Monthly Archives: July 2020

Do editors really use those lists of “recommended reviewers”? And who should you suggest?

You know the feeling: you’ve spent many hours painstakingly massaging your manuscript into compliance with a journal’s idiosyncratic formatting requirements. You’ve spent another two hours battling its online submission system*.  You’re almost there – ready to hit “submit” and go for a well-deserved beer or cinnamon bun – but there’s One More Screen.  The system wants your list of five recommended reviewers.  Does this really matter?  What does an editor do with it?

Well, I can’t speak for every editor (and I hope some others will add their own thoughts in the Replies).  But I can tell you what I do with them, and perhaps that can guide you when you get asked for that list. Continue reading

Moving courses online isn’t easy – or cheap

Yesterday evening (as I write*) I spent 40 minutes filming three minutes of video.  It was a clip explaining how to collect aquatic insects, for my newly-online-with-lab-at-home Entomology course. That “40 minutes” is just camera-rolling time.  It doesn’t count planning what to film, travel to location, or editing the video later for posting (I only stepped on a slippery rock and swore on camera once; but it was a good reminder that I should probably learn how to bleep the audio track). Continue reading

What, if anything, can you conclude from a book’s blurbs?

Book blurbs are weird. Every book – no matter how awful – manages to find blurbers who will sing its praises.  So what, if anything, can you conclude from a book’s blurbs?

I was driven to think about his by the blurbs for my own new book, Charles Darwin’s Barnacle and David Bowie’s Spider.  As they came in, and I read people waxing poetic about just how awesome the book is, I was thrilled, and embarrassed, and skeptical, and also felt just a little bit dirty.  Had the blurbers actually read my book? Did they really mean those things they said? Would anyone believe them? What if someone did, and bought the book, and didn’t like it? Continue reading

Diversifying scientific names, and diversifying science

Many of Earth’s species bear scientific names based on the names of people – for instance, Charles Darwin’s barnacle (Regioscalpellum darwini) and David Bowie’s spider (Heteropoda davidbowie).  My new book explores some of the things we can learn from such “eponymous” scientific names.  These names let us see something of the quirks and personalities of the scientists who engage in the creative act of naming.  They also open a window on who scientists think might deserve the honour (well, usually it’s an honour) of having a species named after them.  There are a lot of things you can see through that window.  One of them has to do with diversity.

I don’t mean biodiversity, although it’s true enough that the Earth’s incredible biodiversity is what provides the window of naming in the first place.  Instead, I mean diversity of people.  Who are the people who have species named after them?  Perhaps not surprisingly, answering that question reveals a scientific community with a longstanding diversity problem. Continue reading

The blog post that dooms the universe

Warning: silly.

Got your attention, did I?

You know what got mine?  Noticing, a while ago, the apparently inexorable growth of interest in what I thought was a fairly dull* post, Friends Don’t Let Friends Use “cf.”, first published here in June 2016.  That post got a bunch of views when I first posted it, which isn’t unexpected.  Then it was largely ignored for a year or so, which isn’t unexpected either.  Then something odd happened: exponential growth.

That’s what’s shown in the graph above: month-by-month readership statistics for Friends Don’t Let Friends Use “cf.”.  It’s a lovely curve, isn’t it?  Let’s ignore the first year (which is dominated by novelty; every post gets a spike when first published).  Let’s make a semilog plot of the remainder, because that seems right for a curve like that.  And let’s fit a line to that semilog plot, because we’re scientists and we like to do that kind of thing. Continue reading

Are spiders insects? And what good are polls?

Last week, I wrote about a US court decision that established that legally, spiders are insects (at least in the jurisdiction of the court in question).  The case turned on the “ordinary meaning” of the word insect, or roughly, what a reasonable person could think a non-specialist means by it.  I was surprised to learn that many dictionaries allow for definitions of insect that include spiders.  Could this be true, I wondered?  So I took a poll.

Let’s start with the results, and then later we’ll ask if we should have done that. Continue reading