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.

What is science’s “Kokomo”?

Image: The Beach Boys (2012 reunion), © Louise Palanker via flickr.com CC BY-SA 2.0

It came on the radio again the other day: “Kokomo”*.  It’s a fundamentally and phenomenally stupid song, and yet it’s so perfectly executed that you can’t help singing along a little, even knowing that you’ll hate yourself for it later.  Even knowing that you’re hating yourself right now while you’re still singing, but you still can’t stop.  That such a stupid, stupid song can still grab you and not let go, and can still blight the airwaves 30 years after its release, is a testament to the song writing craftsmanship of its authors**  and to the performance craftsmanship of the Beach Boys.  It’s just astonishing how good “Kokomo” can be, while simultaneously being so very, very bad***.

So what is science’s Kokomo?  What scientific idea is fundamentally stupid, yet persists (or persisted for a very long time) anyway because it’s been argued with craftsmanship and polish enough to persuade? Continue reading

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Power in the ending

Image: The ending of a long story (Lord of the Rings; Tolkien 1955, George Allen & Unwin, London).

If you’re like me (as a writer, I mean) you probably spend a lot of time thinking about the first sentences of things.  It’s true in fiction, and just as true in scientific writing, that the 1st sentence of a passage, a section, a paper, or a book has a big job to do.  A good opening sentence sets a mood, asks a question, grabs a reader and positions them for the journey to come.

It took me a long time to realize that the last sentence of anything is equally important. Continue reading

Some (more) great reads from the history of natural history

Image: Alexander von Humboldt and Aimé Bonpland in the Amazon jungle, via wikimedia.org. Painting by Eduard Ender, circa 1850; from the collection of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities.

Research for my new book has me reading a lot of books about the history of natural history. Some are well known, some are obscure; some are old; some are new. (Some were borrowed, although at least this time around, none were blue.)  Here are a few more minireviews (in no particular order), in case the pile of books you’ve been meaning to read isn’t big enough.

Naming Nature: The Clash Between Instinct and Science (Yoon 2009, Norton).  This book, Yoon tells us, started out as a history and explanation of taxonomy – the science of naming and describing species.  It grew into something else, something a little bit strange, and something a bit difficult to put one’s finger on.  Continue reading

I’ve submitted the manuscript for my new book!

Image: the David Bowie spider, Heteropoda davidbowie.  KS Seshadri, CC BY-SA 4.0 via wikimedia.org

Last week I hit a big milestone.  I hit submit not just on another journal paper, but on something much more fun: my new book.  I’m both relieved and excited!

The book’s working title is “The Strangest Tribute: How Scientific Names Celebrate Adventurers, Heroes, and Even a Few Scoundrels”*Continue reading

Tweeting your active research (as outreach)

At the 2018 conference of the Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution, 5 friends and I put on a workshop on the use of Twitter in science.  Today: slides and commentary from Cylita Guy’s piece of the #CSEETweetShop.  How can you use Twitter to communicate your active research to the general public?

 

I’m here today to tell you a little bit about some of the strategies I use when tweeting during active research projects. But to set the stage, I need to tell you a little bit about myself first. Continue reading

Let’s all relax about Latin names from pop culture

Image: The sorting-hat spider, Eriovixia gryffindori, from Ahmed et al. 2016 Indian J. Arachnology 5:24-27; photo Sumukha J.N., used by permission.

I’ve nearly finished drafting the manuscript of my new book, which will tell some of the stories behind eponymous Latin names (those based on the names of people, like Berberis darwini for Charles Darwin).  These names tell so many fascinating stories that I’ve been having a whale of a time with the writing.  I hope you’ll soon have nearly as much fun reading it.

The chapter I’m working on at the moment (as I write) is called Harry Potter and the Name of the Species, and it’s about Latin names drawn from fictional characters.  Consider, for instance, some names from The Lord of the Rings: Continue reading

Yes, I’m teaching a tropical field course. No, it’s not a vacation.

Images: Howler monkey (Alouatta pigra); Royal Flycatcher (Onychorhynchus mexicanus); Helmeted basilisk (Corytophanes cristatus).  All photos © 2017 S Heard, CC BY 4.0

In March, I’ll be heading to Belize to teach an undergraduate tropical ecology field course (not alone; I have an excellent batch of co-instructors).  I mentioned this to someone last week, and their reaction was to chuckle and say “wow, must be nice!”.  And maybe it seems petty, but I’m getting really tired of that reaction.

The thing is, it’s near-universal.  Continue reading