Author Archives: ScientistSeesSquirrel

About ScientistSeesSquirrel

I'm an evolutionary ecologist and entomologist at the University of New Brunswick. I think about a lot of random things... some of them appear here.

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

A year of books (4): Snow into summer

Time now for the fourth instalment of #AYearInBooks, in which I track the non-academic reading I do.  Here’s why I’m doing this. I’ve got eight books (or series) for you this time.  When I started the first, there was snow on the ground; I finished the last on a hot summer day.  And yet – a curiosity of Fredericton’s climate – it’s was only six weeks!

 

The Fionavar Tapestry (Guy Gavriel Kay, 1984-86).  This is actually a trilogy: The Summer Tree, The Wandering Fire, and The Darkest Road.   I’ve been re-reading old favourites a lot lately and these are very near the top of my list.  They’re epic fantasy, à la Tolkien (Kay helped edit some of Tolkien’s posthumously published material) – but with much more humanity, more adult relationships, more lyrical writing, and many more surprises (revealed connections, along the lines of what made N.K. Jemesin’s Broken Earthso astonishing).  Now, “better than Tolkien” would be fighting words for many fantasy buffs (a fight best undertaken with an elven sword, of course), but if anything qualifies, to me Fionavar is it. Continue reading

Court: “Spiders are insects.” Biologists: “Say what?”

Last month, the United States Court of Appeal for the 11th district rejected an appeal on the grounds that spiders are insects.  Now, I’m not a lawyer or a judge, but I am a biologist, and I have thoughts.  But before we get to those, a quick poll: Continue reading

Mathematics (and the rest of science) for human flourishing

I read a lot of books, both technical and not.  Some I struggle through; some I enjoy in a forgettable sort of way; and some grab me and promise to stay with me.  I recently finished Francis Su’s Mathematics for Human Flourishing, and to cut to the chase, you should read this book too.  What’s that? You’re not a mathematician?  Well, neither am I.

Actually, this book is only sort of about mathematics.  First, as Su says in his opening paragraph, Continue reading

A trivial writing error with a powerful writing lesson

There are writing errors everywhere you look*.  Some are trivial – routine typos that confuse nobody – while others change or conceal meaning and sometimes risk lives or cost the transgressor millions of dollars.  Today I’m going to explore an error that’s rampant in scientific writing.  It’s one that in each instance matters not at all, but that in the aggregate offers a powerful writing lesson.

Here it is.  What’s wrong with this sentence?

“The impact of the abiotic environment, via factors such as nutrient supplies, temperature, moisture, and other soil properties, on growth and reproductive strategies of herbaceous plants have been well documented”

Other than the fact that it’s turgid, I mean.  Continue reading

Black Lives Matter

Black lives matter.

That shouldn’t have to be said, but it does. Systemic racism is an ongoing problem, everywhere.  While anything we say or do is less than we should, and later than we should have, that’s no reason for inaction.

I had another post queued for today, but it will keep.  Please take the time you would have spent reading it, and instead listen to some other voices.  There are many; here’s one place to start.

Society needs everyone.  Science needs everyone.

© Stephen Heard June 3 2020, but released CC0.

Cracking the code of biology tests: let’s get metacognitive!

This is a guest post from Greg Crowther

In a previous post here on Scientist Sees Squirrel, Steve raised an important and hard question: aside from helping students learn the specific content of our courses, how can we help students get better at learning in general?

Although it’s a hard question, I think I have a pretty good one-word answer: metacognition. Continue reading

Steal this (updated) syllabus for Scientific Writing

I’ve just finished the 3rd go-around of my Scientific Writing course.  When I first signed up to teach it, I was very scared, but now that I’ve been through it a few times, I’m quite pleased with how it worked out.

After the first offering, I posted my syllabus and other materials, and quite a few folks found that useful.  But I’ve polished and improved the course, so today I’m posting an updated set.  I’m also including some notes about adapting the course to online delivery – something I had involuntary experience with this year, as most of us did! Continue reading

How to get comments on draft writing – more than once

I read a lot of draft manuscripts for people – perhaps you do too. (I’m talking here about my role as a “friendly reviewer”, in which I’m looking at rougher manuscripts that aren’t yet in the peer review system.)  I read drafts for the undergraduates in my Scientific Writing course, for my grad students, and for my friends and collaborators.  I do this because I want to help these folks improve their writing, and also because I want to pay forward the favour that many others have done for me over the years.  It’s a lot of work, which I usually don’t mind.  Sometimes, though, it’s more work than it has to be, and then I see red. Continue reading

I wish my students were motivated by love of subject. But I shouldn’t.

I’ve said it many times: I wish my students were motivated by their love of the subject, not by the course credit or the grade.  We all know what a joy it is to teach someone who’s there because they can’t wait to know more; who reaches toward us for knowledge rather than sitting back to have it delivered; whose eyes sparkle when they learn something new.  Teaching that student is fun, and it’s easy.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all our students were like that?

Actually, no. Continue reading