Link parade

4 minute read

Here are some stories to entertain, amuse, or depress:

Bryan Gardiner in Wired Science profiles professional glassblowers who are dedicated to making anatomical models: “Heart of Glass: The Art of Medical Models”. The products are beautiful and educational in a way computer models cannot match.

“The detection of interstellar boron sulfide” blog has “A Motivational Correspondance” from a department’s astronomy faculty to their graduate students. I can’t believe that it’s not a parody (although it is presented as serious) because the whole thing would be such a fat target for a lawsuit.

First, while some students are clearly putting their hearts and souls into their research, and spending the hours at the office or lab that are required, others are not. We have received some questions about how many hours a graduate student is expected to work. There is no easy answer, as what matters is your productivity, particularly in the form of good scientific papers. However, if you informally canvass the faculty (those people for whose jobs you came here to train), most will tell you that they worked 80-100 hours/week in graduate school. No one told us to work those hours, but we enjoyed what we were doing enough to want to do so. We were almost always at the office, including at night and on weekends. Nowadays, with the internet, it is fine to work from home sometimes, but you still miss out on learning from and forming collaborations with other graduate students when everyone does not work in the same place at the same time.

From Nature News: “Rejection improves eventual impact of manuscripts”. Apparently, articles average more citations when they get bumped from one journal and published in a different journal, irrespective of whether they get published in a higher-impact or lower-impact journal. For all those who have been tweeting the link, do note that the study has a fairly obvious bias: papers that get bumped and then never published aren’t counted…

The Archaeobotanist has a detailed critique of the recent rice domestication paper: “A genome map that is not a map of origins (Rice Genetics Watch returns)”. Many of the issues that are problematic in identifying “rice origins” are also problems for identifying human migrations:

The authors have concluded the the closest wild ancestors to cultivated rice are living wild populations in the Pearl River basin. The problem is that rice was domesticated not from living population but from past populations almost certainly from regions where wild rice is no extinct (technically, we would say, extirpated). This study demonstrated that big science and lots of resources do not inevitably produce answers, but that nuanced analysis and critical thinking, and in this case some knowledge of Chinese history, are necessary to direct analyses.

The post’s final paragraph discusses the use of archaeological evidence as a reality check on the genetics. I don’t have any commitment on rice domestication, but the arguments presented here must be understood.

Clay Shirky in Poynter discusses the media’s loss of “trust”: “Shirky: We are indeed less willing to agree on what constitutes truth”.

Consider three acts of mainstream media malfeasance unmasked by outsiders: Philip Elmer-DeWitts 1995 Time magazine cover story that relied on faked data; CBS Newss 2004 accusations against the President based on forged National Guard memos; and Jonah Lehrers 2011 recycling and plagiarism in work he did for the New Yorker and Wired. In all three cases, the ethical lapses were committed by mainstream journalists and unmasked by outsiders working on the Internet, but with very different responses by the institutions that initially published the erroneous material.

I don’t endorse Shirky’s conclusions but the essay is thought-provoking.

Time magazine’s “Moneyland” site has an article by Dan Kadlec: “Why College May Be Totally Free Within 10 Years”. The more interesting exchange occurs near the end, where he quotes former Harvard president Lawrence Summers:

There is a reason that people pay a lot of money to go to an event like the Super Bowl when it is free on TV, Summers offers. They get more out of it by being present. Something similar is true of an on-campus education, where you may attend extra-curricular events and engage more fully with faculty and other students.

“Unbundling” college – in the sense of unbundling a cable TV package – is an interesting analogy raised in the article. I have heard a high-level college administrator make the same argument, that our students enjoy their campus experience and don’t want to finish college sooner. I couldn’t help but respond to this argument on the spot: If we allow students to spend less time on campus, we can open the educational experience to more students, including many who can’t afford to spend four years marking time.

John T. Tierney in The Atlantic: “AP Classes Are a Scam”.

The traditional monetary argument for AP courses -- that they can enable an ambitious and hardworking student to avoid a semester or even a year of college tuition through the early accumulation of credits -- often no longer holds. Increasingly, students don't receive college credit for high scores on AP courses; they simply are allowed to opt out of the introductory sequence in a major. And more and more students say that's a bad idea, and that they're better off taking their department's courses.

I have some experience working with the new AP biology guidelines, which were formulated following the “Vision and Change” document from the National Academies, and is guiding biology education reform at both secondary and undergraduate levels. So I don’t agree with Tierney’s criticisms about the “stultification” of the curriculum. But it is clear that AP courses are not treated with any consistency by universities, and results in other disciplines vary widely.