Friday links: Freeman Dyson vs. community ecology, “white trash” in academia, and more

Also this week: on identity politics within and outside ecology, the running conversation in your head, long-term illnesses vs. graduate students, data science vs. rogue train, why realized niches are “non-interesting”, hedgehogs > foxes, and more. Lots of good stuff this week, including some changes of pace from our usual linkfest fare.

From Jeremy:

Aaron Ellison with a heartfelt and personal piece expressing his mixed feelings about identity politics, in academia and outside it. Not the sort of thing I usually link to. I’m linking to it because it articulates some of my own mixed feelings better than I could. Because I think it’s particularly worth reading for ecologists who think about this topic (Aaron includes some examples from his own experience as an ecologist). And because I trust our amazing commenters to show the mutual trust, respect, and patience needed to have a productive discussion of a sensitive issue on which people’s personal perspectives inevitably will differ.

Stephen Heard on better and worse reasons to write a review paper.

Terry McGlynn trolls Jim Brown John Harte “some community ecologists” by channeling his inner Peter Kareiva Tony Ives Freeman Dyson:

For ease of reference, here’s the Michael Nielsen tweet Terry refers to:

Click the links if you don’t understand why I (jokingly) name-dropped Jim, Peter, John, and Tony. Note also that I personally wouldn’t summarize Dyson’s comments, or their possible application to some community ecologists, with the phrases “misplaced ambition” and “creative snobbery”. I think those phrases are too personal and negative. Related old post of mine here and here.

How to organize an online academic reading group.

Mark McPeek on why he still trust SAS over R. I suspect his reasoning will surprise none of you and annoy X of you, where X is the percentage of you who use R. (Ok, maybe not. I use R, and I’m not annoyed by Mark’s argument.)

Sticking with Mark, he asks a good question: did G. E. Hutchinson think that realized niches were “non-interesting”? Mark has a good (and amusing) reason for asking that seemingly-ridiculous question.

And finally, the longstanding question “Is it better to be a hedgehog or a fox?” now has an answer. 🙂

From Meg:

The problematic coding of “white trash” in academia. I thought this piece by Holly Genovese was great, and it clearly resonated with a lot of folks on twitter. It includes this:

The result is an in-betweenness, a lack of belonging. I will never fully belong in the world of academia, and frankly I don’t want to. But I also no longer fully belong at home. And I can’t complain (nor do I want to). I am incredibly lucky. I graduated from a high school where many students never see a community college or a technical school, much less a Ph.D program in the humanities. I am the dream, the local kid who did good. But nobody tells you what it’s like, the incredible loneliness that accompanies that kind of class jumping that many people dream of.

The jump I made wasn’t as big as Genovese’s, but it was still a jump, and it definitely influences my perspective on academia.

Cancer during your PhD sucks — or, how graduate school is not set up to support students facing a serious illness. To quote from the tl;dr at the beginning of the post: “Most importantly, students with serious illnesses generally aren’t supported very well by their grant, cancer has some unexpected mental side-effects, and people should stop referring to it as a ‘fight’.”

Ayana Elizabeth Johnson’s thoughts on how to reframe ocean conservation in this post-election era. She notes:

I’m a marine biologist. I love my career in ocean conservation. But because of existential concerns about the incoming administration, my first reaction to the election was to abandon ship and devote myself to preventing near-term human rights abuses. My second reaction was to consider how to better align my personal humanitarian concerns with my professional projects.

What can I do today to create a more inclusive community in computer science? As the title suggests, it’s oriented towards computer science, but much of it applies more broadly. It’s focused on things instructors can do to create a more inclusive classroom community. (I’ve had this file open in my browser forever and am finally getting around to including it!)

The geopolitical aspects of phosphorus. An interesting piece that asks about whether we’ve reached “peak phosphorus” and that includes quotes from Elena Bennett and Jim Elser.

The running conversation in your head. It’s about “inner speech”, so is a little outside what I normally link to, but I thought it was interesting and suspect others will, too!

In a similar vein (that is, somewhat outside what we normally link to, but probably interesting to many): I live-tweeted a talk by Rebecca Bigler of UT-Austin on how, why, and when to talk to kids about gender. The tweet thread starts here.

This is a neat story of how a data science team figured out that a “rogue train” was causing problems with Singapore’s Circle Line.

7 thoughts on “Friday links: Freeman Dyson vs. community ecology, “white trash” in academia, and more

  1. From The coding of “white trash” in America: “it’s good to see a local kid actually do something.” While he certainly meant it as a compliment, my first thought was “fuck you.”

    When I was interviewed for my post at Northampton over 20 years ago someone on the interview panel said much the same thing in relation to my background as the son of a miner/building labourer and domestic cleaner: “Oh, you’ve done very well for yourself”. I almost told him to go fuck himself but I needed the job too badly….

    • Yes, your reaction makes complete sense to me. I’ve also been in situations where I wanted to say “fuck you”, but didn’t for practical reasons.

      Perhaps for that reason, I found it really interesting when I recently learned of this study:

      The abstract:
      Sexual harassment studies that use hypothetical situations and retrospective surveys may overestimate the degree to which victims actually confront their harassers. The result is that immediate emotional reactions are little understood and victims are often taken to task for nonconfrontational behavior. To address this neglect, we describe our experimental investigation of immediate reactions to sexually harassing questions encountered during a realistic job interview. Behavioral and emotional responses are compared to those in an imagined harassing interview. Results indicate that interviewees who are actually harassed react very differently than those who only imagine their responses. For example, imagined victims anticipate feeling angry but actual targets report being afraid. Anticipated behavior also did not mesh with actual behavior. Implications of these discrepancies for perceptions of “correct” ways to respond to harassment are examined.

  2. That essay by Ellison is outstanding IMO–well considered and composed. Been thinking about that topic a lot lately, but could not have expressed it as well.

    Dyson is on record for pretty harsh criticisms of climate models and their predictions (and this visibly flummoxes certain scientists working in that area, who want to cast him as a crank but can’t). The quote may explain where his criticisms originate, conceptually: tendencies toward grandiosity and too much attention to, or reliance on, the universal (global forcings and equations) relative to the local, and too much theorizing relative to testing.

  3. Wait wait wait, so after all that’s happened with the election, here in my own field of ecology there are actually folks who think identity politics are mostly to blame here? I’m so disappointed. I don’t understand what could possibly be meant by the “bigger causes” or the “common good” that is imagined by Ellison that DOESN’T include social and environmental justice for ALL. FOR EVERYONE.

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