What we're reading: Ring species, hominid timescales, and E.O. Wilson versus math versus the blogosphere

llibreria - bookstore - Amsterdam - HDR

As we head into the weekend, here’s a few things we’ve noticed that might be worth your screen-time.

In the journals

Martins, A.B., De Aguiar, M.A.M. & Bar-Yam, Y. 2013. Evolution and stability of ring species. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1217034110.

We compare the spatial and genetic properties of a neutral agent-based population model to the greenish warblers’ complex, a well-documented example of an actual ring species in nature. Our results match the distribution of subspecies, the principal components of genetic diversity, and the linear spatial–genetic correlation of the observed data, even though selection is expected to be important for traits of this species.

Schrago, C.G. & Voloch, C.M. 2013. The precision of the hominid timescale estimated by relaxed clock methods. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 26: 746–755. doi: 10.1111/jeb.12076.

By inferring the theoretical limit distribution of posterior densities under a Bayesian frame- work, we show that it is unlikely that lengthier alignments or the availabil- ity of new genomic sequences will provide additional information to reduce the uncertainty associated with the divergence time estimates of the four hominid genera. A reduction of this uncertainty will be achieved only by the inclusion of more informative calibration priors.

In the news

E.O. Wilson says (in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal) that you don’t need to know much math to be a “great scientist.” Has he gone nuts, or does he have a point? The definitive spot for following the debate is Jeremy Fox’s multiply-updated post at Dynamic Ecology.

“A profession that exploits people’s fear to staff its positions is not one to which you owe loyalty.”

Reed Elsevier bought the popular freemium reference manager/research community Mendeley this week. User responses are mostly not positive. Will this be a good thing for Mendeley? Yes! say the folks at Mendeley. No! says danah boyd. Maybe, says former Mendeley developer Jason Hoyt.

About Jeremy Yoder

Jeremy B. Yoder is an Associate Professor of Biology at California State University Northridge, studying the evolution and coevolution of interacting species, especially mutualists. He is a collaborator with the Joshua Tree Genome Project and the Queer in STEM study of LGBTQ experiences in scientific careers. He has written for the website of Scientific American, the LA Review of Books, the Chronicle of Higher Education, The Awl, and Slate.
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