Archive | May 2016

The Backpacker’s Quiz

Ah summer, when folks inspired by Wild or A Walk In The Woods or, heaven forbid, John Muir or Thoreau go to the big REI sale, buy everything in sight, and head for the backcountry.  And GG has noticed, well, that some of these folks might benefit from some training.  So before you go into the wilderness, try the little quiz below…

  1. Can you tell the difference between a waterbar and a log blocking a closed trail?
  2. Is the only wild land blaze you know about one with smoke and heat?
  3. Is your dog’s poop a fine natural fertilizer?
  4. Are the ten essentials a full set of toes?
  5. Is the only kind of stock you know the kind on the NYSE?
  6. Do you greet stock on the trail with loud yee-haws while giving the cowboys high fives?
  7. Do you hike with a boom box?
  8. Do you plan to sleep with your food in bear country?
  9. Did you buy a search and rescue card?
  10. Do you burn TP?
  11. Do you hike using a state road map for orientation purposes?
  12. Are your preferred hiking shoes flip-flops?
  13. Is your safety backup a cell phone?
  14. Can you tell the difference between a switchback, a cornerback, and a hunchback?

BONUS: What is the difference between a duck and a cairn?

Answers after the jump

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When Airlines Make Fables

OK, so this morning I am dropping the pretense of a third person.  Yes, this is personal, but it is also systematic and shows how airlines pretend that they are not responsible for their own lack of planning.

My wife and daughter headed out on a trip to Belize (part was a graduation present).  Flight from Denver to Houston, spend the night and catch a morning flight to Belize. And then a line of thunderstorms got in the way.

Their flight was to use a plane already in Houston, a plane that was stuck with dozens of others below the storm.  OK, delays happen.  The plane finally arrived in Denver, the thunderstorm line had moved well south of the airport, and so when they boarded a full flight about four and a half hours late, it seemed like they’d be in Houston before too long.

That was not to be. Instead it was the start of an all-too-common odyssey.

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Shooting at the foot (and missing)

Sometimes you can say something that proves to be true but illustrate it poorly enough that readers don’t believe you.

Case in point: effect of basement lithologies on the grade of rivers (in this case, for how we interpret paleoriver systems). Manny Gabet (among others) has suggested that this causes the azimuthal variation in grade of Eocene paleochannels, and he illustrated this with the example shown below:


Now one thing here is the distance axis on the three plots: is it measured along the channel, or airline? One might think along the channel.  But in any event, look at the distance from B to C on the map and then on the plots.  Airline it eyeballs to about 6 km on the map, but only 4 km on the plots.  It is even worse if you measure along the river.  So this quick eyeball reality check would make many readers pause and question the conclusion here.

So GG here has carried this slightly further, Read More…

Stop the Presses!

Ah, it is a glorious moment when the Grumpy Geophysicist finds a kindred soul writing a column in Nature that conveys a message GG has felt needs to be broadcast:

Please stop drowning the scientific literature in marginal (or sub-marginal) science simply because everybody thinks you need to publish stuff frequently. It hurts science.

As one who has hung near the very lowest rungs of publication frequency in earth science for a long time, GG knows that the system right now penalizes those who exercise restraint in publishing papers. (For instance, the insinuation in an NSF review that one paper off a grant was unacceptably low). We really need to right this ship. (Years ago, GG heard that Harvard was ditching the submission of a raft of papers when considering faculty for tenure or promotion, instead demanding a small number of papers with a discussion of their merit; GG hasn’t found documentation on this online, though. It would be a move in the right direction).

When funding agencies use “public outreach” in the form of newspaper articles as a measure of quality, we all suffer.  (That John Oliver piece demonstrates that nicely). Similarly, demands that the results of all grants be published–in multiple numbers, no less!– in some form hurts us all. When the highest level of peer evaluation is counting numbers, we all suffer.

Look, if Congress demands something for every grant made, let NSF open a fileserver and let scientists deposit whatever emerged from their grants in it.  Hell, even let all these things be assigned DOI numbers on the chance that one scientist’s noise is another’s signal. No peer review, just basically a step up from the reports that grant recipients must file at present anyways. And in exchange, NSF stops caring about peer-reviewed publications from grants as well as publicity and citation numbers.

Meantime, guess we bring on Big Literature.


Ah, spring, that time of year when students freshly burdened with debt and parents newly freed of tuition bills celebrate the graduation of those students into the broader world. And so what careers await?

Well, for the majority of graduates with bachelor’s degrees, they will find the strongest job market since they were in elementary school. Congratulations graduates on being born in the right year!

Earth science majors might feel a bit less enthused. Many had high hopes a couple of years ago of going into the oil and gas business. It wasn’t that long ago that a pulse and a brand new geo-XXX degree would bring a high 5 or low 6 figure salary. When Saudi Arabia decided to try and kill the unconventional oil and gas industry in the U.S. by opening the spigots, they made a lot of trouble for earth science majors (Ah, those silly Saudis–had they more experience in western democracy, they might have simply saved a lot of money by channeling some cash to the anti-fracking groups all across the country.  Instead they are now risking bankrupting their own country.)

These B.S. and B.A. students will find someplace to earn a living, but the PhDs are often more worried as shifting out of field seems like that advanced degree was a waste of time.  As GG has noted before, academics don’t do a great job of advising students on all the options out there.  Well, a short note in Science provides yet another example of a route for geophysics PhDs: consumer product tester. So don’t despair you newly-named doctors of philosophy–just keep an eye out for that unusual application of your skills….

“Is Science Bullsh*t?”

John Oliver’s answer was an emphatic “no,” but he went on to show how much of science reporting is–nothing surprising to those here, one presumes, but it is worth going to YouTube (or HBO) and seeing how he does a nice job showing how off target this reporting can get: (as usual with HBO these days, some language not for sensitive ears).

(GG is most fond of Oliver showing a morning show host saying that you should just wait for the study that agrees with what you want to do, a behavior Oliver declares is not science, it is religion). Now while this is immensely entertaining and hits the target rather solidly, Oliver notes that replication studies are really important, but is that really the case?

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More Media Attention! I’m OVER HEEERE!!

Years ago, scientists did their thing, published their papers and lived a quiet, retiring life.  But now expectations are that they will also shill their findings, no matter how trivial, to a world waiting for some new click bait. Now not only do universities have a press officer, they often have multiple press people, and some departments and institutes have their press outreach folks as well.  Of yeah, and the journals do too.

So maybe it is no surprise that it has come to this: a press release for reviewing a book. (Thanks to RetractionWatch, GG’s go-to place for unsettling trends in scientific communication). How did it come to RetractionWatch’s attention? Because a later press release on reviewing a paper was, um, retracted.

Oh well, many of us have discussed the need to incentivize reviewing; maybe this is the way to do it on the cheap. Just can’t wait for the morning paper with its Good News section on all the papers being reviewed….