Friday links: Muppet academia, Anscombe’s dinosaur, and more (UPDATE: link fixed)

Also this week: a postdoc-to-faculty transition quantified, sexual assault in the field, postdocing as a new mom, academia vs. the tech industry, swim desk, and more. Including a rare link from Brian!

From Jeremy:

Jeremy Yoder’s ultimately-successful search for a tenure-track faculty position, by the numbers. (ht Small Pond Science) Related: my recent data-based post on how you can’t predict your odds of getting a faculty interview in ecology from common quantitative metrics like number of publications, years of postdoctoral experience, or h-index. The only crude quantitative metric that predicts the number of interviews you’ll get is the number of positions for which you apply.

Also related: the 2016-17 EEB jobs spreadsheet now includes a sheet on which you can anonymously post the total number of faculty positions for which you’ve applied (ever) and the total numbers of interviews and offers you’ve received. So far, with ~20 people reporting, the results are completely unsurprising: people who submit more applications tend to get more interviews, but there is lots of variation around that trend.

The newly elected members of the US National Academy of Sciences include ecologist Mary Firestone and evolutionary biologists Doug Schemske, Dolph Schluter, and Doug Soltis. (UPDATE: link fixed)

A while back I linked to accusations of scientific misconduct relating to a high-profile Science paper showing that microplastics harm fish. Other researchers claimed the study was largely or entirely fabricated. A preliminary investigation by Uppsala University cleared the authors, Peter Eklöv and Oona Lönnstedt, of any wrongdoing, even though the authors could not provide the raw data. The authors said the only copy of the data was on a laptop that coincidentally was stolen just after the paper was published. A second investigation by Sweden’s Central Ethics Review Board has now concluded that the authors were guilty of “scientific dishonesty”. Science has now retracted the paper at the request of the authors. The authors maintain their innocence, but asked that the paper be retracted because others are suspicious of misconduct. Details here and here; the above is a summary of what’s at those links. I am not inclined to draw any larger lessons from this quite unusual case.

Andrew Gelman (and in the comments, Ben Bolker) raise an eyebrow at some of the stats in a recent Nature paper on biodiversity-ecosystem function. My eyebrow is raised too, for the same reasons as Ben’s.

FAQ for academics interested in a job in the tech industry. Written for academic social scientists, but equally applicable to academics from other fields, including ecology. Related: our old guest post from Ted Hart on a career as a data scientist in Silicon Valley. (ht @jtlevy)

NIH is going to limit the amount of grant funding a PI can receive. Currently, 10% of NIH grant receipients get 40% of NIH funding. The purpose is to free up funding for early- and mid-career PIs. Makes sense. Various lines of data from NIH and other funding agencies indicate that throwing lots of money at a few PIs is inefficient, though it’s not a slam-dunk case. Note that you can’t increase success rates at NSF this way. If memory serves, at NSF (at least at the Division of Environmental Biology), very few PIs hold more than one grant simultaneously.

Related to the previous link: I missed this at the time, but back in 2015 Cook et al. quantified the relationship between research group size and various measures of productivity for 398 British PIs. They found that larger groups publish more papers. Larger groups also publish in higher impact journals on average and garner more citations, but those trends are very weak. All measures of productivity also exhibit diminishing returns to increasing group size, which is an argument in favor of shopkeeper science, though not a decisive one. Related: my old post asking what’s the ideal size of an ecology lab group.

Some very preliminary data on how the March For Science affected public perceptions of science and scientists.

Here’s a list of the conferences NSF DEB program officers will be attending this summer.

This will make Meghan want to replace her treadmill desk. 😉 (ht @matt_levine)

And finally:

(ht @jtlevy)

From Meghan:

This is way better than Anscombe’s quartet:

This is an important and brave post about how being sexually assaulted while doing field work impacted a paleoanthropologist’s life and career. One of the striking things is how she was ignored or dismissed when she spoke about it, and the impact that had.

Sarah Supp had a great post on her experiences as a postdoc and new mom.

From Brian:

An interesting survey on your attitudes towards goals and methods for conservation. It has about 30 multiple choice questions (takes about 10 minutes). Very thought provoking around some of the issues discussed in this blog (and of course all over the field of conservation). After taking it, it shows you a plot of the range of responses and where you rank relative to the crowd. Turns out I am very close to the center of the pack with a slight bias in a direction I cannot reveal without tipping off the goals of the survey.

7 thoughts on “Friday links: Muppet academia, Anscombe’s dinosaur, and more (UPDATE: link fixed)

  1. Thanks to Meghan for including the link to the assault/ abuse posting. There are many pearls of wisdom in that post. Among them are that one can never really know when an abusive person will enter their life. People who behave this way are usually very good at concealing their intent, and very often go to extraordinary lengths to gain the trust of pending victims. Often the manipulation in of itself can be far more damaging to the psyche of a victim than the actual abuse. Victims can become trapped within a vicious cycle of abuse, as very often the abuser convinces the victim that the victim is of lesser value and somehow deserving of the abuse.

    By the time a victim awakens to these essential facts of abuse, often it is too late to act because the abuser has manipulated others within the social circle of the victim. Abusers very often seek to destroy the reputations of the abused, thereby making it difficult, if not impossible to find any sympathy or support. If and when a victim comes forward and exposes an abuser, the blow-back is almost always severe. The abuser will transition from manipulative tactics to a full frontal assault, and very often openly accuses the victim of any assortment of bad or unlawful behaviors. If the abuser is in a position of authority (as is often the case) then he/ she will use that authority to its fullest extent to ruin personal and professional reputations, careers and relationships.

    Abusers are vicious, mean-spirited, psychopathic and diabolical. Stopping them is important, but coming to the aid of their victims is ever more important. The take-home message, I believe, is that abusers are very good at recruiting others into thinking the victim is of no worth and to blame for any dispute. We must all endeavor to overcome our natural instincts to grant the benefit of the doubt to persons in positions of authority, and to open our hearts and minds to those that have been abused by them.

    • Yes, and, as you said, there is often a power dynamic at play. Another issue that I’ve discussed with women over the years relates to that. Let’s assume someone was abused or witnessed abuse as a student. For a variety of very understandable reasons, they might not report it at that time. But, by the time they have the stature to report it, it may have been 20 years since the event. Do they then go back and report on something that happened 20 years ago? Very few do, wondering, among other things, if they are remembering things correctly, if people will believe them after all that time, or maybe even if the person has changed in the intervening years.

      • These are heart-wrenching decisions, and regardless of how a victim proceeds, the scars of abuse are deep and permanent. Whether it is sexual, physical, emotional or psychological abuse- or more often some combination of these- persons in a position of trust and authority who abuse the persons entrusted to them follow very distinct patterns of behavior. I try and communicate to others what these warning signs are, because if we are armed with that knowledge then often we can avoid the abuse.

        Victim preparation is almost a universal constant among authoritative abusers. They very quickly elevate the person to a “special status,” usually showering them with compliments and obvious signs of favoritism. In an academic setting, the victims usually start out as “teacher’s pets,” as it were. Lavish praise, inflated grades, special favors, gifts, an occasional drink after class and so on are early warning signs of pending abuse. The authority figure will also communicate to his/ her peers, often in the presence of the student, just how talented and remarkable the student is- that they are in so many words a “diamond in the rough”.

        Often these behaviors are followed up with extra paid positions for the student, whether teaching or research assistantships, or other forms of employment. The next steps usually involve an undermining of the student’s self esteem as means to open the door to exploitation. The mentor often begins with subtle digs concerning the student’s personality, and then transitions to making more tangible allegations concerning academic and/ or work performance. These actions are intended to create insecurity, and to make the student feel vulnerable. Typically the abuser will make these accusations in private, to the victim, while continuing to shower the student with praise in the presence of others. This is a very deliberate plan of action, as it isolates the student even more so, because he/ she fears other faculty will at some point learn of their supposed shortcomings.

        Once abusers sense victims are intimidated and anxiety-ridden by this false dichotomy, they very quickly transition to the abuse phase. Often times when the power dynamic is tilted so far in one direction (as it is in academia), the abuse is sexual, but not always. Most psychopaths (about 5% of our population is likely psychopathic) never engage in direct physical/ sexual abuse, but rather tend toward emotional and psychological abuses. These are more subtle, but are often more damaging because the manipulative phase of the abuse is never-ending. Regardless of the actual form of abuse, the goal of the abuser is to maintain the victim in a constant state of fear and uncertainty.

        In an academic setting, that is most often achieved by communicating subtle but direct threats to the victim. “I am not certain how much longer I can continue to support you.” “I have tried very hard to improve your performance, but I may need to speak with your committee.” “Next year’s funding has been secured, but I might decide to go another direction.” “I was really hoping you would turn things around, but I am losing faith in you.” The student is then compelled to remain compliant with the abuse for the constant fear his/ her career will be ruined by the abuser.

        Invariably, if victims try to “gently” pull themselves out of the mess, or they go the route of seeking help- or worse still, file a complaint, look out. The abuser will have already developed an ornate strategy to attack the student’s reputation on all fronts. Almost always, the abuser wins and the victim loses. I know that is a bitter assessment, but it is almost universally true. Little Red Riding Hood does not survive.

        Most experts agree the best, and perhaps only way for subordinates to protect themselves from psychopathic abuse is to learn how to spot the psychopaths right from the get-go. They are predators, and if they sense during their initial evaluation that you do not fit the mold of an ideal victim, then they simply record you as a “zero” and continue their search for the “one”. In my humble opinion, the best way to do that is to not step upon the pedestal they have laid at your feet.

  2. “I am not inclined to draw any larger lessons from this quite unusual [research misconduct] case.”  
    Amy Parachnowitsch, David Mellor, and I took a swing at it in her post over at Small Pond.  This case is pretty amazing, but supports the notion that the glam journals want novel, highly citable work, like perch prefer plastic but don’t necessarily vet it any better than another other journals. Also, considering the returns in hyper-competitive funding environments to scientists who get published in a glam journal, I expect results may get prettied up or even dry labbed more often than we like to think.

    • Hmm. As the dataset you linked to in your comment over there, and other datasets (e.g., this one on plagiarism: and this one on plagiarized preprints: show, most misconduct comes from a small number of serial offenders, from authors in a few problem countries, and involves papers that aren’t cited much. Ok, Bik et al. found a higher frequency of manipulated images in higher-impact journals, but the relationship was very noisy and was driven by journals from one dodgy publisher, Hindawi. Bik et al. also found that image manipulation is trending downward recently, and is rare (rather than especially common) at the very highest profile journals like Science. So I don’t think the data fit a story about misconduct being driven by incentives we all face, or being driven by incentives to publish in Science and Nature. Nor are the data consistent with the claim that peer review at Science and Nature is especially shoddy. Rather, the data show is that misconduct is mostly done by a few bad apples. More commentary here:


  3. Many thanks for the good links. There’s outright misconduct which, outside a few countries with particular challenges, I agree is probably vanishingly small in ecology and related fields.
    I too have searched Retraction Watch for “ecology” and related terms, and even though several years have passed since your 2011 post, I again found very few results, and most of those I recall reading seemed more often to relate to self-correction of honest mistakes or author disputes rather than unambiguous misconduct. On a further positive note, it does seem to be becoming the custom to publish data, although from the few I’ve dug into, completeness and care of curation varies.
    Back to the point, about not drawing any larger lessons from this “quite unusual” Uppsala case. I agree. Mostly. And “quite unusual” is an understatement.

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