Monthly Archives: January 2019

Let’s all relax about Latin names from pop culture

Image: The sorting-hat spider, Eriovixia gryffindori, from Ahmed et al. 2016 Indian J. Arachnology 5:24-27; photo Sumukha J.N., used by permission.

I’ve nearly finished drafting the manuscript of my new book, which will tell some of the stories behind eponymous Latin names (those based on the names of people, like Berberis darwini for Charles Darwin).  These names tell so many fascinating stories that I’ve been having a whale of a time with the writing.  I hope you’ll soon have nearly as much fun reading it.

The chapter I’m working on at the moment (as I write) is called Harry Potter and the Name of the Species, and it’s about Latin names drawn from fictional characters.  Consider, for instance, some names from The Lord of the Rings: Continue reading

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Yes, I’m teaching a tropical field course. No, it’s not a vacation.

Images: Howler monkey (Alouatta pigra); Royal Flycatcher (Onychorhynchus mexicanus); Helmeted basilisk (Corytophanes cristatus).  All photos © 2017 S Heard, CC BY 4.0

In March, I’ll be heading to Belize to teach an undergraduate tropical ecology field course (not alone; I have an excellent batch of co-instructors).  I mentioned this to someone last week, and their reaction was to chuckle and say “wow, must be nice!”.  And maybe it seems petty, but I’m getting really tired of that reaction.

The thing is, it’s near-universal.  Continue reading

I talked about Latin names and naming on the Natural Reality podcast

If you’ve been following Scientist Sees Squirrel for a while, you’ve probably noticed that I have a little bit of a thing for the etymologies of Latin (or “scientific”) names of organisms.  It’s perhaps a bit of a niche interest… but it shouldn’t be; there are fascinating stories behind the names we’ve coined.  So much so, in fact, that I’m writing a book on the topic – in particular, about eponymous Latin names (those named after people).

I’ll have more to say about my new book soon; but today, I just wanted to alert you to a recent episode of Liam Taylor’s Natural Reality podcast.  On my episode, Liam and I talked about Latin names – about why they’re interesting (to me, and I hope I can convince you, to you too); about how on earth I got interested in the stories behind Latin names; and about some of my favourite names.

Liam’s best question, I think, was this: what makes (for me) a “good” Latin name?  My answer was that a good Latin name is one that tells a story.  The podcast episode is full of those stories.  If you’d like to hear a few of them, you can listen to it, or download it, here.

© Stephen Heard  January 10, 2019

Skinny-leg jeans, P>0.05, and one space after a period

Image: Skinny-leg jeans.  Not my legs.  Or my jeans.  © Claude Truong-Ngoc CC BY-SA 3.0, via wikimedia.org

I went shopping for jeans last week, and came home frustrated.  (As usual, yes, I’m eventually heading somewhere.)  I have calves of considerable circumference, and the fashion in men’s jeans now seems to be for a very narrow-cut leg.  I took pair after pair into the fitting room, only to discover I couldn’t even force my leg through the available hole.  I know, hold the presses – I’m old and I don’t like today’s fashion; and while we’re at it, all you kids get off my lawn!

But from my (admittedly weird) utilitarian point of view, I just don’t understand skinny-leg jeans.  Here’s why.  If you make a pair of skinny-leg jeans, they can be used by a skinny-leg person, but not – not even a little bit – by a non-skinny-leg person.  If you make a pair of wide-leg jeans, they accommodate both.  There’s a fundamental asymmetry in usefulness that makes it seem obvious, to me, how jeans ought to be sewn.

The same asymmetry is why I teach students to report exact P-values, not just “P<0.05” or “P>0.05”.*  Continue reading

Happy 4th birthday, Scientist Sees Squirrel!

Photo: Squirrel in the Bergdorf Goodman Shoes window; © Katie Hinde, by permission.

Today is Scientist Sees Squirrel’s fourth birthday.  When I pounded out my first post, I had no real concept of what I was doing.  I’m a little surprised and a little bemused that after four years, I’m still pounding out posts.  (It remains true that I have no real concept of what I’m doing, but at least I’ve established that I enjoy doing it.)  Along the way, I appear to have written over 300 posts – and nobody can be more surprised by that than I am.

Occasions like this sometimes get celebrated with greatest-hits lists, but that would be boring.  It’s tempting to do a greatest-duds list instead (starting with this one), but why would I inflict that on you? So, for some middle ground:  five posts that I think were actually pretty good – but that you probably didn’t read, because almost nobody did.  I’ve written about my most undercited paper; I guess these are some of my most underread blog posts.  Perhaps you’ll enjoy making the acquaintance of a piece you missed the first time around. Continue reading