Kitsune #6

The Ronin Institute for Independent Scholarship
Issue #6 October 2017
Greetings to all Ronin and Ronin-Curious!

Here’s the latest issue of Kitsune, coming to you straight from the bleeding edge of independent scholarship! As always, you can find previous issues on the Ronin Institute website. If you would like to be added to the mailing list, just send us an email at, and we’ll get you on there.

Scientiam Consecemus!
In this Issue
Independent Scholarship Survey | Building a Ronin Community
Report from the CESTEMER Conference | Ronin Profile | Publications | About
Independent Scholarship Survey

Research Scholars Arika Virapongse and Alex Lancaster have put together a survey designed to help us better understand how independent scholars “make it work.” We’ve already begun collecting responses from current Research Scholars, and the preliminary results look really interesting. We’re looking forward to sharing them with you in a future issue of Kitsune. We also want to open up the survey to anyone who has been doing independent scholarship and anyone pursuing a non-traditional academic career path. If that sounds like you, we would love to get your input on this. Or if you know someone who fits this description, please feel free to forward this to them. The survey can be accessed here.

The survey takes about 30 minutes to complete. We know that your time is valuable, but we ask that you try to contribute as much detail as possible in your responses. Unfortunately, there is not a way to save your responses and complete the survey at a later date. For the option to work at your own pace, you can preview the questions here.

We are hoping that the information we collect will help us to develop new and better ways to support diverse models of scholarship and academic careers. And we would love for you to be a part of that.

Building a Ronin Community

During the first few years of the Ronin Institute, our focus was on providing the basic infrastructure necessary for Research Scholars to participate meaningfully in their fields. At first this meant providing an institutional affiliation and email address. That way, people could submit papers or contact colleagues and be more likely to have their work judged on its own merits, rather than being discounted out of hand due to a lack of institutional affiliation. Next, we got set up for people to apply for grants through the Institute. One of the consequences of our Minimum Viable Bureaucracy principle is that our indirect costs are much lower than those at most universities and other traditional research institutions. In fact, in cases where existing grants have been transferred from other institutions to Ronin, we were able to reallocate indirect funds to support more scholarship.

During the past year, we have begun focusing on a different challenge faced by independent scholars: community. With the advent of the internet, it is no longer strictly necessary to be physically located at a university to access experts and library resources. Accessing those resources requires may require some additional work, but is generally possible. (See our guide to library and journal access.) But one of the underrated benefits of being at a university is the way that it immerses you in a community of people with shared interests and experiences — colleagues and collaborators. Yet, before meaningful professional interactions can take place, we have to establish social connections, a degree of interpersonal trust upon which other types of relationship can be built. When we share physical proximity, these connections form organically, through conversations in the hall, before the departmental seminar, or any of dozens of other activities.

We have had success with in-person meet-ups, but these are feasible on a regular basis only in those cities where we have a critical number of Research Scholars. With a predominantly virtual community, one can’t rely on the organic connections afforded by physical proximity. Our Research Scholars are distributed around the globe, and they represent the full spectrum of academic fields. (See the Ronin Profile section, below.) This year, we have started up a couple of different initiatives designed to help foster those social connections. The first is a regular, weekly online chat, a virtual #watercooler, where people share news, ideas, and concerns with each other. It has taken months, but we are already starting to show results, with some signs of interesting transdisciplinary collaborations. The other is a weekly virtual seminar series, where Research Scholars present their work to the community, followed by often long and wide-ranging discussions.

Our next initiative will be a series of online journal clubs, organized around specific topics. In all likelihood, these will be made open to the broader scholarly community. After all, many academics have very specialized interests, and there may not always be enough people locally to support that sort of discussion. So, if you’re a current Research Scholar, start thinking about a journal-club topic that you might want to participate in. If you’re not, keep an eye on the Ronin Blog, and see if there’s one of those discussions that you might want to join us for.

Report from the CESTEMER Conference

In September, Alex Lancaster attended the CESTEMER conference in Chicago, and he has provided us with an account of his experience there. Take it away, Alex!

In September, I attended the conference Cultivating Ensembles in STEM Education and Research, or CESTEMER, in Chicago, to share what we’ve been working on at the Ronin Institute, as well as gather new ideas and strategies for the way forward. This was the third CESTEMER conference, initiated by Raquell Holmes of improvscience in 2012, and it was a very rewarding experience. There are now many great venues and conferences for discussions on improving science communication, the value of creativity in our workplaces, or integrating the arts and humanities into STEM and education, and CESTEMER was about all of those things, but with an added unique emphasis on group performance and play.

This was not just an armchair exercise – all conference attendees were co-creators of the performance that was the conference itself. This meant that in addition to talks and keynotes we all had opportunities to participate as performers via games and techniques drawn from theater and improv. Why is this important? I believe that performance is critical because of its “show, not tell” and experiential nature. To illustrate with a concrete example, the excellent workshop run by Nancy Watt and Carolyn Sealfon, “Whose Idea Is It Anyway?”, tackled the issue of ownership of ideas in science. Workshop participants were grouped together to solve a physics problem and asked to “play” different characters drawn from one of several personality types. By switching our characters, we were able to experience how well a group solved problems based upon their willingness to build on others’ ideas, share credit, and move the collaboration forward.

The intense competition to demonstrate “ownership” of an idea that often prevails in the academic world (coupled with an artificial scarcity that is perpetuated by the journal prestige system amongst other things) can sometimes lead to an atmosphere of distrust. Therefore the direct experience of the value of empathetic collaboration to produce better results, as well as unexpected and serendipitous discoveries, will become increasingly valuable as a means of cultural exchange in our institutions. I believe this bottom-up approach, coupled with more top-down changes in publication and funding incentives, will lead to more durable cultural change than either alone. Plus, it’s a much more fun way of doing science.

My contribution to this conversation was a short talk outlining how the Ronin Institute is aiming to foster new ways of thinking of the scientific enterprise as an “ecosystem” of peers. In this ecosystem, scientists collectively empower themselves to build scientific careers in whatever mode or style works for them (whether in a university setting or elsewhere). I contrasted this ecosystem idea with the usual “pipeline” metaphor that conceives of the pursuit of autonomous research as requiring following one of a set of fairly narrow career paths, controlled by a relatively small number of gatekeepers. I shared the concrete steps we have made in cultivating our own science communities, such as the face-to-face local meetups, participant-driven events like our first Unconference, and our virtual meetings: the weekly Tuesday “watercooler” and virtual web research seminars. This way of thinking was a natural fit for many of the CESTEMER participants, and I expect that there will be a few more Ronin Research Scholars coming aboard!

In summary, CESTEMER was a really fantastic opportunity to generate new “spores” in our evolving ecosystem of science and scholarship, and I’m excited for the Ronin Institute to become part of this conversation. I plan to attend the next conference to be held in 2019 and invite more Ronin to join me! I also hope those spores travel back to all the participants’ everyday workplaces and institutions and help spread the message by showing that we all do our best work when we listen and play together.

Ronin Profile

As of writing this, there are 141 Research Scholars affiliated with the Ronin Institute, representing a diversity of fields and geographic locations. They are also pursuing a diversity of career paths. Some are pursuing full-time research, actively pursuing funding to support their work. Some have non-academic “day jobs” to pay the bills, while they pursue their scholarship in their own time. Some are retired, and some have university positions as adjuncts or research associates that come with limited academic status or privileges. And some have traditional academic positions, but were interested in being involved with the creation of new models of scholarship. Once we have the results of the survey, we should have a better sense of this diversity of career paths and goals, and we look forward to sharing those results with you.

In the meantime, we can provide a snapshot of the current population of Research Scholars’ interests and locations.

The Ronin Institute for Independent Scholarship
Almost half of the current Research Scholars work in some aspect of the life sciences. In particular, there is an overrepresentation of mathematical and computational biologists. This may reflect the fact that these areas are more easily pursued by an independent scholar than the more experimental areas of biology. Alternatively, it could reflect what mathematical biologists might call a founder effect.
The Ronin Institute for Independent Scholarship
Nearly three quarters of current Research Scholars are located in the United States. This is not surprising, given that the Institute’s legal incorporation is in the US. Also unsurprising is that the vast majority of current Research Scholars hail primarily from anglophone countries. (About 40% of European Research Scholars are in the UK.) However, we are pleased that the representation from other parts of the world seems to be growing. A couple of years ago, more than 80% of us were in the US. We are very eager to see this grow into a truly global community in the years to come.


Here’s a sampling of some of the recent work by the independent scholars of the Ronin Institute:

Articles & Chapters

Ang WR & Weber O (2017) Is gold a hedge, safe haven or diversifier in Korea? Empirical analysis of gold, socially responsible investment and conventional investment. Perspectives 6:55-69.

Babbit CC, Haygood R, Nielsen WJ, & Wray GA (2017) Gene expression and adaptive noncoding changes during human evolution. BMC Genomics 18(1):435.

Banerjee S (2017) A computational technique to estimate within-host productively infected cell lifetimes in emerging viral infections. PeerJ Preprints No e2621v2.

Banerjee S (2017) Lymph node inspired computing: towards holistic immune system inspired algorithms for human-engineered complex systems. PeerJ Preprints 5:e3150v1.

Banerjee S & Hecker JP (2017) A Multi-Agent System Approach to Load-Balancing and Resource Allocation for Distributed Computing. in First Complex Systems Digital Campus World E-Conference 2015 Springer pp 41-54.

Bentley M (2017) The Advanced “Jump-Counting” Skipfield Pattern.” The Computer Games Journal 6(33):153-169.

Bunin GA (2016) Constraint back-offs for safe, sufficient excitation: A general theory with application to experimental optimization Computers & Chemical Engineering 93:353-360.

Chojnowski M (2017) Dark Matter Model from the Idea of Multi-Cohesive Areas. Canadian Journal of Physics 95(10):941-949.

Collins M, Nicolson, Poelen J, Thompson A, Hammock J, & Thessen A (2017) Building Your Own Big Data Analysis Infrastructure for Biodiversity Science. Biodiversity Information Science and Standards 1:e20161.

Eitzel MV, Cappadonna JL, Santos-Lang C, Duerr RE, Virapongse A et al. (2017) Citizen Science Terminology Matters: Exploring Key Terms. Citizen Science: Theory and Practice 2(1):1.

Fagen RM (2017) Salmonid Jumping and Playing: Potential Cultural and Welfare Implications Animals 7(6):42.

Fajardo-Cavazos P, Maughan H, & Nicholson WL (2016) Evolution in the Bacillaceae. in The Bacterial Spore: from Molecules to Systems American Society of Microbiology, pp21-58.

Gandy LM, Gumm J, Fertig B, Thessen A, Kennish MJ, Chavan S, Marchionni L, Xia X, Shankrit S, & Fertig EJ (2017) Synthesizer: expeditign synthesis studies from context-free data with information retrieval techniques. PLoS ONE 12(4):e0175860.

Hilbert YH, Crassard R, Rose JI, Geiling JM, & Usik VI (2016) Technological homogeneity within the Arabian-Nubian Complex: Comparing chert and quartzite assemblies from central and southern Arabia. Journal of Lithic Studies 3(2).

Ives AR, Paull C, Hulthen A, Downes S, Andow DA, Haygood R, Zalucki MP, & Schellhorn NA (2017) Spatio-temporal variation in landscape composition may speed resistance evolution of pests to Bt crops. PLoS ONE 12(1):e0169167.

Krishnamurthy S & Smith E (2017) Solving Moment Hierarchies for Chemical Reaction Networks. arXiv:1702.01364.

McTavish EJ, Drew BT, Redelings B, & Cranston KA (2017) How and Why to Build a Unified Tree of Life BioEssays 1700114.

Nash CL (2016) Active Intolerance: Michel Foucault, the Prisons Information Group, and the Future of Abolition. Journal for Peace and Justice Studies 26(1):111-114.

Parr CS & Thessen AE (2018) Biodiversity Informatics in Ecological Informatics Springer pp 375-399.

Salvador-Recatalà V (2016) New roles for the GLUTAMATE RECEPTOR-LIKE 3.3, 3.5, and 3.6 genes as on/off switches of wound-induced systemic electrical signals. Plant signaling & behavior 11(4) e1161879.

Salvador-Recatalà V (2016) The AKT2 potassium channel mediates NaCl induced depolarization in the root of Arabidopsis thaliana. Plant signaling & behavior 11(4) e1165381.

Sharma BL (2017) A General Systems Outlook to the Prediction-Inference Dilemma of Neuroscience Models. Proceedings of the 61st Annual Meeting of the ISSS-2017 Vienna Austria. 2017:1.

Smith E & Krishnamurthy S (2017) Flows, scaling, and the control of moment hierarchies for stochastic chemical reaction networks. arXiv:1706.08086.

Sperry-Taylor AT (2017) Strategy Constrained by Cognitive Limits, and the Rationality of Belief-Revision Policies Games 3(1):3.

Tozer MJ (2017) Interview 3: Mixing Punk Rock, Classical, and New Sounds in Film Music in The Palgrave Handbook of Sound Design and Music in Screen Media Palgrave Macmillan UK pp 261-270.

Virapongse A, Endress BA, Gilmore MP, Horn C, & Romulo C (2017) Ecology, livelihoods, and management of the Mauritia flexuosa palm in South America. Global Ecology and Conservation 10:70-92.

Wallstrom TC, Wilkins JF, & Bhattacharya T (2017) Quantifying uncertainty in the inference of generalized coalescents. bioRxiv 150342.

Yakobson B, Taylor N, Dveres N, Rotblat S, Spero Z, Lankau, EW, & Maki J (2017) Impact of Rabies Vaccination History on Attainment of an Adequate Antibody Titre Among Dogs Tested for International Travel Certification, Israel-2010-2014. Zoonoses and public health, 64:281-289.

Opinion and Reviews

Callier V (2016) Biomedical research workforce summit makes strides in implementing change for postdocs: experts from industry and academia have begun the process of puttin gthe biomedical research enterprise on a more sustainable path. Nature Biotechnology 34(4):442-444.

Safron D (2017) The Playdate: Parents, Children, and the New Expectations of Play by Tamara R Mose. New York: NYU Press, 2016.

About the Ronin Institute

The Ronin Institute is dedicated to building an alternative model of academic scholarship outside of the traditional university system. To learn more, visit us at or send us email.

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