19 May 2015

Tuesday Crustie: Cha-ching!

The ancient so revered crustaceans that they put them on their money! According to the caption:

Coin from the city of Priapos, Mysia, (today Karabiga; Turkey) 1st century B. C.

The page I found this on includes a lengthy discussion of the origin of “lobster” and “crayfish.”

External links

How did lobster mean two different species?

16 May 2015

Comments for first half of May 2015

The issue of how science funding should be distributed (To the few, the proud? Or share the wealth?) is brought up at Scientists Sees Squirrel.

15 May 2015


Natalie Morales reviewed my itty bitty ebook, Presentation Tips!

Natalie. Effing. Morales!

(And she liked it! Squee!)

12 May 2015

Tuesday Crustie: Go!

Meet a regular on Teen Titans Go!

Unfortunately, this resident outside Titans Tower seems to have no name.

But he can take comfort.

At least he has his own wiki entry.

And crabs are much cooler than seagulls.

11 May 2015

When does authorship stop meaning anything useful?

“My god... it’s full of authors.”

Prof-Like Substance drew my attention to this fruit fly paper, which may be a new record setter. I have never before seen a paper with over one thousand authors. One thousand and fourteen, if my count is correct. (Image at right. Click to enlarge... if you dare. That took some image stitching, let me tell you)

The highest I’d seen before this was a paltry 816.

I was curious what you had to have done to be listed as an author. With that many, it seemed like the criteria for authorship might have been, “Have you ever seen a fruit fly?” I went looking for statement about author contributions, which some journals have. There is not any such declaration in the paper.

The PDF of the paper gives a bit of a clue as to what’s going one. The author list is more modest on the title page, which lists the authors as, “Wilson Leung and Participating Students and Faculty of the Genomics Education Partnership.” So a lot of these authors are students who took a class, and probably completed part of the analysis as a course assignment.

Digging into the acknowledgements, though, suggests that the inclusion for authorship was marginally higher than being an data monkey:

The authors also thank additional students who contributed data analysis to this project, but for various reasons did not participate in reviewing the manuscript.

This suggests that all thousand or so authors at least looked at the paper and signed off on it. But judging from the course listings in the Acknowledgments section, it seems that many of these were undergraduate students, and I wonder whether any of them had any substantive opportunity to have input into the text and interpretations of the paper. And can everyone stand behind, and vouchsafe, the data here? Some guidelines require that of authors, and I think that’s a pretty good guideline.

I am all for engaging students in research, and crediting them. But this is a bad way of doing it.

Papers like this render the concept of “authorship” of a scientific paper meaningless. This feel more like a participation award than authorship. A possible solution, as I’ve suggested before (also here; paywalled), is that we need to give up “authorship” and focus on “credits” that are clearer descriptions of the contribution individuals make. Call the students “contributors” rather than authors. Put it in a supplemental file.

Additional: Okay, this paper has 1,446 authors, and this one has 2,932 authors. (Hat tip to Jens Foell for pointing those out.) Both are particle physics papers, though, a field which has been dealing with large author numbers for a long time. The paper under discussion here, the fruit fly paper, may be a record for biology. Even the draft human genome got ‘er done with “just” 272 authors.

New rule! If the number of authors on your paper can be measured in “kiloauthors,” having your name on the paper will not count for tenure and promotion purposes.

Update, 12 May 2015: The journal’s blog describes how this paper came to have over 1,000 authors, with over 900 of them being undergraduate students.

I will point out that there are guidelines for who gets to be an author. These are not perfect (Drugmonkey hates them), and not often followed in the trenches. But they do represent an attempt to spell out what authorship should mean, by a fairly substantial number of people working in scientific publishing.

I doubt that every undergraduates on this paper truly helped draft or revise the paper (criterion 2) or can be truly accountable for everything related to the paper (criterion 4). To their credit, author number 1,014 says on the blog:

“Actually we got some important comments back from students,” says Elgin.

I’m pleased that some students made important comments, but I have doubts that all the students genuinely met the “draft and revise” criterion. Reading a paper and saying, “Okay,” doesn’t cut it for me.

Update, 13 May 2015: This story has bubbled over to Nature’s website, with some comments from the non-student authors. Warning: contains me.

Related posts

Letter in Science

External links

Class projects as publishable research?
Undergrads power genomics research
Who is an author? (ICMJE “Vancouver guidelines”) 
Fruit-fly paper has 1,000 authors

06 May 2015

Riding into the sunset: my last class at UTPA

I just taught my last class at The University of Texas-Pan American ever. And, in contemporary fashion, I marked the occasion with a few selfies with my students.

Today is the last day of classes for the spring semester. There are still grades to calculate and such, but there are no more lecture days.

I am not teaching in summer 2015. I desperately need time not teaching to do many, many things. My office is about two years overdue for a purge, I have two manuscripts waiting for my revisions, there’s administrative stuff...

And when Fall 2015 rolls around, I will be teaching at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

When I got here in 2001, the first class I taught was General Biology. And today, the last class I taught was General Biology again. And the students were good sports, so it was a nice class to end my UTPA teaching on.

It’s the end of an era.

05 May 2015

Tuesday Crustie: Beautiful

Meet Cherax pulcher. Its last name, “pulcher,” literally translates to “beautiful.”

Unfortunately, the beauty of this species may be its downfall. They are already for sale, and collected in large numbers, in the pet trade. And since the species is new to science, we know almost nothing about its basic biology.

Astacologist Chris Lukhaup mentioned on his Facebook page that he’s spent over a decade working on the description of this gorgeous new species. They aren’t all this pretty; there are a couple of different morphs, and no doubt Chris’s considerable photographic talents are at play in this picture, too.

Update, 13 May 2015: This crayfish is featured in this New Scientist article. Warning: contains me.

Update, 15 May 2015: It’s so nice to see crayfish in the news, and attention being drawn to the potential dangers of exploiting an almost unknown species for the pet trade. This article in the Washington Post says the species looks like a Lisa Frank creation... wait, did they steal Jason Goldman’s joke?


Lukhaup C. 2015. Cherax (Astaconephrops) pulcher, a new species of freshwater crayfish (Crustacea, Decapoda, Parastacidae) from the Kepala Burung (Vogelkop) Peninsula, Irian Jaya (West Papua), Indonesia. ZooKeys 502: 1-10. http://dx.doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.502.9800