A case study in how to choose one’s methods when there’s no agreed “best” method (or, how should I estimate heterogeneity in a random effects meta-analysis?)

This blog post is me thinking out loud about something I bet all of you have thought about at some point: what method should I use to do X when there’s no agreed-upon “standard” or “best” method? I’m thinking about this problem in the context of random effects meta-analysis, but I think what I have to say will resonate more broadly. Plus, there’s a little poll at the end where you can vote on what I should do. 🙂

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We all want to write papers that synthesize, make connections, and fill in gaps. But what if sometimes we need to do the opposite?

A standard template for a scientific paper is to identify a gap in the literature, and fill it. But, as sociologist Kieran Healy astutely remarked yesterday, the most important papers do the opposite:

Now I’m wondering if this point generalizes.

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Good essays on the diversity of research “cultures” within scholarly fields?

Mathematician W. Timothy Gowers has a great essay called “The two cultures of mathematics“. He identifies two kinds of mathematicians (“theory builders” and “problems solvers”), shows that one kind tends to misunderstand and look down on the other, and explains in concrete detail why mathematics needs both cultures.

Question: are there good essays or books like this for other scholarly fields? Essays or books providing a taxonomy of two (or more) research “cultures” within the field, showing that those cultures often misunderstand/dislike/devalue one another, and arguing that the field actually needs all those cultures in order to reach its full potential?

I’ll also accept nominations of essays and books bemoaning a lack of diversity of research “cultures” within a scholarly field. For instance, Lee Smolin’s The Trouble With Physics, arguing that it’s been bad for fundamental physics to put all of its eggs in the basket of a single theoretical approach (string theory).

Great moments in random knowledge

I’m currently reading a philosophy of science dissertation. At one point, the dissertation mentions an old behavioral ecology paper, Milinski 1987. Which is weirdly pleasing to me–because I happen to know a lot about that paper! Back when I was an undergrad in 1993, I took an animal behavior course. I had to write a term paper on a then-current controversy in animal behavior. I wrote about Milinski 1987 and follow-up experiments by others.

In the comments, share your own stories of random knowledge or specialist expertise that no one would expect you to have. 🙂

Blast from the past: the most controversial ideas in ecology

Has it really been two years already since we did our poll on the most controversial ideas in ecology? If you missed that post, or don’t remember it, you should totally click through. The results of that poll were fascinating. To this day, I’m still mulling over the fact that, the more expertise ecologists have on any given idea, the less they agree about it!

Tenure-track asst. professor position in Applied Data Science at the University of Calgary. Please apply!

The Faculty of Science at the University of Calgary is advertising for a tenure-track asst. professor position in applied data science. Here’s the ad; I’m summarized key details below along with a bit of background information and context that’s not in the ad.

This is a very broad search. The search committee is going to have one member from each of the departments in the Faculty of Science, and the successful candidate could be appointed in any of those departments. My department (Biological Sciences) certainly would welcome someone working with big data in ecology and evolution, so if that describes you, you should definitely apply!

Non-Canadians are welcome and encouraged to apply. We are legally obliged to give preference to Canadian citizens and permanent residents, but that doesn’t mean that we never hire non-Canadians. My department just hired Kelsey Lucas, who’s from the US, and over the years we’ve hired a number of other profs who weren’t Canadian citizens or permanent residents at the time they were hired. Every application will receive full consideration. Do not assume that it’d be a waste of time to apply unless you’re a Canadian, because that’s not true!

The University of Calgary is one of Canada’s leading research universities. We have about 30,000ish undergrads and 8,000ish graduate students. The Dept. of Biological Sciences is the biggest department on campus, we have 50ish faculty and 160ish graduate students. Between our department and other units on campus, we have a bunch of outstanding evolutionary biologists working with genomic data (Sean Rogers, Sam Yeaman, James Wasmuth, others). Outside Biological Sciences, we just started a professional graduate program in Data Science, in which the successful applicant will be expected to teach. There’s lots of other stuff going on here in areas adjacent to this position. If you self-identify as a data scientist, I think you’ll find the University of Calgary an exciting place to work.

Calgary is a vibrant city of about 1.3 million people, located just 45 minutes drive from the Canadian Rockies, with all the opportunities for recreation that implies. Here is what the bit of the Canadian Rockies that’s closest to the university looks like. Come on, tell me you don’t want to live here!

Application deadline is June 15.

Best tv and movie portrayals of academia?

On Twitter, history professor Tim Burke mused recently that tv and movie portrayals of academia tend to fall into a small number of boxes. So that many aspects of academia, and many sorts of academics, are either never portrayed on screen, or else are portrayed in a way that rings very false to anyone with any experience of academia.

I agree. (Although I might not be in a position to judge, given how little tv I watch, and how few movies I’ve seen over the last decade!)

Hence my question for you: what are the best tv and movie portrayals of academia? Doesn’t necessarily have to be tv or movies about academia. Could just be, say, dramas or romantic comedies or whatever with characters who just so happen to be in academia. It just has to ring true in its handling of academia and the people in it. Bonus points for anything that’s not a biopic of a famous academic.

Here’s an opening bid: Real Genius. Ok, the plot is daft and the characters are exaggerated. But it’s a comedy, the sort for which “daft plot” and “exaggerated characters” go with the territory. The important thing is that Real Genius exaggerates real stuff. Many of the pranks in the film are based on real pranks played by Cal Tech undergrads. And the characters ring true as well, I think. As director Martha Coolidge said of Real Genius, “The audience has a kind of sixth sense, they know when they’re being lied to. I was taken by the story from the start; I’m fascinated by science. But I knew that to make the comedy work – and the characters worth caring about – we had to do our homework.”

Second opening bid: Lucky Jim (1957) and Lucky Jim (2003). I’ve never seen either. But the book on which they’re based is maybe the most famous academic comedy-satire ever. The book rang true to me when I read it. So I’d think and hope the film versions would ring true as well.

Any other bids?