Friday links: RIP C. S. “Buzz” Holling, when whistleblowers get it wrong, and more

Also this week: Lots of good stuff! Matthew effects vs. the NSF GRF program, is your scientific collaboration only as strong as its weakest link, science proves that this blog is personable, distracted boyfriend statistician, Simon Leather vs. Stephen Heard, Jeremy vs. Meghan (baseball fandom edition), and more. Also, this week’s linkfest contains the sentences “I assume she’s going to team up with sexy Walt Whitman to fight crime,” and “Now I’m imagining Brian and Meghan are secretly superspies,”. So there’s that.

From Jeremy:

I feel bad that I’m late to this: Pioneering ecologist C. S. “Buzz” Holling passed away Aug. 16. He was 88. Like many students, I was taught his classification of Type I vs. II vs. III predator functional responses and how they arise from different features of predator and prey biology. This classification–and more broadly, Holling’s whole approach to predator-prey dynamics–is now standard, and so it’s hard to grasp just how pioneering it was at the time. Today Holling is perhaps best known for his work on ecological resilience. Here are his memoirs, and two obituaries from the Resilience Alliance, which he founded in 1999. (ht a correspondent)

Environmental economist Marty Weitzman passed away this week. I was unfamiliar with his work, but here is a good short accessible overview. Weitzman was a theoretician who took his inspiration from very practical problems, such as the “Noah’s Ark problem”: how to optimally allocate finite conservation resources to different species that vary in their extinction risk. You really should click through and read that link, you’ll learn something. The solution to a simple version of the Noah’s Ark problem is quite counterintuitive until it’s shown to you, and then it becomes intuitive.

Writing in PNAS, Ahmadpoor & Jones predict the impact of teams of scientific researchers from the impacts of the individuals comprising the teams. They find that teams have more impact than individuals (a result consistent with the implications of Brian’s old “hurdle” model of scientific productivity.) More interestingly, they find that team impact is best predicted by the harmonic mean of the impacts of team members, rather than, say, the arithmetic mean. That is, team impact is dragged down by low-impact team members more than it’s raised by high-impact team members. I haven’t read the paper carefully yet. Just speaking generally it’s easy to leap to unjustified conclusions from these sorts of analyses based on very crude measures of “impact”. And I’m definitely skeptical of their attempt to apportion individual credit to team members just based on the “impact” data they consider. But wanted to pass it along if you’re curious to read it.

Every viral picture of the current Amazon fires is not in fact a picture of the current Amazon fires. Not the most important story–the fires themselves are obviously the most important story–but still a little disappointing. I’m all for world attention being directed at the Amazon fires. But I’m uncomfortable with the notion that sharing misleading images (unintentionally or otherwise) is ok if it’s in the service of a good cause, or a cause the sharer thinks is good. The link includes some actual photos of the current Amazon fires. (ht @dandrezner)

I’m a bit late to this, but here’s the appalling story of how a whistleblower’s baseless allegations caused seven Canadian health researchers to be fired or suspended. One committed suicide.

Why do the outcomes of misconduct investigations by NSF vs. NIH differ so much? (ht Retraction Watch)

Simon Leather vs. Stephen Heard on whether paper titles should convey what the paper is about. Relatedly, here’s Meghan on why your slide title should convey what the slide is about. No word on whether linkfest blurbs should convey what the linkfest is about. πŸ™‚

The Atlantic covers the controversy over whether we’re in the midst of an “Insectageddon”, at least in Puerto Rico. (ht Jeremy Yoder)

Terry McGlynn vs. Christopher Anderson on institutional capacity change vs. individual student support. Related post from me in the context of graduate student admissions.

Something like 25-30% of NSF graduate fellowships go to students from just 10 institutions; it’s been that way for many years. The linked news piece includes a shout-out to Terry McGlynn’s proposal for cross-institution mentoring programs to help support prospective GRF applicants who would otherwise lack institutional support. As an aside, and without at all wanting to minimize the issue raised by the linked article, I think it’s interesting and perhaps informative to reflect on how analogous inequities show up in some other contexts–but not all. For instance, in some scholarly fields (e.g., history, computer science) TT faculty hiring is very inequitable with respect to degree-granting institution (Clauset et al. 2015). A small number of PhD-granting institutions train a very large fraction of all TT faculty. But in ecology, that’s emphatically not the case: recently hired N. American TT ecologists got their PhDs from a huge diversity of institutions, and no single institution trains more than a tiny fraction of all TT ecology hires. Reflecting on that fact gives me hope that progress is possible. It’s not some law of nature that people evaluating fellowship applicants, or job applicants, or whatever, will fall back on the fame/reputation of the degree-granting institution as an evaluation heuristic. Matthew effects aren’t inevitable; evaluation practices can be improved.

Why are online political discussions widely seen as more toxic than offline ones? Interesting thread summarizing some new research, suggesting that the answer is a combination of non-hostile people avoiding online debate, and social media exposing “bystanders” to hostile attacks on strangers that they wouldn’t otherwise have seen or heard about. But having not read the underlying paper I can’t vouch for it. (ht @noahpinion)

Here’s a bit of the advice that then-President Carter received in 1979 about the possibility of global warming due to anthropogenic CO2 (see pp. 5-9 of the linked pdf). Interesting because it refutes the claim that global cooling was the big worry back in the 1970s. In fact, there was discussion of both warming and cooling. (ht Crooked Timber)

My unpopular (?) opinion: excessive self-citation is not a big problem.

I’m years late to this, but have you seen Integral House, the amazing modernist house that Canadian mathematician James Stewart built?

Inertia vs. toy dinosaur. Striking.

Enter any Twitter handle into this website and get an instant estimate of personality traits and “thinking style” based on word use in recent tweets. I have no idea how accurate or valid this is, and suggest just treating it as a fun toy. Apparently, the @DynamicEcology robot is quite personable, upbeat, and analytic. To which:

obama meme

Distracted boyfriend statistician. πŸ™‚ (ht @dandrezner)

I assume she’s going to team up with sexy Walt Whitman to fight crime. πŸ™‚ In the comments, tell us: which real scientist or other academic would you like to see portrayed in a tv series taking significant liberties with historical reality? (UPDATE: especially by adding lots of sexiness/action/comedy) No points for picking “Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage team up and have adventures” or “Charles Darwin: werewolf hunter“; those already exist in comic book form.

  • How about Alexander von Humboldt as an Indiana Jones-type figure? Or as an Inspector Clouseau-type bumbler whose assistant actually does all the work?
  • How about a show in which the mild-mannered real scientist of your choice leads a double life as a James Bond-type superspy?
  • How about “The X Club as the X Men”? #sorrynotsorry
  • How about “Mary Anning not only discovers fossils, she discovers actual dinosaurs are still alive–and has to save humanity from them”? The first half of the series would be “Remarkable Creatures“, before pivoting into “Victorian Jurassic Park”.
  • In the spirit of the linked Emily Dickinson show, how about “The Young Pope, except it’s about Immanuel Kant?” If you can sex up Emily Dickinson and the Pope, you can sex up Kant.

That bulleted list started out as a joke, but honestly I would watch the hell out of most of those shows. Also, now I’m imagining Brian and Meghan are secretly superspies. πŸ˜›

And finally, now that I know that Meghan is a Mets fan, as a Phillies fan I am legally obligated to leave this here:



13 thoughts on “Friday links: RIP C. S. “Buzz” Holling, when whistleblowers get it wrong, and more

  1. I didn’t know you’re a Phillies fan! Given that you grew up in central PA, it’s more or less a toss-up between the Phillies, Orioles, or Pirates. Clearly you made the right choice.

  2. You know, Meghan doesn’t have many faults, but her baseball team choice probably qualifies.

    On the other hand, as a Mets fan, she’s certainly learned humility. As a Phillies fan, you learn to throw batteries at opposing outfielders and boo your best players for striking out once a week, right? πŸ™‚

  3. In Daniel Kehlmann’s Measuring the World (Good novel, meh movie; German), Humboldt and Gauss sorta team up, and both are portrayed in eccentric ways that play with historical reality. Humboldt and Bonpland do see a UFO (I think) in South America…

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