Roundtable discussion on YouTube: How to be a scientist

I quote-mined the round table video conversation below.

  1. Host Carl Zimmer, author
  2. Panelist Mariette DiChristina, editor-in-chief, Scientific American
  3. Panelist Dany Spencer Adams, developmental biologist
  4. Panelist Ivan Oransky, journalist
  5. Panellist Massimo Pigliucci, biologist, philosopher

Video caption:
“As a discipline, science aspires to be an evidence-based, non-partisan tool for revealing truth. But science is carried out by scientists, human beings like the rest of us, subject to pressures, preconceptions, and biases. What are the external, non-scientific forces that impact scientific research? Does the current research structure drive focus away from unbiased exploration? What lessons can we draw from the recent crisis of reproducibility afflicting some research areas? In this program, experts discuss the myriad factors scientists face in a highly competitive environment as they seek to uphold and advance the ideals of scientific exploration.”

According to Massimo Pigliucci:

  1. “Write your materials and methods first, then your results, then your introduction last.”
  2. “Overcome confirmation bias. What if your result is something that is not predicted?”
  3. “There’s no incentive to replicate someone else’s results. You want to be the first one to get there. Not the second one. Most journals, especially the high-impact journals want the novel stuff, the sexy stuff, the stuff that nobody’s done before. [Even so…] Two-thirds of papers in top journals never get cited within five years. 
  4. “There are 150 applicants for every paid position.” 
  5. Some scientists want to see and approve pre-published stories, to check their quotes. 
  6. Blogposts represent the direct voice of the scientist. Historically this has been a problem because you’re wasting your time, andyou’re not including other scientists. 

According to Dany Spencer Adams:

  1. “Science is one way of learning things.”
  2. “If you’re not failing most of the time, you’re not working hard enough.”
  3. “Don’t send anything from a Mac to a PC. Don’t update your software within a week of your deadline. Formatting to a journal’s style takes time. Reformatting from one journal to another (after the first rejection) takes more time.”
  4. “Only the top 4 percent of applications receive funding from the NSF.” 

According to Ivan Oransky:

  1. “Ask yourself, How can I prove myself wrong?”
  2. “If a paper is published and no one cites it, does it really matter? So getting published in high-impact journals is important in Academia.”
  3. The number of retractions (from fraudulent data collection or misconduct) has dramatically increased, but remains relatively rare. Current record holder: 183 retractions from a single individual. Falsification, Fabrication and Plagiarism: the Triad. Some authors were caught doing there own peer-review, or each others’ peer-reviews in cooperation. His ‘Doing the Right Thing Award’ is given to those who make corrections at some cost to themselves.”

According to Carl Zimmer:

  1. “Much time is spent filling out paperwork to get grants.”
  2. “Are journalists part of the problem?” 

According to Mariette DiChristina:

  1. “Science tries to embrace corrections.
  2. “Materials and methods should produce replicable results.
  3. “Many of us are click-bait chasers. Invite the researcher to tell the story of how the results came to be, describe the human endeavor. Provide the context.”

In the old days:
scientists simply wrote their papers without grants, without referees, without competing for journal pages, without waiting for months or years for all this to take place. There were far fewer scientists working back then, and there was more ‘low-hanging fruit’ waiting to be plucked (= discovered). Then again, new ideas were still ridiculed until confirmed.

scientists produce blogposts, send unpublished, unrefereeed PDFs to and write books. Others publish without referees, competing for grants, dealing with students, dealing with administrators, principal investigators or all of the above. Some scientists making contributions are not PhDs.

Readers should gather by now
that sometimes scientists make mistakes, often by the sin of omission (= taxon exclusion) and due to that, they sometimes come to improper conclusions. This happened in the past and it continues to happen in the present. When I make mistakes I correct them. It’s part of the learning process. If nothing else, I hope that readers will take from this blog the idea that all hypotheses should be questioned and all conclusions should be tested. It’s okay to do this, no matter how many PhDs are listed as co-authors. Tradition can be wrong. Sometimes people will despise you for upsetting favorite traditions. A long list of well-known scientists have been despised for their views, hypotheses and theories.

Don’t wait.
The ‘low-hanging fruit’ is quickly disappearing with every new discovery. This is a golden era in paleontology that will someday dry up as questions are answered and topologies are cemented.

Side note:
Panelist Mariette DiChristina was the online editor-in-chief at Scientific American where Dr. Darren Naish published his Tetrapod Zoology blogpost for several years. Recently they parted ways and Dr. Naish has reported a new interest in non-tetrapod vertebrates (= fish).

I’d like to see Dr. Naish continue his interest in tetrapods, perhaps to ultimately create a wide gamut cladogram of tetrapods and compare it to the results recovered by the large reptile tree at, which he continues to disparage. Let’s all hope Dr. Naish is not a subscriber to Massimo Pigliucci’s statement #3 (above). To that point, as everyone knows, in EVERY CASE I am ‘the second one’ to describe a taxon. Even so, and as proven here, there are still a good number of discoveries to be made out there.

Last minute addition:
Dr. Steve Brusatte how new discoveries are presented in the press.

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