In northeastern Germany, about 75 km north of Berlin, a little lake sits nestled in the woods. In the lake’s depths swims a little fish – a dwarf cisco, Coregonus fontanae. In the fish’s name, there’s a story tucked away.
Coregonus fontanae is one of a pair of cisco species in Lake Stechlin. Around the world, ciscoes (like many other fish) have evolved pairs of ecologically distinct species sharing lakes – in this case, the shallow-water Coregonus albula and its descendent species, the deeper-water C. fontanae. C. albula is widespread across northern Europe, but C. fontanae occurs only in the 4 km2 or so of Lake Stechlin. It looks a lot like its ancestor, except for its dwarfism, and it was formally described and named only in 2003.
Michael Schulz and Jörg Freyhof, who discovered and named the new cisco species, had a choice. Continue reading
Image: Jackdaw by ivabalk, CC0 via pixabay.com
Research for my new book has had me reading a lot of books about the history of natural history. Some are well known, some are obscure; some are old; some are new. (Some were borrowed, and this time around, one was blue.) Here are four more minireviews (in no particular order), in case the pile of books you’ve been meaning to read isn’t big enough.
Mrs. Moreau’s Warbler: How Birds Got Their Names (Moss 2018, Faber and Faber). This charming book explores the etymologies of the common names of birds. Continue reading
Statistical Inference as Severe Testing: How to Get Beyond the Statistics Wars, by Deborah G. Mayo. Cambridge University Press, 2018.
If there’s one thing we can all agree on about statistics, it’s that there are very few things we all agree on about statistics. The “statistics wars” that Deborah Mayo would like to help us get beyond have been with us for a long time; in fact, the battlefield and the armies shift but they’ve been raging from the very beginning. Is inference about confidence in a single result or about long-term error rates? Is the P-value essential to scientific inference or a disastrous red herring holding science back? Does model selection do something fundamentally different from null-hypothesis significance testing (NHST), and if so, what? If we use NHST, is the phrase “nearly significant” evidence of sophisticated statistical philosophy or evil wishful thinking? Is Bayesian inference irredeemably subjective or the only way to convert data into evidence? These issues and more seem to generate remarkable amounts of heat – sometimes (as with Basic and Applied Social Psychology’s banning of the P-value) enough heat to seem like scorched-earth warfare*. Continue reading
Image: Addressing visitors at the official opening of the New Brunswick Literature Garden; photo courtesy of Holly Abbandonato.
As a scientist, I’m really a writer, in the important sense that my research doesn’t matter until it’s published. As a result, I’ve come to celebrate completion of a project not when I collect the last sample, enter the last bit of data, or conduct the last analysis. Instead, I celebrate completion when the paper is published and available for the world to see*.
But my most recent paper isn’t a paper; it’s a garden. And just a couple of weeks ago we had its official opening, and I’m counting that as “my” garden’s publication date. I’ve just published my garden!
About that garden: Continue reading
Image: Chamaeleon, from Arcana, or, the Museum of Natural History (1811) by Thomas, Lord Busby (1811). Which has nothing to do with the four books reviewed here; I just like the illustration.
Research for my new book has me reading a lot of books about the history of natural history. Among the books, some are new, some are old; some are well known, some are obscure. Here are four more minireviews (in no particular order), in case the pile of books you’ve been meaning to read isn’t big enough. (There were six more in the first post in this series, here.)
Under a Wild Sky: John James Audubon and the Making of the Birds of America (Souder 2004, North Point Press). This book, like its subject, is utterly fascinating. I knew nothing about Audubon other than being familiar with his famous bird prints. I assumed, somehow, that he was an upper-class gentleman with a distinguished family history. In fact, he was a newcomer, born in Haiti and raised in France, and something of a ne’er-do-well: a serial exaggerator if not an outright liar, an atrociously poor businessman, and yet somehow an inspired artist who reinvented the depiction of natural history. Continue reading
I’ve been reading (OK, I’m always reading, except when I’m writing). This time: David George Haskell’s The Songs of Trees. Here are some thoughts. Continue reading
Photos: Commerson’s Dolphins (Cephalorhynchus commersonii) in the Strait of Magellan, by Miguel Vieira via flickr.com; CC BY 2.0. Bougainvillea by Andrew Schmidt via publicdomainpictures.net, released to public domain. Syngrapha hochenwarthi, by Dumi via wikimedia.org, CC BY-SA 3.0
Everyone knows, of course, that Latin names are often based on names of people: the namer might choose to honour a friend, a colleague, a celebrity, a prominent public figure, or a deserving scientist. But do namers ever succumb to the temptation to honour themselves? If I were to describe a new goldenrod species, say, could or should I name it Solidago heardi?
I’d never thought about this until I stumbled across a claimed case of such ego-naming. Continue reading