Why I threw in the towel on “data is”

Warning: mostly trivial.

I have several friends who are ready to die on the hill that’s the plurality of “data”.  Writing “the data suggests” or “the data is strong”, for these folks, isn’t just wrong: it’s a crime against the sanctity of the English language, and a grievous insult to right-thinking scholars everywhere.  And for some reason (probably because they know I wrote a book about writing), these particular friends turn to me for backup.  But here’s the thing: once, I was on their side; but I’ve thrown in the towel. Continue reading

Don’t overinterpret “preferably” in a job ad

My university department is hiring – two positions at once, which is unusual and extremely exciting for us (both positions close February 29, 2020, if you’re interested).  We’re looking for a food web ecologist and a neurobiologist.  Except that if you read the job ads, we’re looking for those things with the usual laundry list of preferably subdisciplines, study systems, and techniques.  Not long after the ads posted, a colleague of mine described the neurobiology one as “so focused… cannabinoids in zebrafish?” and wondered if there was any point in anyone else applying; indeed, wondering if the ad might be targeted at a single individual.  This raises a question that’s much more general than our Neurobiology ad: when you see a job ad with a preferably, how much should you read into it?

The short answer: not much*. Continue reading

The magical writing trick that’s right under our noses

Writing is hard, and over the years I’ve developed a bunch of tricks that make it a bit easier for me.  Some are weird, some are complicated, and some are idiosyncratic enough that they probably work only for me.  But if I had to pick one trick that could work for just about anyone, I’d pick one that might seem too simple and too obvious to be worth mentioning.  It isn’t, though.  It’s this: pay attention to the topic sentence.

Wait!  Don’t click away just yet.  Yes, you learned about topic sentences in high school (so did I). Continue reading

A year of books – and why

This year, I’ve decided to log, and share with anyone who’s interested, the books I read.  I’ll tweet them using the hashtag #AYearOfBooks, and periodically collect them here.  Now, I’ll forgive you if you don’t care (in which case, you’ve probably already clicked away).  Actually, I expect most folks won’t care.  But for those who are still here: why?

A goodly few of my colleagues on Twitter track paper reading, often with the rather ambitious #365papers hashtag. Continue reading

Gosh, that’s a lot of squirrels – thoughts on 5 years’ worth

Warning: navel-gazing.

Scientist Sees Squirrel is five years old today.  That’s not very old for a human, a whale, or an oak tree, but it feels like something of an accomplishment for a blog.  So, no new post this week; instead, a few reflections on the squirrels along the way.

Metaphorical squirrels, that is. Continue reading

Blogs are dying; long live blogs

Happy Boxing Day!  Which is also the Feast of Stephen, and although that’s obviously named for a much earlier Stephen, I do approve of feasts.


You hear a lot about how blogs are dying.  You’ve heard that for many years, actually, and to some extent it’s probably true: I gather that there are fewer “big” blogs than there were a decade ago, and the ones that are left worry about declining readership.  Among other things, some of the discourse that happened on blogs now happens, with obviously reduced quality, on Twitter* and other shorter-form social media.

You will not be surprised to hear me argue that there is still tremendous value in blogs – both in writing them and in reading them. Continue reading

Insects are incredibly cool (or, a whirlwind tour of my Entomology course)

When I’m not writing Scientist Sees Squirrel (or writing books about the lovers, heroes, and bums commemorated in the Latin names of organisms), I have a day job.  I’m a professor in the Department of Biology at the University of New Brunswick, in Fredericton, Canada.  Over my years at UNB I’ve taught first-year biology, introductory ecology, population biology, biostatistics, scientific writing, non-majors biology, field ecology, and more.  But I’ve just finished teaching the course I might love most of all: entomology.

I don’t really know what I am, scientifically, but I’m often mistaken for an entomologist. And it’s true, I know some stuff about insects.  The most important thing I know about them is probably that they’re just about endlessly diverse, endlessly beautiful, and endlessly fascinating. Continue reading