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.

AI language models will fundamentally change scientific writing – but it won’t be ChatGPT

Everyone’s obsessed with ChatGPT these days (yes, including me, since I’ve posted about it twice in the last few months). This obsession includes sweeping statements (I won’t link to any in particular, they’re easy to find) about how ChatGPT and similar “artificial intelligence” large language models are going to revolutionize all human enterprises that involve writing. What about scientific writing? Will AI language models revolutionize scientific writing?

I think the answer is “yes”, and soon, but not the way I’m hearing people talk about. Continue reading


The Delicate Dance of Peer Review

This is a guest post from Greg Crowther. Like a lot of us, Greg has thought about peer review from both sides of the table. It’s easy to get frustrated and proclaim that peer review is broken. It’s much more useful to come to a thoughtful take about what can be improved, and how. Read on!

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about peer review. This is one of those academic topics that lend themselves to perennial hot takes like “peer review is broken.” My own not-so-hot take — broadly consistent with Steve’s perspective — is that the process is generally useful, often satisfying, and sometimes quite pleasant!

In a world where it’s hard to change anyone’s mind about anything, even (especially?) at faculty meetings, peer review can feel like a nice little oasis of rationality. Continue reading

ChatGPT: author, acknowledgement, method, or tool?

Like everybody else, I’m fascinating by the fast-moving world of ChatGPT and its kin. Today: what do these tools mean for authorship, in a world where scientists are already using them to help them write their papers?

Tools like ChatGPT are often referred to as “artificial intelligence”, but that’s a terrible label for them – it misleads people, who are then surprised when ChatGPT output is dumb, or wrong, or just plain fabricated.* Continue reading

Wonderful Latin Names: Zyzyxia lundellii

It’s been a while since I’ve indulged in my obsession with weird and wonderful Latin names – I think the last one I blogged about was Ignotus aenigmaticus, last November. But my obsession hasn’t abated. (You’d think writing a whole book about eponymous Latin names might have gotten it out of my system – but you’d be wrong.) Today: the tremendously euphonious, and alphabetically privileged, Zyzyxia lundellii (a plant of the aster family, native to Guatemala and Belize).

It’s mostly the genus name I admire: Zyzyxia. Doesn’t that just spring from your tongue? Why, you might wonder, Zyzyxia? Well, there’s a story.* Continue reading

How bad are the ads? Readers say, not so bad.

Last week I asked how much you’re bothered by the ads on Scientist Sees Squirrel – which occur because I use WordPress’s free (= ad-supported) hosting. The votes are in, and most of you aren’t bothered.

More specifically: Continue reading

Is there an easier way to teach scientific writing?

Each winter semester for the last 5 years or so I’ve taught a course for upper-year and grad students in scientific writing. My course has three components to it: (1) a series of (mini) lectures; (2) an accompanying series of small-group workshops; and (3) a series of assignments, via which each student submits, piece by piece, a first draft and then (following comments from me) a revised draft of a scientific paper.

I’ve just wrapped up this year’s version, which (rather sadly) will be my last, as I’m retiring at the end of this year. Every time I teach the course, I come to the same realization: teaching scientific writing the way I’ve been doing it is hard. Continue reading

Consulting readers: how bad are the ads?

As you’ll know (because you’re reading this), Scientist Sees Squirrel uses advertising-supported hosting on WordPress. The upside is that you can read this blog for free.* The downside is, obviously, the ads. My impression is that these have gotten more intrusive lately.

Going ad-free would have a small cost. My question for you today: if you read Scientist Sees Squirrel regularly, would you chip in a little bit – let’s say $5/year – so that could happen? Continue reading

To see the worlds behind the names behind the trees behind the forest, all convolved together with strange and impossible contingencies…

How does a book come to be translated? How does a book come to be translated into Estonian, a language with only about a million speakers? What’s the connection between translation and the oldest living tree in the world, or translation, Soviet gulags, and Ronald Reagan? If you’re curious about any of these things, then this guest post by Lauri Laanisto is for you. Lauri is a plant ecologist and a translator of natural history books, and his most recent project is the Estonian translation of Charles Darwin’s Barnacle and David Bowie’s Spider.  Enjoy!

Recently Stephen´s book about eponymous Latin taxon names was published in Estonian. And as it happened, I was the one who translated it. Shortly after bragging about it on Twitter, I got a message from Stephen asking me if I would like to write a short guest post about this for his blog. The exact wording of the “assignment”, after I agreed to do it, was: “You could write whatever you like, short or long, doesn’t matter. I would be really interested, myself, in knowing more about what it’s like to translate a book, how the Press found and chose you, etc. – but anything would be interesting!”

That´s the thing – anything can be interesting! Continue reading

Why you should write “In this study, we…” – and then delete it

Each year, when I teach my Scientific Writing Course, I find my students committing many of the same writing sins (which is only fair, as I commit many of them too). But from year to year there always seems to be a different standout. This year it’s “in this study”. Once, I would have counted “in this study” as one of my writing pet peeves; but I think of it a bit differently now. It’s still a pet peeve – but an editing one, not a writing one. I think that’s a useful distinction, so let me explain.

The case against “in this study” is simple. Continue reading

Why journal papers are like cemetery plots

A few weeks ago I annoyed a lot of people by explaining how I think for-profit journals are like salmon. That post had a line suggesting that there are ways to make publishing cheaper – but not free (or close to it) because “publishing well costs money”. Today I’m going to pick up on that thought a little bit, and annoy a bunch more people by suggesting that journal papers are like cemetery plots.* Continue reading