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December 2012

It's summer in Australia - at least a close approximation of it. I'm enjoying a long break between jobs, despite a few quick trips up to Canberra for a spot of planning at ANU. I start my weekly 513km commute in February 2013, which I have dubbed the year of the Airport Lounge.

Oh well - more time to catch up on Twitter!


As usual, Pat Thomson (@thomsonpat) has been providing quality posts on academic writing. She spent most of the month dealing with the topic of conclusions - difficult beasts that they are. The post I liked most of this series was the one where she compared doing a conclusion to the mis-en-place, or the arrangement of chopped food that chefs use to speed up the cooking process. All the posts are worth reading, so I recommend catching up on Patter if you want some nerdy fun while you are lounging by the pool (or sitting by a roaring fire, whatever the case may be).

There's been two posts on writing this month on the Whisperer, both of them got a lot of traffic (if I was only concerned about numbers I would just write about writing all the time!). I finally found an excuse to write about my Zumba fetish in this post about using deliberate practice to improve your writing. I followed this up with Katherine Firth's piece "Using the Cornell Method to turn your notes into writing", which had the most clicks I have ever seen in an hour - nearly 2000.

I think the reason these two posts were so popular is that they tackle that little talked about nexus between writing notes and writing your thesis. Both posts are aimed at reducing the 'transaction costs' in this process; the idea is that the notes should be written in such a way that they are able to be cut and pasted straight into your draft.

Finally, I loved this post from Charles Stross about reading book reviews on Amazon, which Mr Thesis Whisperer sent me. I think there's certainly some food for thought here about peer reviews.


This piece in The Conversation "Kill your powerpoints and teach like a pirate" made me wish I still taught undergraduates (almost!). James Arvanitakis, a lecturer from the University of Western Sydney, uses techniques like flashmobs to teach philosophical concepts to his students and has just won the Prime Minister's award for University Teaching. I hope he writes a book on 'pirate teaching someday - thanks to @teachingruth for this link.

Speaking of Powerpoint, I enjoyed this post from Presentation Zen on "The slidedument" - the bastard love child of Powerpoint and Word. As Presentation Zen put it:

"Slides are slides. Documents are documents. They aren't the same thing. Attempts to merge them result in what I call the "slideument" (slide + document = slideument). Much death-by-Powerpoint suffering could be eliminated if presenters clearly separated the two in their own minds before they even started planning their talks."


I can never resist stories of academics behaving badly, so I enjoyed "The top 5 retracted science stories of 2012" (via @THEworldunirank). Some of the stories make you wonder if journal editors are asleep at the wheel. I was particularly amused to read that Korean scientist Hyung-In Moon was only discovered to be concocting fake peer reviews after two were returned within 24 hours of him submitting the paper.

Ever since Kuhn published his ground breaking thesis on Scientific knowledge there's been a questioning of how independent academic thought really is. This article from the New York times on Crowd behaviour (via @courosa) had some interesting observations about academic work, especially the tendency for 'group think' to develop:

" Linking people into virtual groups enables the sharing of knowledge, but when that information isn’t accurate, it can lead the group consensus astray. “When information comes from a common source, that can cause problems with individual decision making, because it can eradicate minority viewpoints,” Mayo-Wilson said."

It's sobering reading for those who are doing PhD research and an important reminder that you can't always believe what you read. If you are interested, you could follow up this reading about crowds with this paper about 'information epidemics" called "competition among memes in a world with limited attention" which was linked off this round up of the latest academic research on social media from Neiman Marcus Journalism lab (thanks @ScottEacott).

On that note, it's definately worth downloading this paper from John H. Cochrane (via @phd2published) which has a nice, short and sharp set of tactics for drafting scholarly papers which take into account the short attention spans of most academics.

Finally I am indebted to  @opendna for drawing my attention to the "Adjunct project". I'm not sure what to call this - an online resistance resource perhaps? Amongst other things, the site publishes the rates that US universities pays adjuncts. This is, I'm guessing, an exercise in transparency. The pay practices in Australia are more regulated, but the high rate of casualisation means that many people, especially women and minorities, are in marginal employment. Anything that brings this shocking state of affairs to light is, in my view, a Good Thing.


I've been using Evernote for a couple of years now, but I'm not sure I am using it to the fullest extent. I read with interest this article from the Harvard business review, which is a teaser for a new ebook (which I haven't downloaded). There's some really great suggestions for using evernote at work - as well as for organising personal things like appointments and taxes. Thanks to @catspyjamasnz for that link and for her post "Don't call me maybe: why I hate my office phone" which certainly resonated with me.

Many of us have to read scientific papers in our research work, even if we are not doing science. There are other times when you may need to, such as if you or a family member is diagnosed with a disease. This excellent set of resources for reading scientific papers was put together by the American Association for cancer research for just that reason. The page on statistics is an excellent primer for people, like me, who are regularly confused by things like "P value".


The only vaguely serious book I have on my side table this month is "Blogging and Tweeting without getting sued" by Mark Pearson. It's a welll written book that walks you through the legal issues in a global, rather than a local way. I applaud Pearson for being able to make such a dry topic even mildly entertaining.

I hope you all have a safe and fun new years eve! Catch you on the flipside :-)