29 September 2011

Submit to Open Lab right now!

Because you don’t have until the end of November as in years past! You have until Monday, 3 October 2011 to find your favourite science writing online and submit it for consideration in this annual anthology!

Bora Zivcovic, the mastermind behind The Open Laboratory anthology series, announced that the deadline has moved up because they have a new publisher for the book.

Of course, please feel free to browse the archive at the right to see if there is anything you like.

Are neutrinos and science journalists both going faster than they should?

Discussion around the report of neutrinos travelling faster than light continue apace. Everyone is talking about it in the scientific community and most media outlets have also covered it.

But one thing that has not been often commented upon is that this finding hasn’t been peer-reviewed. It’s a pre-print in ArXiv.

You won’t see the lack of peer review mentioned in Nature News, ScienceNow!, New Scientist, Uncertain Principles, Starts With a Bang!, or Victor Stenger in The Huffington Post, to name some of the commentary. Some of those do mention that the paper is deposited on ArXiv, but not many will understand the role that ArXiv plays in the physics community.

One of the first questions I try to get my students to ask in evaluating claims is, “Was that finding in a peer-reviewed journal?” I try to instill more sophisticated evaluation strategies as we go on, but that question alone can sort out a lot of rubbish in a first pass.

But in this case, nobody seems to care. This made me ask a lot of questions.

Does it mean that peer review is adding no value for the physics community? Everyone is talking about it and trying to think of ways to explain the result and replicate it. Nobody is waiting for the peer-reviewed paper to come out. Is there any incentive for these authors to submit this manuscript to a peer reviewed journal?

Does it mean that this group of scientists built up an unusually sold track record for careful and meticulous work? As an outsider to the field, I have no way of assessing that. Is this why people don’t care that this is not peer reviewed?

Does this mean that there something special about the high-energy particle physics community that makes the reporting practices different than other fields? Would a similarly contrary claim in other fields be treated as openly and as with as much enthusiasm in the scientific press? I’m having hard time thinking of a claim in biology that could be as contradictory as the notion that something could travel faster than light. Maybe someone claiming that DNA was not the hereditary material in cells would be on that level.

If someone in another field tried to make a similarly big claim outside a peer-reviewed journal, would they be laughed out of the room? Would journalists be tougher on them?

28 September 2011

The Zen of Presentations, Part 47: You need a symbologist

The letter “X” is not a multiplication symbol. Not in its uppercase form, and not in its lowercase form, either. The multiplication sign looks like this: ×

A superscript letter “O” is not a degree sign. A degree looks like this: °

A lowercase “u” is not lowercase Greek letter mu, better known as the metric symbol for “micro-”. The micro- symbol looks like this: µ

And we can tell the difference.

If you use Microsoft Office, here’s the part of the ribbon you’re looking for:

Windows users can also open up the Character Map for even more symbols.

One major technical symbol that is missing, and which scientists often want to use, is the mean symbol. It looks like an x with a bar over the top. For some reason, the mean symbol is not in Unicode character sets, or in HTML, as far as I can find.

I have seen these kinds of mistakes in documents, and slides, and posters, many times.

These mistakes show that you don’t know how to use your tools. That is the definition of amateur. And wouldn’t you rather look like a professional than an amateur?

27 September 2011

HESTEC Science Symposium 2011

This is the tenth anniversary of HESTEC. HESTEC is a campus and community event, and the name is an acronym for “Hispanic Engineering, Science, and Technology.” I was involved again this year in organizing the Science Symposium on day 1, where we were fortunate to have the biggest “name” speaker we’ve ever had.

Steve Niemeyer (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) talked about his particular path into a scientific career. His three big pieces of advice: Work hard. Learn how to communicate. And don't quit (it took him 7½ years to complete his bachelor’s degree). Niemeyer gave his talk without slides, incidentally.

Jose Bravo, a lead scientist at Shell Oil, was the second speaker, talking about efforts to develop new energy sources. There were two one liners that I appreciated.

“There is a misconception that innovation is an instant,” he said, citing the common “lightbulb” image that is used to signify a flash of inspiration. Bravo stressed the long time needed to develop ideas alll the way through to the final working industrial-level product.

Bravo also talked about how, as he moved through his career, his job transitioned from providing answers to asking questions. He said that at Shell, “People with answers always work for people with questions.” I think that is a great line, and very true for all sorts of organizations, including academia. Grad students and post-docs have the answers. They work for people who ask the questions. (Dr. Karl is very fond of saying, “It’s not the answer that gets you the Nobel prize; it’s asking the right question.”

I was disappointed – though perhaps not surprised – that in answering one question, he washed his hands on whether climate change was happening or not. He said that Shell saw reducing its carbon output as simply good business. But for any scientist to be speaking in a prominent public forum and to pussyfoot around the reality of human climate change, and the effects of continued unrelenting burning of fossil fuels is irresponsible.

I thought about pressing hm on that, but decided against it, to give students the opportunity to ask questions.

The room continued filling up through the symposium...

One student seemed to have wandered out of ComicCon.

Bill Nye arrived to lots of cheers and applause, and palpable excitement.

Nye gave a talk laced with his trademark humour, touching on many topics, such as the changes in society and science that had happened through the lifetimes of his immediate family. Similar to Jose Bravo, energy was very much on the mind of Nye. “I want one of you to go into the solar hot water business! Will one of you do that?!” In response to a student’s question, he later talked about how he cut his electric bill to $10 for two months in summertime.

During the questions, Nye also talked about his new role as executive director of the Planetary Society. He asked people to estimate how many people have now flow in space, and most underestimated the number: it’s now over 500! He noted that space exploration is no longer the Star Trek ideal of boldly going where no one has gone before.

“Now it’s, ‘To timidly go where 538 have gone before.’”

He challenged students to develop materials that would make lighter rockets and space travel more feasible, because, “I want to go someplace new and cool.” Nye was also quite bullish on the prospects of finding fossil microbes on Mars, which he proposed be called “Marscrobes” (if they exist!).

A student also asked if Nye still got to do original research, or if he was just doing television and education. Nye replied that he continued to use his engineering skills every day in his job in the Planetary Society, saying, “Scientific skills allow you to evaluate if someone’s crazy.”

Nye said much more besides, and we could have gone another hour. But it was great to see the enthusiasm people had for him. You cannot underestimate the impact that people on television, like Nye, have on the imaginations of people.

In the afternoon, I moderated a career roundtable with my colleague, Robin Fuchs-Young and Heather Reddick. It went quite well, and was again better attended than it had been in previous years.

After that, I walked back into the lobby and watched some of the posters fall from their frames. Some frames had corkboard mounted on metal, and I guess the adhesive on the cork was getting old... I could see several of them sagging before they gave up and snapped.

Tuesday Crustie: Winning!

I’ve had the Louisiana red swamp crayfish (Procambarus clarkii) in this feature before, but I just have to share this winning entry from an Encyclopedia of Life photo competition for the category, “Stream life.” It’s by fellow blogger Michael Bok!

Photo on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.

22 September 2011

Autoclaving gone wrong

I don’t know what led up to this.

But that’s not a good outcome.

21 September 2011

A sign that you might be spending too much time on the Internet

You might be spending too much time on the Internet if you go to get a drink, look at this water fountain...

And think, “Cool! This fountain has its own RSS feed!”

(For the 99.6% of the world that isn’t laughing right now, this the symbol for an RSS feed.)

I desperately need to get a life.

20 September 2011

Tuesday Crustie: Whip it

One of the reasons I keep doing Tuesday Crustie on this blog is that I sometimes make the neatest discovery of a beast I have never seen before...

This great looking shrimp, identified as the whip coral shrimp, also has the elegant Latin name of Dasycaris zanzibarica.

Photo by danielguip on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.

19 September 2011

Do your students act entitled?

Last week, The Current had a segment called, “Entitled University Students.” It was a feature related to a new book on Canadian universities, but generally, large social trends in the Canada are often very similar to those in the United States. But the overarching student attitude described by the panel participants – entitled, pampered, immature, unprepared, unwilling to take criticism – is not at all what I see in my students.

I get two dominant vibes off my students.

The first is fear.

Fear of speaking out, fear of the professor, fear of getting a bad grade, fear of not getting a job after they finish their degree. Students rarely dispute marks, for instance, except in very obvious errors.

The second is fatigue. What others have described as laziness to me just feels like the weariness of being into year fourteen of being given more seemingly arbitrary homework. An attitude of, “Here we go again...” That does, I think, translate into what other professors see as “laziness” or “minimalism.”

Most of my students don’t act entitled. They act beaten. They act cowed. They act like a big boot is going to come down and squish them like a little ant at any second.

I suspect some of this might be because of the particular institution that I am working at, and the particular majors I am usually working with. Maybe I am just terrifying. Faculty elsewhere, your thoughts?

17 September 2011

Tenure-track jobs that were mailed to me

I got these jobs mailed to me in an envelope. On paper! And they might be the sort of job that a reader of this blog might want. Should said reader be, you know, an unemployed bum. Or a post-doc.

These are for the Department of Biology, University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Animal Behavior (Assistant professor) - Research focus is open, but could include observational and experimental approaches that clarify the molecular and physiological bases of behavioural traits, their functional ecology and evolution, their consequences for multispecies interactions and social integration, and related areas. Teaching requirements will include an undergrad course in animal behavior. For more info, contact Robert Marquis, chair of search committee: robert_marquis@umsl.edu.

Animal Physiology (Assistant or associate professor) - Research focus is open, but could include comparative physiology, immunology, endocrinology, metabolism, functional ecology, host-pathogen interactions, adaptation to extreme environments, and related areas. Teaching requirements will include an undergrad course in vertebrate physiology. For more info, contact Robert E Ricklefs, chair of search committee: ricklefs@umsl.edu.

Evolution and ecology (Assistant or associate professor) - Research focus is open, but could include genetics of adaptation, phylogenetic aspects of diversification, population abundance and distribution, or community interactions and co-evolution. We are particularly seeking applicants with strong analytical, computational, phylogenetic, and/or statistical skills. Teaching requirements may include undergrad courses evolution, biometry, or GIS. For more info, contact Elizabeth Kellogg, chair of search committee: tkellogg@umsl.edu.

Send cover letter, CV, concise outline of research plans, statement of teaching interest and philosophy, in a single PDF. Provide PDF or up to 5 publicayions and request letters from 3 references. Send all application documents to Maryann Hempen (hempen@umsl.edu).

Review begins 1 October.

16 September 2011

Being a fish out of water changes you

It might be tricky to keep mangrove rivulus in your typical aquarium. Mangrove rivulus are rather found of jumping out of water – and staying there.

Being out of water is a rather different place from being in the water, and so this fish obviously have some evolutionary adaptations that allow it to pull off this stunt. But a new paper asks a different, possibly more subtle: do mangrove rivulus adapt to being in or out of water in the short term?

ResearchBlogging.orgMangrove rivulus have an advantage for studying these sorts of short-term physiological changes, as many of them are genetically identical, because they are hermaphrodites - not all that unusual among animals, but that they are self-fertilizing hermaphrodites is a rare and exceptional feature among vertebrates.

Turko and colleagues first did a simple correlative study, allowing the fish to jump out of their tanks as often as they want. Most stayed in the water most  of the time, but a few appeared to have what would have been a death wish in most other fish: they were out of the water almost two thirds of the time (64%). The authors saw differences in the gill shape that were correlated with the amount of time fish spent in or out of water.

But because correlation does not mean causation, the authors sensibly went back and did an experiment. They monitored animals for a week, then prevented them all from leaving the water, sacrificed half to check on their gills, and then left the remaining half go back to being free to leave the water if they chose.

The first that were prevented from leaving the water had different gill shapes than those that were allowed to return to the air. This strong suggests that the fishes’ behaviour drove the changes in the gill morphology.

But there is a problem in interpretation here. At the start of the second experiment, the fish were leaving water rather less than in the first correlation study. And there were no correlations between gill shape and the fish’s behaviour after the first week, as there was in the first study. The differences in gill shape emerged only after the week were the fish were forced to stay within water. The researchers suggest that there may be a minimum time the fish have to spend out of water for the gill remodeling effect to occur.

This makes me wonder if there were be a way to do the experiment were fish were forced to stay out of water for set periods of time. Here, the experimenters were at the mercy of the fish voluntarily leaving the water. It may be a little bit trickier, but the results would be much easier to interpret.

Related posts

Conquest of the land, a la Chubby Checker
Celebrate diversity: The fish that fertilizes itself (on Marmorkrebs)


Turko A, Earley R, Wright P. 2011. Behaviour drives morphology: voluntary emersion patterns shape gill structure in genetically identical mangrove rivulus. Animal Behaviour 82(1): 39-47. DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2011.03.001

15 September 2011

Comments for first half of September 2011

Dr. Becca shares the tips she got for how to get tenure in 90 minutes. (I think that was the length of the session, not the length of her probation.)

Professor in Training notes that one funding agency now has a fee to submit grant applications to it.

Prof Like Substance collects advice for new grad students.

14 September 2011

Subtropical Biology 2012

I’m pleased to announce Subtropical Biology 2012, the first conference to be hosted by our institution’s Center for Subtropical Studies. This one-day conference will be held 13 January 2012. The registration form is here.

Please spread the news and help make this first conference a success!

ESA 2011, postscript

At the Ecology Society of America meeting in Austin last month, I mentioned that I had lunch with the most fab Sarcozona. She has notes from our chittin’ and chattin’ at Gravity’s Rainbow!

The two words that can sabotage your tenure

There are two words that have probably sabotaged many a promising academic on tenure-track.

“Still time.”

Dr. Becca described “third year syndrome” in a tenure-track orientation session. One of the more cryptic pieces of advice was to beware of  I had not heard of this, although the importance of the third year is that it’s normally the halfway point in the probationary period.

The problem with the halfway point is that it’s easy to get there without doing the research that is going to get you tenure. You think, “First couple of years, I'll be preparing courses for teaching and establishing my lab. Second year, I'll probably be recruiting students and technicians, and these experiments that I need to do to get me grant money are long and sophisticated, and they'll take another year...”

Before you know it, you’ve reached the halfway point and produced no original scholarship from your new university.

You might think, “That’s okay, they only evaluate the total publications at the end, so I can have a lot the last couple of years of probation.”

The problem with that way of thinking is that your probationary period starts to look like one Zeno’s paradoxes: you get to the halfway point with no publications, but there’s still time in the second half of probation. You get halfway through the second half with no publications, but there’s still time in the last year. You get to the last year and have submit manuscripts to journals... but the review process drags out. The reviewers demand more experiments before accepting the paper.

And then you’re at the end without the publications you need to get tenured.

Make it a goal: get something out by the halfway mark.

Photo by Graham Binns on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.

13 September 2011

Tuesday Crustie: The crab that went into the cold

This large crab species (Neolithodes yaldwyni) has been making the news recently as they make their way into the waters of Antarctica.

Photo from here.

12 September 2011

The Zen of Presentations, Part 46: If you say this, you know your talk sucks

There are certain phrases that you never plan to say during a presentation. When talking out loud, though, they can sneak out in a moment of uncontrolled honesty.

Kate Wing nails it:

Scientists - If you have to preface your slide with “you won’t be able to see this” it shouldn't be a slide.

I have often heard some variation of, “This slide isn’t very clear, but...”. If you know that, then why are you forcing me to look at it? Apologizing for a slide might have been acceptable in the days of 35 mm film, where you couldn’t see the results until the film was actually developed. But we are living in the digital age, where high quality previews are immediate and photo editing software is everywhere.

You should always show the best image possible. Sometimes, that best image might not be so hot, but you should say, “This is the best available image.” Because that tells the audience that you respect their attention, and you put in your best effort to track down or make the clearest graphic you could.

Another phrase to listen for is, “This slide is to remind me to tell you...”

No! Slides are not for reminding yourself of what you want to say. Notes are to remind you what you want to say. Teleprompters are to remind you what you want to say. Rehearsal is to make it so you don’t need reminders at all.

If you hear phrases like these coming out of your mouth, you know it’s time to change your talk.

Never apologize, never explain.

Picture by Andrew Coulter Enright on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.

10 September 2011

Things that happen to other people

Random emails asking to work with me as a grad student or post-doc.

People finding my blog through funny or strange search queries.

People emailing me career-related questions.

09 September 2011

How students see scientific publishing

As I mentioned yesterday, I have been asking students to sketch things this semester. (This is inspired by a recent paper in Science about the effectiveness of drawing for teaching.)

In my biological writing class, I asked students to draw a little flowchart to show what happens between when a scientist writes a paper and someone else can read it.

About half the students mentioned “review” in some form, but only 17% used the phrase that distinguishes academic and scholarly writing: peer review.

There seemed to be great confusion about the difference between a publisher, an editor, and a reviewer. The terms were sort of used interchangeably to mean “people who handle stuff to get the paper out.”

Some students, perhaps not being aware of publishing jargon, used descriptive phrases like, “superiors” and the perhaps too honest, “someone of power.”

One person wrote about the part of the “publicist.” I liked the sound of that. Maybe more scientists should have publicists instead of publishers.

“Zen, baby! I’ve got you booked on Craig Ferguson next Tuesday! I’m still working on that Daily Show gig, but Stewart’s people won’t return my calls, the bastards...”

08 September 2011

The white dude of neuroscience

It’s a faux pas for any large organization to show pictures of its people and show only white men. And rightly so, since any middling sized organization is going to have women and all sorts of wonderful human diversity contained within it, and that should be represented. (Though diversity in some places is not as great as we would like it to be...)

We often make that mistake in teaching.

In my neurobiology class this semester, I asked my students on Day One to draw and label a picture of a neuron.

The pictures fell into two broad categories. About a third were unlabelled (some of them may not have heard me ask for the labels). Of the two thirds that were labelled, essentially all of them were vertebrate spinal cord motor neurons: a multipolar cell body and one long myelinated axon.

I’m puzzled as to why, of all the many types of neurons, these one have become viewed as “typical.” I know the trivial answer: they’re the ones shown in all the introductory general biology textbooks. And I understand why invertebrate neurons are not shown as examples, because neuroscience is mostly concerned with human brains.

Even within humans, spinal cord motor neurons are not typical. Many of the neurons in the brain are not myelinated (the “grey matter,” as it’s sometimes called). And neurons come in many shapes, and the axon is often not easily distinguished from all the other branches coming from the cell.

In teaching, we often make the same mistake of showing one example as representative, when it’s about as representative as the middle-aged white guy in a business photo.Which is to say, not at all.

Collage of neurons from here.

07 September 2011

Owls hunt at night when the moon is full and bright

ResearchBlogging.orgThe moon makes a difference for predators and prey. It’s easier to see during the full moon, which might mean greater opportunities for nocturnal predators, except that nocturnal prey might adjust their behaviour accordingly. It’s a delicate balancing act.

This paper looked at the changes in behaviour of eagle owls (Bubo bubo) over the lunar cycle. Not this Bubo:

This Bubo:

The team categorized their owls into “breeders” and “dispersers.” Over 459 nights (whew!), the team tracked the movements, predation, and calling of their radiotagged owls.

The breeders paid attention to the moon. The breeders were moving more, and calling more, on the nights of the full moon. The authors think that this is because hunting is less efficient on the darker nights of the full moon. Reasonable idea, but the discussion section describing how the reproductive status of the owls is affecting their behaviour is loaded with qualifiers like “could,” “might,” “could be interpreted,” “may be,” and “probably.” There’s more work to be done to clarify.

The dispersers, however, paid no attention to the moon. The authors argue that disperser might have the luxury of reducing their effort when there is less food to be had, which the breeding owls can’t do.

This is a slightly frustrating paper, because it is one small chunk of a long-term study. It seems like there are certain details that make lots of sense if you have read all the papers arising from this project, but that are hard to glean here. For instance, I can’t quite figure out how the team categorized breeders and dispersers. the distinction is probably spelled out in another paper in the series


Penteriani V, Kuparinen A, Delgado M, Lourenço R, Campioni L. 2011. Individual status, foraging effort and need for conspicuousness shape behavioural responses of a predator to moon phases. Animal Behaviour 82(2): 413-420. DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2011.05.027

Photo by FurLined on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.

06 September 2011

Tuesday Crustie: Zanni

A harlequin crab, Lissocarcinus orbicularis, photographed off Maratua.

Photo by danielguip on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.

05 September 2011

Anything is possible?

Back in April, Nature had an extended podcast with David Eagleman. Eagleman has also been profiled here.

Eagleman described some of his ideas as “possibilianism,” which might be summarized as “Anything’s possible.” He said:

It’s not committing to either of these two sides (Theistic or atheism, apparently - ZF), which I think are way too limited for modern discussion.

It bugged me, and I had been meaning to write a critique of the idea since April. I blogged about other things instead, and Jerry Coyne beat me to it.

As a lover of science fiction, I love exploring possibilities. It’s a great form of intellectual play, and play can lead to serious work. But Eagleman seems think that generating possibilities is enough, and is unwilling to sort through them to determine which is the best that reflects reality. This struck me as throwing your hands in the air and refusing to make a decision. As scientists, the point of generating possibilities is to arrive at a conclusion, not just sit and ooh and aah at all the things that could be in the mind.

Money for South Texas universities

The state of Texas is going to send a lot of money towards education in my area, and particularly at my institution. This has been covered in the news in several places, such as here and here.

Particularly interesting are the reports of $9.5 million to recruit new faculty in science and technology. The campus paper quotes my institution’s President, Robert Nelsen:

“We’re looking for starters,” he said. “These will be people with national reputations. We need new faculty and to have the quality of high-caliber faculty such as these is really going to be marvelous.”

Details on exactly how the money will be managed have not surfaced anywhere, as far as I can see. I wonder who will be making decisions about recruiting, and what that money will be used to do (i.e., salary, start-up, something else?).

In an effort like this, the devil is surely in the details. Recruiting new faculty (particularly people with “national reputations”) is a tricky business at the best of times.

Texas does not enjoy a great reputation for science. The last few weeks have seen a lot of discussion about Governor Rick Perry’s mistaken belief that we teach creationism here, and his comments about how climate scientists are lying about global warming to make money. Sprinkle with a couple of years of the Texas State Board of Education weakening the K-12 science standards, and is it any surprise you hear these sorts of dialogues among academics?

Way back when I was but a naive TT hopeful (ahh...2009), J and I had a not-that-serious conversation about which cities we'd be willing to grace with the privilege of our permanent/semi-permanent residence. In truth, it was not so much a conversation as it was me naming places, and J either accepting or vetoing, comme ça:

Me: San Francisco?
J: Probably.
Me: Chicago?
J: I could do Chicago.
Me: Houston?
J: No-HO! No Texas.

Then there is physical space. Our university has been talking about a new wing on our science building for some time. The most recent capital improvement has been for a new Fine Arts center - which they got, and good for them! But it’s not clear when we’re going to see new space on a science building.

Finally, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board announced new rules for doctoral programs that take effect in October. The new rules tie requests to new doctoral programs to the undergraduate completion rate: you have to be at or above the state average (excluding the flagship universities, the University of Texas in Austin and Texas A&M University). This means that half the universities in Texas are cut out, including ours.

To sum up: we have millions of dollars to recruit new faculty with “national reputations” to come to a somewhat rural locale in a state with an anti-intellectual reputation, who will then be expected to perform their wonders with no doctoral students and no new space.

Sometimes, you have to wonder if the right hand knows what the left hand is doing.

In related news, the University of Texas system was widely praised for new plans to promote university accountability.

How to make the future

In the 19th century, the future was manufactured.

In the 20th century, the future was programmed.

In the 21st century, the future will be grown.

04 September 2011

Carnivals for September 2011

Carnival of Evolution #39 is being hosted at The End of the Pier Show.

Encephalon #90 is up at Labcoat Life.

Circus of the Spineless #65 is hosted at The Cephalopodiatrist.

02 September 2011

Microsoft Academic Research: First impressions

Microsoft Academic Research is a new service that continues the company’s attempts to catch up to Google’s services – Google Scholar in this case. I hopped over and typed in my name. Not just out of vanity, mind you, but because I know what should be returned.

The search allows you to select certain domains. A lot of my research is spread over a wide field, so I checked as many boxes as I thought might be even tangentially relevant.

Oh dear.

I got five hits: Three in neuroscience and behaviour, one in biology and biochemistry, and one in clinical medicine. (Wha...?) Even for a beta version of the service, I was expecting double digits at least. Maybe I should have checked more boxes.

And... what a second... who’s that guy?

I have never met Michael N. Nitabach. He wasn’t an author on the paper. A little clicking reveals that there’s an “Edit” button, and that I can remove him as an author:

What else can I do here? Ah, there’s a spot to add a PDF link. Since this paper is open access, I can do that. Easily, let’s grab the DOI and head to the page...


Why is the DOI taking me to Figure 7 instead of the main page?

Okay, let's fix the DOI for the article. And add the link to the PDF. Might as well copy and paste the abstract too while I'm here. Why am I doing this work again? Isn’t the point of the database to have this stuff for you?


Also noticed that the “type” of article includes “poster”.

While I am a big poster booster, I don’t know that I want posters, which are typically very gray literature, in an academic research database. But Google Scholar catches blog posts sometimes.

Back to the main page. Hm. What are these “Were you looking for these authors” bar along the top? Yup, that’s what I was afraid of. Each one has pulled a different set of papers, even though all three of the alternates specify the same name. Why is the search for my name returning four hits instead of one? It’s not as though one was “Z Faulkes” - they all have the same name spelled out, although one includes my institution’s address below it.

The third “were you looking for...” – the one with my address underneath – is interesting, though.

This profile has a nice little dashboard, an RSS feed for updates... still missing a buttload of information, though. Let’s try editing author information. Ah, here is where add pictures, my home page, and - aha! - I can merge the three different profile!

But it’s going to take a week to verify the merger. While I appreciate that I can submit corrections, there is going to be too much literature to crowdsource corrections.

My first impression of this service is to ignore it for about a year, or until I hear about a major update. There’s just too many odd and unpredictable things going on here. It’s not trustworthy yet.

Hat tip to Bjorn Brembs on Twitter.

Additional: Bjorn Brembs followed up, saying:

It's less than beta and some/much of what you mentioned they are aware of.

The Zen of Presentations, Part 45: Down in front

You often have to give presentations in rooms where the floors are flat, the room is full, and the projection screens are always too low.

This was a curse at the recent Ecological Society of America (ESA) meeting. The screens were too low in many of the rooms, and people noticed and remarked upon it.

I knew this... and I blew it.

Because the organizers of the conference were adamant that presentations needed to be able to run in PowerPoint 1997 format, I actually ended up with multiple versions of my slides. I had one done in PowerPoint 2010 with some of the graphic effects and typefaces I wanted.

In retrospect, I was stupid to show this slide. About 20 percent of the slide is taken up with the title, pushing the image, which is what I want people to see, further down so it’s more likely to be blocked by someone’s head.

I had another that was PowerPoint 1997 compatible, with almost no text, because I was not sure if the fonts would show correctly, as not every computer has the same fonts installed. I should have used that one, because the slide would have looked more like this:

The image is bigger, and shows more of what I wanted people to see. I’d okay with the first one if I knew I was in a room with stadium seating and everyone having clear eye-lines. But I wasn’t.

Sadly, you can probably only count on the top half, or maybe two thirds, of your slides being consistently and clearly visible to all. Don’t put anything important in that bottom half or third; someone might not be able to see it. Better to start a new slide and put it at the top.

Screen photo by ChrisM70 on Flickr; crayfish photo in slides by Mike Bok on Flickr; both used under a Creative Commons license.

01 September 2011

Comments for second half of August 2011

Dr. Micro O is checking on the hiring practices out there. She follows it up with some thoughts on academic competition, with which Gerty Z further runs even further.

Kate Clancy seeks advice on teaching science to undergraduates who are not science majors.

Prof-Like Substance reviews the new grant submission policies for a couple of divisions in the National Science Foundation.

Jamie Vernon takes Governor Rick Perry at his word.

BenchFly Blog fields a question from a prospective grad student who doesn’t want to write the GRE.

Sheril Kirschembaum asks if doctoral programs are pyramid schemes, followed by whether we still need tenure.

Dr. Isis likes getting money. I did, too, once. And, she wonders, “A signed review?! What does that mean?!”

Dr. Becca tries to figure out if she should use the university gym.


I’ve been at my current position for ten years today.

Yet it only feels like 65 million years.

Photo by by Garrettc on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.