Also this week: a fascinating deep dive into paleoartistic reconstructions of extinct dinosaurs, an external report on the NSF preproposal system, shrink-wrapped dinosaurs, the decline of public research universities in the US midwest, imposter syndrome, counterfactual history of science, do you have a conflict of interest with your Twitter followers, distracted
boyfriend data analyst, and more.
The decline of public research universities in the US midwest. (ht @dandrezner)
Forest ecologist Markus Eichhorn on growing up creationist. (ht Jeff Ollerton, via Twitter)
Do you have a conflict of interest with your Twitter followers, such that you should decline to review their papers? I’d say only if they’re such close friends that you don’t feel you can be objective. Which is no different than with any other friendship. Researchers in a field often know each other, which is fine. But for instance, I’d decline to review Meghan and Brian’s papers if I was ever asked to do so (which I never have been), because they’re now sufficiently close friends that I wouldn’t trust myself to be fully objective.
The vast majority of elite US colleges and universities consider race as a factor in undergraduate admissions, but the proportion of non-elite colleges and universities that do so has long been much lower, and has been steadily declining since the mid ’90s. Data here. The declines are mostly not directly due to state laws banning consideration of race in admissions, because most schools that have stopped considering race are not affected by state-level bans on the practice. (ht @kjhealy)
My Calgary philosopher colleague Adrian Currie and his friends continue to kick blogging butt on the Extinct blog. Lately they’ve been writing a lot about counterfactual history of science. Here’s Helen Zhao on how to do counterfactual history (e.g., figuring out how important Charles Darwin was by imagining what would’ve happened if he’d died young). Here’s Derek Turner on what the counterfactual questions we ask say about our values (e.g., how come we talk about deleting Darwin and not about making Mary Anning more prominent?). And here’s Adrian on what if Ada Lovelace hadn’t died young, as an example of the importance of “minimal rewrites” in counterfactual history.
And via Extinct blog, I learn of Mark Witton’s super-interesting post on the artistic convention of “shrink wrapping” in artistic reconstructions of extinct dinosaurs (i.e. reconstructing them with minimal soft tissue). How did that become the convention, and why is that convention going out of fashion? Besides providing a fascinating window into competing approaches to paleoart and teaching you some anatomy, it touches on deep conceptual issues like the difference between “realistic” assumptions and “conservative” ones.
Timothy Taylor provides some extended quotes from a classic (and very funny) polemic on the “buzzard mentality” of professors. (ht Economist’s View)
Eminent ethologist Patrick Bateson has passed away.
A classic economics-to-sociology phrasebook. Very funny and more than a little true. (ht @noahpinion)
And finally, the best distracted boyfriend meme. (ht @kjhealy)
NSF has released the external report that was written about the DEB & IOS preproposal process. I’ve only skimmed it, but parts that stood out to me included:
Survey data revealed that applicants were strongly unsatisfied with the single submission: the ratings were in the negative range of 1.6 to 2.2 for all sub-groups. The most common change proposed by both reviewers and applicants was to return to at least two deadlines per year.
Reviewer satisfaction with review was in the 3.5 to 4.5 range and the ratings were similar for the DEB, IOS, and comparison groups. The NSF staff views were fairly consistent with survey data. Most said that reviews remained rigorous and fair, although a few raised some concerns about preliminary panel expertise and the quality of feedback to the applicants. Based on these data, it appears unlikely that the new process had changed the quality of review.
In conclusion, we found mixed evidence that the new process had advanced the intended goals.
At the conclusion of the interview, we asked the [NSF] staff whether they would go back to the old system. Only two said that they would. The remaining believed that while the two-step review has its flaws, the change was a necessary compromise because the old approach was unsustainable. Some staff pointed out that going back would cause more disruption and would not allow sufficient time for the new process to be fully tested. However, most if not all respondents were interested in exploring other review options. The idea of eliminating deadlines altogether (the Geosciences Directorate model) appeared to be a particular favorite. Other suggestions included limiting the number of applications per investigator to one per year or returning to a single-step review, but with shorter proposals.