Friday links: David Attenborough vs. The Apprentice, science says you should quit Facebook, and more

Also this week: the latest bad news at PLOS, multilevel selection vs. university budgets, the most 2019 story of 2019, mimicry in butterflies political philosophy, and more.

From Jeremy:

Should PLOS authors start to worry that PLOS is going to go under? Phil Davis looks at their latest financial statements, which reveal they ran a $5.5 million deficit in 2018 on $32 million in revenue. PLOS hasn’t broken even or run a surplus since 2015, and at their current burn rate they’ll burn through all their remaining savings in just a few years. And the number of papers that PLOS One publishes continues to decline at about the same (rapid) rate it has every year since 2013. I link to this solely because of an admittedly-parochial concern, one which I’m guessing some of you share. I’ve published two papers with PLOS; what I should do to ensure those papers continue to exist? I feel like I ought to hedge my bets on this now, rather than waiting until PLOS successfully implements a turnaround plan, or announces it’s shutting down, or just suddenly vanishes from the intertubes, or whatever. At a minimum, I guess I should make sure I have pdfs on my hard drive and backed up on the cloud? Any other suggestions? Also, just speaking personally, and recognizing that others will feel differently, I’m definitely not going to submit any more papers to PLOS in future.

I’m very late to this, but here’s Charles Goodnight using multilevel selection theory to explain why “incentive based budgeting” is a terrible idea for any institution. As he points out, and as I’ve pointed out in various old Friday linkfest items, this kind of budgeting contributed to the demise of Sears.

This looks like it could be a good example for classes on mathematical modeling and statistical prediction as well as climatology: a new paper evaluating the performance of past climate model projections. Past climate models–even those from as far back as the 1970s–did very well at predicting future climate warming. And most of their errors were due to mistaken forecasts of how much greenhouse gas humans would pump into the atmosphere, rather than getting the climatological bits wrong.

Athene Donald muses on the importance–and difficulty–of avoiding gendered descriptions of others in casual conversation. The difficulty is because so many words are used more often to refer to people of one gender than another. It’s also because there’s substantial contextual variation (e.g., among different scholarly fields) in which words are used more often to refer to people of a particular gender.

As a connoisseur of weird analogies between other fields and ecology, I was amused to read a political philosopher reaching for an eco-evolutionary analogy.

In a randomized experiment (link goes to an unreviewed preprint that I’ve merely skimmed), people who were assigned to quit Facebook for a month before the 2018 US midterm elections were a bit less informed about politics, a bit less politically polarized, a bit happier, and used Facebook a lot less after the experiment ended. Sounds like a good trade-off to me, which makes me glad I never joined Facebook (YMMV, of course). Somebody should do the same experiment for Twitter.

Of course you can use your coding skills plus logistic regression to completely automate a popular Instagram feed and also automatically turn it into…more free meals at New York City restaurants than one person could ever eat. Now that you know this, please answer the following question:

If David Attenborough narrated The Apprentice. Because, due to a technical glitch, he did! “But they still have to learn to swim.” 🙂 “Young, fully developed octopus pop out.” 🙂 🙂 🙂 You should totally click through, the whole thread is hysterical! Now I want to see a David Attenborough documentary narrated with lines from The Apprentice.

9 thoughts on “Friday links: David Attenborough vs. The Apprentice, science says you should quit Facebook, and more

      • Proper archiving not dependent on the financial future of the company is a hallmark of all serious reputable academic journals. The major for profit companies (e.g. Wiley) do this. Reputable OA houses like PLOS or BMC do as well.

        Some of the predatory OA journals, not so much.

      • For those interested in PLOS’s outlook, the comments on Phil Davis’s Scholarly Kitchen post might be worth a read. His is a name worth remembering for anyone interested in science publication practices, for when his critical eye focuses on a topic, there is much to be learned. Yet, there were questions whether there was a touch of schadenfreude in the dissection of PLOS’s finances and personnel, disproportionate to the attention given other publishers. I chimed in with a tally of his posts on PLOS (21 with 19 having a negative tone). Flamed is too strong, but there was pretty strong pushback that PLOS was just getting scrutinized because it was innovative and transparent. To me that’s a case of ‘let no good deed go unpunished.’
        I’ve never published in PLOS, but I’m now planning to.

      • I did have a look at the comment thread, and I regret doing so. No substantial engagement with the substance of Phil Davis’ comments. Just a lot of whataboutism. Phil Davis accurately summarized the content of PLOS’s own annual report, and the previous ones. If those posts sound negative, well, that’s not Phil Davis’ fault, it’s PLOS’ fault. Phil Davis isn’t the one making PLOS spend millions more than it takes in every year, he’s not somehow causing submissions to PLOS One to crater, it’s not his fault PLOS will burn through their remaining savings in just a few years at this rate, it’s not his fault PLOS has had a lot of turnover at the top, and it’s not his fault that PLOS hasn’t publicly provided a concrete turnaround plan.

        As for the notion that Scholarly Kitchen has some sort of moral or professional obligation to cover PLOS positively, or to do the same number of posts about Elsevier as they do about PLOS…meh. Partisans of every cause say that everybody else is biased against them, or has other bad motives. Scholarly Kitchen is a group blog. I think bloggers should just write about whatever they want to write about. I don’t see what professional or moral obligation Scholarly Kitchen has to somehow “balance” their topic coverage, beyond whatever obligations they impose on themselves. If you don’t like Scholarly Kitchen’s choice of topics, you can just not read Scholarly Kitchen. Or, you can complain about them on social media and in their comment threads! It’s a free world, do what you want! And other people can read your complaints and respond (or not), and agree (or not)! That’s just how the marketplace of ideas works. So I don’t have any problem with people arguing that Scholarly Kitchen has some sort of obligation to cover PLOS positively, or to cover different topics than they do. I just disagree with those arguments.

        I do think there are contexts in which there’s a substantial public interest in media coverage that’s accurate, fair, and balanced in some sense (and that sense is probably debatable…). In those contexts, the people who make media coverage decisions do indeed have moral and professional obligations to act consistent with the public interest. But I don’t see how this is one of those contexts. This is just some people who really like a thing being upset that not everybody likes that thing as much as they do.

      • One point on which we may be in agreement is the concern over the persistence of journal articles after the journal goes dark. Consider the Journal of Aquatic Ecosystem Stress and Recovery which published 303 articles from 1992-2002. After the title was discontinued, it had a note saying it was continued in Hydrobiologia. My library subscribes to Hydrobiologia but the JAESR articles are not accessible within that subscription. After inquiring, I was informed that JAESR is available as an individual subscription. What library would bother to pay for access to a small, dead journal?

        The archiving service did archive JAESR from 1997-2002 and has 120 articles available. So out of 303 published from 1992-2002, 183 appear to be lost in space.

        A small loss from a niche journal? Maybe not to those authors or someone like me who comes along later trying to synthesize that niche topic? Kudos to the archiving services, but their safety net has a mesh size that allows small fish to slip through.

  1. If you haven’t done it already, I strongly suggest folks spend a few minutes playing around with the data viz tool on gendered language in teaching, linked in Athene Donald’s post.

  2. We already have four poll respondents claiming to be using deep learning neural networks to get free meals at Mirazur, which makes me suspicious that the respondents aren’t taking the poll *entirely* seriously. 🙂

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