Monday, December 18, 2017

Microgeographies of my summer

I grew cherry tomatoes and three large tomato varieties, okra (grew like a weed), tomatillos (pests set in, I won't try these next year), banana peppers, zucchini (I'll plant more next year but be choosier about the variety), green beans (attack of the Mexican bean beetle), parsley, basil. My blackberries were in the their first year of growth so they did not produce berries. My garden is hemmed in by mint, various Aster species, and some ornamental flowering plants planted by someone who lived in the house before me.


What I read for fun in 2017


Thursday, December 14, 2017

Against overprofessionalization

Competing in the marketplace of ideas can be unpredictable. Themes and methodologies emerge and disappear over time, not always in sync with our own research interests and abilities. There is also the uncertainty of the review process. And then there is the quality of our work, which can be difficult for us to judge at the outset. More than just a few geographers have seized upon an idea or concept, worked it over for months or even years, and if not shot down early, produced what we though surely must a recognizable breakthrough for the discipline. Unfortunately, these passionate works of ours are most likely coherent and revolutionary only to ourselves. But that is not to say there is no value in such idiosyncratic work. It may not be entirely productive from the standpoint of publication counts and lines on a vita. But the incomprehensibility and failure common to free form intellectualizing is part of the collective process of moving knowledge forward.
I am amazed at the knowledge we possess and wield on any average day in any average lecture. On the other hand, I wish we could make more institutional room for what we don't know, for what we can’t yet articulate in a perfectly clear manner. As the anecdote goes, the knowledge of today will be revised by the knowledge of tomorrow and few of us can see it coming until it is here. And that is what we might keep in mind when the certainty required of being a professional academic – always the smartest, most confident person in the room, right? – replaces that restless curiosity about what we don't know. A few recent articles have offered critiques as well as solutions to enhance how knowledge is produced in the life sciences. They illustrate how the small and conjectural can be valued amid the seemingly steadfast towers of academic accomplishment.

Vazire, S. (2017) Our obsession with eminence warps research. Nature, 547(7661)
Fortin, J. et al (2013) Big science vs. little science: how scientific impact scales with funding. PloS One 8(6)

Most of our research proposals undergo single-blind review, in which reviewers are aware of the author's identity. In a double-blind review, the reviewer does not have this information. Single-blind reviewers are significantly more likely than their double-blind counterparts to recommend for acceptance works from famous authors and top universities. Double-blind reviewing, on the other hand, does more to get around this problem of prestige. Eminence, the very thing that we are required to cultivate to get tenure and promotion, shapes the processes of inquiry by favoring the well-established rather than the novel and lesser known.

Fang, F. & Casadevall, A. (2016) Research funding: the case for a modified lottery. MBio 7(2)
Gravem, S. A. et al (2017) Transformative research is not easily predicted. Trends in Ecology & Evolution.

It is actually quite challenging to predict transformative research, one of the criteria for which NSF grants are judged. Transformativity often arises as an after effect of more incremental research and cannot be easily predicted ahead of time. Big science may not even be the most productive type of science. Larger grants do not necessarily lead to larger discoveries, as scientific impact measured in publications is only weakly limited by funding. Funding strategies that emphasize diversity in topics and in investigator prominence, along with appeals to excellence, may also be productive. Lotteries have been proposed as a mechanism to make research funding awards more equitable given that ranking large numbers of meritorious proposals induces selection bias.

Mountz, A. et al (2015) For slow scholarship: A feminist politics of resistance through collective action in the neoliberal university. ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, 14(4).
The degree to which our public academic personas emphasize certainty and closure over working the more productive gray areas is a consequence of the professionalization of the academic class. Rather than being researchers in the thick and tangled woods of ideas, we are expected to signal and advertise certainty and clarity by producing large numbers of publications. We are also expected to  embrace the cultivation of a university administrative utopia that reinforces this ideal. Good scholarship, on the other hand, requires more open-ended use of our time. Extreme professionalization may actually disrupt the processes of intellectual growth. Time to think, reflect, and even fail may not be always be possible, but we need to hold on to that ideal and cultivate it how we can.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Songs from the last calendar year

But this doesn't mean they were necessarily songs released in the last year. In no particular order, this is some of the stuff I bumped into:

The Rulers, I Want My Ramones Records Back
The Whiffs, Forget Your Name from Take a Whiff.
Dany Laj and the Looks, Woody/Dreamers from Word on the Street.
Grim Deeds and the song Underground
The Rocket Jocks, Next Stop Moon: Crazy for You and What Can I Do
The Barreracudas, Can Do Easy, and the song Promises
Death By Unga Bunda, from Fight! and the song I Wanted Everything
J.D. McPherson's songs Style (Is a Losing Game) and Under the Spell of City Lights
Milk 'N' Cookies
I finally was able to stop compulsively playing Reaction and Can't Erase that Feeling by Warm Soda sometime in early 2017.

Data structure and resilience properties

In my 2017 article in Geomorphology, I describe more of the theoretical basis for linking the multivariate data structure of state space to its resilience properties. It could be considered a followup to my 2005 paper in Geomorphology. I wasn't in a rush, but back then the availability of lidar data and the software tools to manipulate these data weren't quite as on hand as they are today. I had thought about making topographic state space back in 2005, and added a preliminary figure in my Ecological Complexity paper.