Category Archives: Uncategorized

I answered 46 questions this week

Well, OK, I answered a lot more questions this week, but what I mean is that I’m the week’s featured interview on 46 Questions.  46 Questions is a great idea.  Every week they feature a scientist giving quick, short answers to 46 questions – questions that emphasize the scientist as a person with hobbies and personality and guilty pleasures, rather than the science they do.  I think that’s important.  There’s a stereotype out there that scientists are something apart – often, emotionless and personality-deficient automatons in lab coats behind a laboratory bench.  That’s dangerous: it makes it easy for the general public to reject science, because it’s separate and other, not part of our shared society.  Far better for folks to understand that scientists are people just like everyone else; that there might be a scientist in line behind you at the grocery store, in the next pew at church, or on the opposing team in the curling bonspiel.  Scientists have all the same virtues, vices, and personality quirks as everyone else (and that’s a major theme of my new book, by the way).

46 Questions has done a nice job of highlighting the humanity of scientists, and also the many axes of diversity among scientists that we can and should celebrate.  I’m happy to be part of it.

You can read my 46 answers here – but even better, browse around a bit.  There are all kinds of interesting people there!

© Stephen Heard  November 14, 2019

Image: 46 Questions logo

Three billion lost birds, and what else don’t I know?

Image: Blackpoll warbler (one of the declining species), © Simon Barrette CC BY-SA 3.0 via wikimedia.org

You saw the headline (and maybe you read the study): three billion lost birds.  Three billion fewer birds in North America than there were in 1970.  It’s eye-catching, isn’t it?  There are (as is usually true) some reasons to interpret the result with nuance, but that isn’t my point today – Brian McGill has covered that with admirable thoroughness over on Dynamic Ecology. Instead, I’ll dig briefly into what the study told me about my own ignorance. Three billion is the change.  How many birds remain – and could I have answered that question before seeing the study? Continue reading

Do I work for the Class that pays me? (guest post)

Image: Kya Sands/Bloubosrand by Johnny Miller used with permission.

This is a guest post by Artem Kaznatcheev, a researcher in the Department of Computer Science at Oxford University and the Department of Translational Hematology and Oncology at the Cleveland Clinic.  Artem also blogs as part of the Theory, Evolution, and Games Group.  I’m pleased to have this post, which pushes back in a very interesting direction against one of my posts from last year.  Read on!

At the end of last year, Stephen Heard wrote that he doesn’t work for the people that pay him. He wrote in his usual positive tone and focus. A positivity that has me coming back to this blog regularly. In particular, he pointed out that his work as an ecologist has a positive impact all over the world. Thus he is not working for the taxpayers of New Brunswick, but for people all over the world. He generalized this to all of scientific progress:

There’s an implicit global contract, I think, that having science progress is good for us, and that having universities helps science progress. Also part of this implicit contract is the idea that this is best done by everyone funding universities and setting scientists loose – rather than by New Brunswick funding a university with scientists who work only on New Brunswick problems, and likewise for other jurisdictions. The phenomenal progress of modern science, and its international connectedness, suggest that this implicit contract has worked very, very well.

He concluded with a reflection on the dangers of taking this global focus away from universities. And that he is unapologetic about not working for the people that pay him. Stephen was positive about the good that science does for the everyone, not just those that pay him.

But in this case, he found this positive tone by focusing on geographic divisions and geopolitical boundaries. He suggested that science often transcends these. I think this is probably correct, but — given my curmudgeon nature — I don’t think it is the most relevant division. Continue reading

Asking for feedback on job applications: attitudes and practices

Image: Feedback © Alan Levine CC BY 2.0

This post is jointly written by Steve Heard and Jacquelyn Gill, and appears in addition on Jacquelyn’s blog The Contemplative Mammoth

Early this summer, we asked for your experience and your attitudes about the practice of candidates’ asking for feedback on their (unsuccessful) job applications (with respect to university/college academic jobs). We polled both job candidates and search committee members, and here we’ll report the results and give you some of our thoughts.  We also hope you’ll leave your own thoughts and share your experiences in the Replies.

 

(1) It’s hard to write a poll Continue reading

Thoughts in memory of my father

My father, Douglas Heard, died last month at the age of 77.  I don’t think he ever read Scientist Sees Squirrel, and he won’t be reading this post. But he’s a presence in everything I do.

I have a friend, far outside of science, who once told me that my blog posts are like sermons.  Continue reading

Temporal trends in the Journal Diversity Index

Warning: astonishingly trivial

Three weeks ago I showed you my Journal Life List, and I invented the Journal Diversity Index (J/P, where my P papers have appeared in J different journals).  A lot of you liked that and calculated your own JDIs, and I don’t know that we learned anything profound, but it was fun and there’s nothing wrong with that.

But I can never leave well enough alone. Continue reading

Recent reading on the history of natural history

I’ve been reading a lot books lately on the history of natural history, as background research for a new book (the proposal is currently in review, and you’ll have to wait to learn more). Among the books, some are new, some are old; some are well known, some are obscure.  Here are my minireviews (in no particular order), in case you’re looking to add that pile of books you’ve been meaning to read. Continue reading