Friday links: Ecology vs. HSS, clerihews, the Reformation vs. the Scientific Revolution, and more

Also this week: A leading ecology journal goes to double-blind review, the EPA vs. environmental scientists, the scariest scientific jack o’lantern, and more.

From Meghan:

Turns out I’m not the only person to have a paper rejected by Ecology, then published by AmNat:

From Jeremy:

The US EPA is disqualifying anyone who receives EPA funding from serving on its three main scientific advisory panels. On the grounds that receiving EPA funding creates a conflict of interest. This opens the door for those panels to be staffed by people who work in the industries EPA regulates. Which is totally not a conflict of interest.

In what qualifies as good science policy news by 2017 US standards, former talk radio host and non-scientist Sam Clovis has withdrawn his nomination as USDA chief scientist. Clovis has been implicated in Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 US Presidential election. More commentary here, focusing on how Clovis was only one of many senior administration nominees or appointees lacking even a semblance of relevant expertise.

Jeff Ollerton, co-author of that new paper on the value of science blogs aimed at other scientists, has actually been blogging a lot less since he joined Twitter.

Global Ecology and Biogeography (where our own Brian McGill is EiC) will be going to mandatory double-blind review as of Jan. 1. Here’s the editorial explaining why, and how it will work.

Andrew Gelman on why most people vastly overestimate the proportion of gays and lesbians in the population. Got me thinking back to how ecologists as a group seriously underestimate the proportion of women among recent N. American tenure track faculty hires. I’m not convinced the root problem is availability bias, or people routinely overestimating small proportions, or whatever. I wonder if the root problem is simply not knowing the answer. When asked “What proportion of X is Y?” without being given the option to respond “I have no idea”, people are either going to know the answer, or else they’re going to make some wild guess based on nothing much. Basically nobody who doesn’t know the answer is going to try to Fermi estimation, much less do it well.

Interesting piece by David Wootton on whether the Reformation caused the scientific revolution, or whether the two shared a common cause. Not mutually-exclusive hypotheses, of course. I found this interesting because I’m on a long-term mission to learn more about history of science by working my way backwards in time and outwards geographically from Charles Darwin. So far I’m back to the Romantic period in Britain (and a bit in France). The linked piece gives me a start on the 16th and 17th centuries.

Speaking of Darwin, I want this shirt, but with Charles Darwin rather than Max Weber. Unfortunately, none of the canonical images of Darwin have quite the right facial expression, so it might require a bit of photoshopping.

Clerihews. I’d write one myself, but nothing rhymes with “Darwin”. 🙂 +1000 Internet Points for anyone who writes a clerihew about an ecologist in the comments.

The scariest scientific jack o’lantern. 🙂

73 thoughts on “Friday links: Ecology vs. HSS, clerihews, the Reformation vs. the Scientific Revolution, and more

  1. You might look at Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity by Stephen Toulmin. His view of the history of science is very much embedded in social context. Culture wars and science are nothing new.

    • 🙂 I loved that book too.

      I actually really enjoy reading both historical fiction and history about the same time period. It’s part of why I liked The Signature of All Things so much–it’s set in the 19th century British scientific community, which I know something about. So An Instance of the Fingerpost intensifies my desire to read more about 17th century British science.

  2. More “good” science news out of the US: Rep. Lamar Smith, chair of the House Science Committee, just announced his retirement. He is one of the most vocal members of a growing coalition of anti-science members of congress and has on numerous occasions baselessly hounded climate scientists for simply doing their jobs. And of course, like Sam Clovis, he has no scientific background whatsoever.

    • Yes, although while I too am glad to see the back of Smith I don’t think Smith’s lack of scientific background was a problem per se. He’s an elected representative, and so doesn’t have to be a scientist. He’s not a nominee to an administrative position that (as I understand it) is legally required to go to someone with scientific expertise.

      Plenty of congressional committees are chaired by people who lack advanced degrees directly relevant to the committee’s remit. They pretty much have to be; Congress doesn’t have and never will have elected representatives with specialized backgrounds in all the areas covered by Congressional committees. So I wouldn’t say that the chair of the House Science Committee necessarily has to have a science degree, any more than I’d say the chair of the Budget Committee necessarily has to be an accountant or economist.

      I’d certainly like to see more scientists in Congress, ideally from both parties. Hopefully it wouldn’t just lead to better science policy; hopefully it’d be one small way to cut back on partisan polarization and focus on non-partisan problem solving. But I don’t think it’s essential that the chair or members of the House Science Committee have scientific backgrounds.

      • Of course. Though the optimist in me would argue that ranking membership in a science committee *should* go to somebody with at least a marginal understanding and interest in the scientific enterprise, and not to somebody who, via the committee’s official Twitter, posts links to Breitbart conspiracy articles. I suppose my real frustration with people like Clovis and Smith stems from a combination of their excessive hubris and obligations to petrochemical interests above all else.

  3. An idea by Hubbell
    will be reduced to rubble
    or maybe time will tell
    and it will turn out swell

    ( or the credit will go to Bell)

  4. Sexual Selection, Darwin’s invention
    had a century of barely a mention
    Geoff , Bob and George clearly saw deeper
    and they woke up the sleeper

  5. Couldn’t resist the challenge ….

    The force forming species was noted by Wallace and Darwin
    Those that lose in life and sex are lost, while those that get far win
    Inheritance remained somewhat mysterious until Mendel’s peas
    Helped to replace pangensis with genes as heredity’s keys

      • There once was a man, Fred McGoo
        Whose limericks stopped at line two.

        There once was a poet, John Donne.

        I can’t claim credit for either of those, but can’t recall where I read them.

      • Specially

        Joe Connell sought a means to explain
        Species richness in a manner quite plain
        “Coexistence seems beat
        When species compete”
        Spoke Joe “it is taxing my brain”

        Joe said “I have made my conclusion
        Intermediate disturbance’s a valid solution
        With neither too much
        Or too little and such
        Many species can escape from exclusion”

        Over the years and the ages
        Texts books mangled Joe’s views in their pages
        Some noticed the flaws
        But neglected the cause
        Provoking debates and exchanges

      • Job done:

        The community ecologist Jeremy Fox
        Writes sharp critiques in which he mocks
        The folks who fall for zombie ideas
        Reducing many a scientist to tears

      • working hard for those 10 points …

        J Fox said “see, its a zombie idea
        Disturbance offers up no panacea
        (Though the trade-offs are true
        just between me and you)
        this idea’s deader than an extinct Proboscidea”

        David Burslem and I, Douglas Sheil
        Found Fox’s views just a smidgen surreal
        Though indeed Connell’s views
        Have been prone to abuse
        Against zombie charges we make our appeal

  6. I read the html version of GEB’s switch to double-blind peer review, and I couldn’t help laughing aloud at the last line of the editorial. It simply ends “Sincerely,” and omits the editors’ names. Apparently the editors’ names and affiliations *follow* the editorial in the print/pdf version…

  7. Along came Charnov and Hamilton
    and said that life is more than fun
    forage here, forage there
    and with your kin learn to share

  8. to many a friend of Darwin
    his work was an abominable sin
    but his readers died
    without getting fried

    could be improved but I’ve got too much work to do.

  9. from a correspondent who wishes to remain anonymous:

    Ideas from Trivers
    Will surely send shivers
    Up and down a mom’s spine
    When kids cry and whine.

    When Orians baked his blackbirds
    He put his theory into words
    Mating systems were explained
    By all the insights it contained.

    I am doing the Wayne & Garth “I’m not worthy!” bow to our correspondent for that first one. And giving +2000 Internet Points for the pair. 🙂

    • Two more from the same correspondent:

      The line which Alfred Wallace drew
      Had split some habitats in two
      Between Asia and Australia few could leap
      Colonization stopped by water deep.

      Wallace drew a boundary line
      Though others before had seen the sign
      Some creatures lived West, while others lived East
      With bats the only traveling beast.

  10. Some dislike the theory by Darwin
    But don’t get caught up in the arguin’
    Just look in the mirror – you’ll see that it’s true
    You look like a monkey – you really *do*!

    The Galapagos were favorites of Darwin
    His recollections of them were quite ardent
    He recalled he saw many finches
    And measured their bills in inches

    Some of the followers of Darwin
    Are inclined to extinction alarmism
    Yet to some it’s clear there’s no need to fear
    There’s no tragedy near a radiation is here

    There’s a popular book by Darwin
    You can get at a pretty good bargain
    I think I paid ten for a copy that’s fine
    Printed at Princeton in 1909

    • I’m now jealous of both your clerihew-writing ability and the fact that you found an old copy of the Origin for 10 bucks. I think my old copy cost more than that. 🙂

      The second one is my favorite.

      • Thank you sir! I’m a fan of photography/biogeography myself.

        I’m afraid The Origin of Species 1909 printing has gone to Goodwill. I bought it in Albuquerque in roughly 1990. There were several other classic science books in the series but I was yet a poor undergrad. And I don’t recall if it was printed at Princeton, but I liked the alliteration.

        I have two more, but I think I’m now tapped out:

        “How traits are passed down” groused Darwin,
        “is a problem that’s just a darn hard one!”
        “Are they blended? discrete?”
        If he’d known Mendel’s peas…

        Mendel shared much with Darwin
        Each learned a great deal from his garden
        But Mendel bred his peas true
        And learned to predict white and blue

        or was it purple?

        cheers! 🙂

  11. Brian, if you happen to still be reading this thread, a question: do you worry about double-blind review at GEB being undermined by increasing use of preprint servers? Preprints aren’t posted anonymously, and if some preprint has already been seen by many experts in the field that’s going to make it hard to find reviewers who don’t already know the authors’ identity.

    Related question: what should reviewers for GEB do if they see through the blinding, or *think* they see through it? Alert the handling editor? Decline to do the review? Does it depend on when the reviewers think they see through the blinding? (e.g., somebody guesses the authors based on the abstract that comes with the invitation to review, vs. somebody agrees to review and then guesses the authors after reading the paper)?

    • Preprint servers may someday undermine double blind. But we’re a long way from there. I’m not the most pre-print friendly, but nor am I the most preprint adverse, and I’ve only read a handful of papers on preprints that are in my field enough that I could be asked to review them, none of which I ever have been and I get asked to review a lot. I’ve reviewed more papers where I’ve seen the talks than previewed them on preprint servers by a large margin, and that is still a pretty small fraction of my review requests.

      If somebody definitively knows who wrote a paper (e.g. saw it on a preprint server or saw a talk), then I would expect them to report and probably replace them. But if they’re just sure they’ve guessed, I would expect them to go ahead. Studies show it is at least 50/50 that their guess is wrong.

      In general, I think people expect double blinding to be perfect, but that would take a nearly infinite amount of work. I am OK with double blinding being pretty good. That is still a big improvement. And it comes with very little work. And personally I am a big believer that as long as there is doubt it will change most peoples behaviors.

      • Also, just saw this, from Hilda Bastian, whom we’ve linked to before for her comprehensive review of the research literature on effects of different peer review systems (single-blind vs. double blind vs fully open): http://blogs.plos.org/absolutely-maybe/2017/10/31/the-fractured-logic-of-blinded-peer-review-in-journals/

        She favors fully-open review, which colors her opinion on double-blind a bit. I’m sure you’ve read lots of the same research papers she has, and obviously you’ve come to a different conclusion as to the advisability of double-blind review. Which I think just goes to show that this is one of those topics on which there’s room for reasonable differences of opinion.

        My own views on this are probably somewhere in between yours and hers, but probably closer to yours.

      • Hilda’s piece didn’t make that much sense to me. To oversimplify it says “double blind hasn’t solved all the world’s biases, even in the social sciences where it has been around for a long time; so we should abandon it”. We certainly need to do more work to address other issues, but that doesn’t mean we should stop trying to address reviewer bias. If we can’t be perfect don’t bother to try is not a compelling argument to me.

        To me the literature doesn’t contain a blindingly compelling case for double blind. Although after I read about 12 studies of peer review and 11 of them had a trend to bias against women even though it was always non-significant, I do personally believe there is a small but real effect. But that is not what drove me. Its the dozens of conversations I’ve had with people who are convinced the system is unfair (usually against women or early career) and see this as an easy way to remove that doubt. Justified or not, its the thing most people think will remove their doubt in the fairness of the system. Who am I to spend my life telling them they are wrong (if they even are wrong) when I can easily remove their doubt at no cost?

        And a lot of what she goes on about how editors are not blinded already conforms to the view of open review – at most journals AEs and EiCs names are attached to all their decisions (and firmly believe they should be).

        I have no issues with people voluntarily signing their reviews. But as for open peer review (all reviews signed), I think it takes a place of privilege in the academic world to think it can work. Very many ECR people would stop reviewing if that were the case (including my own past ECR self). And even my modern self would turn down doing a lot of reviews of some colleagues because I wouldn’t feel I could be totally honest without anonymity. Even outside the realm of true COI academics is a small world and I never know who I’ll be working with in the future. I know a truly open culture is possible, physics comes close. But from what I’ve seen of their culture (much more ego and battle based), I prefer the ecology culture (flawed as it may be). And I don’t think having anonymous review is a trivial part of that.

      • I should clarify that I agree with you completely about open review. FWIW, it looks to me like double blind is the future in ecology and evolution, with two leading journals having moved that way. No leading journal has gone to open review, or even seriously considered doing so as far as I know.

        The area where I maybe fall in between you and Hilda is that I do worry a bit about the potential for (small) perverse effects of double-blind review if the blinding is seen through non-randomly with respect to author attributes. But on balance I think double blind is an experiment worth trying, and I thought your editorial made a good case for it.

        I’d also like to see more journals go through the data analysis exercise that Functional Ecology went through to demonstrate the fairness of publication outcomes under its current single-blind system. That analysis is a non-trivial amount of work, of course–probably less work than just implementing a double-blind policy. Still, I do hope that down the road we can look forward to that sort of analysis from Am Nat, GEB, or both. Perhaps as part of an assessment of the effects of the switch to double blind review.

      • I’m not entirely convinced on the more analysis (not currently planning to do one for GEB).

        On the question of is there gender bias, I have no reason to think we would get a different answer than the dozen or so journals, including two in EEB that I know of, which went before us (probably yes, but small and not statistically significant).

        And on the notion of using the GEB switch as an experiment and doing a before/after analysis, as the Budden/Webb exchange show, there are so many trends going on in gender disparity/equity that it would be very hard to isolate effects to the change in blinding.

        But maybe I’m just lazy … unlike double blinding, doing such an analysis is real work!

  12. Pingback: Hoisted from the comments: EEB poetry slam! | Dynamic Ecology

  13. I know. I’m late. But. Also, in unconventional form, because of [things] 😀

    Fragmentation Clerihews

    Since Leopold’s time people speak about edges
    Where forest meets grassland, where water meets sedges
    He got some things right, and he got some things wrongs
    And laid the foundations of many a work.

    You wanna see edges in a beautiful forest?
    Perhaps in the Amazon? Talk to Bill Laurance.
    He’ll tell you how forests decay and trees die,
    How carbon stocks mingle and species decline.

    Yet animals move; populations connect –
    Or sometimes they don’t, for such is the effect
    That landscape disruption may have on dispersal –
    The importance of Hanski’s research is enormous.

    On habitat fragmentation and habitat loss
    L. Fahrig, from Canada, will tell you the most
    Interesting things, sometimes good, often bad,
    For deforestation does make us feel sad.

    Too many the names to be mentioned all here –
    K. Harper, Porensky, Ribeiro, Faria…
    This list might as well simply go on forever,
    For landscape ecology’s a mighty endeavor.

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