Folk taxonomy, the postal service, and mailing live animals

Image:  Letterbox © Tim Green CC BY 2.0, via wikimedia.org. Don’t mail a live animal here.

Early in the summer, the legal humour blog Lowering the Bar had a good time with the fact that in the U.S. you can mail live scorpions – under certain amusing but also completely understandable conditions. (One of which is that they aren’t this kind.  Another is that they’re being mailed for use in medical research or the manufacture of antivenins.  So maybe I should have said that live scorpions can be mailed, because most likely you can’t mail them. This is probably just as well.)

This appealed to my admittedly peculiar sense of humour, so I promptly read the entirety of the U.S. Postal Service regulations on mailing live animals.  Then the equivalent Canada Post regulations.  Then the U.K. Royal Mail’s*.  I’m happy, today, to be able to share the results of my research with you.

Cultural anthropology and biology have an interesting point of contact in what are called “folk taxonomies”.  Continue reading

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The statistics of pesto

Image: This is what 1300 g (2.8 lb) of basil looks like. 

Yesterday (as I write) I bought some basil at my local farmer’s market.  Quite a lot of basil, actually – almost 3 pounds of it – because it was my annual pesto-making day*.  My favourite vendor sells basil by the stem (at 50¢ each), and I started pulling stems from a large tub.  Some stems were quite small, and some were huge, with at least a five-fold difference in size between smallest and largest (and no, I didn’t get to just pick out the huge ones).  So how many stems did I need?  Or to put it the other way around, given that I bought 49 stems, how many batches of pesto would I be making, and how many cups of walnuts would I need?

My undergrad students – like a lot of biology students – don’t like statistics.  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

Can we stop saying reviewers are unpaid?

Image: Coins by KMR Photography CC BY 2.0

Reviewers, we all tell each other to remember, are unpaid. Sometimes we’re being scandalized about it, as in “Megapublisher X is making unconscionable profits on the back of unpaid reviewers”.  Other times we’re being laudatory, as in “We should be grateful to reviewers for all the help they give us, since they’re working for us without pay”.  I’ve said versions of the latter many times: for example, in The Scientist’s Guide to Writing, in this older post, and more recently and more explicitly in this post.  But the thing is, it (mostly) isn’t true.  We should probably stop saying it. Continue reading

How good (a manuscript) is good enough?

Image: © (claimed) Terrance Heath, CC BY-NC 2.0

“How good a manuscript”, I’m sometimes asked, “is good enough to submit”?  It’s a natural enough question.  A manuscript heading for peer review isn’t the finished product.  It’s virtually certain that reviewers will ask for changes, often very substantial ones – so why waste time perfecting material that’s going to end up in the wastebasket anyway? Continue reading