The Opposing Thumb

An opinionated digit leafs through the biological literature
Monday Morning Smörgåsbord

Monday Morning Smörgåsbord

Indira Raman has some light-hearted fun at eLife imagining Hamlet as a grant application. “Understanding the human condition is potentially of high impact. It should be pointed out, however, that previous investigators have tried and failed, so this should be seen as a high-risk-high-gain endeavor.

Much more seriously, Marina Warner at The London Review of Books on the importance of resisting the tyranny of the idiocracy. “I believe education at every age and level is an unqualified good, unassailably beneficial to the individual and to society and the world. I believe it is as important an indicator of a society’s state of health as nutrition and housing.

Another shot fired in the Statiscs Wars. Megan Hale et al in PLOS Biology propose a new approach to the problem of “(i)nflation bias, also known as “p-hacking” or “selective reporting,” is the misreporting of true effect sizes in published studies“.

Andreas Wagner at Aeon Magazine decides to poke the bear with a short stick and asks if Platonic forms can have a place in modern biology. “A systematist’s task might be daunting, but it becomes manageable if each species is distinguished by its own Platonic essence.

Redmond O’Hanlon* reviews a history of Wallace & co exploring the Amazon at The Spectator. Not a well-off Darwin in the bunch: “they were different to the norm. You could call them working-class naturalists, in that they had to pay their way by sending the specimens they captured home to their agent, to be sold to wealthy collectors. A comforting branch of English Protestantism known as natural theology had by that time become mainstream (the standard text being Archdeacon Paley’s Natural Theology, 1802). This belief that God had made everything himself (that no minor woodlouse or tiny liverwort was too small for his loving creation) led to the great aristocratic collections of the 19th century. The idea was to buy in specimens from a worker in the field — a Wallace or a Bates or a Spruce — arrange them in a mahogany cabinet, pull out the drawers, study, and thereby get to know the workings of the hand of God. This was ironic, because not one of this trio was a believer. As Wallace wrote to Bates, when they arrived in the Amazons they would study the facts of nature and work ‘towards solving the problem of the origin of species’. Which they did, eventually.

As far as I’m concerned, the take home from this Ed Yong New Yorker piece is that John Hutchinson has the funnest job in science. “Hutchinson, who is one of Kram’s protégés, planned to use similar methods for the London Zoo experiment. He is a veteran of such studies, having measured the walks of cranes, elephants, emus, giraffes, leopards, ostriches, rhinos, and tigers; his lab is outfitted with force plates in many sizes, from tiny ones for salamanders to huge ones for horses.

Writer’s block? Some tips on how to write a thesis, by Umberto Eco at the Times Higher Education. ‘Eco suggests that in writing, one should have a degree of pride: on “your specific topic, you are humanity’s functionary who speaks in the collective voice. Be humble and prudent before opening your mouth, but once you open it, be dignified and proud”‘.

Planning for the post-apocalypse? It should be you, Keith Richards and lots of roaches. If Sir Keith is too stringy for your taste, here are some insect recipes at Mosaic Science. The “dishes range from incredibly basic – simply sprinkling some crunchy bugs on top of your favourite salad – to extremely sophisticated, such as this moth mousse recipe from the Nordic Food Lab“.

* BTW if you have not read any of O’Hanlon’s books, my main reading suggestion is that you stop whatever you’re doing and go get one of them. Any one.

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