Extracurricular reading

Reading papers is of course part of being a researcher – however, I also enjoy reading about science that is not in my area of expertise, or about meta-level science: how science is happening, and how we could make it better. So from time to time I will share bits and pieces that I stumble across and find interesting – so here we go for extracurricular reading round one:

There was of course one prominent topic especially on social media in the last few days: what Tim Hunt said about women in science. It clearly shows that gender (and/or being a minority) still is an issue in science, if nothing else (and that his lab life certainly was very eventful!). Not so sure about what to think about the ‘twitter mob’, but thoroughly enjoyed the #distractinglysexy responses! Some nice ones can also be found here. And of course, other people have spoken out thoughtfully: Michael EisenDavid Colquhoun, or Athene Donald. Not that they all agree, but that makes for more interesting reading:-)

In fact, David Colquhoun points out more endemic flaws, which are discussed in three papers by Peter Lawrence: here, here and here (I’m using the links from Colquhoun’s blog). These are well worth a read; to entice you, I’ll quote (all from Lawrence, 2003):

‘Increasingly, such a high premium is put on presentation that the leader of a group (who has not done the experiments) writes the paper reporting work done by a junior scientist (who has). The team leader is more experienced and more able to present the work in the best possible light — and for this, a lack of knowledge of the details can be advantageous! The student or postdoc is released to go back to the bench, increasing productivity. However, she or he does not get taught how to write up results’

‘It does not help that top journals are increasingly giving reviewers an extra task. Apart from the traditional technical and scientific assessments, where objective criteria are paramount, reviewers are now being asked to judge whether a manuscript constitutes a “Science” paper — is it sufficiently exciting to interest the “general reader”? This participation in editorial decisions gives reviewers opportunities to punish authors they do not like, settle old scores and hold up competitors.’

Or from Lawrence, 2007: ‘most top journals have little space, a typical Nature letter now has the density of a black hole’ and finally ‘It is time to help the pendulum of power swing back to favour the person who actually works at the bench and tries to discover things.’

Well, I could go on and on. But instead I’ll get back to tour of extracurricular reading, changing topics: On statistics, there the issue with p-values, which would deserve a much more thorough discussion (a good start: here). Another topic I could grumble about for a long time is the presentation and representation of data. In fact, one of the four talks I gave in the last two weeks was presenting a paper in a journal club that suggests we should go beyond bar graphs – yes please!

And because phdcomics is always spot on, I’ll finish with its latest comic.

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