsecondary teachers and professors take to obtain teaching positions. They contrast results of (oral) gender-blind tests with (written) non-gender-blind tests in their main analysis. They report follow-up analyses to try to rule out various confounding effects like exam subject matter and self-selection into different fields (how convincingly, I’m not sure. In general, confounding variables loom very large in this sort of work.) I am no expert on this stuff, but at first glance this looks like a serious, careful study to me, with a big sample size (>100,000 individuals over 7 years). The main result, which is quite clear-cut visually, is that on exams for higher-level positions women are favored in exam scoring in fields in which women are underrepresented in France (e.g., philosophy, physics), whereas men are favored in exam scoring in fields in which they’re underrepresented (e.g., languages). I googled around a bit for commentaries from people who work on this stuff and didn’t find much besides Science’s news article on the paper. The experts quoted therein basically say that it’s good careful work, though not definitive, but it’s not clear if it generalizes to other countries with different hiring practices. Please share your own thoughts and any good links you have.

The former EiC of a leading sociology journal on what he learned from the experience. tl;dr: A lot of people are submitting a lot of crappy papers; the field–and, crucially, the individual investigators–would have more success if everyone invested more time and thought into fewer papers. Paging Brian. (ht Kieran Healy)

Ordinating the Olympics.🙂 And an ordination of a different dataset.🙂

And finally, Jonathan Swift vs. Twitter.🙂

From Meg:

A handy flow chart to choosing a study organism, by the always wonderful Rosemary Mosco of Bird & Moon. I like it even though Daphnia are just lumped into “other amazing arthropods”.🙂

A practical guide to science writing and publishing, by Ryan McEwan. There are a lot of useful things in there, especially the figure showing the student-advisor ping pong (and noting how long that can go on for — which is often surprising to students). My main comment/critique is that I think the exploratory data analysis part is too vague (and risks encouraging students to start a data dredging expedition). So, if I shared this with my students, I’d want to make sure we discussed that more.

One additional writing tip can be found in this tweet from Jacquelyn Gill:

I don’t always use a whiteboard to plan out a paper, but it can help. It also can help the student think of what they want to plot in figures. (Related: I’ve found that it’s often interesting to ask students at qualifying exams or thesis proposal defenses to draw the figure that would support their hypothesis/make them run to find their advisor in excitement.)

3 thoughts on “Friday links: Choose Your Own…study organism, lab philosophies, and more

  1. I really liked the Rob Warren piece as an outgoing EiC. I have to say I didn’t relate to his first gripe (fundamental methodological flaws). Some exist in the papers I see in ecology, but not that often. We’re methodological fanatics in ecology.

    But I chuckled when I read the second gripe (“Second, and more surprising to me: Most papers simply lacked a soul—a compelling and well-articulated reason to exist. The world (including the world of education) faces an extraordinary number of problems, challenges, dilemmas, and even mysteries. Yet most papers failed to make a good case for why they were necessary. Many analyses were not well motivated or informed by existing theory, evidence, or debates. Many authors took for granted that readers would see the importance of their chosen topic, and failed to connect their work to related issues, ideas, or discussions. Over and over again, I kept asking myself (and reviewers also often asked): So what?”). This is a little stronger than I have experienced. But I definitely know where he’s coming from. Because I could run the experiment and do the analysis is not a good reason to publish a paper.

    • I agree that fundamental methodological flaws are rare in ecology. Not non-existent–I’ve seen several fundamentally flawed papers as a reviewer or editor that I can recall off the top of my head. But at a guess they’re less than 10% of all papers I’ve ever reviewed or handled as an editor.

      I agree with you re: the second gripe as well. I haven’t run into that issue as often as he apparently has. But it’s more common than fundamental methodological flaws in my anecdotal experience.

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