Monthly Archives: December 2015

The Plant Gastrodiversity Game

Photo: Mangosteens (Garcinia mangostana, Clusiaceae) CC0 via

The diversity of life on Earth is astonishing – which for an ecologist, is both exciting (new species everywhere I turn!) and frustrating (how can I possibly know all these species?). The temptation to have some fun with this is irresistible, and a while back my wife and I set up a nerdstravaganza game that let us learn a little more about plant diversity. In brief: we (and some friends) gave ourselves two weeks to eat members of as many plant families as possible. If you think that sounds fun, well, you’re right (and also, you’re just about as big a science nerd as me).

So in case you’d like to try your hand at it, here are the rules. Continue reading


How plants prepare for winter

Image: Winter spruce, CC-0 via

Note: This is a science outreach piece belonging to a series I wrote for the newsletter of the 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.

Winter is here, and you’ve probably been getting yourself, and your home and garden, ready. Our Garden is making its own preparations. Our plants can’t head inside, or put on parkas and tuques, so they have to be ready to be cold. And there’s a lot more to that than meets the eye.

There are actually two problems that plants need to solve in winter. Continue reading

60 new odonates from Africa, in a paper with style

Photos: Chlorocypha aurora (male; above), and Pseudagrion tanganyicum (male, below) © Jens Kipping, used by permission. These are two of the 60 beautiful new species described in Dijkstra et al.

Social media (notably Jeff Ollerton’s blog) brought a wonderful paper to my attention last week: Sixty new dragonfly and damselfly species from Africa, by Klaas-Douwe Dijkstra, Jens Kipping, and Nicolas Mézière. If you’re an entomologist or a biodiversity scientist, you’ll be excited by the news of so many new species in a group we think of as well-known. But even if you (horrors!) don’t care a whit about African dragonflies, you should download and read* this paper for what it demonstrates about language and style in scientific writing. Continue reading

Post-publication peer review and the problem of privilege

It’s been hard to escape calls lately for a paradigm shift in scientific publishing (most of them starting with a pronouncement that “publishing is broken”). We’re supposed to abandon pre-publication peer review, and replace it with a system of online preprint posting, open to anybody with no or minimal screening, that allows post-publication “peer review” in the form of a commenting forum. The preprint servers are here already: ArXiv has been an important channel for communication in physics and mathematics for years now, and BioRχiv is newly arrived in biology. What’s interesting is the other half of the prescription: the notion that preprint servers obviate the need for pre-publication peer review or for the existence of conventional scientific journals – and we’d be better off without them.

glacial pace tweetDoes this make sense? Continue reading

Should you appeal when a journal rejects your paper?

Image: Asim Saeed via CC-BY-2.0

Everyone who publishes in science gets manuscripts rejected. And I do mean everyone: take, for example, Higgs (1964) and Akerlof (1970) – both were initially rejected, but ended up central to their authors’ Nobel prizes. So when a manuscript of yours is rejected, it will sting; but you’re in good company.

When you are (inevitably) rejected, should you appeal the decision? Continue reading

Searching for squirrels

Photo: Red squirrel, by Drew McLennan via, CC BY-NC 2.0

When you have a blog, it’s possible to obsess over the statistics you have access to: chiefly, visitor counts by day, by month, by post, and by country of origin*. But nothing on the stats page is more fun than the list of search terms – terms by which people have navigated the seas of the Internet to wind up anchored (or perhaps more likely, accidentally beached) at Scientist Sees Squirrel. Inspired by similar exercises from Small Pond Science and The Lab and Field**, I present a few of the more interesting search terms by which this blog can be found.

  • lesser scientist

Continue reading

Kind mentors, and the other kind

This post is, I suppose, something of a bait-and-switch – because I don’t actually want you to read my post. Instead, I want you to head on over to Small Pond Science and read this one, in which Terry McGlynn argues that “a lot of scientists are kind, careful, and caring”.

I bet that post didn’t get a whole lot of eyeballs. Positive ones often don’t; what people really seem to gravitate toward is disaster stories about how horrible everything is. Continue reading

Two ways I flubbed my first job interview

Academic jobs are hard to get (there’s an understatement), and as a result, nearly everyone has a tale to tell of failure on the academic job market. I have plenty of those tales – but today, I’ll tell just one. It’s the story of the first (academic) job interview I ever had, and how I found two different ways not to get the job. Continue reading