Also this week: good news, Meghan is linking again! So keep reading to learn about preparing for a busy semester, has the replication crisis come to ecology, Twitter vs. academia, the pointlessness of multiple rounds of review, Alex Trebek vs. David Attenborough, Pink Floyd vs. your introduction section, using autocomplete algorithms to play chess, and much, much, more! Get comfortable, there’s lots of good stuff this week.
Science had a wonderful feature about Nancy Moran, focusing primarily on her amazing contributions to science, but also covering different aspects of her career and life. Nancy’s work shows how many can be learned by really thoroughly exploring a particular study system.
Carly Ziter had a beautiful love letter to important trees from her life.
Stephen Heard urges us to pay attention to our topic sentences. To which I say: Amen, and please tell me your biological results, not your statistical ones, in the topic sentences of your results section.
Applications for the ASN Jasper Loftus-Hills Young Investigator Awards are due Jan. 15! As a former member and chair of the ASN YIA committee, I encourage you to apply. Every year this award attracts a diverse, strong applicant pool–but yet many other strong applicants don’t bother to apply. Here’s my old post addressing some of the reasons why some prospective applicants might hesitate to apply. Bottom line, it’s a great award program, you should apply if you’re eligible.
Has the replication crisis come to ecology? A new Nature paper failed to replicate three high profile, widely-reported effects of ocean acidification on reef fish behavior. The reported replication attempts are a mixture of direct and conceptual replications of previous work. It’s very much outside my field, but I read it and as best I can tell it looks like strong work to me. The raw data and behavior videos are online for anyone to evaluate themselves. The Nature paper also states, based on bootstrapping of its own data, that among-individual variances in behavior previously reported in certain previous studies of this topic are “lower than what is statistically realistic”, given the sample sizes used in those previous studies. I confess I’m not quite sure how to interpret that…hint?…and don’t want to speculate outside my area of expertise. I’m not able to independently evaluate what levels of among-individual variation are “statistically realistic” here. I will say that, personally, I’m uncomfortable with a Nature paper even hinting ambiguously that somebody else might have published impossible, fake, or otherwise bad data. To be clear, I don’t know if that’s what the authors were trying to hint, but that’s naturally how it reads to me and to many others. My concern here isn’t the intentions of the authors of this Nature paper. Nor is my concern here to do with whether those previous papers do or don’t report “statistically realistic” data. My concern here is that ambiguous hints about possible mistakes or misconduct can do real damage. We’ve already seen a previous case of somebody publicly but ambiguously hinting that somebody else might have faked data (the Myhrvold-Erikson case). Myhrvold’s hints turned out to be baseless, but not before Erikson had his reputation dragged through the mud in the New York Times. As another example, think of how some people’s legitimate public criticisms of Amy Cuddy’s work on “power posing” crossed the line into personal attacks on her competence and integrity, and were seen by others as licensing personal attacks on her (see also). The authors of this Nature paper definitely could’ve compared their results to previous results without ambiguously hinting that previous authors might have done something wrong. In general, if you want to raise concerns about flawed, impossible, or fake data, there are appropriate formal channels for that and you should use them. Outside of those formal channels, I think you should go out of your way to avoid publicly saying things that could be interpreted as accusations of scientific misconduct. I think ambiguous public hints do more harm than good on balance, no matter how they’re intended…Anyway, turning back to the scientific issues here, some of authors of the previous studies attribute the replication failure to methodological differences between their studies and this new paper. FWIW, that argument is one that’s been repeatedly appealed to, and then decisively ruled out, in preregistered replication studies in psychology. I leave it to you to decide if those replication results from psychology should affect your inferences about fish behavior in acidifying oceans (I could imagine good arguments either way). News story in Science here, on which my own summary is partially based.
Some interesting (and to my mind, mostly plausible-seeming) hypotheses for how Twitter is changing academia. What do you think of these? They’re based on one person’s anecdotal impressions, so they’re hard to evaluate. Anyone know of data speaking to any of these?
Very interesting thread from Ramez Naam on economic vs. moral arguments against fossil fuel investment, and who to target those economic arguments to in order to actually make a difference.
Related to the previous item: can you raise the cost of doing business for fossil fuel companies by…ethical appeals to index fund managers?
Hoisted from the comments: Amy Dalal on preparing for an especially busy semester.
Hoisted from the comments: the introduction to your next paper should be “more like CCR, less like Pink Floyd“. Our commenters are the best. 🙂
Interview with Helen Roy questioning the stigma against “invasive” species.
NIH is revising its definition of “economically disadvantaged” in an attempt to encourage a more socioeconomically diverse scientific workforce.
I’d always thought the Fermi paradox was too speculative to be worth talking about. But I actually learned a lot from this thread on it.
Papers in predatory journals are far less likely to be cited than are papers in legitimate journals, according to a new as-yet-unreviewed preprint. Though I suppose a glass-half-empty person (which I’m not) might be bothered that any paper in any predatory journal is ever cited as all. Note that I haven’t read the preprint; just passing along news of its existence if you wish to read and evaluate it yourself.
Barbara Kingsolver’s new novel, Unsheltered, features a 19th century schoolteacher enamored of Charles Darwin’s ideas. The teacher’s neighbor is real life naturalist Mary Treat. NY Times review. It sounds up my alley.
New unreviewed preprint from economics suggesting that, in that field, there’s no point to more than one round of review and revision. Note that I have yet to read it; just passing it along because it sounds like it might be worth your time. (ht Marginal Revolution)
A while back I argued in favor of betting your scientific beliefs, on the grounds that it’s useful mental discipline. And maybe that would work for some people. But for most people, it seems that my argument was wrong. It rested on bad assumptions about psychology. Publicly committing to a view (say, by making a public bet) makes people less receptive to information showing they were wrong. There might of course be other arguments for scientific bets, and adversarial collaborations between people with opposing scientific views. Such as to help resolve scientific controversies in the eyes of nonparticipants.
I’m hilariously late to this (as in years late; sorry…), but here’s the very interesting-sounding STEM Fatale podcast. The two hosts teach each other about historical and current women in STEM. In the comments, share your science podcast recommendations. (Random aside: it seems like people who might’ve started awesome blogs 10-15 years ago are now starting awesome podcasts instead. Which is fine; the world is always turning.)
Stephen Heard looks back on his first 5 years of blogging. No word on whether Stephen plans to follow the cool kids into podcasting. 😉
Thought: Alex Trebek and Jeopardy are underrated in the pantheon of people and tv shows that promote learning and knowledge. When scientists (including me) think about prominent figures and tv shows promoting learning and knowledge, we tend to think of people like David Attenborough and Bill Nye, and tv shows like nature documentaries. We should think of Alex Trebek and Jeopardy too.
Twitter will soon let you restrict who can reply to your tweets. Sounds like a good idea to me. I say that even though it surely means that some prominent people on Twitter who say incorrect or terrible things will no longer get ratioed for saying incorrect or terrible things. Not being able to ratio Bret Stephens or whoever seems like a price well worth paying in order to give everybody the tools to moderate and curate their own feeds and threads. I also like this suggestion for a further tweak. I also think it would be good if Twitter would stop publicly displaying the number of replies, likes, and retweets each tweet receives (fat chance, I know). Note that I am a non-Twitter user who occasionally uses a web browser to look at the Twitter feeds of a few non-scientists, so you may wish to discount my Twitter-related opinions accordingly.
Teaching a predictive text algorithm to, um, play chess. (ht Matt Levine)
Meanwhile, in Canada (!) 😀 (ht @dandrezner)