Monthly Archives: October 2016

Is this blog a “science blog”? If not, what is it?

Warning: mostly navel-gazing, albeit with some thoughts about SciComm and the openness of science.

I didn’t know much about the blogosphere before Scientist Sees Squirrel was born. Turns out maybe I still don’t, since I’m asking the rather obvious question in the title of this post.

So is Scientist Sees Squirrel a “science blog”?  Well, it’s about science (inasmuch as it’s about anything), so in that sense, surely the answer should be “yes”.  But I’ve just read Science Blogging: The Essential Guide, and according to that book, the answer is pretty clearly “no”.  This surprised me a little, but it also crystallized something I’d been wondering rather vaguely about anyway: what is, and what should be, my audience here? Continue reading


Conference nametags mostly suck

I’ve been to a lot of conferences, and at every single one I’ve been issued a nametag.  I don’t know how those nametags get designed, but I’m guessing it’s mostly an afterthought.  That’s because they’re mostly terrible.  If you think about it, that’s pretty astounding – because as easy ways to improve a conference go, better nametags are such low-hanging fruit they’re practically lying on the ground.

Here’s a good place to start: what’s a nametag for?  Continue reading

David Richardson live-tweets “The Scientist’s Guide to Writing”

I was pleased and amused to see David Richardson proposing (last month) to live-tweet his reading of The Scientist’s Guide to Writing.  Pleased, because it’s been a lot of fun to see what people take away from reading the book; and amused, because there’s something both fun and funny about live-tweeting a book. Three hundred pages and five years of my life, summed up in 42 tweets… what’s not to like?  🙂 Continue reading

Why I assign the group work that I hated as a student

Photo: Group presentation, by LBB Jauno speciālistu sekcija via, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

When I was an undergraduate, I hated group work.  As a professor, I assign it. Hypocrisy? Cognitive dissonance?  Cruelty?  Well, I don’t think so.

I hated group work for two reasons.  Continue reading

There’s fungus among us

Photos:  Top, yellow fly agaric, Amanita muscaria, Bernie Kohl via, released to public domain; middle, chicken-of-the-woods, Laetiporus sulphureus, Gargoyle888 via, CC BY 3.0; bottom, parasitic Cordyceps on fly, Moisés Silva Lima via, CC BY 2.0

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.


Autumn has arrived, and that brings fresh pleasures to a walk in our Garden: fall-blooming asters and goldenrods, the first tinges of fall colour in the trees, and (less obviously) fungi.  While you can see mushrooms and their fungal relatives almost any time of year, the fall is their peak season. If you train your eye just a little, you can see an amazing diversity of forms, and beauty to rival anything the plant kingdom has to offer. Continue reading

The funny papers on my CV

Most of my CV is pretty conventional.  It recites my job and educational history, lists my papers and talks, my students and the courses I’ve taught… and I can hear you yawning from here.  But my favourite part is comes at the end of my publication list, which has four sections.  The first is “Book” (some day it will be “Books”, but so far there’s just The Scientist’s Guide to Writing), then there’s “Refereed papers”, then “Non-refereed works”, and then finally the good part: “And with tongue in cheek”.  My tongue-in-cheek section lists two papers, and each is a joke. Continue reading

My most influential paper was a complete accident

Images: selections from Heard 1992, Patterns in tree balance among cladistic, phenetic, and randomly generated phylogenetic trees. Evolution 46:1818-1826. Orchid photo (Belize) © S. Heard.

 While I think my research is interesting and important, I’m well aware that few of my individual papers are likely to change the world.  Really, this is a normal feature of science: most progress comes from the accumulation and synthesis of many small results, not from a single mind-blowing paper.  But some of my papers have been more influential than others.  It’s interesting (and to be honest, a bit galling) that what I think is my most influential* paper (Heard 1992, Evolution, Patterns in tree balance among cladistic, phenetic, and randomly generated phylogenetic trees) was an accident. Continue reading

The first rule of writing

rules-for-writeresPeople love rules – in writing as in everything else.  Lists of rules litter the internet: “Five rules for better paragraphs”, “Seven habits of successful writers”, “Ten top tips for clearer writing”.  (Those latter two might be labeled “habits” and “tips”, but they’re really presented as rules: do this and you will be successful; don’t, and you won’t.) I haven’t read “Rules for Writers”, but I’m willing to bet it’s just chock full of rules for writers.  Sometimes you can tell a book by its cover.

There’s really just one rule of writing, though, and that is There Are No Hardfast Rules. Continue reading