Also this week: you vs. your departmental seminar series, research experience for school teachers, nut
grafs figures, Berkson’s paradox, the Zizek Maneuver, a link from Brian (!), and more. Also, Jeremy gives in to peer pressure and comments on Courchamp & Bradshaw (2017).
After an original “Ask Us Anything” question on the contributions to ecology of scientists in developing countries, we have had a series of first hand accounts (with more coming). Emilio Bruna just added a comment to the original post summarizing some papers he has been part of that actually measure the answer to the original question bibliometrically. Lots of nuance and interesting twists. Well worth a read if you’re interested in this topic.
A post arguing that the Canadian government isn’t convinced by the Naylor report urging big new investments in basic scientific research, because the report simply assumed those investments would lead to higher economic growth. Argues further that the government was looking to the Naylor committee for advice on how to balance funding of basic vs. applied research, not for an argument to increase overall research funding. Concludes that the way to make the case for Canadian government funding for basic research is to argue that it will produce better (not more, better) “knowledge workers”, thereby attracting capital investments from international companies employing such workers.
A post from middle school science teacher Andrew Doggett about NSF’s Research Experience For Teachers program, of which I was unaware. Sounds like a win-win for both teachers and profs. And another from teacher Tonia Tasneem.
Terry McGlynn with a nice post recommending that you plan your study by first imagining what your ideal key figure (“nut figure”) would look like.
Berkson’s paradox: when you select a multivariate sample on a combination of two (or more) variables, the relationship between those variables will be different than it was pre-selection. Very clear, accessible post. Suggests some possible examples from academia. I’m sure you can think of ecological and evolutionary examples, for instance regarding genetic and phenotypic correlations pre- vs. post-selection.
Courchamp & Bradshaw (2017) present the results of a multi-stage survey of ecology journal editors and ecologists, asking them to identify and then rank the most seminal ecology papers. They show the ranked top 100 list. The authors comment on their paper here and here. The paper predictably lit up the ecology intertubes, which is why I’m reluctant to chime in. I don’t feel like I have much to add. Plus, I’m generally reluctant to wade into Twitter debates because I’m wordy. 🙂 But in case you care what I think:
- Respondents mostly seem to have interpreted the survey question as asking them to name foundational papers. I say that because the top 100 papers are mostly deservedly-famous old papers that kicked off important lines of research.
- I think the paper would’ve worked great as a blog post or series of blog posts. But I would say that. 🙂 That’s not a criticism of the paper.
- I’ve seen three distinct but related criticisms of the top 100 list (from Tuomas Aivelo, Terry McGlynn, Amy Freitag, and Markus Eichhorn). Some of these issues are noted by the authors themselves. The three issues, as I understand them: (i) Many of the top 100 papers are quite old. Some are outdated, and the non-outdated bits of the others are in the textbooks. Either way there’s arguably no reason for current students to read all these papers, except perhaps to learn the history of the field. As evidenced by the fact, noted by Courchamp & Bradshaw, that people often recommended and voted for papers they hadn’t actually read themselves. As someone who thinks that ecology needs new textbooks, and who thinks textbooks should stop teaching zombie ideas, I agree with this criticism, up to a point. But I also think that reading old foundational papers can be helpful to current students if they do it in the right way. And I do think there are some old papers on the list that reward repeated reading by today’s ecologists. I think it would be very interesting to discuss which old foundational ecology papers current ecology students should read (see also this related old post). I do think it’s vital for students to learn something about their history of their field, for instance so that they can recognize when “new” research is just old wine in new bottles. Reading lots of old foundational papers is one way to learn your field’s history, but far from the only way (e.g., you could read history books like Modelling Nature). I don’t know that any one way of learning history is inherently better than others. Different strokes for different folks, do what works for you. (UPDATE: A clarification of something that came up in the comments. In saying that students should learn the history of the field in whatever way works best for them, I meant to make a general remark about how students should learn the history of their scientific field. Read old papers, or read history books, or a combination of old papers and new papers on the same topics, or whatever works for you. I didn’t mean to imply that Courchamp & Bradshaw’s list specifically is as good as any other list of old papers for purposes of learning the history of your field. Sorry that wasn’t clear.) (ii) The authors of the top 100 papers are almost all white men. Obviously, that reflects the gender and ethnic composition of English-speaking ecology many decades ago. But arguably, the list is even more male-skewed than you’d expect given that it’s a list of mostly-old papers. That probably reflects subtle implicit biases to which everyone’s subject (Meghan has a good post on this in a different context). Courchamp & Bradshaw’s follow-up paper on the gender balance of their list is summarized here. (iii) The topics covered by the top 100 papers are those that many N. American and European English-speaking ecologists doing fundamental research traditionally think of as defining “ecology”. I’m very much part of that group, of course. Arguably, we should quit caring so much about some of those topics in favor of caring about others (e.g., newer topics, applied topics, place-specific topics…). Heck, maybe there is no single set of topics (and associated foundational papers) that all ecologists should know and care about (I have some sympathy for this view). To my mind, this criticism isn’t so much a criticism of the Bradshaw & Courchamp list per se; it’s more a criticism of how “ecology” has been defined in N. America and Europe, or of any attempt to define “ecology”. I think there’s a lot of room for interesting debate and reasonable disagreement on this one. This criticism raises super-difficult issues like whether “ecology” is even a single coherent scientific discipline, and whether fundamental research is worth doing in a world with pressing applied problems. Coincidentally, we have an upcoming guest post addressing some of this.
- I’ve been disappointed to also see a few personal criticisms of the authors that are out of line, such as this (the subsequent apology is to her credit. UPDATE#2: and the original tweet has now been deleted). I think it’s unfortunate that Terry McGlynn felt the need to personally vouch for Franck Courchamp (a buddy of his). UPDATE: I think Terry made the right choice to take down his link to the now-deleted tweet. Semi-related old post.
20 years ago, futurist Ray Kurzweil wrote a book in which he predicted technological progress for 2009 and 2019. How’d he do? Well, he was overoptimistic, especially regarding predictions about the more distant future. Many of his predictions for 2009 have come to pass, but only in the last few years. And many of his predictions for 2019 look like they won’t come to pass for many years yet. (ht Marginal Revolution)
The Zizek Maneuver: the most academic way to get on other people’s nerves. Pretend that you’ve never heard of someone that, by rights, you surely should have heard of. I’m now amusing myself imagining my own ecological equivalent. “David Tilman? Who’s he?” (ht @jtlevy)
And finally, how to use Twitter to write a comprehensive review paper on any topic without having to do any work yourself. 🙂 (ht @dandrezner)
Andrew Hendry on why your department seminar needs you.