31 August 2015

Well, that went about as well as could be expected

A brief visual summary of the first day of UTRGV:

While administration and politicians said all the expected things about this being a new day, a great opportunity for region, a historic moment, and on and on, the reality was that I didn’t even make it to 90 minutes before getting a phone call from a (rightfully) upset student.

A search for “UTRGV” on Twitter revealed students complaining about parking (eh, like the weather, it’s what everyone likes to whinge about), long lines (sort of to be expected, but worse than usual), not getting phone calls answered (uh oh). Registration is a mess for a lot of students.

This was the scene a week ago...

And this was the scene at about the same time this morning.

And the day ended with this:

MONDAY, AUG. 31, 2015 – Due to severe weather, all of tonight’s classes that started from 5 p.m. on have been cancelled on the UTRGV Brownsville Campus only.

I hope everyone stays safe.

Even so, despite all the problems, there is one thing that I think will go right:

When it’s me and students in the class. Those are my day one, class one group of Neurobiology students. And I’m looking forward to working with them, and all the other folks in my classes.

It’s exciting. Even if it’s the kind of excitement that you normally get by being in the middle of a forest fire with a small bucket of water.

External links

McRaven: UTRGV will change the fabric of the Rio Grande Valley
UT Chancellor McRaven attends flag-raising, proclamation celebrations for UTRGV’s first day
UTRGV begins history-making journey
System opens UT-Rio Grande Valley campus

UTRGV, day one

New students and faculty:

30 August 2015

Going on my second space mission (in name, at least)

Putting this here, so I don’t forget about this like I did last time, when my name went on the Stardust mission.

You have a few more days to sign up and put your name on the Insight mission!

Related posts

Something I totally forgot about...

External links

Insight mission

T minus one day to UTRGV

Tomorrow is the start of The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. And I’m nervous.

Last night I learned that The Texas Higher Education Coordinating board didn’t approve a bunch of courses that was planned to be offered as part of the required core curriculum. And this has meant that one and a half thousand students are getting screwed.

There is a list of the non-approved classes. There’s is no explanation or justification as far as I’ve been able to see. What is completely weird is that a class titled “PHIL 1300 Critical Thinking” was not approved for the core, which has as one of it’s requirements that students learn...

Critical thinking.

A class named critical thinking does not meet the requirements for critical thinking? Okay, colour me completely baffled.

Rex Peebles, the board’s assistant commissioner for academic quality and workforce, is quoted as saying:

“It’s really not uncommon at all that submit courses get denied. In a lot of ways there’s nothing kind of unusual that is going on here with UTRGV.”

Except, of course, that it’s happening just days before the opening of a new university, when practically nothing is ready and everything is straining under the load and breaking fast. It is not just business as usual.

I’m not sure it’s a good sign that I’m learning about this through my social media. This seems like the sort of thing that faculty might want to know.

Similarly, I learned that UTRGV is getting a research vessel; the Ridley. I’m excited about this, and I think there could be some good research opportunities for our department and for me. I am still annoyed that I learned about it through social media and not from anyone in my institution.

And today’s editorial today in The Monitor reprinted the untrue statement that UTRGV is the first new university this century. Sigh.

Hat tip to Janet Stemwedel.

External links

About 1,500 UTRGV students displaced from core courses

Texas High Ed Board vs. Logic
Courses not approved for the UTRGV core
Floating classroom passes from Aggies to Vaqueros

28 August 2015

Bronc bouquet

This is it, folks. This is the last full business day of The University of Texas-Pan American. On Monday, we will be The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

RIP, Bucky.

Picture from here.

26 August 2015

This is not the image you want, UTRGV

Seen on the UTRGV home page this morning:

Plastering the home page with an image of a space shuttle is a bad idea, considering that all the space shuttles have been retired and stopped flying over four years ago.

So we’re advertising the launch of a new, twenty-first century university with a picture of obsolete 1970s technology. Great.

Why not an image of the Falcon 9, particularly as UTGRV likes to tout all the anticipated benefits of having a SpaceX launch site in the lower Rio Grande Valley at every opportunity it gets?

I’m using this as an excuse to link to Karen James’s awesome personal account of the last shuttle launch.

Low points

Professionally, I have had a good summer. I’ve had two papers and three book chapters land, and got a little attention on the national media stage. And next week, I’m being promoted to full professor.

I was watching this talk by Bradley Voytek, who reminded me that it’s important for us not just to talk about successes, but our failures, too. I shouldn’t pretend that it’s all been easy.

The idea of talking about failure is something I’m familiar with. I’ve done it a little bit on the blog from time to time. And a large part of many stories behind the papers is, “Why did this take so long?” But I think it’s worth revisiting this to give perspective to what’s be coming down the pipe recently.

I’m not sure what I’d consider my lowest point, professionally. There are a few candidates.

My first few years of grad school were not good ones. I had a psychology degree, had switched into a biology department, and I didn’t have a lot of background knowledge that others grad students would have. Some things were easy: I was well prepared to think about experimental design and statistics (better than some biologists, I’d wager), and a philosophy of science class was a breeze. But leveling work in undergraduate physiology? Cellular physiology? I was way out of my depth there. I got a conditional pass on my qualifying oral examination.

As a teaching assistant, I was moved out of one section of an introductory biology lab to one later in the week because of student complaints about how I was handling the class. This meant I had to replace another instructor, who had been quite popular with the students. And they never let me forget that.

In one post-doc, I didn’t connect at all well with one of the other people in the lab. It was never mean or angry from my point of view, just distant. At one point, my supervisor said to us, “You guys should be talking to each other, not to me. You have very similar projects.” I was never able to do that, and we continued to run along parallel lines, rarely intersecting. That was a missed opportunity.

I had a rough road to tenure, too. The department recommended giving me one more year. After that extended year, I came within a hair’s width of not making tenure. A last minute REU grant changed one committee vote from one recommending against me to a one vote majority recommending tenure.

Even after tenure, there have been projects that got rejected, rejected, and rejected some more before getting published. The low point was one review that said, “I don't believe it,” without specifying any flaw in methodology, analysis, or reasoning that would leave the reviewer not to believe it.

These things happen. And I know they will happen again. That’s how it goes. I may not have ever had a “rock bottom” moment professionally, but there are always low points.

And I think it’s important to pull those out when, to an outsider, you might look like you’re having some measure of professional success. Because it’s easy for those moments of success to look unattainable to others, particularly incoming students. And it’s also important for me myself to not forget the screw-ups, so that I might improve.

Related posts

You do not know the end of your story
Now part of the problem
Abandonment issues

External links

Building a shadow CV
My shadow CV

25 August 2015

Living the Matthew effect with kiloauthors

The word “kiloauthors” is getting some traction. Wow.

I make a cameo in this article in Times Higher Education (which is affiliated with the Times newspaper in London, not New York) about journal articles authored by large numbers of people.

It’s been interesting to see the Matthew effect at work. Getting attention in one high profile venue lead to another, and another, and another. While I knew intellectually that these journalistic outlets are copying from influencing each other, it’s something else to see it in action with your own stuff.

And it’s been a little weird to see how this post in May has rippled out past the usual confines of this blog’s limited readership, and how it compares to other stuff I’ve put out in the same time. Since March, I’ve had four data-driven papers (including one I thought might get some media attention), three book chapters, helped edit a book, and what gets the most attention? A quick blog post.

Related posts

When does authorship stop meaning anything useful?

External links

Is mass authorship destroying the credibility of papers?

Tuesday Crustie: Justice, and freedom

It wasn’t that long ago I posted this on Twitter:

And it’s already out of date! Yesterday, a new paper came out with another new crayfish that had appeared in the pet trade before it was formally recognized in a new paper.

I know I’ve posted quite a few crayfish species in this feature, but it’s impossible to resist such a beauty! Like most of the other species being described from the pet trade, this one is from the island of New Guinea in the Pacific.

The common name is the “orange tip crayfish,” but this didn’t factor into the scientific name.

Naming a species after a well-known person is hardly new, and it often raises eyebrows when the name is for someone who is reasonably well known. “Celebrity species names” sometimes gets some criticism due to its perception that it’s a bit of a publication relations attention getter, and not done with due deference and respect and blah blah blah.

It’s Cherax snowden, so named after Edward Snowden. This name may raise a few more eyebrows than usual, as Snowden is not universally loved, shall we say. The paper says this about the choice of the choice of name:

The new species is named after the American freedom fighter Edward Joseph Snowden. He is honored due to of his extraordinary achievements in defense of justice, and freedom.

I updated my little infographic:


Lukhaup C, Panteleit J, Schrimpf A. 2015. Cherax snowden, a new species of crayfish (Crustacea, Decapoda, Parastacidae) from the Kepala Burung (Vogelkop) Peninsula in Irian Jaya (West Papua), Indonesia. ZooKeys 518: 1-14. http://dx.doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.518.6127

External links

There’s a new crayfish species and it’s named after Edward Snowden 
New Species of Crayfish Named After Edward Snowden 
Researchers name new crayfish species after Edward Snowden
Feedback: The political games in species names

24 August 2015

Laptop bans in classes: better learning environment or tool of oppression?

I got into a discussion over the weekend about taking laptops out of classrooms. There is a reasonable amount of evidence that laptops are not enablers of note-taking, and they generally harm student performance in traditional lecture settings. Counterpoints appeared in my timeline this morning. First:

I can’t handwrite w/o significant disabling pain. Having the only comp in class made my disability obvious.


If you’re teaching and think banning laptops will make students more successful, you’re just flat wrong. And ableist. Bad form.

When I asked if there was any published research showing that laptop use did not affect student learning, the answer was, “No.” The reply thread went straight to, “They’re adults, and it’s their problem if they can’t focus.”

There are a lot of issues at play here. First, you have the instructor’s responsibility to provide the best learning environment possible. If an instructor knows that laptop use has a negative effect on learning, she or he would negligent if I did not discourage their use. It would be like a high level professional coach not requiring an athlete to train or eat right.

That university students are adults does not remove that professional responsibility. “You’re on your own” and “Sink or swim” are rarely good teaching practices, regardless of a student’s age. The issue is about attention and memory formation, which has not very much to do with age. Similarly, distracted driving laws don’t allow people to talk on phones in cars after a certain age because, “They’re adults.”

There are reasons to make exceptions to rules, and a student who has difficulty using a pen absolutely should be one of them. That’s a perfectly reasonable accommodation to make. That an accommodation makes a physical limitation obvious to others may not be ideal, but may be unavoidable. That’s how compromises work.

This is where dialogue needs to happen. Telepathy still doesn’t work, and students need to let instructors know what their particular situation is. My particular institution has an office devoted to helping students and instructors reach a reasonable solution.

That some students may need exceptions to a rule is not necessarily a reason to abandon the rule at the outset. It depends on how many exceptions you might expect, and how critical the rule is to creating a good learning environment.

As with so many things, the reality is more complicated than, “Ban laptops: Y / N?”

Related posts

Ban tech, or why I am such a hypocrite
Use your laptop, lose a letter grade
Earning it versus enforcing it

Photo from Brett Jordan on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.

A plea for pluralism in science

When I was heavily involved in L5R, there were recurring arguments between players about the “better” way to play the game. Probably the most common was between players who would use whatever cards they thought would win, and players who were also concerned with the story, who often imposed limitations on what cards they would play: using only cards from a certain faction, using no “evil” cards, and so on.

Wizards of the Coast did research on what people enjoyed about role-playing games to feed into their relaunch of Dungeons & Dragons, and came to a similar conclusion: there are a lot of reasons people play a game.

It took me a while, but in L5R, I came to the conclusion that there is no right way to play the game. What gives one player enjoyment may not give another player enjoyment.

And that’s okay. You shouldn’t denigrate people who play a game differently than you do.

Arguments in science sometimes remind me of those gamer discussions. Some accusasions of, “You’re doing it wrong!” are more reflective of the critic’s priorities than a wide view of the multiple ways there are to do science.

We need to be very careful about criticising particular forms of scholarship as “better” than one another.

External links

Breakdown of RPG players (Image source)
Whose problem is the reproducibility crisis anyway?

23 August 2015

Creation myths for universities

It’s weird to watch my new institution create stories about itself. It has to convince everyone that it is going to be a big deal, not just more of the same.

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) launches in just a little over a week, and it’s already trying to create its own creation myths. This headline in The Monitor local newspaper on the creation of UTRGV declares the forthcoming university to be:

(T)he first university created in 21st century

I think this myth is originating from incoming president Guy Bailey. I recall him making that statement in a town hall, and I used something close to it here.

Except that, at best, UTRGV is the fourth university created in the twenty-first century, according to this list. In this century, before UTRGV, we have:

  1. Soka University of America – Private university founded 2001, accredited in 2005
  2. University of California-Merced – Public university founded in 2005, accredited in 2011.
  3. Ave Maria University – Catholic university founded in 2007, accredited in 2010.

And that’s only the American universities. It wouldn’t surprise me if there were more universities founded since 2001 in that small place known as the “rest of the world.”

As a new university, it would do us good to show we value good scholarship by getting simple, verifiable facts right.

Related posts

In search of an identity for UTRGV, or: why Bucky must go 
External links

The road to UTRGV, the first university created in 21st century
The Youngest and Oldest Universities in the U.S.

You published a paper! What happened next?

Caitlin Vander Weele asked on Twitter:

Is a CNS (Cell, Nature, or Science - ZF) paper in PhD that beneficial long-term? Other than securing (post-doc)?

What this question speaks to is the typical way of evaluating research by number of papers and where they are published. Increasingly, I think this is the wrong way to tackle the question.

I would like to see a lot more emphasis placed on the aftermath of publication. Publishing papers is great, but did other people find it useful? Did people talk about it? Did it make a dent in the field?

This may hard to show in the short term, but the question is specifically about the long-term benefits of a paper in Cell or Nature or Science. If you’re lucky enough to be given that prominent a platform, and you can’t show that things changed because of your paper, the paper will give you little benefit, career wise.

But there are obviously papers that light a fire under other people, who get to work expanding the results, using them, or drive people to try to prove you wrong. In the long term, that should be the benefit of publishing in those high profile venues, and that should be the thing that you are looking to demonstrate to hiring committees.

21 August 2015

Time to practice those dance moves

I just promised to learn how to dance to this song with jellyfish biologist Rebecca Helms the next time we’re at a conference together.

It might be SICB in Portland in January.

Oh well, it couldn’t be any worse than when I rapped “Indestructible Sam” at Science Online.

You may not be wasting time. You might be laying foundations.

A great post by Matt Might on the difficulties of his tenure process is making the rounds on social media. Spoiler alert! There is a happy ending to his story – he got tenure. I wanted to highlight this bit:

I also started blogging a lot. Blogging, much like answering questions on Quora, doesn’t count for tenure at all, and in fact I was cautioned against doing it, since it was “a waste of time.”

But, blogging became a way to reach out to the world and to transmit technical knowledge, which is what academic publications are supposed to do – but don’t.

Before I knew it, my blog began attracting top-notch students to my lab.

Today, my lab is a team of talented grads, undergrads, postdocs and research scientists. I’m proud of each of them. I can’t imagine it would be that way without my “waste of time” blog.

That Matt is also at Harvard Med School might also have enhanced the effectiveness of his blog as recruitment tool. Many academics blog, but don’t necessarily have a run of students wanting to join the lab.

Continuing on:

And, perhaps my experience is a counter-example to the cynical yet sincere advice frequently given on how to get tenure.

The central theme in this “advice” is that anything that detracts from research – teaching, service, kids, health, etc. – is bad.

This resonates with me. As I noted last week, I’ve had so many good things happen because I “wasted time on the Internet.” Make no mistake, it took a long while, but I think it worked because I approached that time on the Internet with the goal of creating a professional footprint online. I approached it with the goal of trying to be available and helpful when I could be.

And it made me stronger. Blogging, for instance, honed my writing skills, and it gave me a background source of knowledge that paid off in a big way when I had two book chapters to write (this and this).

Of course, some of the stuff I did was pure procrastination and stopped me from getting other things done that I should have done. There are pros and cons, like everything else. I like to say, “Yes, it’s a waste of time... but it’s not a complete waste of time. The qualifier is important.”

I think the pressure on tenure-track faculty to keep focused on research is usually coming from a good place. Senior faculty want their faculty to succeed, and they’ve been around long enough to have seen that when there is a problem in the tenure process, it’s usually because someone’s research projects didn’t work out and fell short.

It is easy to see how “making sure you are making progress on research” becomes “do nothing but research.” The first is good advice; the latter is bad advice. If you only focus on creating academic research, you will have a very hard time accomplishing anything else. And most people are going to want to accomplish other things; and so will their institutions, eventually.

A construction project might go for a while before you see anything above ground level, because you have to put in the foundation first. Same with networking. Same with social media presence.

External links

HOWTO: Get tenure

Related posts

Lessons from Quora

20 August 2015

The chapter of surprise

I’ve been very fortunate to have a lot of projects that I had worked on a long time ago come to fruition in a rapid succession the last few weeks, and the latest one is another book chapter: about decapod “evo-devo.”

The story of this chapter started when lead author Steffen Harzsch emailed completely out of the blue to ask if I could write a sidebar on a chapter he was writing. Steffen had helped me out in a big way some years ago when he helped me get my research colony of Marmorkrebs up and running.

I’ve done a few book chapters now, and the process is so long and so protracted and the payoff is so minimal that I swore off writing any more of those things.

But when someone thinks I can contribute and asks me directly to chip in, I want to help. Besides, I thought a sidebar wouldn’t be so bad. That’s practically a parenthetical aside. I wouldn’t really have to compile the hard, serious data for the chapter. Easy.

I had another leg up in the process. As with another book chapter, I benefited from many years of blogging about Marmorkrebs. Indeed, the Freshwater Crayfish chapter and this one were written close enough together that I tried to be conscious of what I had written in both so as not to repeat myself too much. I’m sure if anyone read through both closely, they would be able to see some similarities and figure out where my contributions to the Harzsch chapter are.

As it happened, the editor of the book didn’t want a sidebar. So a cocoon I thought might yield a butterfly turned into a bird instead. What I wrote got incorporated throughout the chapter, and Steffen was generous enough to list me as a co-author.

I should add that this chapter is part of a big six-volume series on invertebrate evo-devo that is quite comprehensive. If you are into invertebrate development, you are sure to find some chapters of interest to you, even if it isn’t the one I helped with!


Harzsch S, Krieger J, Faulkes Z. 2015. “Crustacea”: Decapoda – Astacida. In: A Wanninger (ed.), Evolutionary Developmental Biology of Invertebrates 4: Ecdysozoa II: Crustacea, pp. 101-151. Springer: New York. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-3-7091-1853-5_4

19 August 2015

Things I should learn if I want to lead a life like in movies

I mean, seriously, how often do heroes and villains in fiction get to gasp, “It’s Morse code!” and then decode it? Interstellar was one of the most recent and most annoying examples of this trope.

Journal fees: would you rather pay a little on a bet or a lot on a sure thing?

I’m looking for a place to publish one of my next manuscripts, and I’m considering which journal to send it to. One that I’m considering is unusual: it has a modest (less than $100), but non-refundable, submission fee.

Thinking about this fee was very much deterring me from submitting there. But, then I realized that lots of journals have article processing fees that are much steeper (over $1,000).

If an appropriate journal had an article processing fee that was less than $100, I’d probably jump at submitting there. I was more annoyed by the prospect of a submission fee than an article processing fee, even though both are going to cost.

The psychology is interesting. Psychologists Kahneman and Tversky got famous studying problems like this and how people evaluate different costs, and showed that people were far from the rational optimizers that economic theory often treated them as. And I am certainly not a rational optimizer. I am in academia, after all.

A submission fee has that dread of, “It could all be for nothing.” Rejection is common – I daresay the norm – in academic publishing. Even journals that review only for technical competence reject something like a third of papers, judging from PLOS ONE: it typically rejects about 30% of submissions. An article processing fee for accepted papers feels more like you’re getting something for your buck.

Plus, there’s the fact that a submission fee is just not the norm in academic publishing. Running contrary to expectation doesn’t help my willingness to shell out the fee.

Logically, journals that ask only for article processing fees are using those fees to subsidize the editorial costs for all the rejected papers. For some journals, a modest submission fee might be one way to bring down the costs of article processing fees, which remains a road block for many researchers, particularly those who want to publish in open access journals.

Plus, all of this does raise the question of why more journals’ costs aren’t in line with, say, PeerJ?

Photo by Ben Husmann on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.

18 August 2015

Tuesday Crustie: Stay fresh!

I’ve been playing Splatoon recently (fun!), and was delighted to run across this character in the shops:

His name is Crusty Sean (get it?), and is the proprietor of Shrimp Kicks shoe store. I guess the though that since he was a decapod, he would have more feet and thus more need of shoes.

The game has a lot of other little nods to oceanic life, not least of which is that the leads are squid beings – hence their obsession with ink and use of camouflage.

External links

Live from Squid Research Lab

17 August 2015

Journal articles as a revenue source

From last week, news came that the Ecological Society of America has contracted Wiley, one of the “big five” academic publishers, to publish ESA journals.

I have decidedly mixed feelings about this. A big part of the mixed feelings comes from a couple of years back, when ESA spoke out against open access. At the time, someone from the society wrote:

This is perhaps a good example of the inherent conflict between the interests of those who believe research publications should make their content freely available to all and the reality that there are significant costs associated with publishing scholarly research journals.

I appreciate that there are costs in publishing that need to be covered. Heck, I can even see a case for charging for scientific research. I can understand that a scientific society might have not want to maintain the infrastructure needed to publish journals. As the Gavin’s blog post noted:

Somewhere in Ithaca there is a single computer running DOS(!) that performs a critical part of the current journal publishing platform used by ESA
Still, there are a couple of things that bug me about the Wiley deal, First, this is another example of the ongoing pattern of scientific publication becoming increasingly concentrated with a few publishers. I’ve said before I think a healthy publishing ecosystem, like a biological ecosystem, has lots of diversity. Second, this sounds like ESA sees publications as a revenue stream for them.

Gavin Simpson wrote:

The payment to ESA from Wiley in the 2015–16 budget is $1,350,357. ... (I)n 2016–17 the payment from Wiley will be $2,700,714(.) ... What is, I think, indicative is that the senior ESA staff and academics were clearly anticipating significant improvements in the “profit” generated by the Society’s journals that can be directed towards activities the Society does on behalf of its members and its support for ecology.

Again, I have mixed feelings about all this. I understand that scientific societies can do good work and need revenue. But it can also be the case that societies like that can become insular and self-perpetuating, more concerned about their own continued existence than serving others. I’m not saying ESA is at that point at all... just that societies could have incentives that are not in the general interest, or the interest of their field, but only in their interest.

So I am not sure that charging for publications is the way to go about raising revenue for a professional scientific society.

Related posts

ESA still not supporting open access

External links

ESA’s publishing deal with Wiley 


Larivière V, Haustein S, Mongeon P. 2015. The oligopoly of academic publishers in the digital era. PLOS ONE 10: e0127502. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0127502

14 August 2015

War going on (in academia)

Thank you, Telegraph, for alerting us that we should be avoiding Oxford, England. Because apparently it is a war zone.

Oxford academics at war over dangers of the internet

This sounds serious! What prompted this?

An academic wrote an editorial in a peer-reviewed journal asking another academic for evidence supporting her claims.


Here’s a sampling of the brutality you can find in the editorial:

(W)e are concerned that Greenfield’s claims are not based on a fair scientific appraisal of the evidence, often confuse correlation for causation, give undue weight to anecdote and poor quality studies, and are misleading to parents and the public at large.


The person at the end of this “stinging attack” has reacted to this incredible assault by... saying she’s too busy to respond.


If that’s war, then that is the kind of war I can get behind. I wish all wars were fought on these terms. “We will launch our devastating salvo and subdue our enemy with shock and awe... if we can get it past reviewer number two.”

Look, academia is boring, and “Let’s have you and her fight” is a time-honoured way to inject some human interest and drama into otherwise dry proceedings. But to hype the language of scientific disagreement between a few scientists to the level of armed conflict between large groups of people using guns and drones and tanks and bombs is silly.

Asking someone to support their claims is not the same as pulling a gun on them.

External links

The debate over digital technology and young people
Oxford academics at war over dangers of the internet 
Digital tech, the BMJ, and The Baroness
Jon Stewart “eviscerates” 16-plus years of hyperbolic “Daily Show” headlines and it is literally the greatest thing you will ever see in your life

13 August 2015

A clone and two dwarfs

You can finally read my latest paper about pet crayfish!

You know you’re on to something when you get asked a question about it something like a week after you have started the project.

Back at the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB) in 2013, I was presenting at a special session on crayfish (the one that was the precursor to the Freshwater Crayfish book that landed a few days ago). I was presenting work about the gray market in Marmorkrebs in the pet trade in the U.S. and Canada (final paper was Faulkes 2013).

Chris Chucholl, who had written an awesome paper on the trade in pet crayfish in Germany (Chucholl 2013) asked:

“Do you have any idea how Marmorkrebs compare to other crayfish?”

And I got to say something like, “I have just started a project to answer exactly that question.” That was pretty satisfying. I had just started this project days before, on New Year’s Day, 2013.

Now, this project ran for a full calendar year, which meant that I had all the data collected by New Year’s Day of 2014, so I should have been ready to write this paper and submit it to a journal. But, in what has become a recurring theme in this series of “stories behind the papers,” you may well ask, “Why did it take so long? Why is this paper only out today, 19 months after you were finished collecting the data?”

Friggin’ SICB again!

Because just when I had all of the data complete and in the can, I was prepping to run a parasite symposium with Kelly Weinersmith at SICB in Austin in a couple of days. After the symposium, I had to write up papers from the symposium. And that was the situation where what I thought was going to be one paper... turned into three papers.

And I was commissioned to write an opinion piece about social media for Neuron.

Thanks to pressure from my co-editor Tadashi, I was also trying to nail down a chapter for the Freshwater Crayfish book around the same time.

I was going slightly mental with the amount of writing that was due at the start of 2014. I still want to rub my forehead just thinking about it. Then, the middle of 2014 had a lot of tough, unbloggable stuff that stopped me from writing up this paper. Then the fall semester arrived, and before you know it, it’s New Year’s Day again.

That made me think, “Okay, it’s been a year, stop being lazy and submit this thing.” I attacked the manuscript over Christmas break and submitted it in January, just before classes started.

I picked Knowledge and Management of Aquatic Ecosystems, because they had been publishing a lot of interesting research on crayfish. Plus, there were open access, had no article processing fees, and I hadn’t published there before.

I want to say “Thank you!” to the editors of this article, who were extremely patient with me. This piece had more than its usual share of last-minute changes. Probably the biggest one was that I added an entire new figure (Figure 2).

I created Figure 2 because I was working on poster of this paper for the #SciFund poster class. When making the poster, I tried a lot of different ways to make the poster visual, and tinkered with a graph. In the end, I thought the graph didn’t work on the poster, but it was a nice addition to the manuscript. While you can get all the information presented in Figure 2 from the tables in the paper, I thought it would be helpful to the reader to show it visually. The editors indulged me and let me add it in. They also didn’t complain about other changes I asked for. Thanks, guys.

I showed a lot of restraint in not changing the title, though. I went through a lot of different titles for this paper. I toyed a lot with some version of “zero to hero” to emphasize how Marmorkrebs had gone from “unknown to science” to “almost half the pet crayfish in North America.” But I kept balking, because I didn’t want to call a potentially invasive species a “hero.” And not very many other words rhyme with “zero.”

Making the #SciFund poster, I came up with a phrase to encapsulate the paper. I didn’t want to push my luck with another change, and I worried that it was too distracting. (Funny paper titles don’t always go down well.) So I just used it here as the title for this blog post.

And, as is the tradition while supplies last, because I have a paper out today, I get to break out the Canadian chocolate:

I’m kind of glad that it’s possible for a person to publish a paper by surfing the Internet for a year.

Musical interlude:


Chucholl C. 2013. Invaders for sale: trade and determinants of introduction of ornamental freshwater crayfish. Biological Invasions 15(1): 125-141.http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10530-012-0273-2

Faulkes Z. 2013. How much is that crayfish in the window? Online monitoring of Marmorkrebs, Procambarus fallax f. virginalis (Hagen, 1870) in the North American pet trade. Freshwater Crayfish 19(1): 39-44. http://dx.doi.org/10.5869/fc.2013.v19.039

Faulkes Z. 2015. Marmorkrebs (Procambarus fallax f. virginalis) are the most popular crayfish in the North American pet trade. Knowledge and Management of Aquatic Ecosystems 416: 20. http://dx.doi.org/10.1051/kmae/2015016

Related posts

In the hands of editors now

External links

SICB 2013 special session on crayfish

12 August 2015

A great face for (National Public) Radio

Around lunchtime today, I got a phone call, from one Carol Klinger. I sort of missed her opening introduction of who she worked for, but her call to me was prompted by the recent Wall Street Journal article on the increase in the number of authors on scientific papers. We started chatting about that.

Carol asked, “Who came up with the term, ‘kiloauthor’?” “That was me!”

Before I know it, she’s asking me if I can do an interview (sure!), if I have an iPhone (no), if there’s a studio I can get to (wait, what? Who does she work for?), and before I know it I’m on the road to an iHeartMedia studio to record an interview for All Things Considered on National Public Radio.

I almost didn’t make it, because the studio was out of town in Weslaco. As luck would have it, I had walked into work and had to walk back to reach my car, then start driving to the studio, and of course there was a wreck on the road, so I was literally stopped on the highway while the clock was ticking.

We had some technical problems, so we ended up with me listening to the interview questions from Robert Seigel on the phone while I talked into a mic. Thanks to Nathan Cantu who helped set up the recording on short notice!

I just listened to the interview streaming live on WAMU on the Internet. You should be able to listed to audio or read a transcript on the All Things Considered website tomorrow. I’ll post a link when I get it.

Update: Wow, these guys are fast. The link to my interview is here.

One of the things that I was thinking about on the drive to the studio was that this little interview was only possible because of the years I spent wasting time on the Internet blogging and developing a social media presence. It’s like climbing up an ice cliff. Chip away at the ice with a pick. Pull yourself up. Shove your spiked boots into a crevice. It’s a hard and slow ascent.

But if it hadn’t been for that, there is no way that I would have been able to talk to Nature, New Scientist, The Wall Street Journal, and NPR (all of which has happened this year). Because let’s face it, it sure isn’t because these news organizations think, “Let’s call up a researcher from a university that we haven’t heard of in south Texas and ask them what they think.” Social media can act as a leveler, and can give voice to people who might not normally have one.

Now that I’ve been on NPR, I think I have finally secured my credential as an effete, wine-sipping, out-of-touch, ivory tower, liberal academic.

Related posts

Straight outta Wall Street

External links

Research Biologist Coins Term 'Kilo-Author' For Scientific Journal Articles

11 August 2015

The chapter of collaboration

It’s here!

It’s real! Completed and published and available in August 2015, not 2016, despite what the front matter would have you believe.

In a previous entry, I mentioned I have my name on two chapters in this book. The second one I worked on was with my regular collaborator, Paty Feria. This chapter tries to stitch all the papers we have worked on together into one cohesive piece.

Paty did much of the writing on this chapter. One thing I brought to the table was that I suggested we try to make the chapter a bit of a “how to” primer for people who had never done a species distribution model. We visualized that in a flowchart in Figure 2.1 (right).

I also suggested we compile every example in the literature of people using species distribution models for crayfish, which ended up being Table 2.1. We expanded it a little to include a freshwater prawn, since the conceptual problems of modeling the distribution is pretty for all the large freshwater crustaceans.

Following the release of the book last week, I followed my current practice for celebrating the release of a scientific publication: Canadian chocolate! Because my name was on two chapters, I got two celebrate twice.

I split the larger of the two chocolate bars with Paty. She agreed that Canadian chocolate is delicious.


Feria TP, Faulkes Z. 2016. Predicting the distribution of crayfish species: a case study using marble crayfish. In: T Kawai, Z Faulkes, G Scholtz, eds. Freshwater Crayfish: A Global Overview, Boca Raton: CRC Press, 13-30. https://www.crcpress.com/Freshwater-Crayfish-A-Global-Overview/Kawai-Faulkes-Scholtz/9781466586390

Related posts

The chapter of desperation
This calls for a celebration

External links

T Kawai, Z Faulkes, G Scholtz, eds. Freshwater Crayfish: A Global Overview, pp. 31-53. Boca Raton: CRC Press. https://www.crcpress.com/Freshwater-Crayfish-A-Global-Overview/Kawai-Faulkes-Scholtz/9781466586390

Tuesday Crustie: The bells!

These charming little guys and gays are called hunchback amphipods, belonging to the family Cyproideidae. Yet another group of crustaceans I don’t know at all well. Except that some of them are darned photogenic.

Picture from here.

10 August 2015

Straight outta Wall Street

I was quoted in an article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday.

I told a joke.

That’s about par for the course for me.

I actually had a long chat with the author for this piece, arising from a post I wrote back in May about that fruit fly paper with over 1,000 authors. He was able to extract key points from our meandering conversation into something short and punchy and entertaining. I’m glad I was able to help.

The piece does a fine job of laying out the issue of authorship. It also has some funny stories about “honorary” authorships to a computer, an Afghan hound, and so on.

Related post

When does authorship stop meaning anything useful?

External links

How Many Scientists Does It Take to Write a Paper? Apparently, Thousands

Dear publishers, please buy a calendar!

I’ve been beset by dates recently.

Exhibit one arrived in my department mailbox about a week ago (the old fashioned one where physical objects arrive). It was a new issue of a journal. Sort of.

“February 2012 (Published June 2015)”.

Obviously, this particular journal had a backlog that they are struggling to work through. This is admirable, but the dating is confusing. How I am supposed to cite the publication date? 2012? 2015? 2012 (2015)?

Exhibit two is the new book I blogged about last week, Freshwater Crayfish: A Global Overview. i blogged about it last week because the publisher said it was out last week:

5 August, 2015. But when you open it up, everything in it is dated 2016. I can forgive this is the book is maybe being released in December, say. But it’s the middle of summer and a long way from New Year’s.

Exhibit three is my latest journal article, which the publisher informed me by email was published on Friday, 7 August 2015. The webpage was indeed updated that day, and there is a link and a DOI... but no abstract and no text and no PDF. Compare the entry for my article compared to the one above it.

The journal emailed me the PDF the next day, so I know the paper was done production. But no text was available for anyone else to read for days. This is a very strange definition of “published”: showing the information needed to cite the paper, but not the actual paper itself.

Exhibit four is from the archives:

My “received” date was a month after I submitted, and the publication date on the cover of the issue, December 2013, was months before the issue actually hit the web. (June 2014. - ZF)

Publication dates matter to authors, because they help to establish the priority of discovery.

Why is something as simple as a publication date so hard to get right? Perhaps part of the problem is that publishers do have incentives to futz with dates. First, authors are looking for prompt publication, so there is incentive to list publication dates that are earlier than when someone can read the paper. Second, Impact Factor and citation analyses use dates, so there is incentive to set dates later than actual publication, because it gives the impression that citations have accrued faster than they actually did.

Related posts

1,017 days: when publishing the paper takes longer than the project

07 August 2015

The chapter of desperation

Back about a year and a half ago, I was writing my little butt off. And one of those projects was a book chapter that has come out this week.

And yes, that’s my name on the cover of the book. I helped a little.

I first met lead editor Tadashi Kawai at the International Association for Astacology conference in 2010. Our paths crossed again when Tadashi organized a special session on crayfish at the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology in early 2013. Tadashi had wanted the session to be a symposium, but the SICB programming folks are very reluctant to hold taxon specific symposia. Papers from the symposium are published in the journal Integrative and Comparative Biology, and issues revolving around a specific group of animals hurts the journal’s Impact Factor. So the choice of symposium is very definitely affected by what they think will help the journal.

Tadashi is tenacious, however, and this book sort of arose, phoenix-like, from that SICB session. Originally, it was to be more focused on Marmorkrebs, but the book expanded significantly, and the final product is a big, substantive book almost 700 pages long.

Tadashi is Japanaese, and the other co-editor of this book, Gerhard, is German. Although both of these fine people have published many papers in English each, I think I was sort of brought on board as the “native English speaker” to assist with the editing! I want to give full credit to my co-editors, who I am sure did much more for this book than I did. I was pleased to help.

The chapter itself was a tough assignment. There was the timing. As I mentioned, it was coming due right around the time when I was preparing to co-host the SICB symposium on parasite manipulation, not to mention give a talk and poster there, plus write up a lot of other manuscripts. I just had to lay in a lot of text very fast.

Luckily, I had been blogging about this marbled crayfish for about seven years at that point, and thanks to blogging, I knew the literature and the issues reasonably well. I had a back catalogue to draw from. I dipped into a lot of information and ideas that I had previously treated on the Marmorkrebs blog, and sometimes from this one, too.

Worse, though, was that Tadashi had asked me to write a chapter about two quite different things: Marmorkrebs as a model organism in the lab, and Marmorkrebs as an invasive in the field. I struggled and struggled to make the chapter cohesive. And ultimately, I could only do so much, and the chapter has two very distinct sections. But... I think I found a way to join the two widely divergent streams into one river at the end of the chapter. Here’s an excerpt from near the end (my emphasis).

This series of events has been fortuitous in that it has created a framework for Marble crayfish research that unites basic, curiosity driven bench science and applied, pragmatic field science. ... This level of integration is unusual for an emerging model organism. Despite thousands of published research articles on the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans, mostly its genetics, the ecology and natural history remains ‘mysterious.’ There seems little impetus for improvement on that point for C. elegans, but the pressing concerns of the potential economic impact of Marble crayfish provides a clear reason for cross-pollination of research. It is, and will continue to be, important for the basic bench research and applied field research programs on Marble crayfish not to operate in largely independent tracks, but to intersect as often as possible.

That was one thing I was happy about. I was also happy that I snuck in some previously unpublished data in the chapter! I had a little data about the escape neurons in Marmorkrebs that I had presented, but hadn’t found a home for, because I didn’t have a complete narrative yet. I was able to show that yes, the marbled crayfish does have giant interneurons and a specialized motor giant (MoG) fast flexor motot neuron. Nowhere near enough to make a paper out of, because it is completely unsurprising, but it is an original observation, so I documented it in this chapter.

Because this was a book, I submitted the figure in black and white, because I didn’t even know we were allowed to have colour figures. Colour plates are typically still an expensive luxury in most books. So I’ve put the colour version here and on Figshare.

I can also give you a peek at some of the other cover designs that were considered:

As you can see, both cover designs were more similar to each other than the one that was eventually used.

One thing I liked about these unused covers because they show crayfish diversity, which fits the subtitle, “A Global Overview”. However, the final cover is a more striking, bolder piece of design. And it doesn’t have all the human hands and fingers intruding, like on these two unused covers.

My name is one one other chapter in this book, but that’s another blog post for another time.


Faulkes Z. 2016. Marble crayfish as a new model organism and a new threat to native crayfish conservation. In: T Kawai, Z Faulkes, G Scholtz, eds. Freshwater Crayfish: A Global Overview, pp. 31-53. Boca Raton: CRC Press. https://www.crcpress.com/Freshwater-Crayfish-A-Global-Overview/Kawai-Faulkes-Scholtz/9781466586390

Faulkes Z. 2015. Motor giant synapses of Procambarus clarkii and P. fallax f. virginalis. figshare. http://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.1500912 Retrieved 15:47, Aug 04, 2015 (GMT)

04 August 2015

Tuesday Crustie: Long lost cousin

Of course today’s animal is going to be a crayfish! I’ll tell you why in a second...

This is Astacoides betsileoensis, one of seven species from Madagascar. Madagascar is the only place in Africa that you will find any native crayfish.

One of the weird things about the Madagascar crayfish species is that their closest relatives are not the closest geographically. You might expect them to be related to crayfish in Europe. No, the closest relatives of Madagascar crayfish are those in... Australia. Madagascar and Australia are about as close to “other side of the world” as you can get.

Nobody has a good explanation for how that happened. Nobody knows how crayfish got to Madagascar.

You can learn this and much, much more in this new book, which is releasing today!

I’ll be writing more about this book in days to come. Meanwhile, I’ve started posting excerpts from the Marmorkrebs related chapters on the Marmorkrebs blog. (I normally post abstracts there, but this book doesn’t have abstracts.) There will be one a week for a couple of months.

To celebrate the release of this book, I’ll be having some with on Twitter with the hashtag #CrayfishFacts (and maybe a few #FakeCrayfishFacts thrown in for fun). And I’ll also be dipping into my stash of Canadian chocolate today. Yum.

Picture from here.

03 August 2015

Into the vault: oxidative stress and ascidian embryogenesis

I’ve talked before about the long waits in getting projects published. But sometimes, despite waiting, projects never make it past the conference poster stage. I’ve also talked about developing a gut instinct for whether something is publishable.

It’s nice that now, there are ways to turn ephemera into an archival, potentially usable and citable, document. For a while, I’ve been meaning to start putting up some of my posters into FigShare, which I’ve been of fan of from early on. I first used it when I published a paper here on my blog. Since then, I’ve used it to archive the raw data for several of my papers as unofficial supplemental information.

The first one to go up is a poster I presented at the third International Tunicate Conference in 2005 at the University of California Santa Barbara.

This one is one of the relatively few projects that we were never able to push out into a paper. I still think it makes for a pretty good poster, though.

Archiving this poster got me thinking. I see clear value in archiving old posters that can document projects that never made it into the scientific literature. But is there value in archiving posters that were the early versions of projects that did make it into the regular scientific literature? I can see old posters have some interest as examples of design (see the Better Posters blog). They might eventually have some historical interest.

But is there any scientific interest in archiving old posters? Posters are generally works in progress, so tend to be incomplete and preliminary. Might they actually confuse matters by including dead end ideas that were abandoned by the authors?


Stwora A, Scofield VL, Faulkes Z. 2015. Effects of oxidative stress on Ascidia interrupta embryogenesis. figshare. http://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.1499282