28 March 2017

Pay your interns

Matt Shipman pointed to a crowdfunding campaign for a student who wants to do an internship at NASA.

That’s horrible.

Internships should be work that give entry level experience. But the key word is “work.” If you don’t pay interns, you’re just exploiting them. And that’s wrong.

Spotting this on top of a university getting ready to destroy millions of museum specimens, and a new professor being criticized publicly for caring too much about teaching and outreach, make me feel like this about science culture, particularly academic science:

The University of Loisiana at Monroe is run by vandals

This is shocking.

From the University of Louisiana at Monroe Museum of Natural History’s Facebook page:

Dear Friends,

It is my sad duty to report to you that the ULM administration has decided to divest the research collections in the Museum of Natural History. This includes the 6 million fish specimens in the Neil Douglas fish collection and the nearly 500,000 plant specimens in the R. Dale Thomas plant collection. They find no value in the collections and no value of the collections to the university. The College was given 48 hours to suggest an alternate location for the collections so that Brown Stadium can be renovated for the track team. With only about 20 hours left, we have found no magic solution yet. To add insult to injury on what was a very hard day, we were told that if the collections are not relocated to other institutions, the collections will be destroyed at the end of July.

While we weep that our own institution would turn its back on 50+ years of hard work and dedication, we will not abandon the collections to the dumpsters. They did not have the courage to inform us face-to-face, but we have the courage to persevere through these dark times.

Oh, in other sad news, we were informed that there will not be any expansion of the public displays in Hanna Hall.

I understand that sometimes universities need to change what they do. And I’ll say that it’s not reasonable that universities support athletics and student athletes. But come on. Giving 48 hours notice over the fate of millions of specimens is ludicrous.

This is the exact opposite of what universities are supposed to do. Universities are supposed to be institutions that preserve knowledge for future generations, not chuck it in dumpsters.

Shame on you, ULM. Shame on you. You’re acting like vandals, not scholars.

I think the only hope for this collection is that enough people draw attention to its plight on social media that the university administration will change its course.

Hat tip to Terry McGlynn.

Update, 29 March 2017: The original Facebook post is gone. Now there’s this one:

Press Release: ULM to donate two collections from Museum of Natural History

By mid-July the fish and plant collections of the University of Louisiana Monroe Museum of Natural History will hopefully have a new home, according to Dr. Eric Pani, Vice President for Academic Affairs.

Several factors led to the decision to donate the collections, which have been stored in Brown Stadium since the museum was moved to Hanna Hall last year. Many of the specimens are preserved in flammable liquid and must be kept in a facility with a fire sprinkler system.

“Unfortunately, the fiscal situation facing the university over the years requires us to make choices like this. We can no longer afford to store the collections and provide all of the public services we have in the past,” Pani said.

Last week Pani told leaders of the College of Arts, Education and Sciences, which manages the museum, of the decision. He met with them again this week. He said the collections, except for some of the teaching specimens, will be donated and relocated by mid-July. The CAES people asked for 48 hours to determine if space on campus could be found and the entire collection retained.

Tuesday posts on social media could have been interpreted that the collection would be destroyed in a few hours.

Pani addressed other statements on social media, including that there would be no expansion of the museum. He clarified that expansion will be postponed for about two years while another project is underway.

The collections in Hanna Hall are open for public viewing; the specimens in Brown Stadium are for research.

Pani said renovations and improvements to the track at Brown Stadium are slated to begin in the summer. The work will raise the track to sanctioned status, allowing meets to be held there and other schools to host track and field competitions. Thus, it will provide an economic development boost for the region.

“It would be an honor for the university to donate the collection to an organization with the space to preserve and display it, and we fully expect to find such a facility as soon as possible,” Pani said.

I’m still kind of gobsmacked that a provost would argue that a stadium should take precedence over a museum because money. A museum represents a university’s primary mission. Sports does not.

This press release is nowhere to be found on the university’s news center.

More additional: Gizmodo features the story and has more comments from the VP for academic affairs, Eric Pani.

Because state appropriations have been cut more than 50% since 2008, we have struggled to provide public services. The collections have not been used for research by our students and faculty much in the last few years but are being used in class. Research use has largely been done by others from loans we have made to them.

Given that, I asked that Biology pare the collection down to something that would fit into a space typical of a classroom and would meet their teaching needs. The rest of the collection needed to be moved.

I asked that they begin to seek other institutions willing to accept our donation and transport it to their new home. As I further explained to them, this work needed to be done by mid-July because of the construction timeline involved in the renovation of the space. The 48-hr period mentioned in the Facebook post was based on their request to locate other space on our campus where the whole collection could be moved. Given what I know about campus space, I doubt they will find anything, so it would be better for them to spend the time looking for someone to accept the donation. However, I am willing to listen if they can find oncamous space. I just don’t want the search dragging on.

Christopher Dick shares an email from Pani. It’s basically the same as the Gizmodo statement.

As the Gizmodo article notes:

You can’t spell Pani without pain.

Still more additional: Andy Farke lays out the problems of trying to find a home for abandoned museum collections.

Without $$$, it's asking the impossible. It costs a lot to transfer even a well curated collection from one place to the next, even under the best of circumstances. ... Space, cabinets, databasing, archival materials, staff time, etc. It adds up fast! This is also the reason why museums are often very picky about what we take as donations or accessions.

External links

ULM Museum of Natural History Facebook post

08 March 2017

Why people with university degrees still can’t name a scientist

I was thinking about the “Most people can’t name a living scientist” factoid again. Something that often puzzled me was that the fraction of people who can name a living scientist is often reported as being so much lower than the fraction of people with a university degree.

Why, if so many people have university experience, do they not know scientists at those universities? Even non-science majors usually have to take some introductory science classes to meet breadth requirements.

I had an hypothesis about that, so I ran this poll:

The results were consistent with my hypothesis. Maybe one of the reasons people wouldn’t name a professor as a “living scientist” was because they mainly associate the occupation of “professor” with the role of teaching more than research.

But I realize now that I was probably operating under a false premise. My question was premised on the idea that science classes were taught by people with doctorates. That is, tenured and tenure-track faculty.

I saw some data a few years back showing that my university bucked a lot of national trends for a long time. The proportion of tenured and tenure-track instructors had increased in the 2000s. But this is not the case for most institutions. This article forcibly makes the point that most higher education instructors across the United States do not have a doctorate and were not tenured or tenure-track.

Consequently, even people who go through a full university degree may not have very much contact with instructors who have ever had an active research program. That might be another contributing factor to why so few people can name a living scientist.

External links

The decline of faculty tenure

02 March 2017

Traditional lands

Katherine Crocker suggested that scientists should acknowledge when their work was carried was carried out on First Nations / native American territories. Karen James found an excellent (though still in progress) mapping tool that shows what locations in the United States and Canada were the territory of what tribes, nations, and bands.

It’s too late to put any acknowledgement in my existing papers, but hey, this one of the things academic blogs are for.

The collection of sand crab in my doctoral work was carried out in the traditional land of the Costanoan Rumsen Carmel Tribe.
One of my next papers, to be published in Journal of Coastal Research, had two locations.

My #SciFund funded field work took place in traditional Seminole land.

The last was the most interesting, and most affecting:

My local field site, which has been where I have collected animals for many of my papers, sits in a region of native Americans that have been collectively referred to as Coahuiltecan. They were not considered so much a unified tribe as bands.

Unlike the tribes listed above, which are still active, the Coahuiltecans were wiped out by European contact. It made me realize why I had never heard about local native groups, unlike other places I’ve lived. I knew about the Blackfoot in Southern Alberta, I heard much discussion about aboriginals in Australia, I saw Seminole buildings when I was collecting in Florida.

Thank you, Katherine Crocker. I learned something.

Update, 20 March 2017: My colleague Frank Dirrigl informs me that much of the lower Rio Grande Valley was Lipan Apache land.

Update, 14 August 2017: I stumbled across the webpage of the Carrizo/Comecrudo, who lived in the South Texas area. Even the tribe’s own webpage describes them as “this little written about nation.” This article describes more, referring to the tribe as “Esto’k Gna.” It also explains my earlier fumbling efforts to discover what tribe was in this region:

Our Identity and Life Ways have been misinterpreted by many European-Americans including Spanish-Mexicans who have written about us. Through complete lack of knowledge or arrogance, they misidentified our Clans, Societies and Bands as being separate small “Tribes.” Many times, for devious reasons, we were intentionally mislabeled as other tribes such as the Lipan or the Comanche. A scholar went as far as making up a name of Coahuiltecan that grouped us with other Tribes from a whole region. The result was further confusion of our Identity. A priest even created the “Coahuiltecan” language by mixing vocabularies and grammar of languages from three different tribes.

External links

Native land
The Biggest Tribe You Never Learned About In Your Texas History Books

01 March 2017

The value of editors

There is a line of thought among some scientists – and it is not a short line among a small fraction of scientists – that pre-publication peer review is useless, reviewers are useless, and editors are useless. Thus, journals are useless.

Albrecht Schulte-Hostedde was brave enough to post one of his old rejection letters this on Twitter (text follows images). Albrecht prefaced this saying, “Lessons learned as a young and arrogant graduate student.”

Canadian Journal of Zoology
17 April 1997
File Number: Y1150

Mr. A.I. Schulte-Hostedde

Department of Zoology
Umversity of Guelph
Guelph. Ontario NlG 2W1

Dear Mr. Schulte-Hostedde:

Subject: Patterns of Association in a Temperate Rodent Community

We have sent your paper out for re-review. Neither reviewer has been convinced by your rebuttal and as a consequence we have decided to reject your paper. We are returning the paper to you.

Neither reviewer has provided comments for transmission to the authors. Let me, however, add some comments of my own, since I detect that you may not understand the nature of the review process. We try to select reviewers who are knowledgeable and objective and who understand the role of the Canadian Journal of Zoology as a generalist journal. They are volunteers who support the discipline by committing some of their time to helping authors get their work into an acceptable form. In your case both reviewers had a number of substantive suggestions for improvement. We indicated that the paper was unlikely to be accepted without major revisions.

Your revisions were anything but major. So far as I can determine, they consisted of changing the title and adding a short section on predation. Under such circumstances we sometimes return the manuscript directly to the authors, asking them to try again. But in this case, there was an extensive rebuttal, and we thought that the reviewers should see that. The reviewers have, as I say, not been convinced, and they are both deeply disappointed by the nature and tone of your response. To quote one of them “if the authors do not respect the reviews I do not know why they would want to publish their research in the Canadian Journal of Zoology nor do I understand why the editors would accept it.”

You are just beginning your career. Let me take off my editorial hat and, as a person who has been publishing in the field for more than 40 years, offer some advice. Of the approximately 200 papers which I have published, only two were accepted without change. Of the remainder, I have invariably benefited from the advice of the reviewers. I think that you would be wise to regard the reviewers not so much as gate-keepers, but as persons who volunteer helpful advice.

Yours sincerely,

K.G. Davey/A.S.M. Saleuddin

You know what? This was written by people who care both about the scientific enterprise, and the professional development of the author. This is mentoring. This is humane. You are far less likely to get this sort of interaction from posting draft manuscripts on pre-print servers and hoping people click “Like” bottons afterwards.

I know that this is an unusual, dare I say, exceptional bit of editorial advice. But if more editors worked like this, fewer people who would question the value of journals.

How to talk to professors in their offices

I see an amazing number of questions on social media and Quora and the like from students of all sorts where my answer is, “You have to talk to faculty.”

“How do I approach a professor about my class?”

“Should I include this information on my application?”

“Should I get authorship on this journal article?”

“How can I get more time with my professor?”

Dear students, program applicants, and the like: There’s no way to talk to faculty that guarantees you get what you want. There is no risk free, fool proof conversation outline. Professors are people, and at some point, you have to learn how to talk to people. You’re an adult. The professor is an adult. Have adult conversations.

You may be shy; I get that. I was, too. But trust me, your life will get so much better and less complicated when you ask questions to the person you want an answer from, not random people on social media. Embarrassment is momentary, knowledge you gain lasts.

And a good way to ensure you don’t get what you want is not to ask, or to ask the wrong person.

Talk to professors, not about them.