Friday links: surprising (in)tractability of scientific problems, remembering Emmy Noether, and more

Also this week: [color of your study species] is the new black, zombie idea about plant dispersal, code sharing vs. #?!*$%, LeBron James vs. reviewer three, preprint servers are not a democracy, and more

From Jeremy:

Is the idea that island plants lose dispersal ability a zombie idea?

Are ecology journals moving in the direction of not requiring that submitted papers be formatted in journal house style until after they’ve been accepted? Seems like a sensible idea, though I think it has limits. A paper that’s written for Nature, Science, or PNAS is a very different beast than one written for any ecology journal. That’s a matter of content and organization, not just arbitrary formatting details like citation style. Personally, I’d find it a little awkward to review an ms that was written for Nature/Science/PNAS for an ecology journal.

What big scientific/engineering/social problems that were thought to be readily soluble in 1970 have proven much more difficult than anticipated back then? The answer seems to be “problems that are superficially related to other problems on which rapid progress had recently been made.” Also interesting to reverse the question and ask what problems that were thought to be intractable in 1970 have actually turned out to be readily soluble.

Remembering Emmy Noether, whose theorems on conservation laws and symmetry underpin much of modern physics. (ht @noahpinion)

You can’t post commentaries on biorXiv–unless you’re famous. (Semi-related aside: I’m sure Zen is right that a small fraction of preprints get a large fraction of the collective attention. And that one attention-concentrating mechanism is “people are more likely to read preprints by famous authors.” There are various good reasons to support the posting of preprints, but “equalizing the distribution of collective scientific attention” is not one of them.)

The inside story of the World Series of Birding. I lived with an ornithologist in grad school who was a serious birder, and even he thought the WSB folks were a little…intense.

Inside a convention of flat Earthers. (ht @kjhealy) Had me thinking back to this old post.

How hunting birthed the US conservation movement.

When I think of “ecological traps”, the first example that comes to mind isn’t “the top of the UBS building in St. Paul.” Until now. πŸ™‚

A novel barrier to sharing code. πŸ™‚

Peer review, NBA edition. πŸ™‚

From Meghan:

This looks neat!

As far as I can tell, every academic who saw this tweet thought “OMG pleasepleaseplease let my institution adopt this approach, too!”

11 thoughts on “Friday links: surprising (in)tractability of scientific problems, remembering Emmy Noether, and more

  1. Re the accounting tweet. When I was at McGill they got this. We were regularly told that hand processing an expense report cost $50 in accounting time so we should use a PCard whenever possible. And for the PCard we were responsible (consequences being losing access to a PCard) to go online once a month and assign transactions to accounts. We were also responsible for keeping receipts in our own files and subject to random audits (once or twice a year we would get an email saying please fax or scan the receipt for transaction X – if we failed to produce it our audit frequency went up until eventually we got banned). It worked beautifully! Don’t know if they still do it.

    The problem for large universities is what I call management by press. At UMaine we have some ridiculous rules because one government agency (the highway toll commission) had some wild parties on public expense and got a lot of bad press 10 years ago!

    Universities usually make these choices unconsciously but even when forced to think about the tradeoffs explicitly I think many would probably prefer the overhead costs to avoid that one bad press story every 10 years. Its the costs of being part of a public institution.

    • I was just forced to get a PCard because our dept. let go the staff who used to handle purchasing order entry and invoice payment for me and some other faculty.

      Faculty have to reconcile our own monthly statements, though I think our dept. may still have staff who can assist with that.

      • Yes its a fine line between reducing bureaucracy and pushing more on the plate of professors.At Maine we just got travel receipts pushed onto our plate via the software Concur – definitely a massive net loss in productivity.

        But the way McGill implemented things was a massive gain.

  2. #BadStockPhotosOfMyJob is quite an interesting trending hashtag on Twitter, with a number of scientists sharing some excellent photos. Apologies if you’ve already seen this fun little bit of humour. πŸ™‚

  3. The code barrier just gave me some new ideas. πŸ™‚ I’d only just been swearing out loud when I code.

    I am not an academic, but my institution (which handles travel expenses according to US government rules even though we are not federal employees) recently spent more than $100 worth of staff time communicating with me about determining whether $1.50 in highway tolls I accrued attending a conference were actually my personal expense. They also made me pay almost $200 and cost at least as much in staff time because I combined two trips, cutting out an entire flight, because I didn’t combine the trips in the cheapest possible way (which would have forced a hotel stay instead of a free night at a friend’s house).

    Of all the problems facing science and society, I don’t think $1.50 in highway tolls is as important as the government says it is.

  4. Emmy Noether, not Emily! (Although Wikipedia does say that her full name was actually Amalie Emmy Noether.)

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