Friday links: Lego grad student, ESA awards, and more

Also this week: investing in Bigfoot, the feds vs. predatory publishers, Darwin vs. universities, Mark Vellend fan club, new movie about pioneering scientists, toddler vs. philosophy, and more.

From Jeremy:

I’m late to this, sorry, just slipped my mind: the 2016 ESA award winners. Congratulations to all!

One reason zombie ideas are hard to kill: basically nobody cites rebuttals of published papers. Even those who do rarely take the rebuttal fully on board–when they’re not misciting it as supporting the original paper (which they do 8% of the time). Publication of a rebuttal doesn’t even affect the rate at which the original paper is cited. But I could’ve told you that. The authors of the linked piece suggest a possible solution: prominently link rebuttals to the original paper. Curious what folks think of that idea:

A physicist who started consulting for crackpots. Very interesting story. (ht Small Pond Science)

Andrew Hendry tells marine biologists to quit asking whether plankton will adapt to climate change, because it’s dead obvious they will. Instead, take for granted that they’re going to adapt and ask much more interesting questions about the consequences. A nice example of professional evaluative judgment in action. Students: one of the most important things you can acquire in grad school (at least if you want to go on in academia) is critical but fair judgment about what scientific questions are worth asking. There are many ways to acquire it: reading groups, attending seminars and conferences, submitting and reviewing papers, defending your proposed research to your committee…And, you know, reading this blog. 🙂

Speaking of the value of reading groups…Margaret Kosmala is forming an online Mark Vellend fan club reading group to read Mark Vellend’s important new book.

Stephen Heard on why he still cares what journal a paper is published in. I’d add another reason to care, in the context of evaluating applicants for faculty positions with a research component: if you publish in selective journals, that shows that you can convince a carefulcriticalindependent expert in your field that your work is interesting and important. Which is evidence that your work is interesting and important. It also demonstrates your ability to convince others of the interest and importance of your work, which you need to do to get grants and do the other things needed to become a leader in your field.

Nature Scientific Reports is about to pass Plos One as the world’s largest scientific journal. The linked article speculates on the reasons, focusing on speed of ms handling and impact factor. No doubt impact factor is a big, um, factor, especially for authors from China. But I wonder if another factor is just that Scientific Reports is published by Nature, which gives some authors the vague sense that it must be sort of prestigious. Aside: Plos One continues to crater–submissions there have been crashing as fast as they once grew for over a year now.

Applying Darwinian medicine to universities. (ht Brad DeLong)

Hidden Figures is a major movie coming out in January, about three African-American women who played key roles at NASA as engineers and mathematicians working on the program that put John Glenn into orbit. I hope it turns out to be as good as the linked trailer makes it look. Early candidate for the list of best movies about scientists? (ht Small Pond Science)

Using textual analysis to measure the paradigmaticness–really, cohesiveness–of various scientific and social-scientific fields. I know nothing about this, but it’s interesting. Should the fact that the approach gives the answer I’d have expected–physics, chemistry, and math are cohesive fields, biology somewhat less so, sociology is a mess–reassure me or worry me? Am now curious what you’d find if you used the same approach on subdisciplines within biology. Is evolutionary biology cohesive and ecology a mess? (ht Kieran Healy)

A public(ish) company is trying to raise $15M to find Bigfoot (scroll down a ways). They’re serious enough to have an SEC filing. I suggest looking where black bears are. 😉 Sadly, I’m unaware of any way to short sell this idea.

Great moments in academic conference name badges. 🙂

Lego grad student. Warning: if you think, as I do, that Piled Higher and Deeper or Shit Academics Say is funny but also kind of one-note cynical, you maybe shouldn’t click through. Because this is like that, only more so. (ht Dan Drezner)

You’ll need cheering up after that last link, so here’s the funniest philosophy video ever, and no, I’m not forgetting Monty Python’s Philosophy World Cup: toddler solves trolley problem. Hilarious even for non-philosophers. (ht my best friend, who knows what I like)

From Meg:

The US government is suing OMICS Group for deceptive publishing practices. The link is to a Retraction Watch story, which quotes this from the press release:

The defendants in this case used false promises to convince researchers to submit articles presenting work that may have taken months or years to complete, and then held that work hostage over undisclosed publication fees ranging into the thousands of dollars…It is vital that we stop scammers who seek to take advantage of the changing landscape of academic publishing.

(ht: Stephen Heard)

15 thoughts on “Friday links: Lego grad student, ESA awards, and more

  1. “The authors of the linked piece suggest a possible solution: prominently link rebuttals to the original paper.”

    I’ve voted “yes” but it can only really be done if a journal agrees to publish the rebuttal. Which they often don’t, as we’ve discussed elsewhere on DE, and it’s left to other journals to publish it. Which then makes it harder to make a “prominent link”.

    • I voted ‘no’ because I think the basic premise, that lack of broad hearing the rebuttal is why the original paper stands, is wrong, and will distract from really thinking about Zombies.
      All the examples in the [ yrs old] linked paper are fisheries research that support an applied narrative, actually an ideological position of over- exploitation. As we learned in Greenpeace’s attack on Ray Hilborn, scientific inference is a small part of general belief in the narrative.
      I wonder if Ecology’s [ and economic’s] problem with Zombies is mostly linked to the fact that they ALWAYS claim policy implications to scientific ‘facts’, and as such the facts are not merely truths. This cant be all of it; the desire for simple/general truths is big , particularly in public discourse. And Zombies are usually pretty simple.
      r/k selection is not a zombie among people who actually study life histories ; it certainly is among people who don’t. It will always walk among them.

      • “I voted ‘no’ because I think the basic premise, that lack of broad hearing the rebuttal is why the original paper stands, is wrong”

        I can’t comment on these specific cases, not being a fisheries person myself. But in general, I agree that, if the rebuttal is correct, it should be taken on board by everyone. If not, not. The argument, as I understand it, is that if *no* rebuttals *ever* get taken on board, that suggests that there’s a problem with rebuttals not being noticed (since it’s implausible that *all* rebuttals are incorrect.)

        Of course, the challenge is to separate correct and incorrect rebuttals, which isn’t easy to do to everyone’s satisfaction. After all, if everyone agreed on what was correct the rebuttal wouldn’t have been written or published in the first place. Absent some kind of foolproof way to identify correct rebuttals, we’re left with a debate about the upsides and downsides of linking (possibly incorrect) rebuttals to the papers they rebut. Offhand, I suspect there are more upsides than downsides. I think the odds that this would do some good are higher than the odds that it would do harm by bringing undue attention to incorrect rebuttals. Rebuttals always have an uphill battle; I don’t see much harm in making the hill a bit less steep. Linking rebuttals to published papers isn’t going to create lots of additional Buddy Holly ideas, I don’t think (

        I should note as well that even I wouldn’t argue for trying to level the hill completely. For instance, I think most submitted rebuttals are either incorrect or not worth worrying about, so I’m fine with journals mostly rejecting them.

        I also think that most rebuttals of individual papers won’t matter much whether they’re linked to the original papers or not. Just because most individual papers don’t matter much. It’s a waste of effort to rebut things that are going to be quickly forgotten, or never noticed in the first place.

        “[ yrs old] linked paper ”

        Yes, I think I missed it at the time and never linked to it, though I vaguely recall it coming up in comments here. It’s also quite possible I’m just forgetful. 🙂

        “And Zombies are usually pretty simple. r/k selection is not a zombie among people who actually study life histories ; it certainly is among people who don’t.”

        I think this is right, and it generalizes to other zombie ideas.

      • “r/k selection” The mercer award paper this year;
        is actually a great test of r/k ideas. They predict some features of dessert annual plant life histories using some very nice stochastic modeling, and the ESS predictions are made for both density dependent [k] and density independent[r] cases; density dependence is required to account for the long term data sets. if density dependence is need for annual plants , its needed everywhere.

      • Hmm, interesting. I’m quite familiar with that paper (I’m a huge fan of it), and hadn’t thought about it as a test of r/k ideas.

        Maybe it’s just that I see the core of the paper as the test for bet-hedging, not the fact that they consider both density-dependent and density-independent models so as to get the inference about bet-hedging exactly right (though I agree the consideration of both models, and the discovery of a role for density-dependence, is very nice).

    • Yes, indeed; I learned about the paper from you [on DE, of course], and had an extensive exchange with larry [ steve stearns too]. It IS bet hedging, and a wonderful use of long term data. But many folks would have expected that annual plants are ‘r’ selected, and one could get way without [ much] density dependence.The need for DD here is an important message for folks like me who assume DD in all our life history theory [ aka max Ro with Ro=1 at the ESS; technical details elsewhere.]

  2. Wow, a lot of interesting stuff here.

    I understand and agree with Hendry’s point from an “enough already” perspective. On the other hand, the first Q to address in predicting future biotic responses to CC is the degree to which taxa are capable of adapting/responding to plausible rates of env. change. Predicting community dynamics is a much harder task, arguably devolving IMO to nothing but grand hand waving in many cases. These adaptation studies are also an important antidote to the crowd that wants to argue that most or all CC effects will range somewhere between bad and catastrophic, and it’s important to have peer-reviewed literature in place to counter these arguments. In my experience, many of the people making such claims have little real understanding of ecological/evolutionary dynamics, and this includes some scientists.

    Reinhold Messner, the world’s greatest mountaineer for many years, wrote a book titled “My Search For the Yeti” (or something similar). If it hadn’t been by him I wouldn’t have touched it, but It actually wasn’t too bad if I remember right–he didn’t prove anything but he did make plausible arguments of potential existence based mainly on the extreme inaccessibility of Himalayan mtn slopes even today, coupled I believe with a couple of personal observations that he could not explain.

    And I voted “yes” although I imagine a truly interested person will run down the original article either way. The real problem is that there are far too few responses to bad work to begin with.

  3. ” I think the basic premise, that lack of broad hearing the rebuttal is why the original paper stands, is wrong, and will distract from really thinking about Zombies.” – I agree 100% with Eric. The reasons rebuttals fail (aside from the fact that many of them aren’t very good) is much more about the human psychology. We want certain ideas (simple, conforming to conventional wisdom, etc) to be right and will ignore a few inconvenient details along the way. And it is easier to plant a new idea than than to unseat an established one. Etc

  4. To anybody who has parented a toddler (especially spent hours on the floor with a thomas train set) and heard the trolley problem before, that video is hilarious. Perfect comedic timing from a 2 year old.

    • “To anybody who has parented a toddler (especially spent hours on the floor with a thomas train set) and heard the trolley problem before, that video is hilarious.”

      That describes me! Which is why I’m now kicking myself that I never thought of setting up a trolley problem for my then-toddler. That could’ve been MY viral video! 🙂

      • Do you have a bridge? There are variants of the trolley problem that don’t involve forked tracks. There’s a version involving 5 people tied to an unforked track and a fat guy on a bridge, for instance…

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