Also this week: the scholarly literature as a mud moat, people named Neil vs. imposter syndrome, Joe Felsenstein was way ahead of you, compression algorithms vs. pop lyrics, induction vs. deduction vs. abduction, game theory vs. grade inflation, how to interview for a British PhD position, and MOAR.
Remember: I need your help identifying ecologists hired into tenure-track assistant professor faculty positions at N. American colleges and universities in 2016-17.
Francis Su, outgoing President of the American Mathematical Association, marked the end of his term with a speech on mathematics for human flourishing. I won’t try to summarize it, just go read it. Best thing you’ll read all week, I promise.
Markus Eichhorn on discovering that pioneering plant ecologist Heinz Ellenberg was a Nazi collaborator. Ellenberg was part of a scientific team assembled by enthusiastic fascist Otto Schultz-Kampfhenkel to produce maps for the German military. Markus suggests that scientists and their science ought to be evaluated separately. I agree.
“Vast literatures” as “mud moats” that prevent productive online discussion of controversial topics. Includes a very interesting suggestion, the “two paper rule”, that might improve matters.
Sticking with Noahpinion: he says that economists need to do a better job of linking theory and data. Read it, compare to how ecologists link theory and data.
Following on from the previous link: You probably think that the two modes of inference are deduction and induction. But there’s a third: abduction. Also known as “inference to the best explanation”. It’s a fascinating, understudied, and controversial topic in philosophy of science, since it’s not easy to say what distinguishes a good abductive inference from overfitting and researcher degrees of freedom. The philosophical literature on abduction is of direct practical scientific relevance since many everyday scientific inferences are best thought of as abductive rather than inductive or deductive. Here’s a great accessible primer on abduction in the context of economics, that applies straightforwardly to ecology as well. And here’s another accessible primer aimed at philosophers. (ht @Noahpinion)
Hoisted from the comments: In past posts I’ve asked readers to name neglected should-be classics in ecology and evolution. Writing in Am Nat, Pennell & O’Connor suggest a candidate: Felsenstein 1978 on the evolution of ecosystems. Joe Felsenstein’s name also comes up in discussions of everything from great acknowledgments to amusing co-authors to classic contrarian papers. In another old post that I can’t find just now, I asked readers to name current or past scientists who would be, or would’ve been, great bloggers. I’m embarrassed that Joe Felsenstein’s name didn’t come up–he should’ve been right at the top of the list!
The Trump administration is making it harder to access all sorts of government data. This seems to me like the sort of thing that scientists ought to push back against hard, and that scientists can push back against without being seen as left-wing partisans. (ht @dandrezner)
Grade inflation and compression is a thing, especially (but not exclusively) at elite US prep schools, colleges, and universities. In response, some elite institutions are proposing to get rid of grades entirely in favor of qualitative transcripts that would resemble reference letters. Catherine Rampell argues that this move is what game theory would predict–and that it’s not in the interests of less well-off students. (ht Crooked Timber, which has commentary)
Wait, cicada brood X is emerging 4 years early? Anybody know more about this? Is it always the case that there’s a ton of within-brood variance in emergence time?
Sticking with Aaron: advice for anyone editing a book of contributed chapters. The final piece of advice is “don’t do it!”
I’m a bit late to this, so slightly belated congratulations to David Tilman FRS! (ht@JeffOllerton)
Neil Gaiman on Neil Armstrong’s (and his own) imposter syndrome. (ht @jtlevy)
Pop lyrics are getting more repetitive. As demonstrated via compression algorithms. (ht Marginal Revolution)
And finally, a cheerful visual history of philosophy. 🙂 (ht @kjhealy) Which inspired me to do the same thing for evolutionary biology. Behold:
NSF’s DEBrief blog posted the results of this year’s round of preproposal reviews in DEB. The cluster “invite” rates ranged from 24-29%.