I bet there is an interesting back story to this little episode. In January a neat communication appeared in JACS describing “Small-Molecule Inducer of Beta Cell Proliferation Identified by High-Throughput Screening“. Basically the authors have induced the growth of cells that produce insulin, so opening up a possible route to cure Type 1 diabetes. Intersting enough, but not the subject of this post. I’m more concerned with the correction published last week. It seems that 20 authors wasn’t quite enough. Eric C. Peters probably wasn’t happy about being left languishing in the acknowledgements and having to be content with a thank you for experimental support. So come March he got promoted to the author list, leaving John Walker left all alone in the acknowledgements. You’ve got to feel sorry for him (unless the authors are referring to a whisky at the end of the day), how come he’s the only one left with a hat tip and no place on the front page? Especially given that its difficult to imagine what sort of contribution would warrant an acknowledgement on a communication’s worth of work (although granted that in this case there is and additional 12 pages of supporting info) as opposed to less than a 5% share of the author list.
Anyway this rather unusual correction got me thinking. What do you have to contribute to a study before you are entitled to a place on the paper’s author list? Or when does an acknowledgment suffice?...
Professor W. F. v. Gunsteren has written a very interesting essay for Angewandte entitled “The Seven Sins in Academic Behaviour in the Natural Sciences”. In this piece he defines the seven sins as follows (taken from the essay)
A poor or incomplete description of the work, for example, publishing pretty pictures instead of evidence of causality.
Failure to perform obvious, cheap tests that could confirm or repudiate a model, theory, or measurement, for example, to detect additional variables or to show under which conditions a model or theory breaks down.
Insufficient connection between data and hypothesis or message, leading to lack of support for the message or over-interpretation of data, for example, rendering the story more sensational or attractive.
The reporting of only favorable results, for example, reporting positive or desired (hoped for) results while omitting those that are negative.
Neglect of errors found after publication.
The direct fabrication or falsification of data.
Take the incomplete description of the work. Here the scientific journal(s) come in for some criticism; mainly for the restriction of journal space this in turn leading to more date being squeezed into the supplementary material. Interestingly this material is usually freely available while the actual article it corresponds to sits behind a paywall. So in my humble opinion this is a complete waste of time. Either one or the other but not...
I’m all for making chemistry accessible to all, heck I even write another blog on the subject. So I’m generally pretty pleased to see chemistry in the main stream media and large blogs. But this time a large science/tech blog, Gizmodo, has gone too far.
Yesterday Gizmodo published a guest post called “How to Use Basic Chemistry to Scare the Hell Out of Your Neighbours” from William Gurstelle. Well that already sounds pretty sinister to me, but hey it’s almost Halloween, so maybe the post describes a few harmless pranks for a party, glow in the dark jelly perhaps?
But oh no, William Gurstelle has got grander ideas. Amongst other things he’s suggesting that you spike drinks with methylene blue! The result is that your party guests will starting peeing blue. Oh how we laughed on the way to the emergency room when the methylene blue cross reacted with some other medication causing serious damage to the central nervous system! Granted Gurstelle does state “For the vast majority of people a tiny dose of methylene blue is harmless”. But I wonder how he knows which of his guests are going to just pee blue and which ones might end up in hospital after his little prank?
Gurstelle’s other suggestions aren’t any better. Spraying a mixture of ammonia and match heads around seems eminently stupid to me.
I can’t believe how astonishingly irresponsible Gizmodo has been in publishing this. They have a pretty big audience...
This post is contributed by Brandon Findlay, and the author of the blog “Chemtips”
The best talks, the ones that I go to conferences hoping to see, are the least exciting. They aren’t sleep inducing, far from it. But the best talks don’t usually have a lot of flair. There’s no brilliance at play, and nothing indicates that what I’m hearing will one day change the world. Instead, I think, “Why doesn’t everyone do things like that?”
Strange as it may sound, such moments are (for me) what make great research stand out. Great research is the end product of an idea so simple and straightforward that doing things any other way is nonsensical. If you’re curious about understanding the interplay between drugs and antibiotic resistance, of course you should go isolate millennia old permafrost bacteria. If you want to discover new reactions, semi-randomly mixing reagents is the way to go. And if you want to make macrocycles, just dream up a reaction that holds the two ends together with electrostatic charge. After the fact each idea makes perfect sense, and I wind up feeling an amnesiac; remembering things I didn’t even know I’d forgotten.
Good research (and a lot of flawed work), draws more press, and generally leads to a faint sense of awe. Almost all of the upper tier total synthesis work is good research, as every sufficiently complicated structure stands out like an Everest on the horizon . “Conquering” each structure grabs the headlines...
Quick: What do Pinky and The Brain, Kirk and Spock, Bunsen and Beaker…and your research group all have in common?
Give up? They all subscribe to “Muppet Theory,” a very recent label on a very old phenomenon. As Slate writer Dahlia Lithwick explains, Muppet Theory reprises the age-old struggle between archetypes: Order fighting Chaos, Kermit against Animal, maybe even mustard vs. ketchup.
"Are you thinking what I'm thinking, Pinky?" "I think so, Brain, but isn't Nietzsche a type of cheese?"
Nietzsche formalized this philosophy in 1872 (thanks, NPR!) with his Apollonian (order-seeking) and Dionysian (chaos-loving) personae, stating that true high art comes from the successful fusion of both aspects in one venture. Well, scientists have argued these points for the last three centuries! Consider the following quotes from two chemistry legends:
“A tidy laboratory means a lazy chemist.” Jöns Jacob Berzelius (1779-1848)
“Fortune favors the prepared mind” – Louis Pasteur (1822-1895)
Right there, you have “Muppet Theory” in action. Lab Order Muppets (Brain, Spock, Bunsen) contribute careful data collection and deep analytical thinking, while the Lab Chaos Muppets (Pinky, Kirk, Beaker) stir the pot, following gut instincts and making wild assumptions. In my experience, Lab Order Muppets are department-builders, sturdy rocks in the storm that can manage conflicts. Lab Chaos Muppets have...
(This post was written for the ‘Toxic Chemicals’ carnival, over at ScienceGeist)
Let me tell you about the time I broke down crying in lab. No, it wasn’t an epic breakup, or even a death in the family. It was…a nitroolefin.
Many summers ago, I worked as a pharma intern, a small flywheel in a then-huge drugmaking machine. My supervisor, a kind, safety-conscious scientist, begged me to come straight to him if I had any questions about my reactions.
We were synthesizing a small nitroolefin – 2-nitropropene, to be exact – for some nitro-Michael additions. If you look at the Org. Syn. prep, it warns, right at the top in red letters, that the compound is a potent lachrymator. The term, from the Latin word for “teardrop,” describes compounds that irritate the eyes to such an extent that tears freely flow.
I carefully piloted the reaction, distilled the greenish-yellow product, and then watched it run up my TLC plate. Beautiful! Now, I just needed an NMR sample.
Gingerly, I dissolved a drop into some chloroform. Forgetting for an instant, I pulled the NMR tube out of the hood to cap it, and within seconds crumpled to the bench. It felt as if someone had stabbed smoldering iron toothpicks into my eyes. I stumbled around until my labmates dragged me over to the eyewash; later, I became well acquainted with our local safety officer. My eyes remained bloodshot for the rest of the day. Lesson learned: Lachrymators are not to be taken lightly! (I’ve experienced...
A campaign group, calling itself ‘Science for the future’ is, today, delivering a coffin to Number 10 Downing street in London as a protest against what they claim to be the death of British science.
Their concern is that the UK state funded research councils, (particularly the Engineering and physical sciences research council, (EPRSC) that funds most of the chemistry research in the UK) are giving priority to research that will deliver good economic outcomes over blue sky research.
This group isn’t just a rag tag bunch of disgruntled scientist who are peeved that their projects don’t get funded. Its backed by a heady list of Nobel Laureates and heavily honoured scientists who published their views on the matter in a letter to todays Daily Telegraph.
Between the press coverage in the Telegraph, the BBC etc. and twitter (#science4thefuture) things are being pretty well covered. So I thought I’d focus on one aspect of the group’s issues with the EPSRC.
Any grant proposal submitted to the EPSRC has to include a section addressing the ‘National Importance‘ of the research. The guidelines on how to construct this section of the proposal states:
National Importance is the extent, over the long term, for example 10-50 years, to which the research proposed;
contributes to, or helps maintain the health of other research disciplines contributes to addressing key UK societal challenges, contributes to current or future UK economic...
If I were to walk outside right now and ask the next person I see what the words “Deepwater Horizon” brought to mind, I wouldn’t be surprised if he/she simply stared at me with a puzzled look. Yet exactly two years ago, we all watched the news as the story of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion developed. It would ultimately become the worst man-made ecological disaster in history as the uncapped well poured nearly 5 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Many of us chastised the oil companies, BP in particular, for being too concerned with profits and expected the government to take action to prevent future spills. Now, two years later, the storm has quieted down but how much has things really changed? Here are some facts/figures I collected:
BP has paid out just 7.8 billion dollars for economic losses/medical bills to affected people, though it claims a total of 37.2 billion spent in response to the disaster. By comparison, BP had a total revenue of 386 billion dollars in 2011 alone.
The Gulf spill is not the only oil disaster in the last two years. Lost in the media coverage and the aftermath are spills in Utah (June 2010, 33000 gallons), Michigan (July 2010, 1.1 million gallons), Montana (July 2011, 63000 gallons), and countless other spills in foreign countries but from American companies.
Though the Oil Spill Commission ultimately concluded that BP did not sacrifice safety for profits, it also noted that a number of decisions made by BP to...
As a new contributor to Chemistry Blog, I’ve decided to ‘break myself in’ by tackling the somewhat controversial and thought-provoking topic of homeopathy. As I write, we find ourselves part way through ‘World Homeopathy Awareness Week’, so the subject is enjoying quite a high profile and twitter seems to be alive with discussion on the matter.
Before I go further, I feel I should declare myself to be a sceptic. I’m doubtful as to whether any other point of view on this subject would be published on Chemistry Blog –so that will come as no surprise. After completing my chemistry studies, I chose a career in the pharmaceutical industry –to make a difference. I also rely on daily medication to manage my own condition. I’m therefore very aware of the difference proven chemistry can make to the quality of people’s lives. The science of drug development is founded on proven facts; a great deal of money, effort, time and hard evidence is required for just one new drug to reach the market –I will return to this subject in a later article.
What are the principles of homeopathy?
Homeopathy is an alternative medicine, based on the principle of treating like with like. Patients are treated with highly dilute preparations believed to cause symptoms in a healthy person, similar to those being experienced in the patient. Commonly used dilutions are 10C and 30C.
To achieve a 30C dilution, the ‘active’ ingredient is diluted...
This is my first post here so imagine my excitement when I came across this attention grabbing title from the JACS press room “Could “advanced” dinosaurs rule other planets?”. Something cool to write about on my first day! Excellent.
So of I trotted to look at the paper that was the bases of the press release. It has the more mundane title “Evidence for the Likely Origin of Homochirality in Amino Acids, Sugars, and Nucleosides on Prebiotic Earth”.
What’s this got to do with dinosaurs I thought? Best delve a little deeper into the paper.
The paper describes how the homochirality of sugars and amino acids in life on Earth may have originated from a small excess of L-amino acids and D-sugars in meteorites. These then seeded early life, leading to their near total dominance in life as we know it.
Sorry, still no idea what this has to do with dinosaurs. The paper is pretty interesting in it self, but I still don’t get the press release. I’d best read a little further .
Ahh, it turns out that astronomers think that neutron stars may act like cyclotrons and produce circularly polarized light. And if this light has enough energy it could account for the deracemization of amino acids on asteroids.
Still no dinosaurs.
OK, maybe the link with dinos will be clearer in the conclusions.
“An implication from this work is that elsewhere in the universe there could be life forms based on D amino acids and L sugars depending on the chirality of circular polarized light...
Thanks primarily to Dr. Robert Grossman’s excellent (if not unfortunately titled) book The Art of Writing Reasonable Organic Reaction Mechanisms*, I don’t have a huge Imposter Syndrome when lecturing in front of my undergraduate organic chemistry class. I can handle pretty much any organic chemistry question an undergrad just learning the course for the first time can throw at me. Sometimes they start asking smart questions that aren’t really organic but are more physical chemistry questions (and way beyond the scope of the course), and I’ll gladly punt those questions to a future semester if I don’t know the answer.
Credit: Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
No, my Imposter Syndrome happens while I’m sitting comfortably in my office and students come in to talk. I’ve only been a university professor for 2 years, but I’ve already had a few students open up about some deep personal issues in their lives. Being an ear and a mentor certainly falls in the job description of a university professor, especially when schools market themselves as offering ‘great relationships with great professors who greatly care.’ People with Impostor Syndrome sometimes complain of ‘never being taught how to be a teacher’ in grad school… but at least we were aware we were going to teach. No one talks about the ‘being a counselor’ part.
This has been my biggest source of Imposter Syndrome that I’ve experienced...
Skepticism plays a central role in any kind of scientific research. To paraphrase Feynman, you should try never to fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool! We chemists all want to believe in the high yield, or the perfect recrystallization that causes us to turn cartwheels…until we realize that we can’t repeat them. Some scientists still take shortcuts to fame – consider the hot water the Sezen saga landed everyone in just a few short years ago. So, how do you keep yourself honest? And how do you sift through wild claims and hyperbole?
Please, don’t hire this magician.
Credit: Arrested Development, 20th Century Fox
Well, magicians are standing by to take our calls.
(Wait…did you just say “magicians?”)
That’s right, magician James Randi offers his services in a recent Wired Opinion post. He references magician Jamy Ian Swiss, who says:
“Any magician worth his salt will tell you that the smarter an audience is, the easier they are to fool. That’s a very counterintuitive idea, but…scientists aren’t trained to study something that’s deceptive.”
Good point. As chemists, we’re always looking out for the next great reaction to come logically shuffling through the door. We don’t often step back and critically question others’ motivations for deceit or trickery. But, of course, that’s how magicians make their careers. Randi invokes Clarke’s third law, which states that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable...