Monthly Archives: May 2021

How many university instructors phoned it in during the pandemic?

Another one of those tiresome articles made the rounds the other day, asserting that online instruction during the pandemic was an outrageous failure and that students hated every moment of it. No, I’m not going to link to it; it doesn’t deserve your time (but you can find it, and a dozen of its shallow kin, easily enough if you must).  These articles are worthless for at least three reasons. First, they rely on self-reported student satisfaction, and surely by now we all understand that this correlates loosely at best with instructional quality. Second, it’s not a mystery that these articles are a product of motivated reasoning: people want to be outraged, so media produce stories that feed that outrage – whether they represent the situation fairly or not. And third, what exactly would objectors to online instruction like us to have done? If we could simply wish a pandemic away, we’d already all have ponies. Flying ponies. I want my pony.

But there’s a legitimate question lurking in these otherwise facile articles. Continue reading

Fictional species, fictional names

For as long as humans have been telling stories, they’ve been making up creatures to populate them. Orcs and ents; snallygasters and golden snidgets; and many thousands more. Some stories give us only fleeting glimpses, while others paint their creatures in more detail. Only a few, though, give their creatures Latin (scientific) names. As you may have noticed, I’m fascinated by names and naming. So here are a few examples of fictional species that bear fictional Latin names. There’s no database of such things, so this is a quasirandom set I’ve run across recently. Do you know of more? Please add them, in the Replies! Continue reading

Don’t use your Discussion to shred your own work

The Discussion of a scientific paper is, I think, the hardest part to write. That’s because every other section has a fairly well-defined purpose and thus a set of standard contents: the Methods communicates how you did the work, the Results shows what you found, and the Introduction sets the work in context while foreshadowing what’s to come in the Discussion. But the Discussion is a challenge because the writer has considerable freedom in both content and organization. What goes in a Discussion? Almost anything, it seems.

Actually, Discussions aren’t quite as free-form as that. Continue reading

Yes, that paper is paywalled. But you can read it anyway.

Last week, I wrote about a fascinating and puzzling (if somewhat dispiriting) paper assessing the value of science-communication training. In an (obviously futile, I know) attempt to counter the scourge that is “I didn’t read the paper but here are my thoughts anyway”, I suggested repeatedly that folks ought to read the paper. And I suppose I should have seen it coming: a veritable deluge of “It’s paywalled, I can’t read it”.

The first half of that objection is true: the paper is “paywalled”. So are a lot of good things in life: Continue reading