Archive for: July, 2009

Friday Sprog Blogging: summer vacation.

Jul 24 2009 Published by under Kids and science

At present, the Free-Ride offspring are enjoying the hospitality of the Grandparents Who Lurk But Seldom Comment, and the Free-Ride parental units are enjoying quieter mornings -- at least in theory.
This morning, some time before 7:00 ...
Casa Free-Ride telephone: RING! RING! RING! RING!
Dr. Free-Ride: Mrrph! ZZZZZZ
Dr. Free-Ride's better half: Hello?

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5 responses so far

Tempering justice with mercy: the question of youthful offenders in the tribe of science.

Recently, I wrote a post about two researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) who were caught falsifying data in animal studies of immune suppressing drugs. In the post, I conveyed that this falsification was very bad indeed, and examined some of the harm it caused. I also noted that the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) meted out somewhat different penalties to the principal investigator (ten year voluntary exclusion from government funding and from serving in any advisory capacity with the PHS) and to her postdoc (three year voluntary exclusion from government funding and PHS advisory roles). Moreover, UAB had left open the possibility that the postdoc might work on other people's research projects under very strict mentoring. (Owing to the ORI ruling, these research projects would have to be ones funded by someone other than the U.S. government, however.)

On that post, commenter Paul Browne disagreed with my suggestion that rehabilitation of the postdoc in this case might be an end worth seeking:

"While such an obvious departure from an experimental protocol -- especially an in an experiment involving animal use -- isn't much of an ethical gray area, I think there's something to be said for treating early-career scientists as potentially redeemable in the aftermath of such ethical screw-ups."

You have got to be kidding.

We're not talking about an honest mistake, or deviating from an approved protocol with the best of intentions, or excluding a few outliers from the analysis but rather a decade of repeatedly lying to their funders, their IACUC and to other scientists working in their field.

What they did almost makes me wish that science has a ceremony similar to the old military drumming out.

At the very least they should both be charged with fraud, and since they presumably included their previous falsified results in support of NIH grant applications it shouldn't be too hard to get a conviction.

Believe me, I understand where Paul is coming from. Given the harm that cheaters can do to the body of shared knowledge on which the scientific community relies, and to the trust within the scientific community that makes coordination of effort possible, I understand the impulse to remove cheaters from the community once and for all.

But this impulse raises a big question: Can a scientist who has made an ethical misstep be rehabilitated and reintegrated as a productive member of the scientific community? Or is your first ethical blunder grounds for permanent expulsion from the community? In practice, this isn't just a question about the person who commits the ethical violation. It's also a question about what other scientists in the community can stomach in dealing with the offenders -- especially when the offender turns out to be a close colleague or a trainee.

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19 responses so far

Programming note.

Jul 21 2009 Published by under Announcements

ScienceBlogs is getting a systems upgrade tonight. Among other things, this means that commenting is being turned off at 7:00 PM EST (although deceptively, the comment forms will still be visible), and new posts won't go up from about 7:00 PM EST until sometime tomorrow morning, when we hope the upgrade will be successfully completed.
If you have something to share that just can't wait until the comments have been re-enabled, feel free to email me.
I'll catch you on the flip-flop!

One response so far

University of Alabama at Birmingham researchers caught falsifying data in animal studies.

There are days when I imagine that I'll run out of news reports of scientists caught behaving badly to blog about. Then, I check my inbox.
Today, my inbox featured a news item in The Scientist about two medical researchers caught fabricating data:

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8 responses so far

Twelve reasons to finish writing your dissertation.

Jul 21 2009 Published by under Academia, Personal, Teaching and learning

The other day, it occurred to me that I have a goodly number of friends who have been in Ph.D. programs (and may still be "in" the program in some more or less official way), and who have more or less finished their graduate research, but who haven't managed to get their dissertations written. (I'm not going to name names; you know who you are.)
In this post, I want to offer these friends (and others in this situation) encouragement to get that dissertation written!
Yes, I know, you have your reasons for not finishing. Yes, I know writing a dissertation can feel like the hardest thing ever -- I wrote two of them, so I have a bit of experience here. Believe me, I know that the writing of a dissertation often takes place against the backdrop of intense psychological obstacles and insane demands on your time; I wrote my first one while experiencing a major crisis about what I wanted to be when I grew up, while the second only had to compete with the care of an infant, a full teaching load, and an exhausting daily commute.
You don't need me to give you reasons not to write that dissertation, else it would be written. So, from the other side of that dark tunnel, let me give you some reasons to do it:

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16 responses so far

Help a charity, get a ScienceBlogs blogger to shave his head.

Jul 19 2009 Published by under Philanthropy

Over at Starts with a Bang, Ethan Siegel lays it on the line:

I have a challenge for everyone who reads this.
Donate at least ten dollars (or ten euros, or ten pounds, or whatever's the closest equivalent in your currency) or volunteer at least four hours at whatever charitable organization you choose.
When you do it, leave a comment at the bottom of this post, telling us:

  1. what you donated/volunteered to do,
  2. what organization you donated to/volunteered for, and
  3. why you chose that organization.

When I get 100 unique comments from people who have done this, I will shave my head.

If you take a gander at the pictures Ethan has posted, you'll see that a fully-shorn head will be a big change for him.
Let's help his scalp see daylight. I've just given some money through DonorsChoose to help a classroom in a high poverty school in Northern California to buy some microscopes. But the comment count on Ethan's post hasn't hit 20 yet -- far short of what he's asking before the head gets shaved.
Don't forget, you don't have to donate money -- if you donate four hours of your time to a charitable organization, that will count, too.

2 responses so far

Unscientific America: Are scientists all on the same team?

As promised, in this post I consider the treatment of the science-religion culture wars in Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future by Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum. If you're just tuning in, you may want to pause to read my review of the book, or to peruse my thoughts on issues the book raised about what the American public wants and about whether old or new media give the American public what it needs.

In the interests of truth in advertising, let me state at the outset that this post will not involve anything like a detailed rehash of "Crackergate", nor a line-by-line reading of the contentious Chapter 8 of the book. You can find that kind of thing around the blogosphere without looking too hard. Rather, I want to deal with the more substantial question raised by this chapter: Are scientists all on the same team?

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63 responses so far

Friday Sprog Blogging: revisiting Pluto.

There's been a continuing discussion, in various online venues (including this blog), of Unscientific America, a book which notes the "demotion" of Pluto as an instance where the lessons the American public drew from the scientists' decisions may have diverged widely from the lessons the scientists would want the public to draw -- if they even thought about the possibility that the public was paying attention.
So, since the Free-Ride offspring were paying attention as the Pluto saga unfolded, I thought I should double back and see what their current thinking about it is.

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9 responses so far

Thursday sprog art.

Jul 16 2009 Published by under Critters, Kids and science

As I thrash my way through composing my last anticipated post on Unscientific America, I reckoned it was time to give you some more pictures to go with all the words. Thank goodness for the Free-Ride offspring!
From the younger Free-Ride offspring:

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2 responses so far

Unscientific America: Is the (new) media to blame?

In this post, I continue working through my thoughts in response to Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum's new book, Unscientific America. In this post, I focus on their discussion of the mainstream media and of the blogosphere. You might guess, given that I'm a member of the science blogosphere, that I have some pretty strong views about what blogs might accomplish in terms of helping the public engage with science. You would be correct.

A fair portion of Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future (reviewed here) explores conditions of American life that make it harder for the public meaningfully to engage in science -- or easier for them to disengage. Prominently featured here are the changes that newspapers and television have experienced in recent decades. Mooney and Kirshenbaum write:

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20 responses so far

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