Friday links: COVID-19 totally proves that you were right about everything all along [eyeroll], and more

Also this week: using Title IX for harassment, nobody else cares what you think their research priorities should be, Nature TTL photography competition winners, review of the new Marie Curie biopic, and more.

From Jeremy:

The terrifying story of a lesbian academic who was subjected to a Title IX investigation for sexual harassment, based on completely fabricated anonymous accusations. It cost her and her wife their dream jobs at another university, tens of thousands of dollars, and severe stress. And although they managed to identify the liar, they aren’t legally permitted to publicly name the individual, who could do the same thing to someone else tomorrow.

Preregistered experiments aren’t much help for fundamental research in the absence of theory, and they can even be a net negative in the presence of weak theory. I really like the quote from Greg Francis: “you don’t get much value from preregistering guesses”.

The winners of the new Nature TTL photography competition. Some truly outstanding images. The last image is a picture of me from earlier this week, doing social distancing. 🙂 (ht my dad)

There’s little evidence that research prioritization papers (e.g., “The identification of 100 ecological questions of high policy relevance in the UK”) actually have any effect on ecological research priorities. I’m not surprised.

Nature reviews the new Marie Curie biopic Radioactive. Sounds like a fairly disappointing film. Like, why have Pierre Curie go off to Stockholm to accept the 1903 Nobel Prize for physics while Marie is left at home to be “just a wife”? In reality, Pierre Curie refused to accept the 1903 Nobel Prize for physics unless Marie was awarded the prize as well. That seems like a dramatic real-life incident that would fit well with the movie’s story arc, and isn’t improved by messing with it. But I dunno, I haven’t seen the movie. Have you seen it? What did you think of it?

One of the least-important negative effects of COVID-19: creating fertile ground for fake viral stories about wild animals roaming locked-down cities.

Another of the least-important negative effects of COVID-19: making smart people say (more or less), “I predict that the coronavirus outbreak will force society to permanently change in…whichever way I find desirable, thereby proving I was right about everything all along.” (ht Sean Trende) In particular, I was struck by the multiple smart people in the linked piece predicting that the coronavirus outbreak will stamp out anti-science, anti-expert sentiment. To which, good luck with that. Like Sean Trende, I appreciated that Theda Skocpol used her contribution to the linked piece to highlight the huge, already-ongoing consequences of the outbreak for the many people who have lost their jobs and lack much financial cushion. Rather than making “predictions” that are just wish-fulfillment fantasies.

Some of you who are Twitter users may be interested in this: a browser extension that hides all metrics on Twitter. (ht Ezra Klein)

A huge longitudinal study of why US college students major in psychology. Basically, it comes down to (i) exposure to psychology in high school, and (ii) the perception that psychology is easier than STEM majors. Students who get poor marks often transfer into psychology from STEM fields, whereas students who get good marks often transfer out of psychology into STEM fields. I would be curious to see similar studies of ecology and adjacent fields, such as fish & wildlife. (ht Jeffrey Sachs)

And finally, the Ode to Joy in a time of social distancing. I needed this and I bet you do too. 🙂

10 thoughts on “Friday links: COVID-19 totally proves that you were right about everything all along [eyeroll], and more

  1. A commentator the other day was talking about people having the memory of goldfishes. I forget the precise context but I think it applies to the Corona virus prognosticators. It was only 11 years ago that many of the same people were saying much the same thing about the effects of the financial crisis. And as usual, rumours of the death of capitalism, death of conservatism, rebirth of community etc. etc. proved to have been greatly exaggerated.

    • The ones that really get me are “the huge readership of coronavirus preprints will finally be the thing that kills off for-profit, subscription-based scientific publishing” and “the huge shift to online course delivery will finally kill off in-person classes and replace them with MOOCs”. As Kieran Healy pointed out, that last one is like predicting back in the early days of WW II that people will keep living in the London Underground after the Blitz ends.

      “This pandemic will make everyone reconsider the wisdom of living in cities” is another good one. All of human history refutes that one!

      • I agree that “people have the memory of goldfish”. (Actually perhaps even less). But the situation is potentially fertile ground for a variety of interesting scientific questions — with considerable relevance beyond the scientific, as they have applicability in public health, education, politics, economics, sociology, psychology, and more.

        Why is memory as short as it seems to be nowadays? Has it always been so? Focusing specifically on memory (being careful not to confound with intelligence), how much does it vary with training/practice/environment? If appreciably so, are the benefits most pronounced if experienced at particular ages? Is memory reduced or enhanced by the complexity and information overload present in modern societies? Didn’t writing reduce the degree of need for memory? Doesn’t modern electronic connectivity reduce the need further? Is any actual organismal-level selection for (or against) memory occuring nowadays? (Decreases in memory could actually be selected for under some circumstances if good memory carries some biological costs — beyond the physiological cost, it might, for example, increase unhappiness and indirectly decrease fitness). What about memory (and memory selection) at different levels, for instance, institutional or national? Hasn’t the rise of adjunct faculty (indeed, contingent workers in any organization) reduced institutional/corporate memory?…

        I know next to nothing about memory (perhaps I’ve just forgotten what I once knew!). Reading suggestions (journal articles or reviews, monographs, even popular works, etc.) particularly relevant to any of the aforementioned issues, anyone?

  2. Further to the link in the post about people claiming that coronavirus has proven them right about everything: I want to hear from people who’ve *changed their minds* about something due to the coronavirus outbreak.

    • Especially things that are important to you, and that you had thought a fair bit about over an extended period of time, but that don’t have any very direct connection to the coronavirus outbreak. So, not something like “I no longer think the CDC is great at its job”, or “I never thought I’d live to see millions of new US unemployment claims in one week”, or “Back in Feb. I never imagined the 2020 Olympics would have to be postponed.” And ideally, not something like “during this time of crisis, [thing I have long opposed] is *temporarily* a good idea” (though I’ll take examples like that). I’m looking for examples of people saying “the coronavirus outbreak has forced me to admit I have long been wrong about [thing not directly connected to the outbreak]”.

  3. While it is evident that many have reacted to the COVID19 pandemic with some degree of hysteria, panic and flawed logic- I ponder if there is any tangible benefit in highlighting those issues in the midst of an unfathomable global crisis.

    It might be more prudent for scientists of all walks to hammer home the absolute importance of social distancing and sheltering in place. A preliminary report issued today suggests that those persons infected with COVID19 ooze viral particles to such an extent that every surface within a room and the air become saturated with the contagion… by simply exhaling (not sneezing or coughing).

    The barn is already on fire, Jeremy.

    • I don’t think there’s any marginal benefit to this blog hammering home public health advice, rather than continuing to talk about the sorts of stuff we usually talk about. This blog’s audience–mostly academic ecologists and ecology grad students–already is familiar with and following public health advice. Insofar as we can help anyone cope with the outbreak at all, it’s by providing a little bit of normalcy, by continuing to blog as we usually do.

  4. Re: the perception that psychology is easier than STEM majors: from my own anecdotal experience, I can totally see how students get that impression. Everyone who applies to my department’s grad program and has taken an intro psychology course seems to have gotten an A in it. The same is not true of intro courses in biology, chemistry, physics, etc.

    But YMMV, obviously. I’d be curious to know if there’s some really big study out there of grades in different courses across the US and Canada. Especially intro courses.

    Back when I was an undergrad in the early ’90s, my college newspaper got hold of comprehensive data on the GPA in all majors across the entire college. The mean GPA in science, social science, and humanities courses was shockingly close–the range across those three broad groupings was 3.20-3.23, IIRC. If you drilled down to individual majors, there was more variation, but it didn’t always go in the direction you might naively expect. For instance, Japanese courses had some of the highest GPAs on campus. Not because they were easy, but because they were hard (or at least, had a reputation for being hard). So the only students who took Japanese were students who were very serious about it and who worked very hard at it.

    I’m also now recalling a study we linked to a few years ago (sorry, can’t find it now) of how student choice of major changed at Cornell after Cornell started publishing the average GPA in its courses. Students left majors with low mean GPAs for majors with high mean GPAs.

  5. I concur that continuing with your blog as normal provides many tangible benefits. Jeremy. My point being, that if the pandemic were discussed here, now might not be the best time to comment upon any of its infinite sidebars. Of course, I am not saying my opinion is a correct one, or the only correct opinion. I am not saying yours is incorrect, either. But I confess I was made a bit uneasy with your blog post, because I think some might it view as insensitive.

    The United States & Europe are at the front end of a disaster that defies comprehension. When I say “a disaster that defies comprehension,” I am not saying that this is a watershed moment that shall change everyone’s mind about something. What I am saying is that no one younger than 102, at least in the US, has any reference point for a pandemic of this scope, and thus it defies comprehension.

    Imagine where we will be in one, two, three weeks from now, Jeremy. With Canada not yet hard hit by the virus, I understand your point of view could be at a place now where Americans & Europeans were just weeks ago. From my observations taken across three major US cities, the mood, tone and attitude change on the flip of a switch.

    People have gone from a place of relative calm to a place of fear and panic in roughly a 24 to 48 hour period, and they do so en masse. I think out of this hysteria emerges a variety of false or otherwise flawed beliefs, like, say, “I no longer think the CDC is great at its job”. I feel it is important to know why people say things like this during times of extreme duress. I can say from personal experience that these are attempts to conceptualize a world that for the time being has been turned upside down and inside out.

    When I was but 12 years old, my family home was destroyed by a tornado. My neighborhood was left in shambles. One family of note had been especially difficult to get along with over the years. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say that all neighbors had ceased any interaction with them for many years. When disaster struck, the neighborhood pulled together as one, and these cantankerous folks were welcomed back into the fold.

    I frequently commented to my friends and family, “My gosh, the XYZ family has really changed! They have joined in the effort to repair the neighborhood. They are helping out like everyone else. They are nice people. How wonderful that the tornado made the XYZs good people. They shall always be our friends”…

    Six months later, the XYZs were back to their old tricks. Once again, they pissed off all of the neighbors. No one ever spoke to them again. My epiphany, “that the tornado turned them into good people, ad infinitum,” was a flawed, but not entirely false concept. In reality, they always were good people who behaved badly most of the time. That was a good lesson for a 12 year old. It opened my eyes to some of the inner workings of humanity.

    I remember during the 9-11 crisis that many news commentators would say, “Our world has forever changed”. I felt that was hogwash from the outset. Even so, 9-11 did forever alter some things in the US. The Transportation Safety Agency was created. Passenger and bag screening became mandatory. Local police departments were outfitted with military weaponry. These are just a few of many things that “changed forever” in America, due to 9-11.

    This pandemic shall change some things but temporarily, some things not at all, and at least a few things permanently. I don’t see any harm in people speculating over what these changes might involve, because that thought process helps them conceptualize a world that for now is in complete turmoil- at least in places like Italy, France, New York, New Jersey & Louisiana.

    I only suggest that we consider setting aside the sidebars of the pandemic and instead focus upon the tragic human toll it is exacting, if and when we discuss it in an open format.

    Just my 2 cents worth, though…

  6. Pingback: How (if at all) will the coronavirus pandemic permanently change science and academia? | Dynamic Ecology

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