The birth of academic disciplines

Progress is driven by new scientific questions, which demand new ways of thinking. You want to go where a question takes you, not where your training left you. … New disciplines eventually self-organize around new problems and approaches, creating a new shared culture. This shared culture coalesces into the next essential training regimen for the next generation of scientists, and with luck, some of these people will overcome their training to open up more new fields of inquiry. —Sean R. Eddy

Source: “Antedisciplinary” Science, PLoS Computational Biology

It’s okay to be stupid, as long as your stupidity is productive

One of the beautiful things about science is that it allows us to bumble along, getting it wrong time after time, and feel perfectly fine as long as we learn something each time. No doubt, this can be difficult for students who are accustomed to getting the answers right. No doubt, reasonable levels of confidence and emotional resilience help, but I think scientific education might do more to ease what is a very big transition: from learning what other people once discovered to making your own discoveries. The more comfortable we become with being stupid, the deeper we will wade into the unknown and the more likely we are to make big discoveries. —Martin A. Schwartz

Source: “The importance of stupidity in scientific research”, Journal of Cell Science, 2008.

What constitutes the typical publication?

Few of us will ever write a classic paper … The papers that represent great leaps forward are few in number. The majority of our collective publications, and hence scientific progress, comes from incremental insights in which the context is provided by the ongoing struggle to resolve a number of outstanding questions in a field. … [T]hese experimentally solid papers are “timely, targeted, and temporary”. That is, they address unanswered issues that are on the minds of those in the field, they target specific issues amenable to experimental or theoretical resolution, and in some ways their impact is temporary, because subsequent papers using the emerging insights and new methodologies will supersede these solid papers. Yet these solid papers are the foundation for progress most of the time. —Virginia Walbot

Source: “Are we training pit bulls to review our manuscripts?”, Journal of Biology, March 9, 2009.

On the challenges of writing a dissertation

The major problem with writing a dissertation is the management of emotions. Few students have ever attempted such a large project prior to undertaking their dissertations. They will encounter ups and downs, optimism and pessimism about their progress. My best advice stems from very basic knowledge about the psychology of learning: break large tasks into small tasks and set your goal to finish the small tasks in a timely fashion. —Professor Jerry Marwell, Department of Sociology, University of Wisconsin–Madison

Source: A Dissertator’s Primer, The Writing Center at UW–Madison

Pasting SPSS charts into iWork Pages

If you select a chart in SPSS, copy it, and then paste it into a Pages document, you’ll likely see a series of blank lines in place of the chart. This is due to SPSS copying the chart in multiple formats, one of which is “Plain Text”. Unfortunately, “Plain Text” is the format Pages elects to use when you paste the chart. SPSS Copy Special Dialog Box

To get around this problem, choose “Copy Special…” from the Edit menu in SPSS. A dialog box will appear, in which you can uncheck “Plain Text” and “Rich Text (RTF)” and check “Images”. Now when you paste the chart into Pages, the chart graphic should appear. To retain this behavior for subsequent uses of the “Copy” command, check “Save as default for this session”.