Friday links: for love of professing, science journalism = PR, and more

Also this week: new call for EEB working group proposals, teaching vs. research vs. service leadership, college student support for free speech is not collapsing, Hollywood vs. Jeremy’s book reviews, #overlyhonestreasonsforcitinganarticle, and more.

From Meghan:

Pat Schloss on why he loves being a professor. (Jeremy adds: Hey, I was going to link to that!)

This piece on mental health of academic researchers notes:

The available evidence suggests that the well-being of academic staff is worse than for individuals in other types of employment. In fact, the levels of burnout among university staff are comparable to “high-risk” groups, such as health care workers.


Poor workplace well-being can contribute to reduced productivity for higher education staff—both through absenteeism, where staff miss work, but more importantly, through presenteeism, where staff attend work but are less productive.

From Jeremy:

A cogent, historically-grounded argument that most science journalism is and always has been PR. I don’t agree with all of it, but I think it has a point. Discuss. Is there a distinction between good and bad “salesmanship” in science (I think there is, but it’s a fuzzy line)? A distinction between good and bad self-promotion on the part of scientists? How does the linked piece affect your opinion on whether all scientists should do #scicomm (personally, I don’t think they all should)? And how does the linked piece relate to calls for scientists to become more politically active and to defend science’s role in public policy debates? Can you be an “honest broker” about the policy implications of your science if you’re a rah-rah cheerleader about the importance of your science and how much funding it deserves? Also related: I seem to recall reading a news piece a while back about how the membership and leadership of the leading professional organization for science journalists is gradually being taken over by people employed in public relations offices rather than as journalists. Assuming my memory isn’t faulty, that seems like another line of evidence in favor of the linked piece’s argument. (ht Andrew Gelman, who comments that, thanks to sharp, critically-minded quantitative journalists like Ed Yong, Nate Silver, and Felix Salmon, the “golden age” of science journalism, such as it is, is right now. Personally, I’d say it’s the best of times and the worst of times.)

Sticking with Arguments That You May Instinctively Disagree With But Should Think About Anyway: Several Canadian university presidents recently took to the op-ed pages, urging the Canadian government to implement the Naylor report (which basically recommended that Canada spend more on basic research). Alex Usher explains why their editorials won’t convince anyone who needs convincing. Usher’s piece might annoy many of you, but I think he has a point. Years ago I took my best shot at justifying government support for basic research, but as I admitted back then I suspect my arguments would only resonate with my fellow basic researchers. Or you could try to go the Steve Jobs route, but as eloquent and honest as I find that argument for basic research, I wonder how compelling even sympathetic policymakers find it. Even when uttered by Steve Jobs.

Andrew Wiles of Fermat’s Last Theorem fame on being stuck. About how success in the face of obstacles isn’t really a matter of “grit”, or a “growth mindset”, at least not as those terms are often used. It’s a matter of being emotionally comfortable with being stuck, because everybody gets stuck and getting stuck is a necessary step on the road to getting un-stuck.

This week in Me Disagreeing With Brian: Stop freaking out about that poorly-conducted online survey that made the rounds last week purporting to show that support for free speech has collapsed among US college students. The General Social Survey has rigorously surveyed American attitudes about free speech for decades, using a bunch of different questions. There’s no trend over time toward less support for free speech (if anything, the trend is towards more support), and the young and college students are as or more supportive of free speech than the general population. For instance, here are the data for the question asking whether someone claiming that blacks are genetically inferior should be allowed to speak. (ht @jtlevy)

Heart researcher and University of Ottawa VP-Research Mona Nemer is Canada’s new chief science adviser. The position had been vacant since 2008. (ht Stephen Heard, via Twitter)

CIEE/ICEE (the Canadian NCEAS/NESCENT equivalent) has issued a new call for working group proposals. Deadline is Nov. 3. Also, I’m late to this, but congratulations to new CIEE/ICEE director Diane Srivastava!

Faculty: don’t think of your duties as research, teaching, and service. Think of them as research, teaching, and leadership.

In 2016 women earned the majority of US PhD degrees across all scholarly fields, for the 8th year in a row. They earned 52% of PhDs in biological sciences.

Andrew Gelman’s argument for abandoning the routine use of null hypothesis significance testing. Via Twitter, Deborah Mayo thinks he’s being inconsistent. Relatedly, here’s the worst-case scenario for what might happen if NHST were abandoned. As Jeff Leek once pointed out, no statistical approach works at scale, because the more widely it’s adopted the worse the typical application gets.

Good news: a years-long public health campaign in Britain has raised the MMR vaccination rate for 5-year olds to the WHO target level of 95% for the first time ever. But although I’m far from an expert on this, I agree with Rebecca Chandler that publicly crowing about this as a triumph over “morons” doesn’t aid public health (or anything else worth aiding). Indeed, it might harm public health a tiny bit at the margins. The goal is improvement of public health, not maximization of some people’s feeling of intellectual and moral superiority. The NHS public health campaign did not succeed by calling people “morons”.

An environmental journalist on why he never writes about overpopulation. Related.

At the end of this is a very interesting passing remark on the WBE explanation for quarter-power allometric scaling of metabolic rate vs. body size. I’m intrigued by the comparison between circulatory systems and engineered pipe networks, though I don’t know enough to evaluate it. (ht Marginal Revolution)

Here’s the first trailer for the movie version of Annihilation. Natalie Portman stars as the biologist on an expedition to understand an extremely weird and creepy ecosystem. She’s great in anything not involving George Lucas, and writer-director Alex Garland has a pretty good track record from what I hear. But I’m still not sure I’m gonna see this given what I thought of the book. Related: our old and super-fun post on best movies featuring scientists. (ht The Ringer)

How to write, and read, a ms rejection letter. Related: Meghan on being resistant vs. resilient in the face of rejection.

Cap and trade: not just for atmospheric pollutants. 🙂

And finally, #overlyhonestreasonsforcitinganarticle. (ht @jtlevy) 🙂

5 thoughts on “Friday links: for love of professing, science journalism = PR, and more

  1. Here’s another piece questioning the validity of the free speech study:

    Not sure what to make of it. It seems to me some of the points in the article I linked to cut both ways – would the survey being conducted during Charlottesville make people more or less likely to say violence is an appropriate response to objectionable speech? (the article seems to assume more but I would think less). And it is an online survey but that is a pretty common technique these days. We also have to consider that the survey made academics uncomfortable and are challenging it more vigorously than usual. Having had the chance to spend a lot of time talking to undergrads the past few years it “rings” true to me but who knows.

    Not sure it really changes my essential point either way. Free speech is being challenged on campuses, and responses of those who disagree are often inappropriate. In short, the on the ground actions kind of raise the same issue the poll does, whether the poll is valid or not. Campuses need to reverse that trend.

    • Agreed, Brian. What people do and what people say they think aren’t necessarily or even usually the same. Even simple words and phrases can have many meanings, and are often applied differently to others than to oneself.

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