Monthly Archives: July 2017

Recent reading on the history of natural history

I’ve been reading a lot books lately on the history of natural history, as background research for a new book (the proposal is currently in review, and you’ll have to wait to learn more). Among the books, some are new, some are old; some are well known, some are obscure.  Here are my minireviews (in no particular order), in case you’re looking to add that pile of books you’ve been meaning to read. Continue reading

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Are two years’ data better than one?

Photo: Two giraffes by Vera Kratochvil, released to public domain, via publicdomainpictures.net. Two giraffes are definitely better than one.

Ecologists are perennially angst-ridden about sample size.  A lot of our work is logistically difficult, involves observations on large spatial or temporal scales, or involves rare species or unique geographic features.  And yet we know that replication is important, and we bend over backwards to achieve it.

Sometimes, I think, too far backward, and this can result in wasted effort. Continue reading

Well, THAT could have been awkward: job-interview edition

What, Andrew MacDonald asks, do you do if you and a friend are interviewing for the same job?  Academia is a small world, and so this is not a question that can be counted on to stay safely hypothetical.  It has, in fact, happened to me.  Awkward?  Maybe a little.  Especially once you hear the rest of the story. Continue reading

Wonderful Latin Names: Salacca zalacca 

Images: Salacca zalacca, botanical print from unknown source, presumed public domain; via Swallowtail Garden Seeds.  Salak fruits by Midori CC BY-3.0 via wikimedia.org.

 Latin names have a reputation as horribly difficult to pronounce.  Sometimes this is true: I’ve worked on the moth Gnorimoschema gallaesolidaginis for over 20 years, and I still don’t know if I’m pronouncing it correctly.  But other Latin names roll wonderfully off the tongue: the clove tree Syzygium and the hoopoe Upupa epops, for example.

Few roll as wonderfully off the tongue as Salacca zalacca, though. Continue reading

Robert Boyle’s Monstrous Head

Every now and again, a paper is published that’s so peculiar, or so apparently irrelevant to any important question, that it attracts derision rather than citation.  Perhaps it picks up a Golden Fleece Award, or more fun, an IgNobel Prize; or perhaps it just gets roundly mocked on Twitter*.  Much more than every now and then, a paper gets published that just doesn’t seem to connect to anything, and rather than being derided it’s simply ignored.

Perhaps you think this kind of thing is a recent phenomenon.  Continue reading

Canada’s 150th, and how should we think about incomplete progress?

Image: Map of Canada by Pmg via Wikipedia.org, released to public domain.

Canada is 150 years old today, and there will be parties, and speeches, and fireworks.

I’m Canadian, and proud of my country – we’re mostly progressive, mostly supportive of diversity and human rights at home, and mostly a force for good abroad in the world.  We’re also mostly getting better on all those axes.  But we aren’t perfect on any of them, and like everyone, we have darker history (both pre- and post-Confederation) than we’d like.  Continue reading