Monthly Archives: December 2016

Negative results, conferences, and the open file drawer

I had more than my usual dose of conferences last summer (as you might have noticed).  After four major conferences in three months, something finally sunk in to my tired, tired brain: conferences tell a very different story than journals.  In particular, conference talks are loaded with negative results – far more so than our journals*.  So is this a problem?  An opportunity?  Both? Continue reading

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Painting of Hennig Brand discovering phosphorus

Open science, phosphorus, and economic impact

Image: The Alchymist, In Search of the Philosopher’s Stone (1771), by Joseph Wright, illustrating Hennig Brand’s discovery of phosphorus. Collection of The Derby Museum and Art Gallery.

Warning: long-ish. If you like, skip the middle section (history of the discovery of phosphorus) or skip the opening and conclusion (open science vs. commercialization). It’s kind of two posts in one.

 

Last week I was working on a grant proposal, to an agency called the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation.  I was feeling a bit soiled, since NBIF is unabashedly about industrial innovation and commercialization, and I’ve always fancied myself a basic/pure/curiosity-driven scientist*.  A move into more applied work (mostly forestry-related) is new for me.  I really struggled to write the section about how the intellectual property generated by my proposal would be commercialized – partly because I just don’t have any interest in doing so, and partly because (as a consequence) I really don’t know how.

One thing was obvious, though: Continue reading

How to write a terrible teaching statement

Over the last 20 years I’ve served on at least a dozen faculty search committees, and that means I’ve seen approximately six wheelbarrowloads of job applications.  I’ve seen some terrific applications and some terrible ones (and I now understand that my own applications, at least early in my career, shared some features with the terrible ones).  But one standard piece of the faculty job application almost always makes me roll my eyes: the teaching statement.

Most faculty job ads request a “statement of teaching philosophy”; some search committees even pay attention to it*.  I’ve seen them anywhere from a couple of sentences to several pages long.  And actually, there’s no need for a post titled “How to write a terrible teaching statement”, because believe me, this skill is already widespread.  So instead, let me suggest an important way in which you can write one that isn’t terrible.  Continue reading

Wonderful Latin names: Eriovixia gryffindori

Photos: Eriovixia gryffindori, from Ahmed et al. 2016 Indian J. Arachnology 5:24-27; photo Sumukha J.N., used by permission.  Sorting hat, on display at La Cité du Cinéma (Saint-Denis, Paris), in “Harry Potter, l’exposition”; photo by Suzelfe CC BY-SA 4.0 (crop).

A new spider species, Eriovixia gryffindori, has recently been discovered and described from southwestern India (by a team consisting of Javed Ahmed, Rajashree Khalap and Sumukha J.N.).  The new spider’s name makes me smile.  The species name gryffindori, of course, comes from the Harry Potter universe*.  It’s not the first species name to be derived that way (consider also the spider Aname aragog and the wasp Ampulex dementor) – but I admire the naming first for its appropriateness, and second for the way the authors dedicate it. Continue reading

A shelf of writing books

Some OTHER good books on scientific writing

If you’ve been hanging around Scientist Sees Squirrel, you’ve surely notice that I’ve written a guidebook for scientific writers.  I’m biased, of course, but I think The Scientist’s Guide to Writing is pretty good – and if you write at all, I think reading it can help.  (Why not go buy yourself a copy?  I’ll wait.)  But if you’re serious about your writing craft, I hope The Scientist’s Guide won’t be alone on your shelf.  It isn’t alone on mine.

Here are a few books that I think could profitably keep The Scientist’s Guide to Writing company.  (UPDATED: see the Replies thread for reader suggestions!) Continue reading

The tyranny of reader expectations

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a sentence I was tempted to be proud of.  It’s part of the Introduction to a paper* about how the impact of insect herbivores on their host plants might evolve over time.  We’d pointed out that insects frequently acquire new host plants and plants frequently acquire new herbivores, and to build on that, I wrote:

That herbivore-host associations are frequently reassorted means that some herbivore-host pairs are evolutionarily well acquainted, while others are strangers recently met. 

And then I had second thoughts. Continue reading

When is a review paper worth writing?

A couple of things have me thinking about review papers lately.  First, I’ve just published one and I’m about to submit another.  Second, over at EcoEvoEvoEco, Andrew Hendry had some fun figuring out how his citation impact would have been improved had he only ever published review papers rather than primary-science ones.

As Andrew points out, writing reviews brings a lot of career benefits.  Among them:

  • They tend to be widely read and heavily cited
  • They build your reputation as an expert in the subfield you review
  • They draw attention to your primary-literature work (presuming your review cites it)
  • They support future grant proposals to fill knowledge gaps they identify.

So the case for review-writing as a career move is strong.  But what about the case for review-writing as a contribution to science?  Not all reviews move science forward much.  Continue reading