31 December 2022

The mind of a worm, the mind of a human, and mind uploading

In 1986, a key paper on the nervous system of the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans appeared. It was a fairly complete description of the entire nervous system of the animal: it counted all the neurons (302 then) and a good first pass at counting neural connections (5000 chemical synapses, 600 electrical synapses, and 2000 synapses to muscles).

The paper was subtitled, “The mind of a worm.” 

This subtitle was despite there being nothing about the behaviour or internal states of the species. It was all anatomy.

I think it was called that for a couple of reasons. 

First, co-author Sydney Brenner was a playful writer. He wrote a great column for Current Biology for many years that often showed his wit.

Second, it represented a hope in invertebrate neuroethology that understanding the neural connections of an organism would allow you an almost complete ability to predict the behaviour of that organism. A few papers since have used the phrase “mind of a worm” in homage to the 1986 paper.

So the subtitle was probably a joke, but one the represented a real goal of invertebrate neuroethology: to crack the neural circuitry of animals. Then we’d understand behaviour.

Fast forward to 2022. Our understanding of nervous systems is better. Technology has gotten batter. But a preprint about C. elegans released this year says, “We find that functional connectivity differs from predictions based on anatomy.” 

Wait, what? Wasn’t the promise that that once we had the neural connections, we would have near omniscience about the behaviour of thise worm?

In the world of invertebrate neuroethology. this is kind of yesterday’s news. It’s been decades since neuroethologists gave up on the idea that neural circuitry alone would give you a relatively complete understanding of behaviour. I suspect that idea was already wobbly in 1986 but was pretty clearly abandoned by the 1990s. It was killed by things like the study of neuromodulation in the stomatogastric nervous systems of decapod crustaceans.

But it seems that the news has yet to reach other fields in neuroscience.

After my last post on mind uploading, Ken Hayworth helpfully sent me a link to an article he wrote about mind uploading. I appreciated the writing, particularly this concise summary.

The core of the scientific argument: I am my connectome and (aldehyde stabilized cryopreservation) preserves the connectome

Most of what I said in my review of a book length treatment of the connectome argument is relevant here. In brief:

Invertebrate neuroethology has already tested the connectome hypothesis. The connectome hypothesis didn’t exactly fail, but it certainly under performed. Knowing the connectome of a worm has not revealed the mind of a worm.

The only reason to think, “Sure, the connectome didn’t give us everything we wanted to know in small neural circuits in invertebrates, but it will totally work in humans” is special pleading.

External links

Vitrifying the Connectomic Self: A case for developing Aldehyde Stabilized Cryopreservation into a medical procedure (PDF)


Randi F, Sharma AK, Dvali S, Leifer AM. 2022. A functional connectivity atlas of C. elegans measured by neural activation. https://doi.org/10.48550/arXiv.2208.04790

Related posts

Brainbrawl! The Connectome review

If you know how to do mind uploading, please do tell us


27 December 2022

If you know how to do mind uploading, please do tell us

Here we go again.

Ken Hayworth is mad that more neuroscientists aren’t working on the problem of immortality.

(I)t is still really bugging me that we could ALL likely get to the future together (via quality brain preservation and far future mind uploading) if only the neuroscience community would start taking its own findings seriously and consider the implications.

He seems to think that neuroscientists are avoiding this topic because we are all secretly dualists?

Neuroscientists should not succumb to magical thinking about the mind/brain.

I don’t know any other working neuroscientists who think the brain in magic. Citation needed.

Neuroscientists should know that we already have the tools to preserve brains fantastically well at the ultrastructural and molecular levels using aldehyde fixation.

But Hayworth does not say how he can demonstrate that the current level of detail of preservation is “enough” detail. Sure, synaptic connections will be important. What about resting membrane potential? Gasotransmitter levels? Blood flow? Can any of those be captured in a static preserved brain?

Of course mind uploading will be possible in the future… just read the damn literature on models of brain function… they are all computational.

But Hayworth does not say how he can demonstrate how structural information can be converted into a computational model.

Why refuse to openly discuss/debate what should be considered the most important long-term application of your research?

Here I am, discussing it. I’ve answered a lot of questions about mind uploading on Quora. Let’s see... (Searches Quora) In no particular order:

Is mind uploading digital immortality a real possibility for the future?  

How is it possible to copy our brains into computers?

How realistic is mind uploading and what should I learn in order to research it?

Why is there no focus on uploading our brains to travel in efficient small spaceships? Should we fund mind uploading research for this end purpose?

Are we working on a way to upload brilliant minds in various scientific disciplines into a digital repository to hasten scientific advancement?

Does quantum computing make it possible to upload a neural net of your brain into a simulation so that when your body dies a copy of your brain itself could live forever in a computer network with other people?

Could thoughts and memories be digitalized at some point?

What is the current state of progress on mind uploading? What are the specific major obstacles and progress on each? 

How long will it be until I can upload my consciousness?

Why are people so against the idea of mind uploading and even question its possibility? 

Do any laws of physics prevent mind uploading?

What percent chance is there that whole brain emulation or mind uploading to a neural prosthetic will be feasible by 2048?

Will human consciousness ever be transferable to a new body or a machine e.g. a robot cyborg computer or avatar? Can-you transfer your own consciousness and memory and leave your biological body without creating two selves

Can the-mind be uploaded to a computer?

What do we need to know in order to be able to upload a human mind? 

It is like physicists refusing to discuss the possibility of fusion power plants. It is like NASA refusing to contemplate human settlements on Mars.

Rocket from Frau im Mond
Hayworth thinks mind uploading is a mere engineering problem – like space travel in the 1920s. It was pretty clear that you could get into space with a big old rocket. (A movie about going to the moon, Frau im Mond, was made in 1929.) Conceptually, we knew how to solve the problem. Creating the rockets was a mere engineering problem. 

But I argue that mind uploading in the 2020s is not like space travel in the 1920s. “Mind uploading” is an unsolved conceptual problem, as far as I can see. That is, it’s more like NASA admitting they don’t know how to create artificial gravity or faster-than light travel than refusing to think about sending humans to Mars.

Liquid fueled rockets were flying in the 1920s. What’s the “mind uploading” equivalent of Goddard’s rocket? Can Hayworth point to a single working model of taking a preserved nervous system and successfully reconstituting it as a complete digital model that can faithfully reproduce behaviour?

For me, science is the art of the solvable. If there is anything I have learned in science, it’s that the only way to tackle big questions is by tackling small questions.

And I am selfish. I want to contribute to problems I can solve in my lifetime. Or, at least, see some significant progress towards solving. I don’t want to chase pipe dreams of the “far future.”

Many a career has been wrecked on the rock of “big ideas.” Immortality is a exactly such a rock. 

 Do you have scientific objections that will stand open scrutiny?

Wait. Burden of proof is on the claimant. If Hayworth thinks mind uploading is possible, it is up to him to specify why it is possible. In considerably more detail than a six tweet thread.

Human life not worth saving?

Hayworth may consider a biologically based computer model to be a life. But many will not. Nowhere in his description is how this “uploaded mind” will interact with the world. Hayworth probably considers Alex Murphy’s existence in RoboCop not just acceptable, but positively luxurious:

Alex Murphy’s remaining body in RoboCop (2014) showing he has his head, lungs, and little else.

I don’t think a disembodied simulation of a dead brain warrants the name “life.”

Related posts

Overselling the connectome

Brainbrawl! The Connectome review

Brainbrawl round-up

“Mind uploading” company will kill you for a US$10,000 deposit, and it’s as crazy as it sounds

22 December 2022

Belated Dalek Day

 Ooh, it’s been a while since I’ve used the “personality quizzes” label on here...

Yes, I am a day behind on Dalek Day, the 59th anniversary of the best television monsters. I should have posted my results for the “Which Dalek are you?” quiz yesterday, but better late than never.

You are... the Emperor Dalek! A true leader of armies, the face of the mighty Dalek Empire, you are truly unstoppable! Although confident and often grandstanding, you are bred for war and the ultimate conquest of the entire galaxy.  However, not all empires (and Emperors) last forever…

19 December 2022

Grad schools should not require students to publish to graduate

Indian flag with "Truth alone triumps" in Hindi
Times Higher Education and other news venues is reporting on changes to doctoral programs in India, one of which is not requiring doctoral students to publish work as a requirement to graduate. This change was recommended back in 2019, but only just took effect.

While this is described as maybe the most controversial of several reforms to India’s doctoral programs, only one person is quoted speaking against it.

Dr Mukherjee said that this was the wrong approach. “If we want good quality research, and are worried about the rise of predatory journals that cash in on the students’ need to publish, the concern is the predatory journals,” she said.

Most of the article is about what students have to do to enter doctoral programs, not about what you need to do to complete it.

The news story is a good kick in the pants to me to finish this post, which I have been thinking about and drafting for months. Because India is far from the only place that has been requiring its doctoral students to publish papers to get their degrees.

A while ago, I asked about what graduate programs required their students to publish before they were eligible to graduate. I was surprised that the practice was quite widespread, and by the number of publications some institutions require their students to put out to graduate.

The highest requirement reported was three first-author published papers with two more submitted (five total). Another reported authorship on four papers, of which two have to be first author. But even requiring a paper or two was much more widespread than I expected.

This replies to my Twitter thread were abundant and helpful, so you might want to look through them.

A little later, DrugMonkey ran a poll that indicated a little more than half of programs required a publication to graduate.

To be blunt, I think requiring publications before a degree is awarded is bad, and I think India made the right move.

Publication requirements are extremely unfriendly to students. Neither a student nor supervisor nor university has any control over the peer review and editorial process. So it is entirely possible for a student’s graduation to be delayed through no fault of the student. And there is a real financial cost in many cases for students have to pay tuition and expenses for extra semesters, when all the work is done.

Worse, there is a completely predictable outcome of publication requirements. A publication requirement creates an incentive for fast publication and high acceptance, both of which are most easily achieved by shoddy work and editorial shortcuts.

Researchers found 88% of “approved” journals were problematic. India Express reported  did other investigations that suggested India was a major source of articles for dubious publishers. More than one person has suggested that such requirements are partly responsible for the enormous growth of MDPI and similar publishers.

I am annoyed hearing researchers loudly tell others not to publish in MDPI or Frontiers or what have you, and then get upset that these publishers are growing all the time. But they don’t seem to look at things like graduate publication requirements that create a vast, worldwide market for the services of journal articles where decisions are fast and acceptance is likely.

I completely understand the counter arguments. Training a student to produce professional level academic work is the point of a doctorate. The best way to prove that work is publishable is to publish it. It is harder to argue, “That shouldn’t have been published” than “That won’t be published.” 

I also get that public institutions are always being asked to justify their expenses to prove they are not wasting taxpayer money. Journal articles are a “product” that is easily tracked and counted.

I am all in favour of getting graduate students to publish. This should absolutely be the goal and students should be encouraged – or even pushed (with kindness) – to write up work and get it in the hands of editors. 

But Goodhart’s law comes in action once again. When something becomes used as a measure, it stops being a good measure.


Patwardhan B, Nagarkar S, Gadre SR, Lakhotia SC, Katoch VM, Moher D. 2018. A critical analysis of the ‘UGC-approved list of journals’. Current Science 114(6): 1299-1303. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26797335

External links

India axes publication goal for PhDs to tackle predatory journals (Registration required)

Not mandatory to publish in journals before final PhD thesis: UGC

No paper, no PhD? India rethinks graduate student policy

10 December 2022

New podcast interview on aquarium crayfish

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you released your pet out into the wild? Unfortunately, certain animals are dangerous to introduce into new ecosystems. Out of the one hundred worst invasive species in Europe, seven are species of crayfish. Crayfish are commonly traded as aquarium pets, but sadly, they are often mishandled and released into non-native environments. Being a keystone species, their introduction drastically damages these ecosystems. Despite this, the crayfish pet trade is a poorly regulated process that encourages irresponsible pet trading. Zen Faulkes elucidates and offers solutions for the flawed crayfish trade. Using the advertising websites Kijiji, eBay, Craigslist, and Aquabid, Faulkes monitored crayfish sales and found that, indeed, non-indigenous species are being sold in Canada, as the top selling species, Marmorkrebs, is not native to North America. Additionally, legislation did not guarantee a decrease in sales and was not well enforced. Faulkes continues to monitor crayfish sales and their effects as new legislation develops in hopes of raising awareness and assessing the risks related to this pet trade. Faulkes recommends using a multi-pronged approach to address this issue, encouraging low-risk trade, law enforcement, and education. Bringing awareness to readers is the first step in this process, so be responsible pet owners, and don't release your aquarium pets into foreign waters.

Back in October, I recorded a podcast interview with three University of Ottawa students about my papers about crayfish in the aquarium trade. It was tons of fun to do, and I hope that comes across in the recording!

BEaTS Research Radio's Podcast: Come to their aid! - The crayfish pet trade - Special Episode


Thanks to Julie Pan, Malithi Thanthridge, and Ishika Tripathi for their great questions, and editing our conversation down to a tight 15 minutes.


15 November 2022

Does anyone read German?

A paper I helped with on the Czech aquarium trade (Novák et al. 2022) has gotten a little write-up in the German aquarium magazine, Aquaristik.

Magazine article in German

At least. I think it’s this article? I don’t read German, and my cut and paste from the PDF into Google Translate wasn’t copying text correctly.

Update: Aha! A screenshot of the article and a little optical character recognition solved my problem. Loosely translated with Google, the article reads:

Researchers investigate the "Czech Aquatics Phenomenon"

An international research group led by the Czech scientist Jindřich Novák introduces the term “Czech aquarium phenomenon” to describe the considerable economic and scientific importance of the Czech Republic in ornamental fish aquaculture. A large part of ornamental fish farming is carried out by private individuals and companies in tropical countries because many species come from the tropics, however, the Czech Republic is an exception and suppliers there have dominated the global market for decades influenced. The study goes into the history of aquaristics in the Czech Republic and discusses the associated risks. It lists the most traded and exported species, including species that rarely reproduce in captivity. Given the tremendous diversity and scale of species traded, “we propose to take this phenomenon into account when designing aquaculture policies, including management of invasive alien species and ex situ conservation programs for threatened species.”

This is a cool thing about research. You never know who takes notice and where it will pop next.


Novák J, Magalhães ALB, Faulkes Z, Yonvitner, Maceda-Veiga A, Dahanukar N, Kawai T, Kalous L, Patoka J. 2022. Ornamental aquaculture significantly affected by the “Czech aquarium phenomenon”. Aquaculture 555: 738259. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aquaculture.2022.738259

External links

Aquaristik Volume 2022, Issue 4

24 October 2022

eLife chooses not to decide (but still has made a choice)

eLife logo
Last week, science Twitter was abuzz with an announcement from the journal eLife that they don’t “accept” papers any more.

Lots of people had opinions, and of course I do too.

I think this tweet from editor Michael Eisen is informative (emphasis added):

The future of science publishing is author directed publishing (preprints) combined with multifaceted, ongoing, public post-publication peer review. There is no other way. And I'm glad we're finally getting into the nitty gritty of how to do it right.

This statement has the zeal of a missionary, which I appreciate. But saying that “This is the future of scholarly communication” and “There is no other way” does not make it so. It’s an assertion, not a fact. Karl Marx was convinced that bloody revolutions would lead to more perfect collective societies. But that didn’t work out the way he envisioned.

A bit of background. Eisen was involved in the Public Library of Science, and particularly PLOS ONE. PLOS ONE was revolutionary because it said, “We are not reviewing for importance.” eLife’s new policy is another attempt to get people to not assess whether something is “important” because it appears in a particular journal.

Why does that matter? As far as I can see, this is mostly about career progression. 

Over the last couple of decades, more and more decisions about hiring, tenure, promotion, merit raises, and grant funding have become highly influenced by what journal the work appears in. A lot of people believe that careers are won or lost on the basis of whether you can get a paper in Nature or Science. (Data don’t bear that out – you can have a career without those papers in glamour magazines – but their influence looms large.)

Indeed, these concerns about assessment were the entire impetus for the creation of eLife.

eLife’s new policies feel like an attempt to “fix” committees doing that decision making, in a highly circuitous, roundabout way. This is not an attempt to fix publishing, it’s an attempt to change assessment culture.

Those assessing committees are under no obligation to pay attention to what eLife does. Committees could simply decide that eLife manuscripts don’t “count” for assessment purposes. More likely is that committees will try to force reviews into a binary: to use topline review summaries in the same way that they use “accepted for publication” now.

The “Everyone should just read the paper and assess the science themselves” is understandable. We all want out work to be assessed on its own merits, and with deep reading with attention paid to the nuances. But it runs counter to a world of bestseller lists, boxoffice lists, and online ratings. Lots of people are looking for quick ways of deciding, “Is this any good or not?” I don’t see how science can be immune from that.

I can’t help but think that everyone is all crazy about publication and how it affects careers and assessments because we are so busy fighting for crumbs. The number of people with the desire, training, and skill who want to have scientific careers exceeds the number of career opportunities out there. If we could address that, maybe things like eLife’s new direction in becoming “not a journal” would just be seen as an interesting experiment by a single player in the publishing landscape, rather than a harbinger of doom or salvation.

Update, 26 October 2022: I will be watching the results of this Twitter poll with interest.

Do you think it is sound career advice to encourage a postdoc looking for a TT job or assistant professor hoping for tenure to submit their work to eLife 2.0?

Currently very close.

External links

eLife’s new model: Changing the way you share your research

06 October 2022

Schlimmbesserung: A German word that academics need to add to their vocabulary

I have a new entry in my list of German words I like:


According to Holly Tuten,  it means, “Something that was meant to be an improvement, but actually makes things worse.”

How useful is that? Especially to academics, who often believe that every suggestion reviewers make for a manuscript is a Schlimmbesserung.

It could also be a useful word in biocontrol efforts. What was the introduction of can toads into Australia if not Schlimmbesserung? In fact, I had found people talking about “cane toading” years ago to describe this phenomenon. But it’s nice to have

It is not my favourite German word, though. My favourite German word is “Backpfeifengesicht.” Roughly, a face in need of a punch.  

Related posts

Definition of the moment

Picture from here

20 September 2022

Supreme Court of the US (SCOTUS) decision clears way for new science education battles

I did not want this to be a blog post. 

Below is an article I first wrote back at the end of June. I thought this was important, and I submitted it over and over again (six times, I think?), trying to find a bigger venue than my blog to publish it in. No takers.

None of the editors disliked what I had written. Some even agreed it was timely. In a couple of cases, the sticking point seemed to be that I was not a lawyer. (How dare a mere biologist comment on a matter of law?!) But nobody said the analysis below is wrong.

Alton Lemon
I was reminded of this because Nature published an article on the Supreme Court’s “war on science.” (I did not submit this piece to Nature, thinking a UK based journal might not be the best home for a comment / analysis piece on US law. Oh well. Maybe I gave up too soon.) I admit I am surprised the Nature article does not mention the Kennedy ruling or the Lemon test, which has been key to court cases about the teaching of evolution. (Pictured: Alton Lemon, whose 1971 Supreme Court case gave us the “Lemon test.”)

My impression from trying to get this piece published? I feel like both the biological research communities and the science teaching communities are sleepwalking into disaster. The court did a rug pull on teaching evolution. Scientific communities are like cartoon characters after the rug has been pulled out from under them: suspended in mid-air, not realizing that in a moment they are going to come crashing down very hard, very fast.

Anyway, here’s the last version of the article I submitted before accepting its fate was just to be a blog post.

Unless there’s an editor reading this who is interested? (Hope springs eternal, I guess.)

 • • • • •


For decades, teaching creationism in the United States was ruled unconstitutional because it violated the First Amendment of the US constitution. A recent US Supreme Court decision rejects the legal test that prevented teaching creationism in public classrooms. Educators should expect renewed efforts to insert creationism into public schools.

Keywords: evolution • creationism • Supreme Court of the United States • constitutional law • lawsuits

There is a long history of legal battles over teaching evolution in America. While many might have thought this settled after the Scopes “monkey trial” in 1925 (stirringly – if not always accurately – shown in the play Inherit the Wind and movie adaptations), there have been many legal challenges seeking either to limit instruction of science or to introduce religious concepts into science classrooms. Court rulings have consistently rejected arguments against teaching religion.

But a recent Supreme Court decision opens the path for new legal challenges that might allow the teaching of creationism, intelligent design, young Earth geology, or any number of other religious claims about the natural world.

The Supreme Court case Kennedy v. Bremerton School District (2022) did not concern science education. The issue was a football coach who prayed before his players. The court ruled in favor of the coach. But more important than whether the ruling favors religion is the justification the ruling. In its ruling for the praying coach, the Supreme Court explicitly rejected the so-called “Lemon test,” which had provided the legal footing for rejecting religious instruction in science classes.

The “Lemon test” refers to Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971), a First Amendment case before the Supreme Court. The ruling established a three-part test for whether the state had violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment that forbids government from establishing a religion. Actions concerning religion were legal if (1) the rule had a secular purpose, (2) the main effect did not advance any particular religion, and (3) the actions did not excessively entangle the government with religion. All three of these considerations needed to be met for the action to be constitutional.

The Lemon test had been an important consideration three court cases concerning teaching of evolution. Arkansas tried to pass legislation that required evolution and “creation science” get equal time in schools. Maclean v. Arkansas Board of Education (1982) ruled that the law failed the Lemon test and was unconstitutional. That same decade, Louisiana tried to prohibit the teaching of evolution unless it was accompanied by “creation science.” Edwards v. Aguillard (1987) also ruled this as unconstitutional. Most recently, the Lemon test was used again in Kitzmiller v. Dover (2005), the only major court case on “intelligent design” (creationism with references to God stripped away in hopes that it could pass a court case). Intelligent design advocates lost this case resoundingly. The presiding judge described the board’s actions as “breathtaking inanity.” The ruling was so decisively opposed to the Dover School Board’s efforts to introduce intelligent design that it effectively killed all further efforts to introduce intelligent design into schools – until now.

In the Kennedy decision (2022), Judge Neil Gorsuch surprised court observers by claiming that the Supreme Court had “long ago abandoned” the Lemon test. Gorsuch called the Lemon test “abstract, and ahistorical.” Instead, his opinion argues that the Supreme Court should interpret the Establishment clause by “reference to historical practices and understandings.”

The move away from the Lemon test and towards history in the Kennedy decision is consistent with other recent decisions. The Kennedy decision came days after Dobbs v. Jackson (2022), in which the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which assured a right to an abortion. Both Kennedy and Dobbs concerned with religious issues, and both were justified by arguments about history and tradition. Critics pointed out that the court’s description of both history and current facts were selective.

The loss of the Lemon test is a precarious moment for science education. Despite a Supreme Court ruling that teaching creationism was unconstitutional, many parents and teachers have tried to insert some creationism into classrooms. People often make no pretense about their efforts: they want their religion taught in public schools. While such efforts were usually not fought in court, science educators were usually confident if they did, they were likely to win. Decades of precedent supported the idea that schools should teach science in science classes.

Science educators should be prepared for a legal system that no longer has their back.

These recent decisions by the Supreme Court confirm that the court is far further to the political right than it has been in decades and seeks to undo civil rights victories of the left. Judge Clarence Thomas wrote a supporting opinion for Dobbs that said that the Supreme Court should revisit cases like availability of contraception and marriage equality.


While the Kennedy decision was not specifically about science education, the loss of the Lemon test should be the writing on the wall for professional scientific and educational societies. Conservative parents, local school boards, and state boards of education have showed time and time again that they are determined and persistent in their efforts to have their religious beliefs taught in public schools alongside, or in place of, established science. Supporters for science education must be prepared for renewed legal battles to push creationism and other religious ideas into classrooms.


Kennedy v. Bremerton School District. 2022. https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/21pdf/21-418_i425.pdf

Lemon v. Kutzman. 1971. https://tile.loc.gov/storage-services/service/ll/usrep/usrep403/usrep403602/usrep403602.pdf

Maclean v. Arkansas Board of Education. 1982. https://law.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/FSupp/529/1255/2354824/

Edwards v. Aguillard. 1987. https://www.loc.gov/item/usrep482578/

Kitzmiller v. Dover. 2005. https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/2426499-kitzmiller-v-dover-decision

Dobbs v. Jackson. 2022. https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/21pdf/19-1392_6j37.pdf

13 September 2022

A second look back in the crystal ball

I wrote the bulk of this post this post five years ago, back in 2017. Ten years ago, a paper came out in Nature that claimed to predict... the future! At least, it claimed to predict one part of my academic future, namely, my h-index:

At the time the paper came out, there was an online calculator. It hasn’t succumbed to link rot: it’s still there! (Remember, the preceding sentence was written in 2017.) I entered in the following values then:

  • Current h-index: It was 8 in 2012 (according to Google Scholar).
  • Number of articles: 24 (I only counted my original technical articles).
  • Years since first article: 20 (then; my first paper was in 1992).
  • Number of distinct journals: 20.
  • Number in “top” journals (a.k.a. the glamour mags): 0.

The program predicted my h-index now, five years later, would be 13. It got it exactly right, which I mentioned in a 2017 post.

Next, to schedule a post with this graph for 2022. We’ll see how close it is.

Five years later

[Wakes up in 2022, sees post, checks Google Scholar]

PI predictor said in 2012 that my H-index this year would be 21. Google Scholar says it’s...

Zen Faulkes' 2022 publication stats in Google Scholar. Alt-time citations 1237, h-index 22, i10-index 36.


I exceed expectations, woohoo! And it’s even better than the 2017 prediction, which said I would only have an h-index of 18.

It’s a good thing I checked back in 2017, because the online PI Predictor page seems to have finally succumbed to link rot.

Related posts

Gazing into the crystal ball of h-index

A look back in the crystal ball


Acuna D, Allesina S, Kording K. 2012. Predicting scientific success. Nature 489: 201-202. https://doi.org/10.1038/489201a

06 September 2022

Students: Write shorter emails

Mail coming out of computer screen, obscuring the person at the screen.
The fall semester is underway at almost all universities now, so this is as good a time as any to give some advice to students. 

Write shorter emails.I gave that away in the post title, so why am I still writing? Because I want to try to explain why I give this advice.

Friends, your profs get a emails. A lot of emails. A great heaping buttload of emails. We get them from chairs, we get them from deans, we get emails from chair who are forwarding the dean’s emails, we get them from funding agencies that we have never applied to a grant from, we get them from almost every administrative office on campus, we get them from journals, and we get them from students.

I don’t think it’s easy to understand how much of a professor’s life revolves around emails. It is the default mode of communication for universities.

I think for many students, their typical mode of communication is through their phone, either by text or social media. Email? That’s for old people. 

But a lot of professors are old people. And even for new professors who might prefer to communicate with their phones, they are more or less forced to work with emails.

To make things worse, we profs are usually forced into using byzantine forms of email because of “security.” There’s a huge difference between using my personal Gmail account (say) and my university *.edu email account. 

I can open up my Gmail app on my phone and just... read my emails. 

My institutional account, my email might take over my phone login and force me to use a “more secure” method (using a PIN instead of an unlock pattern, say), force me to use two factor authentication every time I want to read an email, or force me to install an “Authenticator” app that requires entering my PIN, approving a request, entering my PIN again before I can read my emails.

So, students, trust me when I say this.

Writing shorter emails is one of the simplest things you can do to make your professor’s life easier. 

Look, I get that you, as a student, don’t want to seem rude. You might think that anything less than three carefully composed paragraphs is some sort of slight or that you won’t be taken seriously. 

Just tell us what you want. Need an extension? Just say, “Can I have an extension for this assignment.” You don’t need to detail that you need an extension because you were out with a friend and ordered coffee but it was way hotter than you expected and you burnt your tongue and went to an emergency room to see if there was anything they could do. If we need more information, we’ll ask for it.

Also? This is why, when you write one of those three paragraph emails to a professor, you might only get a “Sure. - ZF” or a sentence back.

04 September 2022

Nociceptors are not pain receptors

From time to time, I see people say that some group of animals have nociceptirs or "pain receptors" amd then use to to say this prooves those animals feel pain.

There is a lot of subtle misuse of definitions going on there.

Nociceptors are neurons tuned to tissue damage. Pain is not tissue damage. The two are related but they are not the same.

Calling nociceptors “pain receptors” is like calling auditory sensory neurons “music receptors.” And then use that animals can hear to claim that animals appreciate music. Well, no. There is a difference between sensory neurons and a higher order perception or psychological state arising from those sensory signals.

31 August 2022

The only real work

"Worthy" next to picture of Thor in Avengers: Endgame.
A lot of arguments about science, and particularly scientific publication, seem based around an underlying difference of opinion about what work is worthy. 

I get the strong sense that for some researchers, running experiments is the only work that matters.

Anything else is just a nuisance, a distraction, a thing that no “real scientist” would do if they weren’t forced to do so by career necessity.

On search committees, it was job candidates who kept asking about how they could get out of teaching.

Online, I think this attitude informs a lot of discussion around publishing and peer review. 

Submitting to journals? Nuisance. For some people, science paradise would be a website that automatically pushes out protocols and data and protocols, so anyone who wanted could use the data. But no time wasted on pesky explaining work to other people. Just pure flow in data collection.

Peer reviewing? That takes me away from data collection, so you better pay me to make it worth my time. 

Proofreading and editing? Not even real work. This may partly explain why some people keep asking, “Why aren’t all scientific article free?” Because they just can’t imagine that managing articles is real work that deserves fair compensation.

To be clear, I have no problem with anyone saying, “Running experiments is what I value and how I want to spend my time.” But other people should get to value other things.

Maybe we are doing a better job now of recognizing the labour that goes into scientific research. More people are rightfully insisting that doing research should be treated as work, not a vocation or calling or passion (you know, things that don’t get you paid). But I feel like we not doing such a great job of recognizing that what other people do that supports research is also worthwhile work.

16 August 2022

Why do you want to switch your name with your co-author?

A perennial academic question resurfaced on Twitter yesterday:

“If I’m a co-author with an ‘equal contribution’ statement, is it okay to switch the place of my name and my co-author name on my CV?”

Usually, the discussion is about how swapped names might be interpreted by a potential CV reader. 

The general mood in responses is usually, “Don’t do it, because some readers will see this as shenanigans.” Everyone who has read a lot of CVs from students or early career researchers knows that some people try to “puff up” their credentials.* Readers do not appreciate that. 

It’s not even whether this counts as “lying.” Readers of CVs usually have a lot of CVs to assess, and it’s reasonable to be annoyed by CVs that make readers put in more mental effort recalibrating those inflated claims of accomplishments.

What I want to do, though, is flip the script. I don’t want to talk about how the reader might interpret re-arranging the order of names on a paper listed in a CV.  I want to ask why the author of the CV wants to switch the order of names.

It seems authors want to swap names because they think there is an advantage to doing so. They seem to think that putting their name first will be more assessed more positively.

If authors truly believed in that “equal contribution” statement, what is the point to changing the order of names? 

“Well, they are interchangeable” is not a good enough answer, because it’s easier to leave it than it is to change it. 

The desire to swap names shows that “equal contribution” or “co-first” footnotes are nearly meaningless in practice. Wanting to swap name order later indicates that you should have advocated for yourself harder before the paper was submitted to a journal.

Maybe I am wrong. Maybe there are some other reasons that people want to swap name order on CVs.  

Maybe people think there is no way to show “equal contribution” on a CV? Sure there are. Here’s one.

Taffe M*, Faulkes Z*. 2022. Journal article title. Journal 3: 34-35.
* Equal contribution

Maybe people worry that their name will get lost in a long list of names? There are other ways to emphasize names beside order. Here’s one.

Taffe M, Faulkes Z. 2022. Journal article title. Journal 3: 34-35.

If we have a better handle on why people want to swap names, we might have better advice on how to create a CV that meets the author’s goal without annoying any readers.

* Like listing articles as “in preparation for Nature.” Sure, friend, we all have articles that we plan to submit to Nature.  Except we know there’s no way to verify it and most things that are submitted to Nature get rejected.

External links 

Co-first authorship is a lie and a sham and an embarrassment to our profession

12 August 2022

There are invasive crayfish in South Texas and I have nothing to do with it

Australian red-clawed crayfish, Cherax quadricarinatus
Yesterday, Texas Parks and Wildlife released a press release about Australian red-clawed crayfish (Cherax quadricaratus) in South Texas.

What is kind of weird is that it the press release mentions “Researchers from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley” (UTRGV) but didn’t say which researchers or even which department.

This morning, I get emails from people thinking I was involved, because I was the only crayfish researcher at UTRGV for a long time. Never mind that I haven’t worked there for while. I don’t know who from UTRGV had a hand in this.

Dan Johnson, who knows Texas crayfish better than I do, says that this is not a new discovery. He stated that red-clawed crayfish were found in one pond nine years ago. (I am a little annoyed that I was around at the time and nobody saw fit to mention this to me. I could think of a bunch of ways I could have used that information.) 

Edit: This might be a reference to this record of red-claws on iNaturalist.

They have now spread to one more location a few mile away. That’s... not much of an invasion?

Red-clawed crayfish were imported into Mexico years ago for aquaculture and the food market. They escaped, because crayfish are good at that, and now they are very widespread in Mexico. I don’t think there is any interest in trying to contain them in Mexico. One researcher joked, “They’ve been given their Mexican passports.”

Worth noting that there were people in Texas aquaculturing redclawed crayfish. But either spread from Mexico or release of pets seems the most likely source of these crayfish. That one of the ponds is right next to an apartment building suggests aquarium dumping to me .

External links

Invasive Australian Redclaw Crayfish Present in Texas

Photo from here.

Instructors with accents and students with complaints

From time to time, I hear students ask questions like, “Why don’t universities hire instructors who can speak English?” It’s usually a complaint about professors who have “foreign accents.”

Hereˆs one from Quora, with some more at the bottom of the post: “Does it make sense to hire Chinese professors in US universities when they can’t even speak basic English?” The “basic English” comments sounds contemptuous.

Okay, let’s acknowledge that everyone has an accent. And that it’s very difficult to separate complaints about accents from racist attitudes.

That said, there can be obstacles to communication between a professor and students. 

I once saw video of Stephen Hawking teaching – after his motor disease was fairly advanced but before he got his voice synthesizer. He could speak, but not loudly and not with full fluency. 

Hawking had an assistant (maybe a graduate student?) who was familiar with how Hawking spoke who relayed what he said. Some students did not need this. You could tell because some students would laugh at a joke before Hawkins’s assistant spoke.

You can hear Hawking in 1977 – when he was still able to talk – in this YouTube clip. It’s is comparable to the clip I saw.

I think the answer is universal design.

Instructors should think about how to design their course so anyone could take it. Like, say, a deaf student. What would you do? Use close captioning, video recordings with subtitles, transcripts, detailed notes.

Similarly, there are many reasons a student might not comprehend speech. If you couldn’t hear because of an ear infection, you probably wouldn’t start by complaining that the university made a hiring mistake. You would ask for repetition and clarification.

As usual, these would not just make the course accessible to people with hearing impairments, but would make things better for everyone. It gives everyone ore opportunities to interact with the course material.

These design and communication decisions also addresses issues around accent mismatch. Any student still complaining is probably just being a jerk.

External links

Does it make sense to hire Chinese professors in US universities when they can't even speak basic English?

Why do colleges hire professors who are extremely difficult to understand and sometimes are unintelligible?

Why do colleges hire so many professors with such heavy accents you cannot comprehend them?

How can students cope with professors that lecture in thick accents?

11 August 2022

“Listen”: Audio for journal articles is here!

I was looking at a new article and noticed an icon I had never seen before. 


Listen icon

I’m a sucker for new things, so I clicked. And I am... quite impressed.

The audio is being read by a machine, not a person, but the tone is not horribly mechanical. There are subtle things like emphasis on emphasizing words like “widespread.” It says “For example” when the actual text reads, “e.g.”

By default, the program automatically scrolls through the text and highlights what it is reading. You can turn it off, though. As you can see, you can adjust the volume and reading speed. But once you adjust the speed, it goes back to the start of the article, which is frustrating.

Journal article with "listen" controls, showing highlighted text being read aloud.

The experience is not seamless. In this article, it skipped over the authors – but it read the tabs at the top (“Full Article (pause) Figures and data (pause) References (pause) Citations,” and so on). 

Another frustrating element of the experience is that the software says “parenthesis” and “end parenthesis.”  Worse, it does it completely inconsistently. It sometimes mentions the opening parenthesis but not the closing, or vice versa. And sometimes it passes over parentheses without comment.

The program continues to reads all the references. Including DOI hyperlinks. (“H, T, T, P, S, divided by, divided by...”) This is terrible to listen to and nearly useless, in my view.

Not as good as a person reading the text, but not bad. Not bad at all.

The dropdown menu reveals one more key feature:

Web reader dropdown menu showing "Settings" and "Download mp3" options.

You can download an mp3 of the audio file. Which means you can put it on your phone or other audio device to listen while you’re walking the dog, working out at the gym, or commuting.

The idea of being able to listen to journal articles like audiobooks has been floated on Twitter multiple times, so I will be curious to see how this is received.

This is a good – possibly great – addition to journals. It increases the accessibility of the literature to people with vision problems. It increases the portability of papers, making them more like podcasts.

Kudos to Taylor and Francis. Hopefully, other publishers will roll out this soon.

Here is an open access article that you can use to try the feature. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/15563650.2022.2105710

Update, 12 August 2022: The “Listen” feature is not on every Taylor and Francis article. This article on citation bias appears not to have it, even though it was published within the last week. But maybe that it because it is an authors’ preprint and not the final version of record.

Related posts


09 August 2022

What happened to Matters?

Logo for journal Matters
A few years ago, a journal launched called Matters. The interesting thing about this journal was that it was devoted to single observations. Science magazine saw fit to write about Matters, so it’s not like it was hidden in a dark hole under the stairs somewhere.

The journal homepage is now offline.

The journal’s Twitter account hasn’t sent tweeted since 2019. The person behind the journal, Lawrence Rajendran, is still active on Twitter, however.

Worst of all, I can’t find articles published in Matters using the DOI. They seem to have completely vanished into the ether. (There was a cool one about hermit crabs.)

I’d noticed that Matters vanished a while ago, but couldn’t tell you when. But I was reminded because I learned of MicroPublication Biology. It seems to be trying the exact same thing Matters did: offer per reviewed publication for single short papers that don’t fit into some larger narrative.

I’m skeptical of MicroPublication Biology because nobody’s name appears anywhere in the journal’s website that I can find. Who is the editor? Are there associate editors? 

But I’m also skeptical because, well, we had Matters. And it tanked. It would be nice to know the full backstory of the journal, but even without that, I think it’s fair to say Matters didn’t take the academic publishing world by storm. It may be that this is a service that people say they want, but when push comes to shove, their actions don’t back up their words. Maybe researcher would rather publish “complete stories” – with all the ambiguity and frustration of what that phrase means.

External links

Got just a single observation? New journal will publish it

Matters description on PubLons