28 April 2020

Fallacies of composition and division in journals and publishers

“Publishers” and “journals”are related. One academic publisher typically has many journals. Each journal is independent and has its own editorial board and practices. But I’m surprised by how often I see people committing either the fallacy of composition or the fallacy of division with publishers and journals.

“I had a bad experience reviewing for Journal X from Publisher Y” should lead to the conclusion that Journal X is problematic, but I frequently see people conclude that everything from Publisher Y is problematic. Fallacy of composition.

That there are 53 disciplinary journals with the word “Nature” in the front of their title from Nature Publishing Group might be in part because people commit the fallacy of division.

What’s interesting is that which fallacy people are willing to commit seems to be mainly a factor of the age of the publisher.

I’ve seen people argue, “You can’t process the quality of each journal separately” for a relatively new publisher with less than 250 journals. But people do judge journals individually for old publishers that are home to ten times more journals.

23 April 2020

Notes from a pandemic: Two degrees of separation

Earlier, I wrote:

It’s an epidemic when people you don’t know get sick. It’s a pandemic when people you know get sick.

The pandemic has now struck only two degrees of separation from me. The person who some might call my academic “grandparent,” Don Kennedy, died from COVID-19.

Don Kennedy riding a bike while carrying a briefcase

Don Kennedy supervised Dorothy Paul’s doctoral work, and Dorothy went on to supervise me. I wrote about my one interaction with him here. I really hope I can find that letter.

His Stanford obituary paints a picture of someone who did well with the time he had. I was a little disappointed that his research was given short shrift, but his papers are in journals. I loved the details like him having students run with him. How me met the Queen Elizabeth. I particularly love the picture above of him riding bicycle while holding a briefcase. It has a lack of pretense that I like.

Related posts

Heritage expanded
Classic graphics #2: Crayfish tailflips

External links

Donald Kennedy, Stanford’s eighth president, dead at 88

12 April 2020

Cowboy caterpillar

This is all B.W. Williams’s fault.

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Post-modern ironic.

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Twangy guitar.

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Inspired by Jake and Elwood Blues.

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How was your Easter Sunday?

05 April 2020

Notes from a pandemic: Not a time to jump into science communication

I’m seeing a few people bemoaning the lack of science outreach from professional scientists during this COVIC-19 pandemic. Efra Rivera-Serrano wrote:

Still amazes me that some principal investigators (PIs) and leaders can write whole pages on their grants proposing “outreach activities” but haven’t moved a finger to educate the public when it is mostly needed.

Jen Heemstra chimed in:

Science faculty, part of our job is teaching science. What better time than now to share our science knowledge with everyone? Even better, support students and postdocs who want to learn and participate in #SciComm!

I love me some science communication, but I worry. Something we have seen repeatedly during this pandemic is that very smart people, but who are not experts or have any practical experience, in epidemiology, public health, or modelling, think they have something worthwhile to contribute. And they make some model or prediction or say something else that is badly flawed.

As a personal example, I was in a meeting Friday where one of my colleagues opined that COVID-19 probably wouldn’t too bad in South Texas because of our geographic isolation. That wasn’t a crazy thing to say, but it was said, perhaps, from a limited point of view. An article the next day indicated that was not a good prediction. Culture matters.

(Local health authorities) have begun to notice something else particular to South Texas: strong family ties are exacerbating the virus’ spread.

“We have large households and these large households, they like to visit with other members of their family,” (Dr. Emily Prot, regional medical director of the Texas Department of State Health Services’ Region 11) said.

That needs to stop, she explained.

“We need to really avoid that and stay within one single household. So, no visiting tias, tios. No visiting the mother-in-law. That has to stop. We’re seeing too much spread right now within those family groups,” Prot said.

Prot hammered home the point, adding, “Those interactions are leading to more spread and we’re seeing that at a regional level.”

The Valley as a whole is at higher risk for seeing patients needing acute critical care, or who experience serious complications from the virus, Prot said.

“Well, we have more rates of diabetes in our region, and most of them (deaths caused by COVID-19) are due to older age, but we also had in Laredo, one of the deaths was in his 40s,” she said.

We need people with relevant expertise to provide that information. But I am deeply worried about people deciding, “I need to do science communication!” when do not have the relevant expertise, are unpracticed or untrained in communication (or both).

I would like all scientists, especially science communication novices, if their planned science communication in the time of COVID-19 passes the Craig Ferguson test for science communication.

Does this need to be said?  Does this need to be said by me?  Does this need to be said by me now?

The three things you must always ask yourself before you say anything:
Does this need to be said?
Does this need to be said by me?
Does this need to be said by me now?
Three fuckin’ marriages it took me to learn that.

(From Does This Need to Be Said? Epix, 2011)

Or, as I put it when I was curating the @IAmSciComm account, “When it's not your area of expertise, shut the hell up.”

External links

DSHS: Majority of RGV cases are young people

04 April 2020

Three words that could use a rest in fandom

I have gotten tired of these three words (okay, two words and one phrase) in discussions of genre fiction.

  1. “Plot hole.”
  2. “Retcon.”
  3. “Canon.”

First, those three give “realism about the fictional world” too much weight in judging artistic works. They make is sounds as though the best feature of any story is how well it mimics the consistency of reality.

You can see this same obsessive drive to try to find absolute perfect consistency in world-building in classic geek questions like, “Who’s stronger, Hulk or Thor?”, or “What is the speed of the White Star spaceships?” (I mention the last, because Joe Straczynski would reply, “They move at the speed of plot.” Which I imagine must have been a very frustrating answer for some fans. Flat out refusing to play the game.)

I remember loving technical manuals and handbooks that tried to list things like the height, weight, and eye colour of every character in the fictional world.

All of that is fun. But increasingly, I’m finding that discussions over story consistency overshadows analysis of character, emotion, humour, thoughtfulness, or any of the other myriad of things people might want to experience a story for.

Second, these three feed into a bad geek habit: always trying to show how smart you are. Watching a story becomes a protracted game of, “I’m smarter than the script writers, because I thought of this thing that they clearly didn’t.” Needing to show how smart you are is not an attractive part of nerd culture. (I say this as someone who has often been guilty of this bad habit.)