The Scientist’s Guide to Writing is a year old!

One year ago*, The Scientist’s Guide to Writing hit the world’s bookshelves. A year is very young for a human or a redwood tree; it’s very old for a butterfly.  I hope a year is still quite young for The Scientist’s Guide, although that depends entirely on whether people keep reading and using it.

People often ask me how the book is “doing”.  I’d love to know the answer to that!  Continue reading

On being nerdsniped by Dynamic Ecology

Photos: Artificial moths from @mothgenerator; thanks to Katie Rose Pipkin for permission to reproduce them here.

Warning: 100% silly.

So, a couple of weeks ago, Jeremy Fox over at Dynamic Ecology nerdsniped me with this link to the Moth Generator twitter account.

If you haven’t seen it, Moth Generator is a clever bot that constructs fictional moths by (somehow) recombining a library of graphic generation rules. For an entomologist and a nerd, like me, this is completely fascinating.  If you’re either or both, I recommend that you check it out. Continue reading

A month of spamvitations

Photo:  Wall of SPAM © Lee Coursey via flickr.com CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Esteemed contributor.  Revered speaker.  Renowned researcher. You get these e-mails too: invitations to publish papers in fake* journals, to join fake editorial boards, to speak at fake conferences.  I’d certainly known I got a lot of them; but that was unquantified, because I usually just grin at their clumsy phrasing and then delete them without further thought.  “What”, I thought, “would happen if I kept track of them all for a month?  Would I learn anything?  Could I milk a blog post out of it?” Continue reading

We praise originality, but we don’t seem to value it

Image: Citation impact vs. originality, for 55 of my own publications.  See text for explanation.

 Warning: a bit cynical.

Last week I filled out a grad-school recommendation form for a terrific undergraduate student.  Among other things, it asked me to rate her “originality”.  That got me thinking.

We tell each other often that we admire scientists who are original thinkers. Originality is often an explicit criterion in manuscript assessment, in tenure assessment, even at science fairs.  The related idea of “novelty” is a major criterion in many (if not most) grant applications. Herman Melville might almost have been speaking for scientists when he said “It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation*”.

So we praise originality. But do we value it?  I’m skeptical.  Continue reading

Am I the last holdout against making (publication-quality) figures in R?

It’s been amazing, over the last decade, to watch the incoming tide of R swamp every other tool for statistical analysis (at least in my own field, ecology and evolution). I’ve mostly come to accept my new statistical overlord*.  But what I don’t understand is R graphics. Continue reading

Persistence in publishing: the Tubthumping strategy

Image: Asim Saeed via flickr.com CC-BY-2.0

 This is a joint post by Steve Heard and Andrew Hendry (crossposted here on Andrew’s blog). 

Another week, another rejection, right?  If you’ve been in science long at all, you almost certainly have a bulging file of rejections for grants, manuscripts, fellowships, and even jobs. Here, for example, is Steve’s truly impressive job-rejection history; and here’s a previous analysis of Andrew’s manuscript rejections.

We were part of a recent Twitter exchange that began when Steve tweeted in celebration of submitting a manuscript – to its third different journal:

Continue reading

Reviewing with imposter syndrome

Like most people, I often feel a little impostery. I’m convinced that sooner or later, people will notice that my work isn’t actually all that important, that my papers are somehow flawed, that I don’t really know what I’m talking about when I teach.  (People may even figure out that Scientist Sees Squirrel is seldom original, mostly wrong, and only occasionally interesting.)

I was part of some discussion on Twitter recently about imposter syndrome in the particular context of peer reviewing.  Some folks worry that they really aren’t qualified to review.  They worry that they may make the wrong recommendation: either miss a critical flaw or (conversely) see something as a critical flaw that really isn’t.  As an editor, I’ve had people whose judgement I respect decline to review on the grounds that they didn’t feel confident in their reviewing abilities.  Ironically, these are often the early career scientists who tend to be absolutely terrific reviewers.

For a variety of reasons, I think this fear is generally misplaced.  Continue reading