Monthly Archives: February 2020

Look, Ma, I’m in the Nautilus!

No, not that one.  This one.

More specifically: the Nautilus (the on-line science magazine, not the submarine) has an excerpt from my almost-but-not-quite-yet-available book, Charles Darwin’s Barnacle and David Bowie’s Spider.  It’s on their blog, and you can find it here.

The Nautilus’s editors had their pick of anything from the book, and they chose an excerpt from Chapter 6: David Bowie’s Spider, Beyoncé’s Fly, and Frank Zappa’s Jellyfish. And that’s how my byline came to sit right above a large photo of Beyoncé in full concert regalia.  Continue reading

The origin, and fate, of “sister species”

Warning: etymological nerdery.

 The origin and fate of the phrase, I mean, not the actual species.

In evolutionary biology, a pair of “sister species” (or “sister taxa”, or “sister clades”) are each other’s closest living relatives. I was at lunch last week with an interesting assortment of biologists when the topic of gendered language in biology came up.  I think it started with “daughter cell”, which is routine in developmental biology, and expanded from there.  I was brought up short when the conversation turned to “sister species”.  It’s a term I know well and use often – and it had never occurred to me that it’s gendered.  This is, of course, a nice illustration of how insidious gendered language can be.  Whether or not there’s any real social consequence to our use of “sister species”, the mere fact that I hadn’t noticed the in-hindsight-blindingly-obvious gendered nature of the term was something of a shot across my mental bow.

Once you think about “sister species”, several questions seem obvious. Continue reading

On the rush to judgment, and modern dance

The last two months have seen a couple of scandals fairly close to my own field.  Over the same span, I’ve been asked five or six times what I think of the behaviour of Person X, who has apparently Done Something Bad, or who has apparently Failed to Do Something Good.  There’s nothing unusual about my experience here: anyone in any field (in science or beyond) will see equivalent scandals and be asked the same questions.  And as a species, we love to judge – often, to judge hastily.*  (We’ve invented social media, it seems, in part as a tool to make shallow and hasty judgment very shallow, very hasty, and very, very efficient.)

Each time I read a condemnation of Person X for Doing Thing Y, or for Not Doing Thing Z, I remember a modern dance performance I saw two dozen years ago. Continue reading

A year of books: a beginning

This year, I promised to log, and share with anyone who’s interested, the non-academic books I read. Wondering why I’d do such a thing?  Click here for an explanation.

I’ve been tweeting these books as I finish them using the hashtag #AYearOfBooks, but tweets are constrained to be very short and are inconveniently impermanent.  So, I’ll collect them here, with slightly less “mini” minireviews, as occasional blog posts.  This is the beginning: seven books in January and early February.*  Continue reading

Conference sitter, or conference sprinter?

Some folks sit; some folks sprint.

I was once a determined sprinter.  Before a conference, I’d study the programme carefully, highlighting and circling and starring talks that looked promising.  Then I’d assemble my schedule: a talk in this session, a talk in that one, a couple of talks in a third, all before the morning coffee break; then back to the same frenzied pace with muffin crumbs still dangling from my lip.

If you’ve tried this, you know how it goes. Continue reading

This blog is free, and I don’t have a Patreon, but…

I love writing Scientist Sees Squirrel, and I love that you’re reading it.  I also love that you don’t have to pay for it (well, except for being forced to endure whatever creepy semi-targeted ad WordPress drops onto the page). But every now and again, someone asks me if I have a Patreon, or a Ko-fi, or whatever the newest online crowdfunding/tipping app might be. I don’t.

I don’t have a Patreon, and I don’t want one. Continue reading

What should you do when Reviewer #2 says “Cite my papers”?

It’s been a rough couple of weeks for rose coloured glasses in biology. There’s the unfolding saga of paper retractions in social behaviour; and then there’s cite-my-paper-gate.  I don’t have much to say about the former (beyond expressing my admiration for the many scientists who are handling their unintended involvement with grace and integrity).  But the latter made me think.

If you didn’t hear about cite-my-paper-gate: someone (yet to be publicly identified) has been busted over all kinds of reviewing and editing malpractice. Continue reading