Dogs do it, too, while they pee and poo

A dog in the earth’s magnetic field.

Hurray! The 2014 Ig Nobel Prize in Biology goes to a group of researchers led by Hynek Burda from the Department of General Zoology of my faculty, and including colleagues from the Czech Republic. The performance of team members Sabine Begall and Pascal Malkemper at the awards ceremony was breathtaking, literally (you know what I mean if you watch the life webcast after about 52 min). But now a bit about the science. After having found previously preferential alignment with the earth’s magnetic field in grazing cattle, deer, and foxes, they have now studied dogs (see publication). Specifically, they collected thousands of observations of dogs defecating, urinating, and marking their territories, and then correlated the orientation of the dogs with the magnetic field. A statistical analysis showed that dogs indeed also preferentially align with the magnetic field in these situations — if the magnetic weather is calm. So, if you have lost your compass while hiking, watch man’s best friend in the morning, and you regain your orientation. Of course, only if the magnetic weather is calm.

Panel discussion on women in the life sciences

In an earlier post I have outlined that we have a remarkable drop in the proportion of women in the life sciences from about 60% to 80% up to the postdoctoral level, down to about 20% at the level of professors. My faculty has invited a panel of five competent women from academia and industry to discuss this topic on October 10 (in German). The discussion will be moderated by Marija Bakker. Please find the announcement on the website of the faculty.  We are really looking forward to this event!

We can Prof!


Statistical association of gender and career status in life science academia

Figure: Posterior probability densities of fraction \theta of female scientists (black curve) and professors (red curve). 95% highest density intervals are marked by dashed lines.

In Germany, the number of female professors is much smaller than expected from the number of female students and scientists, and the fraction of women in “grade A” academic positions is considerably lower than in many other European countries (see e.g. the European She Figures ). When I analysed the recently published gender report of my faculty, I saw this for the first time in numbers for my faculty. In fact, there is a strong association between gender and career status. Specfically, the Figure here shows that the fraction of female professors (red line in Figure around \theta=0.25 or 25%) in 2012 is clearly different from the fraction of female scientists (black line distributed around \theta = 0.6 or 60%) at the level of PhD students and postdocs. If you prefer a frequentist test over the Bayesian analysis shown in the Figure: when applying a Fisher’s exact test to a contingency table of  gender (female vs. male) and career status (scientists vs. professors) we obtain a p-value of 0.006 and an odds ratio of 4.48, supporting a significant association of gender and career status.

To study this association, its possible causes and effects, and ways to overcome this association, my faculty is organizing a public panel discussion (in German) on October 10, 2014 in the great lecture hall at the Essen Campus. We have invited several competent scientists from industry and academia for the panel (more about this in a later post).