Archive for the 'Ask a ScienceBlogger' category

Workplace safety: use your BRAAAINNS!!

I've just gotten back from a conference, and I was blaming the travel and time zones for the fact that I feel like this:


However, from the looks of things, it seems there is some kind of zombie epidemic on ScienceBlogs today. (I suppose this means I need to talk to the IT guys about internet security issues, if I got zombified through my browsing. Assuming they're still taking help tickets from zombies. I wonder if being a zombie with tenure makes a difference ...)
Anyway, in the meantime I thought it might be useful to break out the workplace safety talk for new students. While I can't find the original filmstrip* to link to it, mine skews heavily towards what chemistry students need to know. However, you should feel free to shamble into the comments with that tasty brain of yours and add additional tips for safe conduct in your own field of study.

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6 responses so far

Ask Dr. Free-Ride: Ethically, which field of science is the worst?

A reader writes:

I was in a PhD program in materials science, in a group that did biomedical research (biomaterials end of the field) and was appalled at the level of misconduct I saw. Later, I entered an MD program. I witnessed some of the ugliest effects of ambition in the lab there.
Do you think biomedical research is somehow "ethically worse" than other fields?
I've always wanted to compare measurable instances of unethical behavior across different fields. As an undergraduate I remember never hearing or seeing anything strange with the folks that worked with metallurgy and it never seemed to be an issue with my colleagues in these areas in graduate school. Whenever there is trouble it seems to come from the biomedical field. I'd love to see you write about that.
Thank you for doing what you do, since that time I have so many regrets, your blog keeps me sane.

First, I must thank this reader for the kind words. I am thrilled (although still a bit bewildered) that what I write here is of interest and use to others, and if I can contribute to someone's sanity while I'm thinking out loud (or on the screen, as the case may be), then I feel like this whole "blogging" thing is worthwhile.
Next, on the question of whether biomedical research is somehow "ethically worse" than research in other areas of science, the short answer is: I don't know.
Certainly there are some high profile fraudsters -- and scientists whose misbehavior, while falling short of official definitions of misconduct, also fell well short of generally accepted ethical standards -- in the biomedical sciences. I've blogged about the shenanigans of biologists, stem cell researchers, geneticists, cancer researchers, researchers studying the role of hormones in aging, researchers studying immunosuppression, anesthesiologists, and biochemists.
But the biomedical sciences haven't cornered the market on ethical lapses, as we've seen in discussions of mechanical engineers, nuclear engineers, physicists, organic chemists, paleontologists, and government geologists.
There are, seemingly, bad actors to be found in every scientific field. Of course, it is reasonable to assume that there are also plenty of honest and careful scientists in every scientific field. Maybe the list of well-publicized bad actors in biomedical research is longer, but given the large number of biomedical researchers compared to the number of researchers in all scientific fields (and also the extent to which the public might regard biomedical research as more relevant to their lives than, say, esoteric questions in organic synthesis), is it disproportionately long?
Again, that's hard to gauge.
However, my correspondent's broad question strikes me as raising a number of related empirical questions that it would be useful to try to answer:

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17 responses so far

Ask Dr. Free-Ride: My college wants me to inflate grades.

A reader sends the following query:

I've only recently begun teaching in a big state university, maybe tier C in the field I'm in. I'm in a quandary as to how to manage pressure to pass students who are under performing. The first semester, I had to lower the passing to a basically ridiculous level and the college still inquired why so many failed (10 %). Now, I'm again feeling pressure to pass students who do not deserve to pass. I'm getting very disillusioned by this type of practice. Grade inflation seems to be so common that I even have students who think that a 60 is a B. I'm wondering what your thoughts are regarding this, and would appreciate any suggestions you might have.

How to grade fairly is one of those perennial questions with which academics struggle, and it would be sufficiently challenging even without pressure from students or administrative types. However, as my correspondent notes, there is also pressure from students and administrative types who want academics to change their grading methodology, so that they will get the grade they want for the amount of effort they are willing to put in, or so that the department or college will pass "enough" of the student population to satisfy the powers that be.
Let's start with the question of how to properly calibrate a grading scheme and then move on to the related question of how to defend that grading scheme.

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16 responses so far

Pi Day bake-off 2010: Chocolate Almond Cherry (Tofu) Pie.

Mar 13 2010 Published by under Ask a ScienceBlogger, Food

Longtime readers of this blog may remember last year's orgy of pies on the run-up to Pi Day (March 14th, or 3-14). This March at Casa Free-Ride, there's been less pie making, in large part due to the fact that I'm no longer on sabbatical (either from my job or from coaching soccer).
But the bake-off is on again, so I figured that I needed to feed you all one really good pie (or pie recipe, anyway).
This pie melds three flavors that play very well together: rich chocolate, tart cherries, and almonds. As a bonus, it puts those flavors together in a pie that is rich but not heavy, one that doesn't lean on eggs, or cream cheese, or butter, or milk.
I make this pie with a food processor, but if you don't have one, you can manage with a blender, a heavy rolling pin, and a knife and cutting board.

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One response so far

Ask Dr. Free-Ride: How should I address multiple doctors?

I have, of late, received a number of emails asking advice on matters somewhere in the territory between ethics, etiquette, and effective communication with members of the tribe of science. While I'm no Ann Landers (as has been noted before), I'll do my best to answer these questions on the blog when I can, largely so my very insightful commentariat can chime in and make the resulting advice better than what I could generate on my own.
Today we have a question from a reader struggling with the question of how to address one letter to two doctors. He writes:

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3 responses so far

Pi Day bake-off pie roundup (with pie charts).

Mar 14 2009 Published by under Ask a ScienceBlogger, Food

Here are my entries to the ScienceBlogs Pi Day Bake-off:

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Pi Day pie #8: Chocolate-almond meringue finale.

Mar 13 2009 Published by under Ask a ScienceBlogger, Food

Of all the Pi Day pies I have offered to you here, I'm pretty sure this one is my favorite. It has a fabulous mix of flavors (sparingly sweet chocolate, almonds, a hint of cinnamon) and textures (creamy custard in a crisp meringue shell).
And, since people have been telling be that pi are squared, this one is, too.

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Pi Day pie #7: Vegetarian shepherd's pie.

Mar 12 2009 Published by under Ask a ScienceBlogger, Food

Saturday is Pi Day, and I figure we need at least one dinner pie to precede the parade of dessert pies currently on hand. (It's the whole parental responsibility thing. I do not judge adults who eat dessert pie for breakfast, trust me!)
Since the Free-Ride household is vegetarian, the pie Wilkins posted won't quite work. In lieu of an actual meat pie, we offer the vegetarian shepherd's pie.

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Pi Day pie #6: Lemon-berry pie.

Mar 11 2009 Published by under Ask a ScienceBlogger, Food

Given that we have an enthusiastic lemon tree, a lemon pie for Pi Day was inevitable. The kind of berries you use will change the character of the finished pie. My recommendation is to go with berries that are fresh and as local as you can get them.

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Pi Day pie #5: Foolish rhubarb pie.

Mar 10 2009 Published by under Ask a ScienceBlogger, Food

Rhubarb seems to be one of those foods that people either love or hate. I love it, but I didn't feel like using it for strawberry-rhubarb pie, the pie that introduced me to rhubarb.
Instead, I decided to make a pie whose filling is essentially a rhubarb fool. The pie itself is easy to prepare, but because each of the components requires time to chill, it won't provide instant gratification. Some things, however, are worth the wait.

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