Monthly Archives: May 2015

What’s your most undercited paper?

Back in February, I asked “What’s your most overcited paper?. That left an obvious question hanging: what, instead, is your most undercited paper? I’m going to tell you about mine, and I hope you’ll tell me about yours in the Comments. You may be worried that this will be an exercise in which I whine that nobody appreciates my work, but in fact that’s not what I have in mind. Well, not exactly*. Continue reading

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Nature’s pharmacy? “Medicinal” plants in the garden

Photo: Echinacea purpurea; credit: Jamie Heard

Note: This is a science outreach piece belonging to a series I wrote for the newsletter of CC BY-SA 88x31the Fredericton Botanic Garden. I’d be happy to see it modified for use elsewhere and so am posting the text here under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license . If you use it, though, I’d appreciate hearing where and how.


You don’t need to spend long on the Web, or talking with family and friends, to hear about the wonderful potential of plants to treat human illness. The medicinal value of plant extracts is a major theme in “alternative”, “naturopathic”, “traditional”, and “herbal” medicine – and indeed, in just plain medicine, because many of the drugs we use to restore our health have their origins in the biochemical machinery of plants.

Look around the Botanic Garden – or your own garden – and you’ll see plenty of plants with historical, and often continued, medicinal uses. Continue reading

The dumbest thing I ever said to a reviewer

Last month I told you about the dumbest thing I ever said to an editor. It would be great if that had run me out of embarrassing stories, but actually, that’s a pretty deep well. Today: the dumbest thing I ever said to a reviewer. Mind you, at the time I didn’t realize that I was saying it to a reviewer, and I’ll say more about that; but first, the embarrassing story. Continue reading

Why grant funding should be spread thinly

How should a granting agency distribute the funds at its disposal? Different agencies have different answers to that question. The NSF (USA), for example, has traditionally awarded operating grants to rather few applicants, with each successful applicant getting quite a lot of money. NSERC (Canada), on the other hand, has traditionally awarded operating grants to most applicants, but with each successful applicant getting less money (a recent snapshot and some discussion here). NSERC has been moving slowly but steadily in the direction of the NSF model, with lower funding percentages, larger grants for top-ranked applications, and new categories of super-grants intended to recognize “excellence” (e.g., Vanier graduate scholarships, Banting postdoctoral scholarships, Canada Excellence Research Chairs program). Scientists have widely decried NSERC’s shift (for example, here) and NSF’s practice (for example, here and here) – but are they right? How should an agency like NSERC optimally distribute its funds? Continue reading

Are reviewers crazy? Or are they saints?

Image: © Jason McDermott, with permission

Are reviewers crazy? Or are they saints? Both, of course, and neither; but I’ll try to do better than that.

I’m writing this post because last week, the peer-review comic (above) was wildly popular on Twitter – it must have come up in my feed several dozen times. Which is reasonable enough, because it’s pretty funny, and we all feel this way about peer review from time to time. Those reviewers are crazy, eh? And sometimes they are. Sometimes they’re really crazy (for instance when they suggest a paper needs some male coauthors and bring the internet down in flames around PLoS One’s writhingly apologetic leadership)*. Continue reading

Wonderful Latin Names, Part 4: Yi qi

(Image: Yi qi © 2015 Brian Choo. Thanks, Brian!)

Latin names can be wonderful for many reasons. So far, I’ve blogged about a bird whose name has rhythm, a fish with a fascinating etymology, and a butterfly named for a pioneering (and amazing) woman in entomology. Today’s entry is Yi qi, a newly described dinosaur whose name is interesting in origin and sound, and also wonderfully and surprisingly short.

Actually, the dinosaur is pretty wonderful too. Continue reading