Monthly Archives: July 2021

The 2nd edition “Scientist’s Guide to Writing” is available for pre-order!

I’m excited: the second edition of The Scientist’s Guide to Writing is now available for pre-order!

I’ve been working on this second edition for a year and a half now. While you can’t have it on your shelf just yet (it’s slated for publication January 11, 2022), you could in principle order a copy today.* For anyone who just can’t wait, here it is directly from the Princeton University Press, and here it is on Amazon (that’s the US link; here’s the Canadian one, and the UK one).

What’s in the second edition, and why might you be as excited as me?  Continue reading

Music Mondays: Out Past the Timberline

It’s Music Monday again.

Today: some entomology.  Yes, you knew I’d get there eventually.

Here’s Canadian folksinger Murray McLaughlan, with Out Past the Timberline (from his terrific 1983 album Timberline). It’s a reflection on Canada’s North, and beautifully atmospheric; it’s a real shame there isn’t a video for this song. I’ll admit the science content is a bit fleeting.

What strikes me is this lyric:

When spring waters run
The black flies come
Like a cloud of hungry dust

There are several kinds of insects one might liken to “hungry dust”, but Continue reading

How long is a manuscript? All answers are wrong.

This week I got to do one of my favourite things: shorten a manuscript.* This one we’re targeting for a journal that has a 30 page limit on manuscript length. We started at 37 pages, and I was immensely pleased to hit about 29.7 (giving my coauthors just a little wiggle room to reject one or two of my cuts).

But it was a little weird.

The thing is, Goodhart’s Law exists. If you set up a metric and reward people for using it (in this case, for limboing just under the 30 page limit), they’ll do just exactly what you’re rewarding them for – and there will be unexpected, and maybe undesired, consequences. Continue reading

Music Mondays: Endless Forms

It’s Music Monday again.

Today: evolutionary biology!

Here’s the Finnish heavy-metal band Nightwish, with Endless Forms – quite likely the only heavy-metal song ever to quote Darwin and mention Tiktaalik:

Beyond aeons we take a ride
Welcoming the shrew that survived
To see the Tiktaalik take her first walk
Witness the birth of flight

My parents would have assumed that every metal song is about drugs, sex, violence, or most likely, all of those at once. Continue reading

Butterflies, mustard seeds, and misplaced critical thinking

I’ve just read Graham Moore’s The Last Days of Night, a novel based on the battle between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse over AC vs DC electrification in the 1880s. This was a fascinating story*, but I’m taking off from it on a tangent today. The epigraph for Chapter 23 is a quote attributed to the architect and futurist Buckminster Fuller: “There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it’s going to be a butterfly”. Now, given my cringeworthy memories of what I was like in high school, I should be 100% behind this quote. The problem: as an entomologist, Buckminster Fuller was an excellent architect.

The quote, you see, is nonsense. Continue reading

Music Mondays: Mandelbrot Set

It’s Music Monday again.

Today: math!

Here’s Jonathan Coulton, with “Mandelbrot Set” – a song about the fractal set of complex numbers we call, eponymously, the Mandelbrot Set. Continue reading

You can’t “stay in your lane”. So you have to know how to drive in your neighbour’s.

I was tidying up old paper files in my office last week (don’t ask) when I came across the records from my tenure review, 20 years ago. You’d think 20 years of perspective would make me less angry – but you’d be wrong. What 20 years of perspective has done, though, is let me diagnose exactly what I was angry about, and convince me that there’s an important lesson there for academia. And life.

First, I guess, a little history. Continue reading

Music Mondays (new summer series)

Welcome to Music Mondays – something a little different I’m trying this summer.

If you’ve been hanging around Scientist Sees Squirrel, you’ll know that one of the (way too many) things that interests me is points of contact between science and the arts. Continue reading