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.

Back yard cats, balloons, and butterfly releases

Image: Balloon release at the Yarmouth Old Gaffers Festival, by Editor5807 CC BY 3.0, via wikimedia.org

Someone’s cat just wandered across my back yard, and that got me thinking about butterfly releases.  No, really – stick with me for a moment.  There’s a connection, and, eventually, a bigger point.

By now, everyone ought to be aware that letting domestic cats roam outdoors is a terrible idea.  It’s terrible for the cats, who live shorter and less healthy lives; but much more important, it’s terrible for wildlife – cats kill millions of songbirds each year, and have (on islands) even been directly responsible for bird extinctions.  That there are self-identified cat “lovers” still insisting on letting cats outside says a lot about the phenomenal ability of humans to avoid (often deliberately) the acquisition of knowledge.  But this post shouldn’t become a rant about cats, so I’ll move on.

Balloon releases have more recently come under scrutiny, and it’s pretty obvious that they’re also a terrible idea.  Continue reading

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Wow – a “People’s Choice Award” for Scientist Sees Squirrel!

I was awfully pleased to learn, late last week, that Scientist Sees Squirrel has won the 2018 People’s Choice Award for Canada’s Favourite Science Blog*.  What an honour!  The award competition is run yearly by the blogging network ScienceBorealis in collaboration with the Science Writers and Communicators of Canada.  There were 9 nominees this year, and readers were invited to vote for three favourites.  If you voted for Scientist Sees Squirrel, thank you!  And if you voted for three other blogs (as I did), thank you also, because the full slate of nominees is much more interesting than any single winner could have been.  I’ll explain. Continue reading

Presenting statistical results: pointers in scientific writing

This semester, I’m coteaching a graduate/advanced-undergraduate level course in biostatistics and experimental design.  This is my lecture on how to present statistical results, when writing up a study.  It’s a topic I’ve written about before, and what I presented in class draws on several older blog posts here at Scientist Sees Squirrel.  However, I thought it would be useful to pull this together into a single (longish) post, with my slides to illustrate it.  If you’d like to use any of these slides, here’s the Powerpoint – licensed CC BY-NC 4.0.

(Portuguese translation here, for those who prefer.)

Here goes.

How should you present statistical results, in a scientific paper?
Continue reading

No, vineyards are not beautiful (a conservation conundrum)

Image: “Beautiful vineyard” by Sasmit68 via wikimedia.org, CC BY-SA 4.0

Last week I raised the apparently-dumb but actually rather interesting question of why humans consider flowers to be beautiful.  Today, another question about beauty, this time with (I’m afraid) really unfortunate consequences.  Have you ever heard someone talk about how beautiful a vineyard is?  Have you ever been that someone?  An awful lot of us would answer “yes” to both questions – and that’s a real problem for conservation.

It isn’t just vineyards, of course, and I’ll get to my broader point, but first I should back up my claim that humans think vineyards are beautiful – and that we shouldn’t.  Continue reading

University professors should understand university administration

Some time ago, I went on a little rant here, in a post I called “University administrators should understand universities”.  In it I complained a bit about university administrators who don’t seem to understand what a university’s mission is or how we go about accomplishing it.  I stand by that criticism (while noting that it doesn’t, of course, apply to every administrator).  But I’m here now to stick up for administrators in another way.  I’m really tired of hearing people complain that universities have too many administrators.  Yes, I heard all those folks clicking away in outrage.  For the few of you who are left, let me explain.

Twice just in the last week, I’ve seen university professors roll out the tired old attack on administrators.  Continue reading

Why on Earth are flowers beautiful?

Image: Flowers, by Alvegaspar CC BY-SA 3.0 via wikimedia.org

If you watch science documentaries like Nova or The Nature of Things, you might get the feeling that what’s most exciting about science is all the questions scientists have answers to – all the things we’ve learned about how our universe ticks.  (It’s built right into the title of The Nature of Things.)  But what I love most about science, and especially biology, is how easy it is to ask a question that we don’t have the answer to.  Why are there so many species of beetles*, but so few of snakeflies?  Why does life use a basic set of 20 amino acids, not 18 or 26?  And one that has me completely stumped: why on Earth are flowers beautiful?

“Why are flowers beautiful” might sound like a trivial question, but I don’t think it is.  Continue reading

“Scientist Sees Squirrel” is nominated for a People’s Choice Award!

Image: Squirrel (of course), Sorbyphoto CC0.

I’m happy to be able to tell you that Scientist Sees Squirrel is a 2018 nominee for “Canada’s Favourite Science Blog” – a People’s Choice Award.  This is an annual award, jointly sponsored by the Science Writers and Communicators of Canada and the blogging network Science Borealis.  It’s lovely to get this kind of recognition, along with some other excellent nominees.

If you’re a regular visitor here, and if you like what I have for you to read, then perhaps you’ll want to head over to the nominees’ page and vote for Scientist Sees Squirrel.  (Voting will be open until September 29.)  Or, even better, you could head over to that same page and check out some of the other nominees.  You may find some new reading, and if you feel like voting for one of those other blogs, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. (After all, that’s what I plan to do just did.)

If you’re new to Scientist Sees Squirrel – perhaps you’re checking out all the nominees – then, welcome!  Have a look around.  You’ll find all sorts of things here; in fact, Scientist Sees Squirrel is named in celebration of – or, equally, as an admission of – my wandering attention span.  A lot of it reflects my interests as a university academic, in the fields of ecology and evolution, but that ends up spinning out in a lot of ways.  You can go to the home page and scroll down to see my most recent posts, or you can dig into the archives.  You might find, for example:

There’s a lot more here, of course, so explore a bit.  If you like what you find, you can be alerted to future posts by following the blog (link at upper right), or by following me on Twitter or Facebook (a friend request will automatically make you a follower).  And when you’re done with Scientist Sees Squirrel, please head to the voting page, from where you’ll be able to visit the other nominees too.  Thanks for dropping by!

© Stephen Heard  September 16, 2018