Time to do away with the “Darwin” fish

I was really psyched to see Carl Zimmer’s recent NY Times article on the use of the word “theory”.

In Science, It’s Never Just A Theory

The misuse of “theory” in the general public — and sometimes even in scientific circles — has always been a personal pet peeve of mine. And don’t get me started on the various misuses of homology, orthology, and paralogy.

Now that everyone is clear on when and how to use “theory”, another thing I find equally annoying are the Darwin fish emblems. You’ve seen them. They are riffs on the ichthys or Jesus fish symbol, except they have legs and “Darwin” inscribed. It’s astounding to see the continued popularity of these emblems since they first appeared in the 1980s. At that time, I thought they were hilarious. Now, I just think they reek of a self-satisified smugness, vaunting the superiority of the owner’s intellect. And since their introduction, they’ve led to a stupid one-upsmanship almost as inane and tasteless as the Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes) peeing stickers. [BTW: Don’t miss this hilarious take on the Peeing Calvin from The Onion]

The problem is that they conflate science and religion when the two things are completely different endeavors. Science isn’t a belief system. It doesn’t tell you what you should think. Science is a process and method of understanding the world around us. Nothing more and nothing less. It is, hopefully, introspective of itself and always moving to deeper understanding.

When scientists mistakenly place religion and science in the same sphere, they introduce unnecessary conflict. Religion and science aren’t simply two sides of the same coin. They are entirely different currencies altogether.

Do you like #Slack? And the TV series Silicon Valley? You aren’t alone…

If you are a Slack fanatic (a Slanatic?), you probably belong to several teams. Some of my teams have purpose-driven names, like $company-$department.

But others are, um, more whimsical. Recently I needed to start a new team for a nascent project. I thought what could possibly be a richer source of names than the hilarious Silicon Valley TV series

Well — surprise! — all the obvious names are taken.

Here are just a few names I tried that someone has already staked out:

  • bachman
  • dinesh
  • hooli
  • piedpiper
  • trescommas
  • rebillionization

There are obviously lots of other options, but you have to dig pretty deep to find something relevant. The gold rush is over.

Investing for busy scientists: roboadvisers to the rescue.

Roboadvisers like WealthFront offer an excellent way for scientists to easily invest in the stock market, letting them focus their energy on more important things, you know, like science.

Over the years, I’ve used a lot of different investment firms, brokerage houses, and online trading platforms: TIAA-CREF, American Century, Merrill Lynch, Fidelity, E*Trade, Schwab, to name a small sample.

The problem with all of these firms is that unless you are a very high net worth individual, they probably don’t have your best interest in mind. Your tiny account offers too low of a return for the cost of servicing it.

I’ve even stupidly wasted time with things like Interactive Brokers, read lots of books on short, day, swing, options, and forex trading, and desperately tried to read the candlesticks and shooting stars to predict the future. But the problem with trading on your own (or through a brokerage) is that you simply cannot compete against people with detailed reporting and insight into a companies’ finances and development, or against people exploiting technological nuances of the system. It’s also really nerve-wracking and very easy to find yourself facing the sunk-cost fallacy conundrum on an hourly or daily basis.

Stepping beyond that, the fees of brokerage firms — if you can actually figure out what they are — are exorbitant, often nullifying your return over time.

Still, investing is one of the best things young scientists can do. I did so in an exceptionally small way by dollar cost averaging throughout my graduate career. By my final year of graduate school, I had enough saved with a modest capital return to buy a new computer for writing my thesis and to take a little trip once said thesis was accepted, bound, signed, delivered, and shelved.

But investing takes time. And it carries significant risk. Nothing can remove the risk but the time required to invest can be reduced, and a new crop of companies extend benefits previously only available to the few.

Enter: The Roboadvisers

Roboadvisers are basically brokerages that manage funds algorithmically, typically tracking stock indices. In doing so, they often include tax-loss harvesting, automatic daily rebalancing, and direct indexing to all investors, services that were previously only available to the ultra rich. Better yet, roboadvisers are typically much cheaper than brokerages like Fidelity.

My current favorite is WealthFront. WealthFront offers incredibly low fees (0.25% per year) and they’ll manage the first $10,000 you invest for free. Better yet, there is a very low account minimum ($500) so you can get started early.

Everything they do is automated: tax-loss harvesting, dividend reinvestment, account rebalancing. And not just on an annual basis like most financial advisors — they do it all, daily.

And, as you might expect of a company disrupting the gross largesse of investment and retirement planning, they have a great website and mobile app that’s constantly improving, and dedicated and friendly support staff. Sign up now and get an additional $5000 managed for free.

This post may contain affiliate links. If you click on these links and purchase something, I may receive a miniscule commission. I only endorse things I find informative and useful.

The Worm Reader’s Gazette: audio transcripts of the scientific literature

Digital media has had a profound effect on scientific publishing. But by and large, consuming that literature is still a tedious process of reading that does not lend itself well to today’s active lifestyles. Do you have a long commute or need your hands and eyes free for other tasks like pipetting or microinjecting? Then we think you’ll love the Worm Reader’s Gazette.

The Worm Breeder’s Gazette is pleased to announce the Worm Reader’s Gazette: audio recordings of scientific literature read aloud by lead authors, now in private invite only alpha testing.

At the Worm Reader’s Gazette, lead authors can create and submit audio recordings of their publications. We’re starting with seminal papers in the C. elegans field and adding new papers as they are published.

Making audio recordings a standard part of the manuscript submission process.

To improve the coverage of available articles, we are working with publishers to make audio recordings a required part of the manuscript submission materials.

Following acceptance and approval of the final galleys, web-based authoring tools will make it simple for authors to create and edit their audio recordings from their mobile phone.

Borrowing from the popular photo sharing service Instagram, special audio filters will add humor, drama, or august ambience as required by the tone and conclusions of your manuscript. These include the mysterious “Irreproducible Result”, the lo-fi “Graduate Seminar”, the visceral “Thesis Defense”, and the noble “Nobel Address” and many, many others.

We’ve included high quality audio samples that authors can drag and drop into their recording, too. Add dog barks after particularly important points, bomb explosions during and after paradigm shifting pronouncements, and audience applause whenever warranted.

Our natural language processing filters will automatically markup your recording with special auditory hyperlinks to primary databases. Users can “click” on these hyperlinks during playback using voice activation via Siri, Cortana, or Alexa: “Hey Siri, order the antibody mentioned in the fifth paragraph and have it sent priority overnight mail to my bench”. Yes, it’s that easy.

We hope you enjoy this new service. And we look forward to seeing — and hearing! — your next publication.