Archive for: January, 2006

Talk amongst yourselves.

Jan 31 2006 Published by under Misconduct

I'm hammering away at the next edition of Tangled Bank (going up tomorrow) -- plus, you know, teaching and stuff -- but I wanted to give you a little something to work on. From New Scientist:

YOU could be forgiven for thinking that scientific fraud was in fashion. Weeks after the cloning superstar Woo Suk Hwang admitted faking research using human embryos, doubts have been cast over two other high-profile scientists.
Jon Sudbo of the Norwegian Radium Hospital, Oslo, has already admitted inventing a study into whether anti-inflammatory drugs can improve the prognosis for oral cancer patients, which was published in The Lancet in 2005. But fresh concerns have now been raised over papers published in the New England Journal of Medicine in April 2001 and April 2004 and the Journal of Clinical Oncology in October 2005.
Meanwhile on Monday, the newspaper Japan Today alleged that Kazunari Taira, a biochemist at the University of Tokyo, faked his research into coaxing E. coli bacteria to produce a human enzyme called Dicer. A university investigation team is preparing a report on the matter.

Has peer pressure replaced peer review? ("All the cool scientists are covered by the major networks!") Is this evidence of a new epidemic of cheating, or of a new epidemic of catching cheaters? Or is this all a ploy to distract us from the hurried development of a super-secret weapon by which the scientists will finally zap scientific literacy directly into our skulls, the better to get new recruits? ("One of us! One of us!")
Report your findings in the comments.

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"Hush your mouth!"

Jan 30 2006 Published by under Doing science for the government

[I'm blogging on this at the request of my mom, who also requests that I try not to blog so blue.]
As Chris, among others, has noted, there's a piece in the Washington Post about global warming. The piece includes an all-too-familiar feature: the government scientist (here James E. Hansen of NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies) whose bosses are trying to get him to settle down and not say so much about what he thinks the science says. Deja vu all over again.
Because I know others will attend the the specifics of the global warming science and policy issues here, I'm going to restrict my focus to what I see as the central ethical question: what are the obligations of the government scientist?

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Defining terms (or, I got that ID survey, too)

Jan 29 2006 Published by under Tribe of Science

Being identified as "pro-science" is pretty cool, given that some people get the idea (from my kvetching about ethics) that I'm against science. (I'm against sloppy or dishonest methodology masquerading as science, but that doesn't make me an enemy of science.) But that was about the only part of the widely distributed ID survey that gave me the warm fuzzies.
What bugs me the most about the survey is that it isn't looking for actual information -- or, if it is, it's very badly designed -- so much as it is looking to force a certain response from the targeted respondants. Really, we're talking question design on par with Stephen Colbert's standard interview closer: "George W. Bush: great president, or the greatest president?"

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Who's duping whom?

Jan 27 2006 Published by under Ethical research

Today in the Chronicle of Higher Education there's a piece on Gerald Schatten's role in the Korean stem cell mess. It's an interesting piece, written without Dr. Schatten's participation -- he's keeping quiet while the University of Pittsburgh conducts its investigation of him. (Worth noting, from the article: "Pittsburgh began investigating Mr. Schatten, at his own request, with a six-person panel that first met on December 14.")

Given Schatten's non-participation in the article, the portrait of him that emerges turns on the impressions of his friends and acquaintances, past collaborators and competitors. We can only guess at what might have been going on inside Schatten's mind at crucial points as events unfolded. But perhaps, at least for the purposes of trying to spare other scientists from the professional horrors to which Schatten now finds himself subjected, it would be useful to identify some questions Schatten ought to have asked himself. After all, if we didn't think we could learn something from experience, what the heck are we doing science for?

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Friday Sprog Blogging: why we love science!

Jan 27 2006 Published by under Kids and science

Elder offspring (age 6.5): I can't wait for Friday! We get to do science in school!
Younger offspring (age 4.5): We do nature study every day.
Dr. Free-Ride: That's because you don't have standardized tests yet, or the science would get crowded out by all the other stuff on the test.
Elder offspring: We're learning about the life-cycles of different animals. And, we have two bearded dragons in our science classroom.
Younger offspring: We're learning about marine mammals, but Aidan C. and I call them "gaREEN mammals".
Dr. Free-Ride: Green mammals? You two are silly, aren't you. Hmm ... are there any green mammals?
Dr. Free-Ride's better half: Sloths.
Dr. Free-Ride: Sloths?
Dr. Free-Ride's better half: Sloths. An algae grows on them* and helps them blend in with leaves.
Dr. Free-Ride: Cool! Like what happened to the polar bears at the zoo when there was algae growing in their hair shafts.
Younger offspring: What other color mammals are there?
Dr. Free-Ride: When you guys were babies I fed you lots of carrots to see if I could make you orange mammals.
Elder offspring: Did it work?
Dr. Free-Ride: It did not. Is there no mammal that I can turn orange by feeding it lots of carrots?
Younger offspring: Not one that you can turn orange.

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Taking it personally

Jan 26 2006 Published by under Academic integrity, Tribe of Science

Today I had my first (non-virtual) class meetings of the spring semester. There's nothing like having every available seat filled and then having folks stream in to sit on the floor to make an academic feel popular. (Of course, in the past, a significant portion of those who have gotten add-codes have then disappeared until the midterm, after which most of those disappeared for good. But right now I'm popular!)
When it came time to give "the talk" about academic integrity, I was less dispassionate than I have been in years past. It's no secret that I think plagiarism is lame. But, in the vain hope that it might make a difference -- that this might be the term with no instances of plagiarism -- I decided to lay it on the line. Here's a close approximation of what I told my classes:

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Coming soon: a new edition of Tangled Bank

Jan 25 2006 Published by under Tangled Bank

In one short week (on February 1, 2006), there will be a new edition of the Tangled Bank, hosted here at Adventures in Ethics and Science.
Tangled Bank is a blog carnival of the best science writing (broadly construed) in the blogosphere. In previous editions, topics have ranged across many scientific disciplines and have included essays about the intersections of science and everyday life. The important criteria for submissions are that they be about science, nature or medicine, and that they have been published within the past two or three months on a blog.
Following the example of GrrlScientist, I would like to encourage submissions by new voices -- especially bloggers from outside the U.S., women, and folks whose writing hasn't been featured by the Tangled Bank before. And, I'd like to put out a special call for submissions in some of the areas of science that are underrepresented here at ScienceBlogs. If you're blogging about chemistry, or astronomy, or meteorology, or [whatever scientific field we're not presenting here], you're on notice!
You can send your submissions to me, to PZ Myers, or to the Tangled Bank host inbox ( Please:

  • Put "Tangled Bank" in the subject line.
  • Include a link to the essay you're submitting
  • If you can, include a brief description of the essay
  • Indicate whether you are the author of the essay or you are informing on another great science writer in the blogosphere (which is encouraged!)
  • Note whether you (or the author of the essay who you're ratting out) are (is) a first-time contributor to Tangled Bank.

I anxiously await your submissions!

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Not on my watch, or it's not my job to watch?

Jan 24 2006 Published by under Institutional ethics

Via Evolgen, an article by Nicholas Wade on tools to recognize doctored images that accompany scientific manuscripts. Perhaps because "seeing is believing," pictures (including visual presentations of data) have been a favored weapon in the scientist's persuasive arsenal. But this means, as we know, that just as images can persuade, they can also deceive.
The deceptions Wade discusses in the linked article rely primarily on using Photoshop to cover up inconvenient features (like bands on gels), to resize isolated parts of images, to rotate things, and the like. Wade writes:

At The Journal of Cell Biology, the test has revealed extensive manipulation of photos. Since 2002, when the test was put in place, 25 percent of all accepted manuscripts have had one or more illustrations that were manipulated in ways that violate the journal's guidelines, said Michael Rossner of Rockefeller University, the executive editor. The editor of the journal, Ira Mellman of Yale, said that most cases were resolved when the authors provided originals. "In 1 percent of the cases we find authors have engaged in fraud," he said.

(Emphasis added.)
Notice that while most of the manipulations were not judged to be fraud, there was a fairly high proportion -- a quarter of the accepted manuscripts that had illustrations -- that violated JCB guidelines.
Possibly this just means that the "Instructions to Authors" aren't carefully read by authors. But it seems likely that this is also indicative of a tendency to cherry-pick images to make one's scientific case in a manner that would seem pretty darn sneaky were it applied to data. You can't just base your analysis on the prettiest data; why should you get to support your scientific claims with the prettiest available images?
RPM has a lovely discussion of this, including the phenomenon of "picture selection". And the Wade article gives a nice feel for how the mathematical features of digital images can make alterations that aren't detectable by the naked eye as altered quite easy to find with the right algorithms. Either this kind of image doctoring will get smacked down quicker than a student paper cut and paste from the internets ... or the job opportunities for mathematicians in science labs may increase. (Knowing how the algorithms work may make it possible to find ways to defeat detection, too.)
But that's not the part of the Wade article that got my dander up today. The bit I want to discuss (below the fold) is whose responsibility it is to catch the folks trying to lie with prettied-up images.

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Outsourcing research

Jan 24 2006 Published by under Globalizing science

Every now and then, I take a moment to read my unsolicited commercial email before binning it. (Note to eMarketers: This moment is generally used to mock and deride the goods and/or services offered in the unsolicited commercial email. Take me off your stupid mailing lists!) The other day, I came upon a message offering me a service that's a new one to me: outsourcing research.
As a professional philosopher, I don't have much call to outsource my research (which mostly consists of reading, thinking hard, pounding away at the keyboard, and swearing if MS Word crashes in the middle of a crucial sentence). But if I were trying to run a chemistry lab, the idea of outsourcing research might be very appealing.
And, it may surprise you to learn, I think there might even be positive effects for our body of scientific knowledge from trying something like this.

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Welcome Koufax voters!

Jan 23 2006 Published by under Blogospheric science

I'm excited to be one of the many fine nominees for the "Best New Blog" Koufax Award for 2005. Because I know you want to make an informed decision about your vote (or, you know, put off doing actual work for a little while), here's a quick tour of my posts back at the pre-ScienceBlogs location.
Also, let me point out that two of my sibling bloggers here (Aetiology and Living the Scientific Life) are also up for "Best New Blog" -- as are a number of the blogs in my blogroll (right sidebar -- you know you wouldn't be here if you didn't have a little time to procrastinate!). Holy vote-splitting, Batman!
Is it possible, given the plethora of good science blogs among this year's Koufax nominees, for a science blog to beat out a garden-variety political blog for "Best New Blog"?
It might be if the ScienceBlogs readers remember to vote when voting opens!

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