Monthly Archives: January 2020

Why I threw in the towel on “data is”

Warning: mostly trivial.

I have several friends who are ready to die on the hill that’s the plurality of “data”.  Writing “the data suggests” or “the data is strong”, for these folks, isn’t just wrong: it’s a crime against the sanctity of the English language, and a grievous insult to right-thinking scholars everywhere.  And for some reason (probably because they know I wrote a book about writing), these particular friends turn to me for backup.  But here’s the thing: once, I was on their side; but I’ve thrown in the towel. Continue reading

Don’t overinterpret “preferably” in a job ad

My university department is hiring – two positions at once, which is unusual and extremely exciting for us (both positions close February 29, 2020, if you’re interested).  We’re looking for a food web ecologist and a neurobiologist.  Except that if you read the job ads, we’re looking for those things with the usual laundry list of preferably subdisciplines, study systems, and techniques.  Not long after the ads posted, a colleague of mine described the neurobiology one as “so focused… cannabinoids in zebrafish?” and wondered if there was any point in anyone else applying; indeed, wondering if the ad might be targeted at a single individual.  This raises a question that’s much more general than our Neurobiology ad: when you see a job ad with a preferably, how much should you read into it?

The short answer: not much*. Continue reading

The magical writing trick that’s right under our noses

Writing is hard, and over the years I’ve developed a bunch of tricks that make it a bit easier for me.  Some are weird, some are complicated, and some are idiosyncratic enough that they probably work only for me.  But if I had to pick one trick that could work for just about anyone, I’d pick one that might seem too simple and too obvious to be worth mentioning.  It isn’t, though.  It’s this: pay attention to the topic sentence.

Wait!  Don’t click away just yet.  Yes, you learned about topic sentences in high school (so did I). Continue reading

A year of books – and why

This year, I’ve decided to log, and share with anyone who’s interested, the books I read.  I’ll tweet them using the hashtag #AYearOfBooks, and periodically collect them here.  Now, I’ll forgive you if you don’t care (in which case, you’ve probably already clicked away).  Actually, I expect most folks won’t care.  But for those who are still here: why?

A goodly few of my colleagues on Twitter track paper reading, often with the rather ambitious #365papers hashtag. Continue reading

Gosh, that’s a lot of squirrels – thoughts on 5 years’ worth

Warning: navel-gazing.

Scientist Sees Squirrel is five years old today.  That’s not very old for a human, a whale, or an oak tree, but it feels like something of an accomplishment for a blog.  So, no new post this week; instead, a few reflections on the squirrels along the way.

Metaphorical squirrels, that is. Continue reading