Category Archives: Interesting Links

A Gift Guide for Paleontologists & Other Science Nerds

Author: Brianna

Well, it’s that time of year! The end of fall semester, the spices-in-everything (we are a fan of spiced hot cocoa or cider), the snowstorms that dump a ton of snow on cities unsuspecting, the deliberating about what kind of gifts to bestow upon friends and family in the spirit of holiday consumerism. If you are having trouble deciding what to get the paleontologically-inclined among your loved ones, look no further! We have collected a series of gifts for people into science in general, though they may or may not reflect our own particular tastes.

Science Prints and Other Paper Things

Everybody needs beautiful wall art. This antler print would look great in any room, because headgear is awesome.

Antler Print

This shop has an amazing array of science prints. For particular inspiration, how about this Women of Science set? They also have t-shirts, if you were wondering.

Card: Irish Elk with a very sweet thought. Sure, it’s not holiday-y, but you could draw a Santa hat or whatever accessory will make it appropriate for the holiday you celebrate.

Cards: “Science is Magic that Works.” A Kurt Vonnegut quote printed beautifully with a hand-carved block.

Card: Cuttlefish. “Wanna cuttle?” Is adorable and just the kind of terrible pun that amuses anyone who is a child at heart. Like most of the scientists we know.


Bone Wars! Classic, easy to learn, and great for parties. It plays on the epic story of the Bone Wars between Cope and Marsh, which you need to go read about if you haven’t done so recently.

Bone Wars card game

Often (though certainly not always!), a fondness for science overlaps with a fondness for videogames. Why not some Portal earrings or a beautiful “fossilized” Handheld Portal Device?

For a board game, try Dominant Species: survive the next Glacial Maximum! (If you don’t get sidetracked by arguing over who gets to be the mammals or the reptiles.)

Gifts for Kids Who Like Science

Things to get for the children in your life!

A cute “When I Grow Up I Want To Be A Paleontologist” print. Never mind everyone pointing out the lack of paleontology jobs! It’s still great fun. Too bad they don’t have a mammal on there for the less dinosaur-inclined…

Trebuchet kit!!! Need I say more? I need not say more. TREBUCHET. KIT. Take your pick – or, if you’d prefer to go the even cooler route, why not print off some plans, go buy the materials, and do it all yourselves? See here and here for some good starting points for small trebuchets.

Ichthyosaur plushie! Maybe not the most cute and cuddly, but cute and cuddly enough…

For a cuter and cuddlier one, how about a custom trilobite plushie?

Science Jewelry

This category is definitely influenced by my interest in making silver jewelry with lost-wax casting. Keep an eye out for my biologically-inspired work at some point, but for now, here are some awesome gifts!

For some lovely earrings and other jewelry made from Alaskan caribou antler, take a look at fellow paleontologist Amy Atwater’s Borealis Bones.

Caribou antler earrings from Borealis Bones

Here’s a beautiful silver trilobite necklace.

On the (much) less expensive side, a tiny pewter velociraptor skull necklace!

The Lost Apostles etsy store is full of absolutely gorgeous bronze jewelry, much of it skeletal in nature. Paleontologists love bones! How about a bronze antler necklace, lovely wolf skull pendant, or just a nice silver femur pendant?


For things that didn’t categorize well.

A lovely throw pillow with line drawings of the occlusal surfaces of nine different horse teeth! (For a more colorful version, check out this mug of similar design.)

A Roomba! Kelsey is obsessed with these at the moment. Who doesn’t want a trainable robot to clean their house for them? Just, you know, take good care of it. That way you might be spared when the robots take over.

A Darwin’s Finches t-shirt, showing different birds and things they like to eat.

BONE WARS SHOES. Yes, really. Like Cope and Marsh. My mind is blown.

Cope and Marsh shoes

Nothing says “I love you” to a field scientist like a virtually indestructible, waterproof (and beer-proof, as it turns out!) notebook like Rite in the Rain.

If your friends are as strange as mine, they will probably love muscle leggings (no, like actual images of leg muscles printed on them).

For science-types who actually work with chemicals or whatever, how about a beaker coffee mug?

Trilobite rubber stamps, so your nerdy friends can mark everything from books to letters to their foreheads! These two are Triarthus and Cheirurus.

More on the plushie front: really adorable giant plush microbes! Because who doesn’t want to say they got malaria or the common cold from their friend?

And, finally, a Smilodon skull keychain!

Have fun and happy gift-giving! Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some cats to snuggle. Being home for the holidays is awesome.

Thursday Links: Fourier transforms, paleontology blogs, evolutionary tempo, adorable kittens

Author: Brianna

AKA, “Stuff I’ve read lately that is cool and/or still in an open browser tab.” Some are new, some are (very) old.

The math trick behind MP3s, JPEGs, and Homer Simpson’s Face, from Nautilus Magazine.
An article about how Fourier transforms are totally awesome. As a side note, I feel like Nautilus should replace IFLS on everyone’s Facebook feed. Plenty of “OMG science is AMAZING!” to go around, but without the factual mistakes and lack of attribution.

Why “unqualified personnel” is not a reasonable excuse for limited research at a PUI, from The Liberal Arts Ecologists.
About recruiting, expectations, results, and philosophies behind working with undergrads in a research context. As I noted on twitter, if it weren’t for my advisors being willing to invest in undergraduates as serious researchers – at an R1 university, not just a primarily undergrad institution – I wouldn’t be where I am today.

In defence of basic research, from Stuart Auld.
An interesting (first!) blog post about answering “What do you research?” when the answer is about basic science. I like this approach. When friends, family, and new acquaintances ask me what I work on, I’m not shy about relating my work to potential human benefits. But almost invariably I also flat-out state that some of my work is basic research. I then explain why basic research is important on several levels. Usually they don’t get too glazed-eyed about this, if I’m succinct.

K.Jones the Bones, a new blog about paleobiology!
And she has a recent post about morphometrics. Be still my heart! Don’t miss the descriptions of collections research in her first post. I too have some very fond memories of time spent in various collections, both paleontological and modern – mostly the Condon Fossil Collections at the University of Oregon, the Museums of Vertebrate Zoology and Paleontology at Berkeley, and most recently the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard. All kinds of smells, good and bad; the shadowy mounted heads of horned ruminants staring you down as you walk down the aisles before the motion-sensor lights turn on; the slight delirium that sets in after about 8 hours straight of measuring bones…

Don’t be a Nattering Nabob, from State Factors.
In other words, take the time to focus on what’s cool about the science before hunting for ways to rip it to shreds (and in general, don’t be a jerk). As a firm believer in the “constructive” part of constructive criticism, I really enjoyed this post. You don’t have to drop rigor to drop negative approaches.

In praise of exploratory statistics, from Dynamic Ecology.
Some nice love for mucking around in the data. Just don’t pretend you’re hypothesis testing. Brian McGill’s proposed solution: educate people better about exploratory stats, stop treating that approach “like the crazy uncle nobody wants to talk about and everybody is embarrassed to admit being related to,” and help people realize that a paper written without a hypothetico-deductive approach is okay.
Don’t forget to check out the comments section. I always love the comments on Dynamic Ecology.

I want one of these Form1 3D printers. I could have so much fun (and maybe do some Science!) with it. Anyone have a spare ~$4k they feel like spending on me?

Some pages from a beautiful comic book illustration, by Julian Peters, of the (also beautiful) T.S. Eliot poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

Graham Slater’s excellent talk from SVP is up on SlideShare: “Tempo or Mode in Evolution? The Case of Mammalian Body Size Evolution.” Comes complete with a discussion of adaptive zones a la Simpson that I particularly appreciated, having read that paper in depth earlier this year. Also illustrations that I think make the narrative mostly clear even without, well, narration.

A brief, useful post on momentum and side projects: “Picking Up Where You Left Off.”
I have been bitten before by letting research projects sit too long. In response, I started taking much better research notes that end with a list of next steps. Also, I began writing down the name, contents, and purpose of any new file. (That came about after spending a couple hours untangling “measurements.xlsx” from “camelmeasures.csv” and “updated-measures.csv” and…)

And finally, these kittens just about made me explode with cute overload. Sorry, curmudgeons of the internet. I can’t help it.

What we are thinking about lately: Bayesian vs. frequentist approaches, R coding, and reading all the things

Authors: Brianna and Kelsey

What are we up to lately at Fossilosophy? Good question. Here’s what was on our minds last week.

Reading Habits

Guys, there are not very many things as satisfying as going on a paper-downloading spree for something related to your research. There is something to be said for deciding what you need to know, flailing around up to your eyeballs in the literature for awhile, and pulling something coherent out of the mess. Lately Brianna has done this for a few different areas, including the painfully general “(evolutionary) locomotor biomechanics and skeleton stuff!” and a much more specific hunt for statistical quirks in using discriminant analysis to classify fossils. Now, to read and/or skim those ~70 papers…

Kelsey, on the other hand, is probably printing about ten papers per week, and greatly enjoying that every single one of them is in color.

Data Analysis in R

Whenever it comes time to do some data analysis in R, you generally have three situations: 1) You have no idea at all where to begin. Time to start asking books, friends, and the internet, 2) You know all the things you want to do but don’t have all the proper tools, or 3) You know what you want to do and are perfectly capable of writing efficient, elegant code to do so.
If you answered situation 3, that’s very nice. (We haven’t run into that very often yet.) Situation1 happens more often than we would like to admit, but right now we have been thinking about situation 2. You can take one of two general approaches: using the tools you have to get the job done, and teaching yourself new tools. The first choice means doing many things stuff manually, repeating lots of code, resorting to programs like JMP for bits and pieces because it’s so much faster, and just doing things in whatever way you can to get the job done. Sometimes this is what you need, especially if you’re crunched for time because of a deadline. It’s the penny-wise and pound-foolish approach, if you will.

Lately the ladies of Fossilosophy have been aiming for the seond approach, where you go teach yourself the tools you need to do things the right way. It takes way longer and it’s frustrating, but it also builds character (and coding skills). Three cheers for doing things the hard, but proper, way.

Kelsey likes to think of coding as a set of nested dolls or a machine where every part has to be hand-made. Every “gear” is tested as you go, which generally cuts down on debugging later on. The overall operation (say, the regression part of a regression analysis) may be the very last bit of surrounding code you add, after all the parts are moving.

Also, we are fond of giving objects amusing names. This will help you remember all the variables and make readers of your shiny published code smile.

If anyone is interested in a very friendly, straightforward introduction to R book, we liked Getting Started with R: An introduction for biologists, by Andrew Beckerman and Owen Petchey. It is written with great clarity, has good examples to work through, and has just enough tongue-in-cheek humor to make the reading fun.

Bayesian vs. frequentist approaches

It’s a giant can of worms. Make that wormholes…a can of wormholes that, once opened, can send you huddling up under the table faster than trying to wrap your head around what exactly a genus or species is. Though Brianna has enough statistical background to understand the broad ideas behind what’s going on in the Bayesian/frequentist/pragmatist arguments, the whole debate is a little overwhelming and difficult to wrap her head around. (Latest round of mental crisis sparked by an older Oikos post on the matter. Good links and comment section there, too.)

More on this later, after we straighten out our thoughts a little more.

Other fleeting things occupying our attention: how awesome flow charts are, how difficult it is to estimate how long some academic/research task will take to complete, and how great it is being able to bounce ideas off of fellow grad students.

Interesting Links: 3 hobbies for scientists, illustrated book of bad arguments, and more

Author: Brianna

AKA, tabs I have open on my phone because I read them but thought they were too interesting to close right away. So share the love, right?

Next time I’ll try to keep better track of where I found the links. In no particular order…

Many of my thoughts on enjoying my life while still doing awesome science have been shaped by conversations with Edward Davis, who writes over at 4D Bio. He has a post about keeping three hobbies as a scientist that you should read.
For the record, mine generally are: exercise (includes rock climbing, weight lifting, and running mostly), riding horses, and a rotating third spot that tends to include metalwork, writing fiction or this blog, and reading for pleasure.

The Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments combines concise explanations of some common logical fallacies with beautiful, whimsical illustrations. I especially love the turtle in the “Slippery Slope” section murmuring, “That escalated quickly…” There’s also an email list for signup to be notified when the book becomes available in print.

I’ve now written two papers that required plain-language summaries in addition to the standard abstract. I went through, more or less sentence by sentence, and translated technical phrasing into something approximating the written explanation I’d give my parents or a researcher from another field. This discussion of plain language summaries from Arthropod Ecology (yes, I linked to something with a spider in the header)  has some useful thoughts that I may incorporate next time – particularly on the “why” behind your research.

Scientific paper easter eggs: amusing little jokes hidden inside papers. I’ve seen the Physics one before (the abstract of a paper titled, “Can apparent superluminal neutrino speeds be explained as a quantum weak measurement?” was “Probably not.”) but several of the others were new to me.

A July post from Dynamic Ecology on “shopkeeper science.” The analogy makes sense and there are some interesting thoughts on research impact per funding dollar. Don’t miss the comments section.

A blog post on what to keep in a research journal and why it’s important. This post focuses on the importance of using it as a reflective space for yourself, which we totally agree with – and you can check out our post on research journals/lab notes for concrete suggestions for ways to capture information.

Finally, I’m just going to link to the whole Tenure, She Wrote blog. It’s newish and I have been really enjoying the posts.