Wonderful Latin Names: Salacca zalacca 

Images: Salacca zalacca, botanical print from unknown source, presumed public domain; via Swallowtail Garden Seeds.  Salak fruits by Midori CC BY-3.0 via wikimedia.org.

 Latin names have a reputation as horribly difficult to pronounce.  Sometimes this is true: I’ve worked on the moth Gnorimoschema gallaesolidaginis for over 20 years, and I still don’t know if I’m pronouncing it correctly.  But other Latin names roll wonderfully off the tongue: the clove tree Syzygium and the hoopoe Upupa epops, for example.

Few roll as wonderfully off the tongue as Salacca zalacca, though. Continue reading

Robert Boyle’s Monstrous Head

Every now and again, a paper is published that’s so peculiar, or so apparently irrelevant to any important question, that it attracts derision rather than citation.  Perhaps it picks up a Golden Fleece Award, or more fun, an IgNobel Prize; or perhaps it just gets roundly mocked on Twitter*.  Much more than every now and then, a paper gets published that just doesn’t seem to connect to anything, and rather than being derided it’s simply ignored.

Perhaps you think this kind of thing is a recent phenomenon.  Continue reading

Canada’s 150th, and how should we think about incomplete progress?

Image: Map of Canada by Pmg via Wikipedia.org, released to public domain.

Canada is 150 years old today, and there will be parties, and speeches, and fireworks.

I’m Canadian, and proud of my country – we’re mostly progressive, mostly supportive of diversity and human rights at home, and mostly a force for good abroad in the world.  We’re also mostly getting better on all those axes.  But we aren’t perfect on any of them, and like everyone, we have darker history (both pre- and post-Confederation) than we’d like.  Continue reading

Thoughts from a room on the 13th floor

Photo: elevator buttons © Shane Adams via flickr.com CC BY 2.0

 Last month I went to my favourite conference (the Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution), and checked into the conference hotel.  The desk clerk gave me room 1310, and I headed for the elevator and pressed the button for the 13th floor.  And then I did a double-take.  The 13th floor?  I don’t remember ever staying on a 13th floor; in North America, at least, buildings usually hop from the 12th floor to the 14th with only a mysterious lacuna in between.

Nothing untoward happened to me on the 13th floor, of course.  But my stay in room 1310 made me think about the 13-is-bad-luck superstition, and what it says about the human concepts of the universe.  What kind of thinking is behind our usual no-13th-floor convention?  First, we have to believe that the universe is constructed such that the 13th of something is disfavoured.  Second, there has to be some agency (whether natural law or supernatural) omniscient and omnipotent enough to keep track of what things are the 13th of something (floors, days, whatever), and to punish us for being on those things.  And third, that same omniscient and omnipotent agency has to be dumb enough to be hoodwinked by our labelling the 13th of something “14”.* Continue reading

Poll: where do you stand on asking for feedback on unsuccessful job applications?

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

A couple of weeks ago, one of us (Steve) posted “How to write, and read, a (job) rejection letter”. (I should clarify that we’re talking here about the university/college academic job market*).  One piece of advice to job candidates got some interesting pushback on Twitter, including from Jacquelyn.  It was this piece:

Finally, realize that the letter isn’t an invitation to further conversation…Don’t contact the letter writer, or anyone else, to ask for further feedback (not even “so I can improve my future applications”).  Believe me, we understand how much you want that feedback, because when we were in your position we wanted it too.   But the same confidentiality considerations that kept the letter short and a bit vague apply to later conversations too. 

Continue reading

“Peer Community In”: Beyond the traditional publishing model (guest post)

I recently learned about Peer Community In (PCI), a new system for reviewing and recommending preprints. I’m really intrigued.  It’s true that I’m an old fuddy-duddy who’s on record as saying that we often exaggerate the problems with the status quo, and as not liking to think outside the box.  And yet there are good reasons to think it might be good to have other ways beyond traditional journals to disseminate science.  We should experiment with a variety of new systems, and PCI seems like one well worth exploring.  Read on to learn more!

What follows is a guest post by Denis Bourguet (denis.bourguet@inra.fr), Benoit Facon (benoit.facon@inra.fr), Thomas Guillemaud (thomas.guillemaud@inra.fr), and Ruth Hufbauer (hufbauer@colostate.edu).  DB, BF, and TG are the founders of PCI, and RH is a colleague and member of the board of PCI Evol Biol.

We believe that the current system of publishing with academic journals suffers from four crucial problems. First, Continue reading

Personality, politics, profile

Photo: Not doing science (© Jamie Heard)

Warning: navel gazing (again).

How much is science something apart, and how much is it connected to politics and human personality?  This question has been in the air a lot lately, for example in discussion around the US (and global) Marches for Science.  My point today isn’t to recapitulate those discussions.  They resonated with me, though, because of my evolving thinking about my presence online.

When I first took up social media, I was determined that I would keep my Twitter and blog profile purely professional.  I would tweet and blog only about science, and put personality, politics, and pretty much everything else aside.  I was even a little derisive about this, making fun of people who live-tweet their breakfasts.  But I think this was wrong, and I’ve started to loosen up a little. Continue reading