Friday links: citing blog posts, holiday gift ideas for scientists, and more

Also this week: “winning” a Title IX case, new ecology podcast, Google vs. history, a taxonomy of bad science, the scientific equivalent of novellas, does nature look natural in Ithaca?, he’s just not that into you silt deposits, and more. Including Love Actually clickbait. Because that’s what you came here for, right?

From Jeremy:

Tim Poisot is wrong on the internet (sorry Tim, gotta call ’em like I see ’em πŸ™‚ ). Specifically with regard to whether it’s appropriate to cite a blog post during peer review. Tim apparently believes in proof by authority–that if authors and reviewers disagree, the winner in the eyes of the editor will be, and should be, whoever cites the most “valid” source. I disagree. I think that the job of editors is to evaluate each side’s argument on the merits, not evaluate the purported “validity” of the sources invoked. Especially since you can find a peer-reviewed paper–or a blog post!–to cite in support of anything. And I think one cites sources not as an attempt at proof by authority, but to flesh out and fully explain one’s argument (e.g., “I believe X for reasons Y and Z, as discussed more fully in [reference].”). So I don’t think a citation of a blog post should be discounted simply because it’s not peer-reviewed. And although I’m sure sometimes it would be–for instance by Tim!–I think times are changing on that front, though of course it’s hard to say exactly how fast. Just to pick examples from my own experience: a famous ecologist recently framed an entire peer-reviewed paper around one of our blog posts. A textbook now uses a term I introduced into the ecological literature via a blog post. A post of ours is cited in the most important ecology book of the year. A journal EiC invited the authors of one of our posts to turn it into a peer-reviewed paper which has now been published. I have two posts that developed into peer-reviewed papers. Standard scholarly references like the APA manual now include instructions for how to formally cite blog posts in peer-reviewed papers…Anyway, I’m surprised that Tim would argue that proof by authority not only is but should be the way peer review works. I hope that I’m misreading him, in which case my apologies.

Major Revisions is a new ecology podcast from three postdocs. An early episode links to one of our posts, so I’m sure it’s great. πŸ™‚ (I haven’t actually had a chance to listen yet, but wanted to get the word out.) They cover topics like the most important questions in ecology, applying to grad school, and the ins and outs of peer review.

Andrew Gelman with a very good taxonomy of bad science.

How not to get a postdoc.

How to breathe life into a dead manuscript.

Do we need the scientific equivalent of novellas? That is, pieces 75-150 pages long. Longer and more fully developed than a single article, but narrower and with less filler than a book.

Matthew Holden asks why conservation journals aren’t yet on board with Axios Review to make peer review more efficient. I’ve posted on Axios Review several times; here‘s the most recent post (full disclosure: I’m an editor for Axios Review).

I’m years late to this, but here is the origin of Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage, in comic form. Great stuff, smart and funny. (ht Jeff Ollerton in the comments). And now I know where Brad DeLong got that Victorian Twitter joke he keeps reposting. πŸ™‚

The University of Southampton library’s Christmas tree of books. The University of Dublin library has one too. (ht Marginal Revolution)

Wittgenstein on Ithaca:

Meg went to Cornell, I’m sure she can tell us if nature looks natural in Ithaca. πŸ™‚

Ok, fine, nobody except me is amused by my attempt to turn a random Wittgenstein quote into an ecology joke. Here’s some seasonal Love Actually clickbait instead. It’s pretty good, as seasonal Love Actually clickbait goes. Philistines. πŸ˜‰

And finally, the most famous alumnus of Caistor Grammar School, according to Google. πŸ™‚

From Meg:

From The Onion: Scientists make discovery about world’s silt deposits but understand if you aren’t interested in that. πŸ™‚

The NSF DEBrief blog advises us to choose our project titles wisely when submitting proposals. A key part is:

It can seem like a strong, scientifically precise, and erudite proposal title might inform and impress readers. But that misses half the point: it’s not simply about avoiding misunderstanding. Instead, a good title is a vehicle for audience engagement; it seeks to cultivate positive responses. This happens when you use straight-forward, plain language, minimizing jargon and tech-speak, with a clear message. The rest of these tips are basically more specific examples of ways to do this.

This account of what it’s like to “win” a Title IX case is harrowing.

Hoisted from the comments:

Doing some holiday shopping for the scientist in your life? Our commenters have you covered with their favorite novels featuring scientists.

Jeremy’s post on why ecologists seem to switch from fundamental to applied work as they get older led to a great thread. Entertaining and insightful.

17 thoughts on “Friday links: citing blog posts, holiday gift ideas for scientists, and more

  1. Would you mind if I shamelessly developed your it’s-not-about-authority argument into a sort-of pro-blog authority argument? πŸ™‚
    In the olden days, books were as important a reference as paper, and they still are in some areas (I think; I may be mistaken). And books don’t really go through the same peer-review as manuscripts, do they? Books are evaluated by the publisher and may receive some additional peer review, but they are still much more subjective and we could say the have less quality control than papers. And still they are cited.
    But would people have written so many books in the olden days if they had blogs? Or would many thinkers and philosophers spread their ideas through blogs, sort of similar to the Error Statistics blog?
    We often trust books because we trust their authors. So it’s an authority argument based on credibility – I think this author knows what s/he is talking about, so I’m going to cite him/her, regardless of whether it’s a paper, a book, or a blog post. I’d of course put more trust into a paper than a blog post by the same author; but I would put more trust into a blog post by a respected author than into a peer-reviewed manuscript in a low-impact journal by someone I had never heard about. This of course is not the best approach, as ideally we should judge by the arguments and not by the authors, but often there’s just too much information involved. (For example, I don’t have enough statistical knowledge about the fundamentals of likelihood theory and information criteria, so I rely on the recommendations of respected authors).

    • Books do get peer reviewed, but yes, it’s a somewhat different sort of review than papers get. And yes, in some fields of humanities and social sciences, books are much more respected and influential than papers.

      Error Statistics isn’t really the best example of spreading ideas through a blog instead of a book, since Deborah Mayo developed her ideas in a book back in the 90s. πŸ™‚

      “I would put more trust into a blog post by a respected author than into a peer-reviewed manuscript in a low-impact journal by someone I had never heard about.”

      Yes, if one is going to go with “proof by authority” then one has to talk about how “authorities” are identified. I suspect you’d be far from alone in taking a popular science blog by well-known authors more seriously than a peer-reviewed paper by an unknown author in an obscure journal.

  2. Ironically, insofar as readers decide debates among blogs on the basis of which side is most “authoritative” rather than on the merits (which they shouldn’t do and which fortunately most of them won’t do), I’m going to win this argument with Tim since Dynamic Ecology has many more readers than his blog. πŸ™‚

  3. Just noting here for the record that Jeremy cites an amazing amount of Twitter stuff this week despite the fact that he is “almost never” on Twitter. Just sayin’… πŸ˜‰

    • It’s a service to readers when useful conversation about a post happens on Twitter. But if that starts happening more often, I’m not going to be able to sustain it and I’m going to stop doing it.

      Also, before you point it out, I’m on Twitter right now, against my better instincts, because I’m annoyed with Tim Poisot and because I don’t want to have to register for a Medium account just to comment on his posts.

      Also, I have a ton of marking to do that I am procrastinating on.

      Hopefully all of these one-time factors will go away soon so that I can go back to being grouchy only on WordPress.

  4. As for Tim’s fallback argument (which he seems to have switched to on Twitter) that we shouldn’t cite anything that doesn’t have a DOI and that can be edited or disappear after being published:

    -Can we finish discussing one point before we switch to a totally unrelated one? Because I’m getting confused. So if I were to get DOIs for Dynamic Ecology posts, or archive Dynamic Ecology posts in some fashion, it’d be totally kosher for people to cite them during the peer review process?

    -As various people have pointed out on Twitter: books aren’t peer-reviewed in exactly the same way as papers are. Should we not cite them? And as for Tim’s claim that books are written more “objectively” than blog posts, does that include books by someone like Velikovsky?: https://dynamicecology.wordpress.com/2013/05/09/book-review-the-pseudoscience-wars-by-michael-gordin/ The point is that it’s very easy to find counterexamples to any blanket claim that a certain type of source is “valid” or “not valid”. So you’re pretty much hosed if you want to rely on such blanket claims, and on a purportedly clear bright line between “valid” sources on which one is entitled to rely unquestioningly and “invalid” sources to which is never entitled to rely.

    -Just because something has a DOI doesn’t mean it can’t vanish. Most publishers these days are digital only, so there are no paper copies sitting around in libraries. And if you think that no publisher can vanish along with the material it hosts, um, have you looked at what’s happening to Plos’ submissions? They’re tanking, which surely raises concerns about whether Plos One will continue to exist. Are you so sure, say, PeerJ or ArXiv or Bioarxiv is now a permanent fixture of the publishing landscape? Like MySpace once seemed to be a permanent fixture of the social media landscape, or Kodak once seemed to be a permanent fixture of the photography landscape? Heck, depending on the timescale we’re talking about, are you so sure Wiley or Springer will be around and in the journal-publishing business indefinitely?

    -Yes, it’s better for sources one cites to have some persistence and to be accessible to others. There are various ways to improve the persistence of online content. For instance, I don’t assume WordPress will be around forever to host this blog, so I periodically download a copy of all our posts and comments. And when I update a post I add the word “updated” to the title and I mark the updates as such in the post. But I don’t think that what people are or aren’t allowed to cite should be totally dictated by some arbitrary and subjective threshold for what’s “sufficiently persistent”.

  5. That piece by Horgan is absolutely scathing.

    And right on the money.

    Gelman writes a lot there but he just side-steps Horgan’s main point, which is that “capital S” skeptics pick soft targets they can score points with instead of examining real and serious problems within the scientific establishment, and with the activist crowd you can just plain forget it. You can see this exact behavior pattern repeated over and over and over in the online climate science “discussions”, including by certain prominent climate scientists. The fact is that if various pieces of bad science had been owned up to in the past and present, they wouldn’t have half the trouble they do with the general public. They’ll never admit though.

  6. Thanks for the shout out to Major Revisions! In addition to what’s already posted, we have a forthcoming episode on getting involved in policy, as both a scientist and concerned citizen, and more science-focused episodes are also in the works. We have a couple more episodes in the editing stage, so check back after the holidays!

    Also, our page views are already through the roof, and we’re already planning how to analyze the “Dynamic Ecology bump.” I’ll report back with data.

    • You’re welcome Jon. Hope that your podcast grows to the point where a link from us and the associated few dozen clicks no longer counts as much of a traffic boost! From little acorns mighty oaks grow and all that. πŸ™‚

  7. Does anyone else feel outraged by the title IX “winner”? I think she should have the full support of all scientists and in particular female scientists. That is heartbreaking. Furthermore this harrassment sounds like it hasnt stopped; it has just become worse. What would you do if this happened at your University and what can we do to support her? As a young female scientist, at a University, I hope that no matter how we feel about a person or situation that bullying and ignoring her is not acceptable and instead that people rally around her.

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