24 April 2017

Time is the difference between superficiality and scholarship

Many science questions emerge from a place similar to what Penn Jillette describes in this quote about people’s attitudes to video games. (Emphasis added.)

You know, when I was 15, 16, 17-years-old, I spent five hours a day juggling, and I probably spent six hours a day seriously listening to music. And if I were 16 now, I would put that time into playing video games.

The thing that old people don’t understand is – you know if you’ve never heard Bob Dylan, and someone listened to him for 15 minutes, you’re not going to get it. You are just not going to understand. You have to put in hours and hours to start to understand the form, and the same thing is true for gaming. You’re not going to just look at a first-person shooter where you are killing zombies and understand the nuances. There is this tremendous amount of arrogance and hubris, where somebody can look at something for five minutes and dismiss it. Whether you talk about gaming or 20th century classical music, you can’t do it in five minutes. You can’t listen to The Rite of Spring once and understand what Stravinsky was all about. It seems like you should at least have the grace to say you don’t know, instead of saying that what other people are doing is wrong.

The clichĂ© of the nerdy kid who doesn’t go outside and just plays games is completely untrue. And it’s also true for the nerdy kid who studies comic books and turns into this genius, and it is also true for the nerdy kid who listens to every nerdy thing that Led Zeppelin put out. That kind of obsession in a 16-year-old is not ugly. It’s beautiful. That kind of obsession is going to lead to a sophisticated 30-year-old who has a background in that artform.

I think about this quote a lot.

It seems to me that many people who ask questions about science are working from that background of “They listened to Dylan for 15 minutes.”. They’ve been exposed to a few basic ideas. They’ve maybe had one or two lectures in high school about evolution. They get reproduction is important. They get that natural selection leads to adaptation. They get “survival of the fittest.”


But they haven’t mastered the art. So they ask why human evolution has stopped (it hasn’t) or why some trait is so obviously bad (lots of reasons). They can’t get those nuances without having spent that time on task.

Same with people who think that half an hour Googling an answer constitutes “independent research” on climate change or vaccines or what have you. Sorry, that’s the equivalent of listening to The Rite of Spring once.

It’s similar to what I talked about recently: you need time to live with ideas to understand the subtleties.

Related posts

Some “light bulb moments” are controlled by dimmers, not switches

External links

Penn Jillette Is Tired Of The Video Game Bulls***

19 April 2017

My game is coming back. L5R is coming back!


Forgive me a fanboy moment as I react to the announcement of the new Legend of the Five Rings card game!

At first glance, it looked like the game I knew. Two decks, provinces, events, two main stats on the characters. Then, as I read deeper, I realized that the mechanics of the game were going to be almost entirely different. That will take getting used to.

But one of the things I always loved about L5R was the art. It was literally what made me pick up the game. And I have to say, I like the art direction. They’ve managed to keep the aesthetic, particularly for the characters and the clans.

I can’t wait to play my game again. I’ve missed Rokugan.

External links

A Peek Into The World of Legend of the Five Rings
Reddit AMA, 20 April 2017

Stop pussyfooting around the problem of biases in awards

At the Sociobiology blog, Joan Strassman tackles inequality in scientific awards. This topic has been making the round lately because of the National Science Foundation’s Waterman award, which this year went to two men. Again. It looks like the last time the award went to a woman was in 2004, to Kristi Anseth. Weirdly, it looks like the Waterman did a pretty good job of splitting between men and women in the first few years, and then it’s been all men since 2005.

Partially in response to community input, the NSF changed the eligibility criteria for the award. It is basically extending the time frame for eligibility since a person received their Ph.D. (And I will pause to take note that you are still considered a “young” scientist in your late 30s.)

I’m betting you right now that’s not going to fix the problem. And I doubt the measures Strassman suggests, like “Let’s be active in nominating women!” will do it, either. But here’s what will fix the problem. Guaranteed.

You get the award organizers to say, in public, “We’re going to give half these awards to women. Agender individuals are eligible for either.”

And that’s it. Dust off your hands. You’re done.

The NSF gave two awards this year and in 2012. Give two awards every year, one to a man and one to a woman. Or alternate years. It doesn’t matter.

Yes, I know people will jump in and say, “But merit...”,  but I don’t care. This is not a job. Nobody’s livelihood is harmed because they did not receive an award. The question is, “Are you serious about fixing inequality or not? If you are, this fixes it immediately. Everything else just allows the problem to linger.”

I’ve had discussions with people about why the Oscars split their acting into two categories, one for men, one for women. But one good thing about it is that every year, women win awards.

External links

Can we fix inequity in awards for women scientists?
When a series of entirely reasonable decisions leads to biased outcomes: thoughts on the Waterman Award
Let’s nominate folks for NSF’s Waterman award, including womenNSF’s Water Man awardNational Science Foundation modifies Alan T. Waterman Award eligibility criteria

18 April 2017

This better not have anything to do with crayfish

So apparently this happened a couple of hours ago.


I have no idea what “Project C.R.A.W.F.I.S.H.” might be about, despite being the only researcher on this university who actually publishes research about crayfish. It is a little reminiscent of a neuroscience announcement a while back.

Maybe there are no crayfish at all in this thing, whatever it is.

Far too much effort has been put into that acronym, though. Someone is priming themselves for a role in the federal government with that, I reckon. 

Tuesday Crustie: The Pink Floyd shrimp

Last week saw the announcement of a shrimp that kills with sound and was named after Pink Floyd.


That is Synalpheus pinkfloydi. This newspaper article says the reason it was named for the band is because of a legend that the band once played so loud that it killed fish in a nearby lake. Plus, one of the authors is a rock and roll fans, previously naming a shrimp after Mick Jagger.

The article missed a damn good bit of the paper, though:

Distribution: Presently only known from the type locality on the Pacific side of Panama; likely more widespread in the tropical eastern Pacific, but unlikely to occur on the Dark Side of the Moon due to lack of suitable habitat.

Hat tips to GrrlScientist, Miss Mola Mola, and Mark Carnall.

Reference

Anker A, Hultgren KM, De Grave S. 2017. Synalpheus pinkfloydi sp. nov., a new pistol shrimp from the tropical eastern Pacific (Decapoda: Alpheidae). Zootaxa 4251(1): 102–110. http://www.mapress.com/j/zt/article/view/zootaxa.4254.1.7/10782

16 April 2017

Superhero art exhibition does disservice to comic artists

I saw the opening of “My Hero” exhibition at IMAS McAllen yesterday (originally curated by the Bedford Gallery in California). I enjoyed it a lot. But it continued a long simmering problem with “fine art” exploiting “comic art” without credit.

Here’s artist Russ Heath’s desciption of what it was liked to have his work ripped off by Roy Lichtenstein, for instance.


Almost nowhere in the exhibit do you see acknowledgements of some of the original creators. (One, a lovely pastiche Captain America in the style of Norman Rockwell, includes the names of Cap’s creators, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, in the art.) But most don’t, even when a piece is directly referencing a specific classic image. For instance, one piece references this specific panel from The Amazing Spider-Man #50:


The piece in the exhibition is clever, and I liked it. The descriptive text accompanying the piece mentions the issue, but not the name of the original artist, John Romita, Sr.

Superhero iconography is treated as if it were created by artists lost to time, instead of people who are often still alive today, and struggling to make ends meet.

External links

Russ Heath’s Comic About Being Ripped Off By Lichtenstein
IMAS exhibits
Bedford Gallery Travelling exhibits

14 April 2017

Can’t wait to see this in an “Acknowledgements” section

Making the rounds today is a new story that an adult entertainment website has provided a $25,000 research scholarship to Natalie Nevárez, a neurobiologist, to study monogamy. (Not mentioning the name of said website to try to prevent blog from being overridden with bots and spam.)

Congratulations to Natalie!

I would like to point out that in the last two months, adult entertainment websites have provided:


These are small, token gestures, sure. But at this point, adult entertainment websites are showing a better understanding of civic responsibility than many elected politicians are. All of these used to be services that we expected to be provided largely by governments.

Update, 15 April 2017: A couple of people on Twitter noted that these sites do have problematic aspects to them, such as stolen content. I certainly don’t want to let these businesses off the hook for their bad practices. Ultimately, issues like “fair compensation of workers” matters more than a scholarship here or there.

But that they have made some of the gestures above kind of makes me wonder if they might smarten up.

These sites have also taken the lead on Internet security.

External links

A neurobiologist studying monogamy wins scholarship from porn site
Utah rejects sex education bill, so porn site redirects to instructional videos
Porn site says it will plow snow in Boston for free

 

13 April 2017

From predator to mutualist, or: What if predatory journals published reviews?


Earlier this week, I argued that we could kill predatory junk journals with a single stroke if regular scientific journals would publish the text of the pre-publication reviews along with the paper. This way, junk journals couldn’t hide behind the claim that they are peer-reviewed.

I argued that junk journals wouldn’t want to take the time and effort to create reviews in any way. But a couple of people on Twitter responded that the junk journals could (and apparently sometimes do) ask for reviews, but ignore them.

This makes things interesting.

Even for a regular journal, soliciting reviews but ignoring them is not out of the question. The buck stops with editors. The editor makes the decision about what to publish, and in some cases this means overriding recommendations of one or all reviewers. We just don’t expect it to happen intentionally and systemically.

When viewed from the traditional norms of pre-publication review, consistently asking for reviews but ignoring them is a massive waste of effort. But the traditional norm is that reviews only exist in the files of the reviewers, editor, and author.

What happens under the suggested new norm, that the reviews are published along with the paper?

Suddenly, the difference between a traditional journal and a predatory journal gets very blurry, very fast.

Presumably, the scam publisher would ignore the reviews and publish the paper immediately alongside the reviews. The paper would not get the benefit of revision in light of the reviews. But that would put the paper at the same level of editorial vetting as a pre-print. Let’s take a second to note that many have found great value in pre-prints (though my experience has been underwhelming). Even stodgy old biologists are using them more and more.

But let’s not forget that it is now a verifiable fact that the paper has indeed been peer-reviewed. The review is available for all to see to help form a judgement about that paper. And we can also judge how detailed the review is. In this scenario, we can think of pre-publication reviews as a rating instead of as a publication decision maker.

Essentially, by publishing the pre-publication reviews, the predatory journal has suddenly moved to a format that is very similar to what some scientists have been advocating for years: the “publish, then filter” model of publishing, rather than “filter, then publish.” If there are verifiable pre-publication peer reviews done, can we even still call it a “predatory” journal?

What the predatory journal no longer provides is any judgement of the importance of their submissions, which many readers badly want. Readers want guidance as to what is more likely to be a breakthrough. But then, the rise of open access megajournals has shown that journals can be successful without rating “importance.” Articles in megajournals can still be found and cited and used by people in the field.

If “publish review content” became standard practice across the board, predatory journals might start to serve a useful purpose instead of being the bane of science.

Related posts

One weird trick that would kill predatory journals
Pic from here.

12 April 2017

Some “light bulb moments” are controlled by dimmers, not switches


Understanding something for the first time is often shown in comics and cartoons as a light bulb appearing over someone’s head. It’s off. Then suddenly it lights up. People use the phrase “light bulb moments” to describe insight all the time. Or even just “light bulb” alone, like Grue does in the Despicable Me movies.

There are few more rewarding moments for an educator than when you see someone having that “light bulb moment” right in front of you. It happens sometimes.

But we might expect too many of those light bulb moments: where there is a clear line between, “I don’t get it” and “Oh! I get it!”

Thinking about my own education, there are lots of concepts that I teach to students now that I remember trying to learn. For many of them, there was no light bulb moment. Instead, there was just an ever increasing familiarity, and in some cases, skill in carrying out tasks related to it.

The way I put it to people is, “I got used to the idea.”

I think at some level we know that learning can be a slow, gradual thing. You might follow an explanation while it’s given, but mostly forget it by the next day. You make mistakes about something you ostensibly “know.”

I think this is particularly important to keep in mind because so much of formal education is timed. We go by weeks, by semesters, and if students can’t learn something in the allotted time, the student is deemed not to have learned the material. I think it biases us to think that students who don’t get it in that prescribed amount of time won’t get it.

Professors get frustrated when students ask about concepts and materials that were covered in previous classes. The student should just know it, and they get badmouthed for not remembering. Instead of seeing this as indicating a bad student, we should see it as an opportunity to let the students get more used to the ideas.

One of the differences between between an entering university student and a graduating one is not their raw intelligence, or study skills, but the number of repeated exposures they have had to core ideas.

A light bulb moment might be a second long, but it can be years long, too.