Friday links: fake David Attenborough, US college enrollments are dropping, and more

Also this week: the story behind an evolutionary parody, a statistical profile of recent faculty hires in neuroscience, Game of Thrones grad school, “it’s because she put the beetles in a planetarium”, the statistician blues, Lego Daphnia, and more.

From Jeremy:

Ambika Kamath stumbled across one of my favorite papers, Norm Ellstrand’s parody of adaptationist thinking, “Why are juveniles smaller than their parents?” She then took to Twitter to contact Ellstrand, who passed on the backstory of the paper. If you haven’t read Ellstrand (1983), you’re in for a treat. It’s basically a subtler, funnier “Spandrels of San Marco”. Indeed, I’ve given it to advanced undergrads and grad students who didn’t even realize it was a parody until the very last line. Perhaps in part because they didn’t realize that the “S. Martin” quoted at the beginning of the paper is this S. Martin.

Inspired by me, Adam Calhoun compiled data on over 70 newly hired asst. professors in neuroscience, mostly at research universities. The headline result: 57% are men, vs. 62% men on the neuroscience postdoc list. (Aside: wait, there’s a centralized list of neuroscience postdocs? I had no idea.) Another tidbit that doesn’t surprise me: the large majority of newly-hired asst. profs in neuroscience do not have a paper in Nature, Science, or Cell. The myth that you have to have a paper in a Nature/Science/PNAS/Cell to get hired at a research university is one of the more puzzlingly-widespread myths about the academic job market. Adam compiled data testing many other widely-held beliefs about what predicts success in the neuroscience job market. Interesting throughout. See this old post for similar analyses for ecologists.

Enrollments at US colleges and universities continue to drop, especially in New England and the Rust Belt.

A write-up in Nature on new replication initiatives in ecology. Similar initiatives are further along in psychology; see here for some links and discussion.

A psychologist on her experience with two-stage peer review, in which reviewers first review the introduction and methods without knowing the results. Here’s Meghan’s old post on two-stage review.

I’m very late to this, but here are Peter Keil’s thoughts on the IBS 2017 meeting back in January on the future of macroecology. Contrasts to some extent with Brian’s own thoughts, and expands on an exchange in the comments on Brian’s old post.

Evolutionary biomechanicist Emily Kane is starting a faculty position at Georgia Southern this fall. Here’s her story of her career path from grad school to where she is now. I suspect it will resonate with many of you. I was particularly struck by how she struggled with some early hurdles and didn’t want to go on in academia because she didn’t think she had what it took. And how even as an NSF postdoc she was thisclose to opening a pet fish shop before she landed a faculty position where the institutional culture and expectations lined up with her own values and interests. I also liked this bit, about how she doesn’t want to work 80 hours/week and is fine with doing something else if academia doesn’t work out for her in the end (see also):

I want to work at a level that I am comfortable with, and if I don’t get tenure because of it, then my husband and I will move to the Bahamas, buy a sailboat, and start our own ecotour business taking people snorkeling on our boat. I understand this is coming from a place of privilege since we have a decent savings account and no kids or dependents to support, plus its easier to say when you have a relatively permanent position, so this may not be for everyone.

And in case it needed saying, Emily concludes:

My sample size is 1. I know how I feel and how I approach this job, but that doesn’t mean it will work for everyone…YOU are the one who is living your life, so make it something you are happy with as well.

Kieran Healy reviews a new book on how the US News & World Report rankings of US law schools came to have so much influence over both prospective law students and law schools themselves. Good read for anyone interested in the USNWR rankings of colleges and universities, or in the broader role of quantitative rankings in our lives. I like the distinction Healy draws between the perniciousness of quantitative rankings based on arbitrary-or-contestable criteria weighted in arbitrary-or-contestable ways, and the non-perniciousness of ranking in general:

Few people want to be assessed on a reductive basis, at least not very often. That makes it tempting to argue against the idea of ranking in general. But then the moment of bad faith returns, because academics and other professionals really do believe that some of the work put out by their peers is better than the alternatives. To remain a professional at all they must believe in their own capacity for judgment on such matters. Status in these settings condenses out of the high regard of highly-regarded others, and it produces implicit, loose, but real rankings all the time. That makes a general moral objection to rankings harder to sustain in a full-throated way.

A new meta-analysis (of which I confess I’ve only read the abstract) finds that student evaluations of their profs are uncorrelated with student learning. (ht @duffymeg)

Stick with this Twitter thread for “it’s because she put the beetles in a planetarium”. (ht @jtlevy)

Game of Thrones vs. grad school. 🙂

Lego Daphnia is terrifying. 🙂 (ht @duffymeg)

“Then it’s code the data, give the keyboard a punch/Then cross-correlate and break for some lunch.” (ht @bolkerb)

Fake David Attenborough is hilarious. 🙂

So is this line, after you think about it for a second.

10 thoughts on “Friday links: fake David Attenborough, US college enrollments are dropping, and more

  1. So. Much. Good. Stuff. Lots of distractions when I should be working…. Thanks for the fake Attenborough, that hawk video is fabulous. Thanks also for highlighting Norm Ellstrand’s spoof: Norm is a great human being, he was incredibly supportive of me as a young postdoc, and is indirectly responsible for my most cited paper.

    Slightly more seriously: enrolments at UK universities are dropping too, seems to be linked to increased fees and overall costs of HE, and a perception that it’s not good “value for money” to attend university, as if “value for money” was quantifiable in terms of personal development and education.

    • Interesting that enrollments in the UK are dropping too. In the US dropping enrollments are a combination of demographics, fees (and the associated need for many students to take out loans to pay those fees), and the solid job market. I’m not sure what enrollment trends are like in Canada.

  2. The classic paper on optimal size of an offspring at independence is Smith & fretwell 1974 American naturalist, cited about 2000 times in web-of-science. [ I intentionally exclude the Trivers parent offspring conflict paper, which introduced yet another dimension to optimal kid size!]
    The 1983 Ellstrand Parody is cited just 6 times, and does not cite the S/F paper!!; while I am all for good fun in parody, the Ellstrand paper , which I first read today [?], mostly shows what happens if one does not ask the right question. Or think carefully using real fitness maximization models. A great deal of fine evolutionary ecology has followed from asking the question of just what determines the optimal size of a single offspring.
    Why amuse anyone with a parody when one could spend ones effort on great science?
    I realize that I am being too serious here…..but let me tell a story. Over many yrs, folks tried their hand at putting real detailed biology onto the S/F formalism, and they got a funny result: often their formal models predicted that the optimal offspring size should be ~ zero [ smallest viable size] , or ADULT SIZE: yup raise the kid to adult size. Altricial birds indeed do this, but it is obiviously not widespread! Their are several ways to resolve this puzzle, and thus yield an intermediate optimum for kid size. So the question of why kids are not reared to adult size is not so stupid after-all, and answering it lead to real advances.

    • “Why amuse anyone with a parody when one could spend ones effort on great science?”

      Why assume that the rate at which Ellstrand (or anyone) could produce great science is reduced by their production of a parody?

      • I was not referring to Ellstrand;
        I was referring to your use of it as a teaching tool
        . Evolutionary ecology thinking is much less taught these days , and I think one should teach with the best. S/F is among the best, as are several other kid size papers.
        ric

      • You shouldn’t have jumped to the conclusion that I use it as a teaching tool in an evolutionary ecology class. I used it as a teaching tool in a graduate seminar on Darwin’s Origin, as part of a class in which we did some follow-up readings on adaptationist thinking.

        Were I teaching life history optimization, I would assign normal material on life history optimization.

      • Since the stream flyfishing is not great at the moment I am in a grumpy mood. But my point is more general. I have been out of teaching for ~6 yrs but in the last few teaching yrs I noticed that the students, including grad students, knew very little about the evolutionary ecology program, with life history theory a good exemplar. BUT they all thought they could do adaptational thinking. r/k selection was BIG.
        Getting them to do/learn any kind of precise fitness -maximization/ESS arguments was very difficult; at least it defeated me as a teacher. So to me parodies of these arguments are a real distraction; particularly in the face of such careful thoughts like the S/F , and its offspring.

    • Jeremy;
      Well, you described it as ‘one of my favorite papers’ and thus worthy of paying attention to. And it is evolutionary ecology! You believe it worth spending time with; I clearly don’t;[ I read it, fast, based on your recommendation] .
      Opportunity cost is time spent on great papers, like S/F. In an evolution class/seminar. so we agree to disagree.

      • I include papers among my favorites for lots of reasons. That Ellstrand’s paper is among my favorites just shows that I enjoy a good satire that gets students thinking. Something like Gremer & Venable’s Mercer Award winner on bet hedging life histories in desert annuals is also among my favorite papers–but for totally different reasons. I’d be prepared to assign each to students–but in different classes and for different purposes. Trust me, Ellstrand’s paper was a much better fit for that class session on the adaptationist program than a technical paper on life history evolution would’ve been. Not least because the class included students from the humanities and social sciences as well as from biology.

        I get that you’re grumpy today Ric, I certainly wake up grumpy some days too. And I totally get that the issue here is one near and dear to you heart. But I hope you know me well enough by now to give me a bit of credit and benefit of the doubt. I appreciate the general point you’re making about the importance and challenge of teaching life history optimality theory, and I agree with it. But please stop jumping to conclusions and reading things into my passing remarks. You’re trying to use my class as an example of what you see as a broader problem, but I’m sorry, it’s just not. You don’t have nearly enough information about what that graduate seminar of mine was about to be in a position to critique how I taught it. If you’re curious to know more about it, try asking me. Otherwise, yes, we’re going to have to agree to disagree.

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