Friday links: computer-animated Cuban Daphnia (yes, really), Darwin’s work-life balance, and more (UPDATEDx2)

Also this week: don’t save your R workspace, tell me again why the peer review system is in crisis, what economists (and ecologists?) don’t know, thought leaders vs. public intellectuals, William Carlos Williams vs. email, Jeremy channels his inner early-90s self, and more. Including an extra-large helping of silliness!

From Meghan:

The NYTimes had a story that featured one of the earliest computer animated shorts from Cuba, which features a Daphnia (and hydra and a planarian)! Here’s a direct link to the film.

Don’t save your R workspace. I always say no and was never totally sure if that’s what I should be doing, so I was glad to see this! Thanks to Gavin Simpson and Dave Bridges on twitter, I learned that you can set it to not ask you. In RStudio, under the “General” tab in “Preferences”, there’s a line that says “Save workspace to .RData on exit”. You can set that to “Never”. I just did! And this post (ht: Dave Bridges) has more on customizing your R startup.

Anne Carpenter made an unofficial template for NSF annual reports. It’s a google doc that you can copy, share, or download to Word.

Even work-life balance experts are awful at balancing work and life. An interesting read on how, even when we know that working long hours and failing to take vacations is bad for us, Americans have a really hard time actually following through and setting limits on work. Long, but very interesting.

And, in a similar vein, Darwin was a slacker and you should be, too. Lots in here about very successful people who did not work very long hours. The premise of the article: “If some of history’s greatest figures didn’t put in immensely long hours, maybe the key to unlocking the secret of their creativity lies in understanding not just how they labored but how they rested, and how the two relate.” Also long, also very interesting.

Why facts don’t change our minds. (Did I first learn about this from one of Jeremy’s recent links? It’s possible.) Kind of depressing, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot as I work on developing an activity that aims to help high school students develop the skills they need to address questions of interest to them. (Jeremy adds: nope, I haven’t linked to this. I have linked to other pieces on the same topic, from Dan Kahan and Tim Harford. It’s a hugely important and very challenging issue, and one that ultimately goes way beyond scientific literacy, I think.)

Poem of the week for academics:

(It’s a play on this famous William Carlos Williams poem) (Jeremy adds: see also. Oh, and from the comments on this:

I did not grade
your papers
or quizzes
today

Which you
have been
asking about
the last three weeks

Forgive me
the blogs
were seductive
and many

From Jeremy:

At five leading ecology journals (the BES journals plus Molecular Ecology), the percentage of review invitations leading to a completed review is either steady or only dropping slowly. There was a time not too long ago when I thought the peer review system was in fairly imminent danger of collapse. I was wrong. I now think it’s under only very slowly increasing pressure, the sort that can probably be managed with incremental reforms. (UPDATE: in the comments, Brian links to another recent paper on this with an augmented dataset. That paper reaches somewhat different conclusions, finding that the proportion of review invitations leading to a completed review declined steadily from 2003-2015 for four of the six ecology journals examined, with the average decline being from 56% to 37%. The paper to which Brian links also shows that the reviewer base is expanding–the # of review requests sent to any particular individual isn’t increasing, even though the total # of review requests has grown substantially. Your mileage may vary on whether you consider this an imminent crisis, slowly increasing pressure, or something in between. Note as well that there’s some among-journal heterogeneity around that average; review invitation acceptance rates at Evolution and Methods in Ecology & Evolution seem to be holding steady, or even slowly increasing at Evolution.)

What economists know. (ht @EmanuelDerman) Answer: not nearly as much as you, or even they, probably think, because of the comparative paucity of clean empirical tests that settle disputes once and for all. Read it and think about its applicability to ecology.

Semi-relatedly, an item of particular interest to those of you who want to speak influentially on issues of public concern: on the eclipse of “public intellectuals” by “thought leaders”. Interesting, nuanced argument that we need both types of thinkers, but that several current trends (not least the rise of social media) are skewing the “marketplace of ideas” towards people who know “one big thing” and push it incessantly. Author Dan Drezner (a public intellectual himself) thinks this is bad news for academics who want to speak out publicly:

Simply put, it’s easier than ever to dismiss academic interventions in the public sphere.

Drezner has some ideas about how to rebalance the marketplace of ideas, but all are long-term projects and none are low-hanging fruit.

This has been coming for a while, but now it’s official: Scientific Reports overtakes Plos One as the world’s largest journal. I’m less interested in which journal is the biggest right now than in whether the two can stably coexist in the long run (hey, what can I say, I’m a community ecologist, I’m interested in coexistence…). It’s easy to see how journals in different fields stably coexist–they don’t compete for the same papers. And it’s almost as easy to see how journals in the same field stably coexist. It’s some combination of only competing for some of the same papers, and self-imposed limits on how many papers each journal will publish. But Scientific Reports and Plos One are competing for exactly the same papers as far as I can tell, and neither has a self-imposed limit on how many papers they want to publish. So in the long run, how can they coexist? How are they differentiated, except in ways that make one of them better than the other in the eyes of authors? Or can they both coexist indefinitely because the number of papers scientists want to publish is just going to keep increasing forever, so that both journals can grow (or at least not decline) in absolute terms even if one or the other continually increases its market share? (ht Meg)

This week in Links Giving Me An Excuse To Make Inside Jokes That Only Dan Bolnick And A Few Other People Will Understand: Amherst College just renamed their sports teams the Mammoths. Mammoths were mighty, so now it’ll be extra-embarrassing when they lose to a purple cow. Then again, mammoths are no longer mighty so much as dead. UPDATE #2: Post updated to delete a sentence that noted the serious underlying reason why Amherst is changing its mascot–addressing serious historical wrongs committed by its founder–before making another silly joke. Thank you to a commenter for helping me realize that I shouldn’t have drawn a connection between a silly joke and the serious issue the mascot change begins to address.)

You’ve probably seen this, but in case not it’s even funnier than that kids-interrupting-their-dad-while-the-BBC-interviews-him video. It involves birds. And Elvis. 🙂

This time lapse video made me think of that old Far Side cartoon with the two spiders building a web across the bottom of a sliding board and saying “If we pull this off, we’ll eat like kings!” Also, every Amherst student or alum who watches it is going to slap themselves in the forehead and go “Oh shoot, we should’ve named ourselves the Badgers! They can defeat cows!”

The discovery of sharks. (ht @dsquareddigest) 😉

10 mind-blowing ant facts. 😉

13 thoughts on “Friday links: computer-animated Cuban Daphnia (yes, really), Darwin’s work-life balance, and more (UPDATEDx2)

  1. If you’d seen the voting process for the new Amherst mascot…the Mammoths was the absolute best possible outcome, and we *will* squash you! (The Amherst Asparagus was one of the initial crowd-sourced suggestions, glad we dodged that bullet). A bit more seriously, while I’m all for library-theft-based humour, it seems a bit counterproductive to compare it, even humorously, to the injustices of Native genocide and land theft that this mascot change takes a small step towards recognizing.

    • Hi Ambika,

      Thank you for making me think harder about this. When I wrote the post, I did think about it a bit before deciding that joking about the mascot change was fair game eve though the underlying reason for the change was very serious. But in retrospect, I should’ve distinguished between jokes about the mascot chosen, and jokes that made any connection to the serious underlying reason why Amherst made the change. In case it needs saying, I don’t consider the silly, apocryphal “book theft” to be in any way comparable to the historical wrongs the mascot change recognizes. I’ll edit the post.

      p.s. “we *will* squash you”. Apparently you don’t know what “will” means. Or perhaps what “squash” means. 😉

      • I credit all statements about squashing to wishful thinking, and a sudden feeling of school spirit! Thanks for your response. All jokes about mammoth de-extinction are certainly fair game 😀

      • Seems kind of pointless to make mammoths de-extinct just so they can go re-extinct again every time Amherst plays Williams in anything. 😉

  2. Jeremy – not sure I read the article on agreement to do peer review trends the same way you did. It basically found 0%-20% declines in 6 years (with the 0% at one of the highest impact factor journals in ecology). Another recent paper https://researchintegrityjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s41073-017-0027-x finds average declines of about 20% over 12 years (or in some cases 6 years). I guess it is in the eye of the beholder whether that is a big decline or not. But it means radical changes are occuring within an individuals career.

    • Fair point, and thanks for the additional link. Will update the post.

      I am struck by the apparently substantial among-journal heterogeneity on this. My gut says it should be related to impact factor–top journals can still get reviewers just as easily as ever, because reviewers like reading papers that have decent odds of being very interesting/novel/important, but less-selective journals increasingly struggle. But I’m not sure that’s actually true. I’d like to see more data from more journals.

      • I definitely think higher impact factors have an easier time getting reviewers (but no data).

        I also think it is how large a pool the journal taps into. I think general journals like Ecology or Oikos tend to not overuse their pool (which is very large) compared to more specialist journals (which have a smaller pool and can overuse them) (again no data)

      • “I think general journals like Ecology or Oikos tend to not overuse their pool (which is very large)”

        Just updated the post on this, but I’ll note here as well that that paper you linked to shows that reviewer pools are expanding. So that even as journals are sending out more invitations in order to get the reviews they need, the # of invitations send to any particular individual is holding steady.

        Years ago that Hochberg et al. editorial argued for expanding reviewer pools as a big part of the solution to the “tragedy of the reviewer commons”. Looks like that’s happening, but that it’s not (can’t?) happen fast enough to prevent a decline in review invitation acceptance rates.

        I’m curious whether part of the reason expanding the reviewer pool doesn’t fully mitigate the pressure on the peer review system is that the reviewers being added to the pool are less likely to accept invitations to review? As any given journal attempts to expand its pool of reviewers, are they increasingly sending invitations to people who don’t read or publish in the journal, and so aren’t inclined to review for it?

        We could maybe do a little poll: are you more likely to accept an invitation to review from a high impact journal?

        I’ll put my hand up: I definitely am. But that’s because high impact journals are more likely to ask me to review things that sound like they might be good, based on the title and abstract (and the author identity, if that’s provided). I’d be happy to review for, say, Plos One if they ever sent me anything that sounded like it might be good, but I’m sorry, they never have.

        High impact journals also never ask me to review anything that’s too far from my area of expertise for me to review it. Whereas whenever I get a review invitation from an obscure journal I’ve never heard of, the odds are pretty good that I’m unqualified to review the paper.

        Hypothesis: overall, it’s harder to find reviewers these days because on average (averaging over all papers submitted to all journals), papers are getting worse. More people would agree to do more reviews if the odds were higher that the paper would be good.

      • Trying to get my head around the math. The number of papers is increasing exponentially. I believe the number of journals is increasing exponentially. Mainstream established journals are seeing declines in willingness to review roughly from 0-50% over roughly a decade with higher ranked journals perhaps seeing less decline.

        I think an alternate hypothesis is that the number of papers per researcher per year is driving the decline in acceptance rates, not the shrinkage of the reviewer pool (which as you note is likely increasing). This hypothesis is probably closely related to your hypothesis. Just a whole lot more papers that shouldn’t see the light of day (and didn’t use to) are potentially the essence of the problem.

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