The Breakthrough Prize Doesn’t

Yesterday the recipients of next year’s Breakthrough Prize were announced. We’re told that these are meant to “elevate scientists to rock-star status” and to “inspire the next generation of scientists”. If that’s the aim, then they are going to be a dismal failure.
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Posted in The Society of Science, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Ghost un-authorships

I’m currently reading Ben Goldacre’s Bad Pharma, in which he documents all the naughty things done by the Pharma industry. One of the many infelicities he mentions is their habit of ghostwriting academic papers, and then asking an academic to put their name on the paper (whilst hiding the involvement of the company). This is obviously a bit naughty, so the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) wrote up some criteria for authorship:

The ICMJE recommends that authorship be based on the following 4 criteria:

Substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work; AND
Drafting the work or revising it critically for important intellectual content; AND
Final approval of the version to be published; AND
Agreement to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.

and anyone who doesn’t meet all of those criteria shouldn’t be an authors, but should be acknowledge. Goldacre, bless his little cotton socks, points out that this means that many people who contributed (e.g. those who ran the trials, and the people who wrote the paper – in other words the people from the bad pharma company) aren’t credited as authors. Which is true, but he ignores the other side of the coin. A couple of pages before discussing the ICMJE guidelines he quotes an academic, Dr. Lisse, who told the New York Times

“Merck designed the trial, paid for the trial, ran the trial,” Dr. Lisse said. “Merck came to me after the study was completed and said, ‘We want your help to work on the paper.’ The initial paper was written at Merck, and then it was sent to me for editing.” … “Basically, I went with the cardiovascular data that was presented to me,”

Now, I’m not sure this qualifies Dr. Lisse to be an author under the guidelines, so perhaps he should be removed as an author. Which then raises an interesting idea. What if none of the authors fulfils the criteria? Could we then see the authorless paper?

Posted in Friday Fun, Science Publishing | 2 Comments

Detonation Aftermath

Sunday was a Big Day in Frankfurt. Next to the building where I work there is – or rather was – an ugly tower block, the AfE tower. We only move into our building last summer, and the whole time there has been building work on both side of us (on the other side of our building, workmen have been repeatedly digging an filling in the same hole). The AfE tower has been scheduled to be demolished, so a lot of prepatory work was needed, which mainly seemed to involve making loud noises, and even cutting our network cables, so that for a couple of weeks this was our connection to the internet:
Our connection to the outside world

The big day arrived when the tower was to be brought down arrived on Sunday. There was a nifty animation that showed how it would be done: first blow off the outside, and then bring down the main part of the tower, in two pieces.

http://youtu.be/A_SWkNYjE2c

The lower piece was aimed right at our building (my office is on the other side; the labs would take most of the damage of the bottom half of 32 floors of brutalist architecture falling on top of it), so we had lots of preparation to do: wrap half of the building, turn almost everything off (our servers are in the main Senckenberg building, which is only about 100m up the road), and make sure nobody is in the building on Sunday morning. On Sunday morning I was 4.8km away, as the google maps, streaming the live coverage from Hessischer Rundfunk over the web. All went well – we even heard the sound live, a couple of seconds after the building went down. Although all of the humans were outside an exclusion area, the Senckenberg’s T. rex was allowed to stay inside (would you argue with him?), so he managed to catch this footage from a camera that seems to be attached to his left leg:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zwdb4wa2qJQ

Sunday afternoon was busy for some people, running around checking that everything was OK. Our building was intact – there wasn’t even any dust in my office, even though there was a lot outside a couple of hundred metres away:

And this is the remains of the AfE tower:

Now we just have to suffer the sounds of this pile of wreckage being taken away. And then they’ll probably insist on fiulling the space with a new post-Brutalist tower.

Posted in Aaaaaagh, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

This week, in Frankfurt

This morning the latest blog post on the Grauniad’s science pages was the annual complaint about crap news stories about ‘Blue Monday’. I’ve no idea if these stories have reached Germany (and there doesn’t seem to be anything about it in the Frankfurter Rundshau), but surely it can’t be a coincidence that this week Frankfurt Messe, our exhibition centre, is hosting Christmasworld this week. It even has its own professionally made sales video, with all the emotional impact of a slushy snowball:

http://youtu.be/geNDLwNdZOA

And not content with that, they’re also hosting Paperworld and Creativeworld this week too. So we can look forward to a full week of fun festive origami!

Unfortunately we have to wait until October for Cleanzone to get rid of the mess.

Posted in Silliness | 2 Comments

Come and work with me in Frankfurt!

BiK-F logo

We’ve got an EXCITING(!) EXHILARATING(!!) ENTERTAINING(!!!) EXASPERATING(!V) opportunity for someone wanting to do a post-doc in Frankfurt, working in the Data and Modelling group here at BiK-F. I’ll be one of the people supervising the project. The official announcement is here (pdf), and below. Although it’s initially for about 15 months, there’s a reasonable chance of getting an extension, depending on how things go.

Of course, I think Frankfurt is a great place to work. BiK-F is an institute connected to the Senckenberg museum, and the Goethe university. The project itself is part of a German project to create a biodiversity database for German research: this part is to show that such a database would actually be useful.

The full advert follows. Feel free to ask about this in the comments below.
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Posted in Ecology, Science Blogging, Statistics | 4 Comments

The most pathetic journal spam yet

After the Bohannon fun, we’re all more aware of predatory publishers trying to get our money to publish any old crap. You would have thought they would have been aware of his, and at least made an attempt to look more legit. Well, apparently not. I jut got this unsolicited spam in my email:

Dear Colleague,

RESEARCH ARTICLES PUBLICATION – NO PUBLICATION CHARGE

Pinnacle Journal Publishes peer-reviewed, open access journals covering a wide range of academic disciplines.

We invite you to submit your research paper for publication in PINNACLE JOURNALS. Send your paper via e-mail attachment only to: submission.pjpub@gmail.com.

Regards,

Publisher
Pinnacle Journal Publication

Note: To opt-out from our email list, simply send a blank message with STOP as subject.

Impressive, no? Not even a web page. This may have come from Pinnacle Journal Publication, but the email came from a wildblue.net domain (which is, apparently, a US internet provider), and the gmail submission address just shouts professionalism, doesn’t it?

Ah well, at least it amused me for a few minutes.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

How old is your method?

Over on the Methods in Ecology & Evolution blog, Sam (our Assistant Editor) has just put up a podcast she edited from interviews made by Barb Anderson at Intecol this year. She wandered the meeting with a sonic screwdriver asking assorted ecologists to talk about the methods they use – the oldest, the newest, and what method they would want to see invented. The results are here:

Old Methods
(which, alas does not seem to give the full Soundcloud plugin experience on this page. Poo.)

and check the MEE blog post for a list of who said what.
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Posted in Ecology, Silliness | 4 Comments

Attack Budgies: leaks from the secret labs of GrrlScientist

This morning I was gravely offended by being described as an “attack parrot”. The offender’s mitigation was that he had originally wanted to call me an “attack budgie”, but had refrained, presumably because he thought an attack budgie sounded less threatening.

Now, it’s little known but a few years ago GrrlScientist actually experimented with breeding attack budgies. They sound all cute and harmless, and indeed on their own they are. But it is as a group they are the menace Grrl requires for her work.
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Posted in Friday Fun, Silliness | 4 Comments

Simple models can lead to generality in ecology

ResearchBlogging.orgIt’s always nice to read a paper that is obviously wrong, but where you have to think about why it is wrong. Because it makes you, well, think. And sometimes learn something new. So when I see a paper in TREE with the title “Do simple Models lead to generality in ecology?“, it’s clear that it’s going to answer “no”, and that I’m going to disagree.

In there paper, Evans and a plethora of co-author present this argument:

[W]e argue that there is usually a trade-off between simplicity and generality, such that simpler models are, all other things being equal, less general than are complex models. For example, a nonlinear population growth equation such as dN/dt = αN + βX1+a represents a large family of models, the members of which correspond to the constant parameters α and β being set to particular values (whereas a can take any value). If β is set to zero, we obtain a simpler linear equation, dN/dt = αN. Obviously, the nonlinear equation includes the linear one as a special case. Thus, the more complex equation represents a larger family of models than the linear ones and, therefore, is more general. It can pick out all the real systems that are described by the linear equation plus a range of others.
(I have slightly changed the equation from what the authors presented, to make my argument clearer. I think the original argument is unchanged, though)

i.e. simple models are less general because they cover less of the model space. Which is odd, because I think this is precisely why a simpler model is more general.
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Posted in Ecology, Research Blogging | 11 Comments

Off to the other side of the world

This is just a brief announcement to explain that as this publishes I should be off on my travels again. This time I’m going further than ever before (no, I’m not travelling by standing on the shoulders of giants). I’m off to…
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Posted in Uncategorized | 12 Comments