Also this week: how college student study time is like energy and momentum, interesting interview with Dan Janzen, Alan Turing vs. money, rhino bonds, drinking with your scientific heroes, and more. Lots of good stuff this week!
Tell me again what “open science” is? Does it mean doing publicly posting the raw data and code to reproduce all your statistical analyses and figures? Posting preprints? Open access publication? Discussing and critiquing science in public? Encouraging and valuing participation in science by everyone, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic background? Or what? Very interesting read for me, as someone who doesn’t self-identify as any flavor of “open scientist”. Extended quotes, to give you the flavor and encourage you to click through:
Further, as in any other enterprise, if you monomaniacally push a single value hard enough, then at a certain point, tensions will arise even between values that would ordinarily co-exist peacefully if each was given only partial priority. For example, if you think that doing reproducible science well requires a non-negotiable commitment to doing all your analyses programmatically, and maintaining all your code under public version control, then you’re implicitly condoning a certain reduction in diversity within science, because you insist on having only people with a certain set of skills take part in science, and people from some backgrounds are more likely than others (at least at present) to have those skills…
In highlighting the ambiguity of the term open science, I’m not just saying hey, just so you know, there are a lot of different activities people call open science; I’m saying that, at this point in time, there are a few fairly distinct sub-communities of people that all identify closely with the term open science and use it prominently to describe themselves or their work, but that actually have fairly different value systems and priorities…
The bigger problem though, is that at this point in time, open science isn’t just a descriptive label for a set of activities scientists often engage in; for many people, it’s become an identity. And, whatever you think the value of open science is as an extensional label for a fairly heterogeneous set of activities, I think it makes for terrible identity politics…
For the most part, I think I’ve succeeded in eliminating open science from my discourse…I haven’t, so far, found myself missing the term “open”, and I don’t think I’ve lost brownie points in any club for not using it more often.
Writing in Trends in Ecology and Evolution, Rossberg et al. argue that ecology needs to train more and better theoreticians. Interesting piece. Without wanting to criticize the piece or its authors at all, I’d note that there’s a strong tendency for ecologists who do X to think that many/all ecologists need more and better training in X, no matter what X is (see here and here). Ecologists tend to think their own skills and interests are undervalued and that others’ skills and interests are overvalued (just like different subsets of the “open science” community, apparently…). Natural historians think everybody needs more natural history training, stats gurus think everybody needs more statistical training, etc. I’d be very interested to be pointed to a piece in which an ecologist who does X argues that what ecologists really need is more training in some other thing that’s not X. Like Charles Darwin’s famous remark that “I have deeply regretted that I did not proceed far enough at least to understand something of the great leading principles of mathematics; for men thus endowed seem to have an extra sense.”
Unreviewed preprint of a massive study showing that various online and text message “nudges” have at most a minor effect on how much time college students spend studying, and no effect on their academic performance. The main effect of nudging students that they need to study more to obtain high grades is to cause students to lower their grade expectations. (ht @page_eco)
A while back we linked to the list of scientists nominated to appear on the new British 50 pound note. The winner has been announced, and in retrospect I feel kind of silly not to have predicted it: Alan Turing.
An argument that knowledge workers (a category that includes academics) should train their brains like athletes train their bodies, by following learning plans. I like this idea.
Sean B. Carroll’s popular book, The Serengeti Rules, about the general principles underpinning the balance of nature, is now a documentary. Featuring Bob Paine, Jim Estes, John Terborgh, Tony Sinclair, and Mary Power. Sounds like Meghan will need to add this to her list of videos for teaching ecology.
Interview with Dan Janzen. Come for the backstory of his classic 1966 paper, stay for the mind-blowing anecdotes about how different the faculty job market was back in the 1960s. Here’s some statistical context for those ancedotes. (ht Meghan)
Rhino bonds. That is, $50M USD worth of bonds that pay off with interest if African black rhino populations increase over a 5-year period. Further details here (link goes to a proposed version of rhino bonds from a few years ago, that now seems to be ready for implementation). Anyone know more about this? As best I can tell (and please correct me if I’m wrong!), these bonds aren’t really conventional bonds at all. You’re not giving money to a widget manufacturer to build a new widget factory, and then once the factory is built the widget manufacturer pays you back with interest from the profits arising from increased widget sales. Rather, rhino bonds are a way for the “outcome payers” to buy additional conservation effort, but only if it works. (Presumably the “outcome payers” here are the Kenyan and South African governments, judging by the proposal in that last link?) Bondholders pay money to conservation groups to do rhino conservation. If rhino numbers go up, the outcome payers pay back the bondholders, with interest. If rhino numbers go down, the bondholders don’t get paid back, at least not entirely. Assuming I’ve got that right, I have…questions (which may well just indicate that I’m ignorant or confused, so please feel free to set me straight in the comments). Like, this is effectively a bet between the bondholders and the outcome payers as to whether rhino conservation will work, right? The governments are basically saying “We’d like to increase rhino numbers, but we don’t think it can be done for $50M. But if you think it can be, go ahead and try. If you pull it off we’ll pay you back with interest.” To which, given the long-term steep decline in black rhino abundance, aren’t the outcome payers going to have to offer a pretty high interest rate to get any bondholders willing to take the other side of the bet? That is, won’t the governments end up paying a lot for a success here, relative to the $50M cost of the success? Or maybe that’s the wrong way to think about it. Maybe you should think of it as the government offering a monetary prize for successful rhino conservation, but anyone who wants a share of the prize has to contribute to the $50M up-front investment required to have a shot at the prize. Which I admit is a slightly weird way to think about it (but is it wrong?). There are even weirder ways to think about it (sorry, I am a machine for turning
coffee Pepsi into theorems weird analogies). I mean, you could think of this bond is as a conservation donation with a money-back guarantee (with interest)–but only if the donation achieves its goals rather than failing to achieve its goals! I dunno, I feel like I must be missing something here. Smart experienced people from the ZSL were heavily involved in developing this, so there must be some rationale for it that I’m just not quite grokking. Looking forward to learning from your comments. (ht Marginal Revolution)
You can drink beer with your scientific heroes by buying these pint glasses featuring everyone from Charles Darwin to Mary Anning. There’s also an amusing “beards of science” one. And if you don’t drink beer, that’s ok, they have nerdy t-shirts and coffee mugs and etc. (ht a friend)
And finally, um. (ht Matt Levine)