science news

Porn at the NSF?

For those of you who dont know, Chuck Grassley, ranking member of the Finance Committee on the Senate is doing an investigation into the National Science Foundation. Why? Well, because people have been spending time looking at porn instead of doing what they’re suppose to do (look through our grant proposals perhaps?)

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Chuck Grassley knows it when he sees it.

The “it,” of course, is pornography. And Grassley has seen it deep in a demurely titled section of a report from the National Science Foundation — a report that says NSF employees have been spending significant amounts of company time on smut sites and in other explicit pursuits….

In one particularly egregious case, the report says one NSF “senior official” was discovered to have spent as much as 20 percent of his working hours over a two-year interval “viewing sexually explicit images and engaging in sexually explicit online ‘chats’ with various women.”

Investigators calculated the value of the time lost at more than $58,000 — for that employee alone.

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I dont think this spells good news for people trying to get grants right now. Amongst my friends and I, we can already imagine the responses to grants.

Prof. So and So,

We are unable to fund your proposal because….it costs money to investigate people looking into porn at work.

Sincerely,

The NSF and the Senate

For more, here’s the link: Grassley launches porn inquiry into the NSF

By January 28, 2009 9 comments science news

Science Podcasts

I got a new iPod Touch from Sigma-Aldrich for Christmas this year (no, really).  Probably the best part is the wi-fi capabilities.  I tried keeping up with podcasts before on other iPods, but it was too much work to plug the iPod into the computer, transfer over the new episodes, and repeat.  Now I can grab the new episodes directly from the iTouch, and it’s awesome.  (btw, does anyone know how to subscribe to the podcasts so the iPod will update itself with new episodes automatically?)

Anyway, I’ve been surveying the chemistry podcasts over the past few weeks.  They’re great to listen to while running a column or doing other tasks that don’t require a lot of mental energy.  Most of the major journals have a podcast, as do most news outlets and some other random sites.  I’ll tell you about some of the ones I liked below the jump if you’re interested in giving some of them a listen.

Read more ›

By January 26, 2009 7 comments fun, science news

Do Big Dollars Affect the Little Guys?

PillsD-Lowe certainly beat me to the punch this morning, but in my defense, I was working on a time-sensitive reaction in the lab when I heard the news. 

In the midst of economic turmoil, an interesting deal has been proposed—one that hits home to a lot of R&D chemists.  Both Bloomberg and the WSJ are reporting that Pfizer is in talks with Wyeth to merge the two companies for an estimated $60 B.  The rumor, among several media outlets, is that Pfizer’s backup plan is to buy Bristol-Myers Squibb or Amgen should the Wyeth deal sour. 

Recently, both companies have had their fair share of time in the media spotlight (apart from the proposed merger).  As reported by Chemistry World last December, Wyeth announced it would revamp its R&D business model by minimizing the number of major areas of therapeutic research while retaining the same research budget (c. $3 B).  Wyeth plans to focus on the following 6 areas: oncology, central nervous system, vaccines, musculoskeletal, metabolism and inflammation.  I can tell you (from my experiences in pharma) that it’s a better strategy put 20 researchers on different aspects of one project (a concerted effort) versus working in 20 different directions.

Lipitor

Meanwhile, in DC, the USPTO recently agreed to allow Pfizer to “repair” its invalid patent for Lipitor thus gaining US exclusivity until 2011 (more details here).  By the amount of revenue generated in sales ($13 B in 2007 alone), Lipitor is considered the best-selling drug in the world.  For whatever it’s worth, the controversy was sparked by the challenge and subsequent rejection of one of Pfizer’s prized patents in 2004.  Essentially, exclusivity keeps the cash cow alive for another couple of years while other therapies are pushed through the FDA.  You can find a more detailed description here.

While the deal may be good for Wall Street, I fear that it may do more harm than good, especially in the world of chemical employment.  As someone who’s currently hunting the job market (and watching several of my peers do the same), I see shrinking job opportunities in pharma.  Often, as two large companies merge, it’s usually followed by a period of hiring freezes (there become a lot of replicated jobs) then the new mega company begins to tighten the belt by cutting spending and laying off thousands of employees.  

I hope we can all make it through these shaky and uncertain times.

By January 23, 2009 0 comments opinion, science news

If you can read this, the world hasn’t ended (yet)

The End is Near

About two hours ago, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, Geneva, has accelerated its first proton beam. This massive particle accelerator will hopefully be able to answer many questions about the beginning of the universe, and maybe be able to detect the Higgs boson, the so-called “God Particle” (cf. also here).

There has been much ado about the possibility that these collision experiments might create a black hole, which will grow in size and eventually destroy the earth. Although there is a consensus in the scientific field that there is no real threat, this topic is broadly discussed in the public media. Probably because this is about the only aspect of the LHC that a layman (such as me) can understand to an extent.

What I find very annoying is the religious people claiming that this kind of research is good for nothing, and that true answers to the fundamental questions can only be found in the Bible. Actually, calling the Higgs boson the “God Particle” is asking for trouble from that side. My theory is that the CERN is part of a plot of al-Quaida, who will probably wait until tomorrow (September 11th) to destroy the world.

Just another thought – could it be that all the other black holes we observe in the universe come from an alien civilization? That every intelligent species develops up to a point where they want to do experiments like at CERN and consequently destroy their planet? This could be a good science-fiction story…

By September 10, 2008 4 comments science news