Lazy ants win!

“Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways” – why this byline for a blog on slow academia?
The phrase, as you may know, comes from Proverbs 6:6. The context is an exhortation against indolence:
Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise:
Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler,
Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.
How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep?
Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep:
So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth …
There you have it, a bit of whip-cracking for the lazybones: even a little sleep leads to poverty. Be more industrious, self-motivated and foresighted like an ant.
BUT it turns out that ants’ reputation for busyness is mostly undeserved. Here is a wonderful insight from academic research – Most worker ants are slackers:

For me, ‘go to the ant, thou sluggard, consider her ways’ is a touch ironic (ants are slow), a dash nostalgic (one of my favourite authors as a young adult was John Wyndham, and his novella Consider Her Ways is a great example of dystopian fertility fiction) and a pinch feminist (all worker ants are female).

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Ants have discovered something that academia hasn’t (yet): slowness works. It is ok not to be in the 2.6% who are busy all of the time. As Charbonneau and Dornhaus (2015) put it:
In many species, a large proportion of a colony’s workers appear to spend their time completely inactive. The role of this inactivity for colony function remains unclear … The level of inactivity is consistent for individual workers, but differs significantly among workers, that is, some workers effectively specialize on ‘inactivity’ …  Inactives are a distinct group of workers with their own sets of behaviors and should likely not be either ignored for lack of undertaking ‘active’ tasks, or be counted as less efficient workers in typically described groups such as nurses and foragers.
Specialising in slowness? Now, that’s the kind of work I want to do! Although I would prefer not to be designated an ‘inactive’…

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