Friday links: all-virtual #ESA2021, Swanne Gordon interview, and more

Also this week: all the reasons Jeremy’s now looking forward to the rest of this year less than he was a week ago, forward vs. reverse causal inference, and more.

From Jeremy:

Evolutionary biologist Swanne Gordon on diversity in nature and academia. Very good interview.

The demography of the membership of three evolution societies.

The ESA’s 2020 annual report to its members. Which was incomplete when I looked earlier this week; the 2020 financials page was blank when I visited it. Also, question: is the ESA sure it needs to keep doing external peer review of contributed meeting abstracts (which it started doing recently), given that 95% of abstracts are accepted?

On flexibly switching between forward and reverse causal inference. Very astute blog post that’s not at all technical. From social science, but it definitely generalizes. You should read it. Here’s an extended quote from the opening, to encourage you to click through:

One can see this regularly when a researcher presents the results of a randomized experiment designed to test whether a treatment improves some outcome (a tutoring intervention designed to improve student achievement, let’s say), and an audience member asks a pointed question specific not to the findings but rather to their own causal variable of interest—economic inequality, for example. The audience member may ask why the researcher didn’t manipulate their own construct of interest, or perhaps whether the researcher “accounted” for their construct of interest—presumably, in some way other than designing the study to distribute it equally, on expectation, between groups.

After watching these dynamics in action for several years, I think that they have something to do with the distinction between “forward causal inference and reverse causal questions” (see Gelman and Imbens here). The hypothetical researcher presenting the tutoring evaluation is in forward causal inference mode (“What would happen to y if one did x?”) But the hypothetical audience member is in reverse causal question mode. (“Why do some kids have higher achievement test scores than others?”) When people are in these two different modes, they’re likely to talk past one another…

How public health messaging on Covid-19 backfired.

I’m very late to this, and I doubt it will resonate with many parents who’ve been raising children over the past year, but here’s Zena Hitz on escape from quarantine.

I’m late to this, but here’s ESA’s lessons learned from the 2020 virtual meeting. I do think their survey of reasons for attending the meeting should have included the option “I want to support the ESA.” Not surprised that the networking aspect of the meeting was rated just fair or poor by 40% of participants. And I wonder if some of those who rated it better than that were grading on a curve. I’m not sure what the ESA can do to improve the networking aspect, but I guess we’ll see. I’m a bit surprised that I haven’t seen more hot takes saying “networking is overrated anyway”, or “networking at conferences is a bad thing on balance because it favors [group of people], so it’s good that virtual meetings make networking hard”. It’s a “fox and the grapes” thing–to cope with not being able to have something you wanted, convince yourself that that you never really wanted it in the first place. Or that you, and the world, are better off without it. I guess most people just miss in-person interactions so much that they’re not going to try to convince themselves, or anyone else, that actually they don’t miss in-person interactions.

Continuing to follow the line of thought from the previous link: goddammit. 😦 I’m not questioning the decision, I totally understand the reasons for it. I just really, really miss the in-person ESA meeting. The possibility of a partially in-person ESA meeting in 2021 was one of the things I was most looking forward to for later this year. Now that hope is gone. 😦

Welcome to my world. 😦

8 thoughts on “Friday links: all-virtual #ESA2021, Swanne Gordon interview, and more

  1. Agree with your comment about attending ESA2020 to support the Society. That’s why I did. I’ve attended some other virtual meetings since then that I thought were much better in part because they still attempted to maintain as much synchronicity as possible. Of course, part of my dissatisfaction about ESA 2020 was my inability to police my own local distractions during the week with an asynchronous schedule.

    Also, those responses to “met expectations”…well, if expectations were low/unsure then it was easy to meet or exceed them.

    • Yeah, that’s the main reason I attended. Same for some other folks I know (yes, that’s just anecdotal of course).

      Re: attendees’ low expectations being met or exceeded, that’s what I meant by my remark about grading on a curve. Certainly, my own expectations were both very low and were exceeded!

      That’s been a running theme in my own life for the past year–things have been terrible for me, just not *as* terrible for me as I feared they would be back in, say, March 2020.

  2. It ought to be possible for online conferences to drive networking. You could just line each participant up for a schedule of (say) 10 encounters with other individual participants, half chosen by keyword and half completely random. Encounters like speed-dating, max 3 mins a side, but of course you can talk more later if you feel like it. Arguably better than networking via coffee line or via who you know already. If participants were handed a schedule for their 10 encounters, most would probably front up, don’t you think?

    • Sure, that’s worth trying. Perhaps some conferences have already done something like that?

      Personally, I’d hate it. I’d find it both much less enjoyable and much less useful than the sorts of interactions that I engage in at in-person conferences. Different strokes for different folks, of course.

      • So then, can you put your finger on what it is exactly that makes your interactions at in-person meetings more useful? Is it that you get to pick people if they said something interesting in their talk? Or that you get introduced by someone whose opinion you trust? Or that you’re able to sketch an idea on a scrap of paper? Or is it that actual corporeal closeness makes the difference for you?

        Lots of people say the personal encounters at conferences are important to them, and I’ve been wondering which aspects could be done equally online versus which couldn’t.

      • A lot of it is corporeal physical presence.

        A lot of it is choice and flexibility. At an in-person conference, you can choose the people you want to interact with, and for how long.

        Some of it is spontaneity. If I see someone across the room at an in-person conference, I can go over to them and say hi or introduce myself.

    • A single opinion:

      I participated in a live speed-dating networking exercise at a cancer conference a few years ago. It was HORRIBLE. It was 12 iterations of intense “I don’t know this person, what am I going to say, is it my turn to talk or theirs?” stress and zero payoff because the time was too short for a real discussion. So putting aside Zoom vs. in-person, this format just doesn’t work for me, or (from what I heard afterwards) for a lot of people.

      Gregarious extroverts may deal well with speed dating, but they are likely to be able to network with any or no format. Shy introverts will probably not sign up for it. I felt I had to, due to pressure from the organizer; but next time I would resist, because it was worse than useless. I had no social energy left for anything else that entire meeting–I just had to go to my room and hide, or go on walks.

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