I talked about Latin names and naming on the Natural Reality podcast

If you’ve been following Scientist Sees Squirrel for a while, you’ve probably noticed that I have a little bit of a thing for the etymologies of Latin (or “scientific”) names of organisms.  It’s perhaps a bit of a niche interest… but it shouldn’t be; there are fascinating stories behind the names we’ve coined.  So much so, in fact, that I’m writing a book on the topic – in particular, about eponymous Latin names (those named after people).

I’ll have more to say about my new book soon; but today, I just wanted to alert you to a recent episode of Liam Taylor’s Natural Reality podcast.  On my episode, Liam and I talked about Latin names – about why they’re interesting (to me, and I hope I can convince you, to you too); about how on earth I got interested in the stories behind Latin names; and about some of my favourite names.

Liam’s best question, I think, was this: what makes (for me) a “good” Latin name?  My answer was that a good Latin name is one that tells a story.  The podcast episode is full of those stories.  If you’d like to hear a few of them, you can listen to it, or download it, here.

© Stephen Heard  January 10, 2019

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Skinny-leg jeans, P>0.05, and one space after a period

Image: Skinny-leg jeans.  Not my legs.  Or my jeans.  © Claude Truong-Ngoc CC BY-SA 3.0, via wikimedia.org

I went shopping for jeans last week, and came home frustrated.  (As usual, yes, I’m eventually heading somewhere.)  I have calves of considerable circumference, and the fashion in men’s jeans now seems to be for a very narrow-cut leg.  I took pair after pair into the fitting room, only to discover I couldn’t even force my leg through the available hole.  I know, hold the presses – I’m old and I don’t like today’s fashion; and while we’re at it, all you kids get off my lawn!

But from my (admittedly weird) utilitarian point of view, I just don’t understand skinny-leg jeans.  Here’s why.  If you make a pair of skinny-leg jeans, they can be used by a skinny-leg person, but not – not even a little bit – by a non-skinny-leg person.  If you make a pair of wide-leg jeans, they accommodate both.  There’s a fundamental asymmetry in usefulness that makes it seem obvious, to me, how jeans ought to be sewn.

The same asymmetry is why I teach students to report exact P-values, not just “P<0.05” or “P>0.05”.*  Continue reading

Happy 4th birthday, Scientist Sees Squirrel!

Photo: Squirrel in the Bergdorf Goodman Shoes window; © Katie Hinde, by permission.

Today is Scientist Sees Squirrel’s fourth birthday.  When I pounded out my first post, I had no real concept of what I was doing.  I’m a little surprised and a little bemused that after four years, I’m still pounding out posts.  (It remains true that I have no real concept of what I’m doing, but at least I’ve established that I enjoy doing it.)  Along the way, I appear to have written over 300 posts – and nobody can be more surprised by that than I am.

Occasions like this sometimes get celebrated with greatest-hits lists, but that would be boring.  It’s tempting to do a greatest-duds list instead (starting with this one), but why would I inflict that on you? So, for some middle ground:  five posts that I think were actually pretty good – but that you probably didn’t read, because almost nobody did.  I’ve written about my most undercited paper; I guess these are some of my most underread blog posts.  Perhaps you’ll enjoy making the acquaintance of a piece you missed the first time around. Continue reading

Latin names that amuse my inner 9-year-old: Onopordum acanthium

Image: Scotch thistle, Onopordum acanthium via wikimedia.org, © Net-breuer CC BY-SA 3.0.

I have a paper cut-out Nativity scene that comes out every year around Christmas (it’s a childhood tradition that’s stuck with me despite my lack of religious conviction to give it meaning).  There’s a donkey near the manger, of course, and seeing it reminded me I’ve been meaning to mention the wonderful (?) etyomology of the Scotch thistle’s Latin name.  Scotch thistle is native to Europe and western Asia, although it’s become invasive in many dryish places around the world.  And it has a Latin name with a certain je-ne-sais-quoi.

Quite a while back, I wrote about the black-billed thrush, saddled with the quite unfortunate name Turdus ignobilisIt doesn’t quite mean “the ignoble turd”, but my inner 9-year-old would like it if it did.  But Scotch thistle – ah, my inner 9-year-old can go to town. Continue reading

How (as an editor) I choose lists of reviewers

Image: The reviewer-selection screen at one journal I edit for.

Warning: more detail than you may care for. 

Every manuscript submitted to a (peer-reviewed) journal needs reviewers, and it’s the editor’s job to choose appropriate ones.  How does that happen?  Have you wondered? Well, I can’t tell you how it happens in general; but I can tell you how I do it. Continue reading

My most important work is not what I’ve always thought

Image: This mobile, hanging in my office, was given to me by my friend Mary Harris when I got tenure.  It’s driftwood from the Skunk River in Iowa.  I’d just gotten tenure, and it’s made of dead wood – get it?

A rather poorly-executed and very poorly-communicated study made a big splash last week, with the claim that half of all ecologists “drop out” of the field within just 5 years.  The many, many flaws in this way of measuring and communicating people’s career trajectories have been thrashed out in other places, so I’ll just note for the record that by the paper’s critera, I myself have “dropped out” of the field.*  Continue reading

Lemon zest, theory of mind, and the hazards of localized advice

Image: Lemon zest, © Didriks via flickr.com CC BY 2.0

I hate lemon zest.  Yes, that’s trivial; but I’m going to turn it into a point that (I think) matters.

I hated lemon zest even more when I was growing up.  My mother, on the other hand, loved the stuff.  She put it in everything (well, it seemed that way to me), and she was perpetually amazed when I’d sample something new and – after my first nibble – say in an injured tone of voice “Mum, this has lemon zest in it!”.

What mystified me about the lemon zest was the stance my mother was taking.  Continue reading