Also this week: creationists vs. dinosaurs, 1970s ecologists vs. the future of humanity, are grant rejections good for you, and more.
An interview with #MeToo founder Tarana Burke on the way forward for the movement. Recommended.
The ASN grad council with a useful blog post on electronic lab notebooks.
BBC interview with Kenyans who ghostwrite essays for US and European students.
The Trump administration is threatening to move the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a move which could drive out many of the agency’s statisticians. I link to this not because it’s the most important Trump-related news right now (it’s not), but just because it’s one bit of Trump-related news likely to be of specific concern to our many statistically-minded academic readers.
Math With Bad Drawings interviews Michelle Rial, whose quirky charts and graphs regularly go viral on Instagram. Now one of my life goals is to get a figure made of string cheese into one of my papers. 🙂
You do not have to work
80 40 hours per week to succeed in academia consulting. This will warm Meghan’s heart. (ht Matt Levine)
Nature paper (that I think I’ve linked to before as a preprint or online early pub?) using NIH data finds that, all else being equal, junior scientists who have a grant application just barely rejected are appreciably more likely to never apply for an NIH grant again (meaning that they’ve left the NIH system, not necessarily that they’ve left science or academia, of course). But those barely-rejected junior scientists who remain in the NIH system do higher-impact work in the long run (by several different measures) than junior scientists whose grants were just barely accepted. And no, it’s not because barely-rejected folks acquired more funding from non-NIH sources than the barely-accepted folks. The authors use various follow-up analyses to argue (not entirely convincingly, to my mind) that people who have a grant barely rejected go on to do better science, whether because they learned from the rejection, or were spurred to work harder, or for some other reason. That which does not kill you makes you stronger, as it were. Being in Canada, I am curious whether these results would also hold for NSERC Discovery Grant applicants. My first instinct is to say no, but thinking about it I’m not so sure. Plus, I wouldn’t have expected the NIH results, so clearly you shouldn’t trust me to guess whether those results will hold for other funding agencies.
Here’s what the Creation Museum in Kentucky says about dinosaurs. More interesting than you might think. What the museum says is wrong, of course, but the specific ways in which it’s wrong are interesting to think about from a psychological or sociological perspective. Why focus so much on dinosaurs, and why choose these specific wrong things to say about dinosaurs? (Some other bits are less interesting; I don’t care that it’s a nice-looking museum with friendly staff. But YMMV.)
Y Combinator as the future of education. Or at least, of Ivy League education, for some students. I disagree with large chunks of this, but it articulates a point of view very well. (ht Matt Levine)
Here are some of the apocalyptic things some ecologists (not all ecologists, but not just Paul Ehrlich either) were predicting about humanity’s future back in 1970. And no, it’s not the case that those apocalyptic outcomes were only prevented by political and social changes that wouldn’t have happened in the absence of apocalyptic warnings. It’s a striking contrast to today, or at least it seems that way to me. Even if some messaging about climate change is disempowering because it’s too pessimistic or alarmist (and obviously there’s room for reasonable disagreement on that), I haven’t seen any ecologist recently say anything remotely as apocalyptic or wildly off-base as what some ecologists were saying back in the early ’70s. Related: my review of The Bet, a good book about the Ehrlich-Simon wager.
The ECR grants result is very interesting. Like you, I have doubts that the rejection itself is what is causing increased success in the future.
I didn’t read the paper in detail, but I wonder if the biggest effect is that the early rejection knocks less “gritty” people out of the system (people who give up after failure), whereas less gritty folks who succeeded the first time are more likely to continue on. And perhaps sticking through rejection in and of itself is an important quality of a successfull academic.
Re the “apocalyptic things” piece, worth pointing out that by no means all of the people saying those things were “ecologists” strictly speaking.
Steven Pinker discusses these sorts of predictions in his recent book Enlightenment Now and points out that many of them would have come true had now science/technology come up with solutions. The only reason that solutions were looked for was because of the predictions. His chapter on famine is especially interesting. Famine caused by agricultural failure used to be common. Everywhere. They now almost never occur, or at least if they do they are on a smaller scale and aid agencies deal with them in advance. Famines are still caused occasionally by conflicts, of course.
I’d also argue that many of those predictions were still ingrained by malthusian fears. Those demographers couldn’t foresee the slow down on population growth. And that in someways those have kind of come true, as many city dwellers do wear gas masks because of pollution nowadays, particularly on Asia. More important than sciency solution are, i think, the reasons behind these solutions, especially advancing environmental regulations such as the clean air acts. Without those, no one would subsidize solutions.
Yes, I’d agree – the drivers of solutions are multifactorial, including an open democracy – this might interest you: https://jeffollerton.wordpress.com/2019/10/03/the-role-of-press-freedom-in-protecting-the-environment/