Archive for: August, 2007

What the scientists don't talk about in their papers tells you something, too.

On Stranger Fruit, there's a response by historian of science Naomi Oreskes to recent criticisms of her 2004 paper in Science discussing the consensus position regarding anthropogenic climate change. While the whole trajectory of these sorts of "engagements" is interesting in its way -- attacks on claims that weren't made, critiques of methodologies that weren't used, and so forth -- the part of Oreskes' response that jumped out at me had to do with the kinds of issues on which scientists focus when they're talking to each other in the peer-reviewed literature:

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Friday Sprog Blogging: FSB goes CSI.

Aug 31 2007 Published by under Kids and science

It has been noted before that the Free-Ride offspring have a fondness for LOLcats. (After all, what six- to eight-year-old wouldn't like LOLcats?)
But it turns out that even captioned kitties can be the impetus for a conversation about matters scientific.
Oh noes!

Younger offspring: That kitty doesn't want to be caged.
Elder offspring: Because he's innocent. He didn't do the crime. Check the DNA!
Younger offspring: What do you mean, check the DNA?

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Doing the math: how plausible is the claim that changing what you eat makes more difference to global warming than changing what you drive?

Dave Munger pointed me to an article in the New York Times that claims "switching to a plant-based diet does more to curb global warming than switching from an S.U.V. to a Camry."
Dave is a critical consumer of information and notes that there is little given in this particular article (which appears in the "Media & Advertising" section) as far as numbers. As I'm not an agronomist, I don't have all the relevant numbers at my finger tips, but I'm happy to set up some equations into which reliable numbers can be plugged once they are located.

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Reacting to PRISM and publishers' concerns about 'scientific integrity' (the short version).

Even though I've been frightfully busy this week, I've been following the news about the launch of PRISM (Partnership for Research Integrity in Science & Medicine). I first saw it discussed in this post by Peter Suber, after which numerous ScienceBloggers piled on. If you have some time (and a cup of coffee), read Bora's comprehensive run-down of the blogosphere's reaction.
If you're in a hurry, here are three reasons I think PRISM's plans to "save" scientists and the public from Open Access are a bad idea.

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How do you think we ought to deal with information about bad actors?

This is a follow-up, of a sort, to the previous post on why serious discussions (as opposed to shouting matches or PR campaigns) about the use of animals in research seem to be so difficult to have. One of the contentious issues that keeps coming up in the comments is how (if at all) such discussions ought to deal with prior bad acts that may not be representative of what's happened since, or even of the actions of most of the scientific community at the time of those prior bad acts.
My sense, however, is that the real issue is who we think we can engage in a serious reasoned dialogue with and who we've already written off, who we think is worth engaging because there's really a shared commitment to take each other's interests seriously, and who intends to "win" at any cost.

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Discomfort with the gray areas in animal research.

Lately it's struck me that when I post on the issue of research with animals, many of the comments I get on those posts see the issue as a black and white one. Mind you, these commenters don't always agree about whether it is the scientists or the animal rights activists who are on the side of the angels. However, many of them feel quite confident in asserting that all animal research is immoral, or that ideally all the judgments about what is necessary and appropriate in research with animals would be left to the scientists doing the research.
I can't help but think that there must be a lot of people who recognize gray areas between these two extreme positions. Does the fact that relatively fewer of them comment on the posts reflect their discomfort with the gray areas themselves, or with how those gray areas are treated in the debate between the extreme positions?

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Monday brainteaser.

This is our third teaching day of the semester (which started last Thursday), so of course, WebCT's servers decided that it would be a good time to freak out. (The official description:

... experiencing network latency within our VA2 data center that may be affecting your Blackboard environment. This may result in increased latency and/or packet loss when trying to access your hosted Blackboard system.

But you can't tell me that this doesn't amount to the servers freaking out, especially as they are still "working with our Infrastructure team to determine the cause and to work towards a resolution.")
So here's the brainteaser:

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DVD review: Physicians - Speaking for Research.

The other day I received a DVD made by Americans for Medical Progress called Physicians - Speaking for Research. (They indicate on their site that the DVDs are free for the asking.)
This is a DVD aimed at physicians, rather than at research scientists or the general public. However, the aim of the DVD is to help physicians to be better at communicating with the general public (primarily their patients, but also their family members and neighbors) about the role animal research has played in medical advances upon which we depend today, and the continued importance animal research will continue to play in medical progress.
In other words, this is a resource prepared with the awareness that groups like PETA have spent a lot of time communicating their message directly to the public, while scientists and physicians haven't made much of an organized effort to communicate their views on animal research to the public, nor even to think hard about precisely what that message might be or how to communicate it most clearly to laypeople. The DVD puts communication (dare I say it, framing) front and center.

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On the perils of choosing a T-shirt on a Friday that includes a committee meeting.

Aug 24 2007 Published by under Academia, Passing thoughts, Personal

One of the best things about Fridays on my campus is that hardly anyone is around. Not only does this make parking less of a headache, and interruption mid-task less probable, but it means that there's even less pressure to dress in a manner that asserts, "I am a responsible adult!"
I mean, I am a responsible adult, but must I prove it by wearing a suit?

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Friday Sprog Blogging: fixing a hole.

Aug 24 2007 Published by under Kids and science

As an added bonus, this week's entry includes a behind the scenes peek at our FSB "process". Yeah, I'm scared, too.
Walking across a large field at the junior high school where we sometimes play soccer:
Younger offspring: My foot almost went in a hole.
Elder offspring: Be careful! There are lots of holes, and they're all about the right size for your foot to get stuck.
Dr. Free-Ride: Funny how it works that way.
Younger offspring: Are all of these ground squirrel holes?
Elder offspring: Either that or giant ants.
Younger offspring: (With a dramatic eye-roll) They aren't anthills.

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