Monthly Archives: September 2009

The Best of September

I have posted 131 times in September (exact same number as August), including many cool videos as well as a few pictures from a recent trip to the zoo. This month I also started importing the best links I posted on Twitter over the day, in Tweetlinks.
In September I interviewed Victor Henning, John Wilbanks and Kevin Emamy.
At work, the most exciting news was the release of Article-Level Metrics at PLoS – Download Data. I announced the Blog Pick Of The Month and that PLoS ONE won the ’09 ALPSP Award for Publishing Innovation!. Then I did an Interview with Dr.Derya Unutmaz, Section Editor for Immunology at PLoS ONE and told you about our cool new dinosaur paper.
Speaking of dinosarus, it was also the time to announce the Open Dinosaur Project.
I got a brand new Homepage and did some fiddling around with my About Me page here.
I got on the editorial board of the Journal of Science Communication.
I made the first big ScienceOnline2010 update, went on the radio to talk about it and announced a new sponsor and travel grants.
The best post of the month was Talkin’ Trash about the reporting from the Northern Pacific Gyre., a new science news service was anounced, with mixed reactions from the twitterverse, which prompted me to ask what investigative science reporting is.
This month was also an important date in my life.
I went to Techie Tuesday and The Long Table and next is a concert by Leonard Cohen.

Tweetlinks, 9-30-09

Follow me on Twitter to get these, and more, in something closer to Real Time:
Interplanetary paleontology?
Policy change before peer review: OA needed?
A Sick T. rex
Peter Lawrence’s Kafta tale of research grant funding
Ensuring Integrity in Comparative Effectiveness Research: Accentuate the Negative
Obama announces $5 bln for new medical research
Conference travel fellowship for best evolution-themed blog in 2009
Write a blogpost about evolution, compete, get famous and win a ticket to an interesting conference!
The Neural Correlates of Religious and Nonreligious Belief
Coming to Twitter: Create Sharable Lists of Users

Conference travel fellowship for best evolution‐themed blog in 2009

We are very excited to announce a new sponsor for ScienceOnline2010! It is National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent). Among some other ways they will help the meeting get bigger and better than ever, the good folks at NESCent are also going to help two bloggers with travel costs to the conference. Read carefully how you can get one of these two grants:

Application deadline: December 1, 2009   
Are you a blogger who is interested in evolution? The National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) is offering two travel awards to attend ScienceOnline2010, a science communication 
conference to be held January 14‐17th, 2010, in North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park. 
The awards offer the opportunity to travel to North Carolina to meet with several hundred 
writers, editors, scientists and educators to explore how online tools are changing the way 
science is done and communicated to the public. Each winner will receive $750 to cover 
travel, lodging, and other expenses to attend the conference. In addition, winners are 
invited to spend the morning of Friday January 15th interacting with scientists at NESCent, 
and to attend a lunch in their honor. For more information about ScienceOnline2010, visit:
To apply for an award, writers should submit a blog post that highlights current or emerging
evolutionary research. In order to be valid, posts must deal with scientific results appearing
in 2009. Posts should be 750‐1500 words, and must mention the NESCent contest.
Two recipients will be chosen by a panel of judges from both NESCent and the science 
blogging community.
Please send your name, contact information, the title and date of your blog post, and a 
URL to 
Winners will be notified by December 15th, 2009.  
The purpose of this contest is to encourage the best of evolutionary writing on the Web.
The awards are sponsored by the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center an NSF‐funded 
research center operated by Duke University, North Carolina State University and the 
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Known by its acronym NESCent, the center’s 
goal is to promote collaborative, cross-disciplinary research in evolutionary biology. 
For more information about the center, visit
Contact either of the program managers for more information about the contest: 
Robin Smith  
Phone: 919‐668‐4544 Email: 
Craig McClain  
Phone: 919‐668‐4590 
National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) 
2024 W. Main Street, Suite A200 Durham, NC 27705 
NESCent logos are available for download at:

Nescent logo.png

Clock Quotes

Ogden’s Law: The sooner you get behind, the more time you will have to catch up.
– Alan R. Ogden

Tweetlinks, 9-29-09

Follow me on Twitter to get these, and more, in something closer to Real Time:
The Imaginary Journal of Poetic Economics: PLoS article-level metrics: substantial value add for authors
Is ‘Good Enough’ Good Enough for You?
Almost time for PLoS ONE Blog Pick Of The Month: Hurry up!
This is actually kind of serious: ‘Real Lives and White Lies in the Funding of Scientific Research’
How to provide safe, quality hospital care by increasing transparency
Adventures in Academia: On open access, Stanford’s leadership falters
Mark Patterson’s (PLoS) talk ‘Re-Engineering the Scientific Journal’ from the 1st OASPA Conference
The ABC of PLoS ONE – from ‘ant’ to ‘zebu’, we cover it all.
Triangle emerges as hotbed of advanced analytics
Take a Stand: How journalism can regain its relevance
Was Mighty T. Rex ‘Sue’ Felled By A Lowly Parasite?
Electric Fish Turn Down Charge for Energy Efficiency
Truth-seeking professionals and the public: Why is journalism unique? – why are academics/scientists given freedom, but journalists asked to relinquish it?
New Zealand launches a Science blog network! SciBlogs. Here is the press release: NZ’s largest science blog network goes live (Daniel Collins and Fabiana Kubke are familiar names to me – how about you?)
Last day to vote for @GrrlScientist – Who will go to Antarctica to be your official blogger?
Building Blogs of Science: On the virtues of having a lap
Next Generation Science: ScienceOnline2010 – Conference on Science and the Web

New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 32 new articles in PLoS ONE today. As always, you should rate the articles, post notes and comments and send trackbacks when you blog about the papers. You can now also easily place articles on various social services (CiteULike, Mendeley, Connotea, Stumbleupon, Facebook and Digg) with just one click. Here are my own picks for the week – you go and look for your own favourites:
Common Avian Infection Plagued the Tyrant Dinosaurs:

Tyrannosaurus rex and other tyrannosaurid fossils often display multiple, smooth-edged full-thickness erosive lesions on the mandible, either unilaterally or bilaterally. The cause of these lesions in the Tyrannosaurus rex specimen FMNH PR2081 (known informally by the name ‘Sue’) has previously been attributed to actinomycosis, a bacterial bone infection, or bite wounds from other tyrannosaurids. We conducted an extensive survey of tyrannosaurid specimens and identified ten individuals with full-thickness erosive lesions. These lesions were described, measured and photographed for comparison with one another. We also conducted an extensive survey of related archosaurs for similar lesions. We show here that these lesions are consistent with those caused by an avian parasitic infection called trichomonosis, which causes similar abnormalities on the mandible of modern birds, in particular raptors. This finding represents the first evidence for the ancient evolutionary origin of an avian transmissible disease in non-avian theropod dinosaurs. It also provides a valuable insight into the palaeobiology of these now extinct animals. Based on the frequency with which these lesions occur, we hypothesize that tyrannosaurids were commonly infected by a Trichomonas gallinae-like protozoan. For tyrannosaurid populations, the only non-avian dinosaur group that show trichomonosis-type lesions, it is likely that the disease became endemic and spread as a result of antagonistic intraspecific behavior, consumption of prey infected by a Trichomonas gallinae-like protozoan and possibly even cannibalism. The severity of trichomonosis-related lesions in specimens such as Tyrannosaurus rex FMNH PR2081 and Tyrannosaurus rex MOR 980, strongly suggests that these animals died as a direct result of this disease, mostly likely through starvation.

Dragon’s Paradise Lost: Palaeobiogeography, Evolution and Extinction of the Largest-Ever Terrestrial Lizards (Varanidae):

The largest living lizard species, Varanus komodoensis Ouwens 1912, is vulnerable to extinction, being restricted to a few isolated islands in eastern Indonesia, between Java and Australia, where it is the dominant terrestrial carnivore. Understanding how large-bodied varanids responded to past environmental change underpins long-term management of V. komodoensis populations. We reconstruct the palaeobiogeography of Neogene giant varanids and identify a new (unnamed) species from the island of Timor. Our data reject the long-held perception that V. komodoensis became a giant because of insular evolution or as a specialist hunter of pygmy Stegodon. Phyletic giantism, coupled with a westward dispersal from mainland Australia, provides the most parsimonious explanation for the palaeodistribution of V. komodoensis and the newly identified species of giant varanid from Timor. Pliocene giant varanid fossils from Australia are morphologically referable to V. komodoensis suggesting an ultimate origin for V. komodoensis on mainland Australia (>3.8 million years ago). Varanus komodoensis body size has remained stable over the last 900,000 years (ka) on Flores, a time marked by major faunal turnovers, extinction of the island’s megafauna, the arrival of early hominids by 880 ka, co-existence with Homo floresiensis, and the arrival of modern humans by 10 ka. Within the last 2000 years their populations have contracted severely. Giant varanids were once a ubiquitous part of Subcontinental Eurasian and Australasian faunas during the Neogene. Extinction played a pivotal role in the reduction of their ranges and diversity throughout the late Quaternary, leaving only V. komodoensis as an isolated long-term survivor. The events over the last two millennia now threaten its future survival.

The Origin and Initial Rise of Pelagic Cephalopods in the Ordovician:

During the Ordovician the global diversity increased dramatically at family, genus and species levels. Partially the diversification is explained by an increased nutrient, and phytoplankton availability in the open water. Cephalopods are among the top predators of todays open oceans. Their Ordovician occurrences, diversity evolution and abundance pattern potentially provides information on the evolution of the pelagic food chain. We reconstructed the cephalopod departure from originally exclusively neritic habitats into the pelagic zone by the compilation of occurrence data in offshore paleoenvironments from the Paleobiology Database, and from own data, by evidence of the functional morphology, and the taphonomy of selected cephalopod faunas. The occurrence data show, that cephalopod associations in offshore depositional settings and black shales are characterized by a specific composition, often dominated by orthocerids and lituitids. The siphuncle and conch form of these cephalopods indicate a dominant lifestyle as pelagic, vertical migrants. The frequency distribution of conch sizes and the pattern of epibionts indicate an autochthonous origin of the majority of orthocerid and lituitid shells. The consistent concentration of these cephalopods in deep subtidal sediments, starting from the middle Tremadocian indicates the occupation of the pelagic zone early in the Early Ordovician and a subsequent diversification which peaked during the Darriwilian. The exploitation of the pelagic realm started synchronously in several independent invertebrate clades during the latest Cambrian to Middle Ordovician. The initial rise and diversification of pelagic cephalopods during the Early and Middle Ordovician indicates the establishment of a pelagic food chain sustainable enough for the development of a diverse fauna of large predators. The earliest pelagic cephalopods were slowly swimming vertical migrants. The appearance and early diversification of pelagic cephalopods is interpreted as a consequence of the increased food availability in the open water since the latest Cambrian.

The Cultural Dynamics of Copycat Suicide:

The observation that suicides sometimes cluster in space and/or time has led to suggestions that these clusters are caused by the social learning of suicide-related behaviours, or “copycat suicides”. Point clusters are clusters of suicides localised in both time and space, and have been attributed to direct social learning from nearby individuals. Mass clusters are clusters of suicides localised in time but not space, and have been attributed to the dissemination of information concerning celebrity suicides via the mass media. Here, agent-based simulations, in combination with scan statistic methods for detecting clusters of rare events, were used to clarify the social learning processes underlying point and mass clusters. It was found that social learning between neighbouring agents did generate point clusters as predicted, although this effect was partially mimicked by homophily (individuals preferentially assorting with similar others). The one-to-many transmission dynamics characterised by the mass media were shown to generate mass clusters, but only where social learning was weak, perhaps due to prestige bias (only copying prestigious celebrities) and similarity bias (only copying similar models) acting to reduce the subset of available models. These findings can help to clarify and formalise existing hypotheses and to guide future empirical work relating to real-life copycat suicides.

Identification of Copy Number Variants Defining Genomic Differences among Major Human Groups:

Understanding the genetic contribution to phenotype variation of human groups is necessary to elucidate differences in disease predisposition and response to pharmaceutical treatments in different human populations. We have investigated the genome-wide profile of structural variation on pooled samples from the three populations studied in the HapMap project by comparative genome hybridization (CGH) in different array platforms. We have identified and experimentally validated 33 genomic loci that show significant copy number differences from one population to the other. Interestingly, we found an enrichment of genes related to environment adaptation (immune response, lipid metabolism and extracellular space) within these regions and the study of expression data revealed that more than half of the copy number variants (CNVs) translate into gene-expression differences among populations, suggesting that they could have functional consequences. In addition, the identification of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) that are in linkage disequilibrium with the copy number alleles allowed us to detect evidences of population differentiation and recent selection at the nucleotide variation level. Overall, our results provide a comprehensive view of relevant copy number changes that might play a role in phenotypic differences among major human populations, and generate a list of interesting candidates for future studies.

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Today’s carnivals

Grand Rounds Vol. 6 No. 2 are up on Laika’s MedLibLog

Clock Quotes

Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you, you will suddenly know everything there is to be known.
– Alan Alexander Milne

Tweetlinks, 9-28-09

Follow me on Twitter to get these, and more, in something closer to Real Time:
Gordon Conference – Pineal Cell Biology: Mechanisms Of Circadian Rhythmicity And Melatonin Action
Nixon’s prepared speech if Apollo 11 astronauts got stranded on the moon
Free-market idolatry: Government not the only power to resist – “we need to rethink the common belief that says government is always the problem”
500+ science types on Twitter
David Bradley’s brilliant flow chart ‘To Follow or Not To Follow’ on Twitter
Why metaphors:Thinking literally
Understanding the Psychology of Twitter and More on the Psychology of Twitter, both parts focuse entirely on Lifecasting instead of Mindcasting.
Kati London and Kate Hartman demonstrating Botanicalls.
Science Education by Press Release
Circadian and Social Cues Regulate Ion Channel Trafficking
Considering Usual Medical Care in Clinical Trial Design
RT @ccziv Anybody besides me have a problem with James Rachels’ distinction btwn biological and biographical life, or notions of complexity?
Dale Maharidge Interview: Covering The Economic Pain Of Real Americans
Dialogue, not debate. (animal rights)
Testing the water with OA funds

New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 30 new articles in PLoS ONE today. As always, you should rate the articles, post notes and comments and send trackbacks when you blog about the papers. You can now also easily place articles on various social services (CiteULike, Mendeley, Connotea, Stumbleupon, Facebook and Digg) with just one click. Here are my own picks for the week – you go and look for your own favourites:

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The Open Laboratory 2009 – the submissions so far

OpenLab logo.jpg
Here are the submissions for OpenLab 2009 to date. As we have surpassed 380 entries, all of them, as well as the “submit” buttons and codes and the bookmarklet, are under the fold. You can buy the 2006, 2007 and 2008 editions at Please use the submission form to add more of your and other people’s posts (remember that we are looking for original poems, art, cartoons and comics, as well as essays):

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Today’s carnivals

Carnival of the Liberals #97 is up on BroadSnark

Botanicalls – plants use Twitter to tell you when they need watering!

This is awesome – Botanicalls. See one of the developer’s amazing Ignite talk:

Clock Quotes

What is a thousand years? Time is short for one who thinks, endless for one who yearns.
– Alain (1818-1951)

Tweetlinks, 9-27-09

Follow me on Twitter to get these, and more, in something closer to Real Time:
Washington Post needs social media conversation, not restrictions and WaPo’s Social Media Guidelines Paint Staff Into Virtual Corner; Full Text of Guidelines.
Ukraine’s Got Talent winner brings nation to tears (see video here).
On the inaugural Long Table – A splendid start
Feedback needed for Drupal workshop at #scio10
Charles Darwin Lecture Sept 29th at 6:30 Dale Russell: “Islands in the Cosmos: The Evolution of Life on Land” NC Museum of Natural Sciences
New lecture series by Harvard’s Michael Sandel:Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?
Science literacy – getting more people into science, innit, Part II
Fact and Friction, interview with Jay Rosen.

Jumping into science (video)

What is ‘Investigative Science Journalism’?

When, a new science news service, was launched last week, there was quite a lot of reaction online.
Some greeted it with approval, others with a “wait and see” attitude.
Some disliked the elitism, as the site is limited only to the self-proclaimed “top” universities (although it is possible that research in such places, where people are likely to be well funded, may be the least creative).
But one person – notably, a journalist – exclaimed on Twitter: “propaganda!”, which led to a discussion that revealed the journalist’s notion that press releases are automatically suspect and scientists are never to be trusted and their institutions even less. That was a very anti-science sentiment from a professional science journalist, some of us thought.
This exchange reminded me of a number of prior debates between the traditional Old Media journalists and the modern New Media journalists about the very definition of ‘journalism’. The traditional journalists are fighting to redefine it in a narrowest possible way that keeps them in a position of gatekeepers (like the new proposed shield law that defines a journalist as someone who gets paid by the Old Media organization, thus NOT protecting citizen journalists, accidental journalists, bloggers, etc.), while the new ones are observing the way the world is changing and trying to come up with new definitions that better reflect the world (and often go too far in the other direction – defining everything broadcast by anyone via any medium to the audience consisting of more than one person as journalism, including the crossword puzzle in a newspaper and the silliest YouTube video).
One of the frequently heard retorts in the “you’ll miss us when we’re gone” genre of defensiveness by the old guard is the slight-of-hand in which they suddenly, in mid-stream of the discussion, redefine journalism to equate only investigative journalism. This usually comes up in the form of “who will report from the school board meetings” question (to which the obvious answer is: “actually, the bloggers are already doing it a lot as the old media has quit decades ago”).
Of course, investigative journalism is just one of many forms under the rubric of ‘journalism’. And, if you actually go and buy a copy of your local newspaper today (it still exists in some places, on tree-derived paper, believe me), you are likely to find exactly zero examples of investigative journalism in it. Tomorrow – the same. Every now and then one appears in the paper, and then it is often well done, but the occasions are rare and getting even more rare as investigative reporters have been cut from many a newsroom over the past few decades, and even more rapidly over the last several months.
So, what is ‘Investigative Science Journalism’?
So, this train of thought brought me to the question, again, of what is ‘investigative journalism’ in science. And I was not perfectly happy with what I wrote about this question before. I had to think some more. But before doing all the thinking myself, I thought I’d try to see what others think. So I tweeted the question in several different ways and got a lot of interesting responses:

Me: What is, exactly, ‘investigative science reporting’?

@davemunger: @BoraZ To me, it means going beyond looking at a single study to really understand a scientific concept. Diff from traditional “inv. journo”

@szvan: @davemunger @BoraZ And looking at methodology, statistical analysis, etc. to determine whether claims made match what was studied.

@LeeBillings: @BoraZ Re: “investigative science reporting,” isn’t it like all other investigative reporting where you dig deep and challenge your sources?

@Melhi: @BoraZ I thnk it means, “we cut/pasted from Wiki, all by ourselves.” Seems to be what it means when “scientific” is removed from the term.

Me: @LeeBillings clarify: What’s the story about? dig deep into what? who are the sources? why are you assuming they need to be challenged?

@soychemist: @BoraZ Any instance in which a reporter tries to uncover scientific information that has been concealed or distorted, using rigorous methods

@john_s_wilkins: @BoraZ Reporting on investigative science, no doubt.

@LeeBillings: @BoraZ ?s you’re asking only make sense in context of a specific story, not in context of defining “sci investigative journalism” as a whole

@LeeBillings: @BoraZ 1/2 but typically, the goal is to find out what’s true, and communicate it. you dig into primary literature & interview tons of ppl

@LeeBillings: @BoraZ 2/2 you don’t assume they need to challenged. you *know* they need to be challenged based on your in-depth research into primary lit

Me: When was released, a journo yelled “propaganda”! Does every press release need to be investigated? Challenged?

Me: Are scientists presumed to be liars unless proven otherwise? All of them?

@NerdyChristie: Usually. Unless you’re studying how herbal tea makes you a supergod. RT @BoraZ: Are scientists presumed to be liars unless proven otherwise?

@szvan: @BoraZ Not liars but not inherently less open to bias than anyone else. Some wrongs are lies. Some are errors.

Me: Are journalists capable of uncovering scientific misconduct at all? All of those were uncovered by other scientists, I recall…

@lippard: @BoraZ Didn’t journalist Brian Deer do the investigative work to expose Andrew Wakefield’s MMR-autism data manipulation?

@JATetro: @BoraZ To be honest, there are some very good journalists out there who can spot misconduct but without backing from a source, it’s liable.

Me: @BoraZ: @JATetro yes, they need scientists to do the actual investigating, then report on what scientists discovered – fraud, plagiarism etc.

@JATetro: @BoraZ So it’s not the journalists fault, really. They do their job as well as possible but without our help, there’s little they can do.

@LabSpaces: @JATetro @BoraZ Actual scientists cost too much.They’re a luxury, and especially in these times, it’s hard for pubs. to justify having 1

@JATetro: @LabSpaces @BoraZ Apparently it’s hard for universities to have them as well…not a prof or anything but damn it’s ridiculous.

@LabSpaces: @JATetro @BoraZ I dunno, our PR dept. does a great job interacting with scientists and getting the right info out, but I guess that’s diff.

@JATetro: @LabSpaces @BoraZ Oh, the media people at the U are great. It’s the administrators that seem to forget who keep the students comin’.

Me: Isn’t investigating nature, via experimentation, and publishing the findings in a journal = scientific investigative reporting?

@LeeBillings: @BoraZ 1/2 I’d say that’s performing peer-reviewed scientific research, not doing investigative science journalism.

@LeeBillings: @BoraZ 2/2 No room to address your ?-torrent. What are you driving at, anyway? You think sci journos can’t/don’t do investigative stuff?

@LouiseJJohnson: RT @BoraZ Isn’t investigating nature, via experimentation, & publishing findings in a journal, scientific investigative reporting?

@mcmoots: @BoraZ “Journalism” usually means you report the results of your investigations to the public; scientists report to a technical community.

Me: @BoraZ: @mcmoots does the size and expertise of audience determine what is journalism, what is not? Is it changing these days?

Me: @BoraZ: Why is investigating words called ‘investigative journalism’, but investigating reality, with much more rigorous methods, is not?

@LeeBillings: @BoraZ 1 more thing: A press release isn’t a story–it should inspire journos to look deeper. Sometimes that deeper look reveals PR to be BS

Me: @BoraZ: @LeeBillings Journal article is reporting findings of investigation. Press release is 2ndary. Journo article is 3tiary. Each diff audience.

@LeeBillings: @BoraZ Glad you raised ? of audience, since relevant to yr ? of “words” & “reality.” Words make reality for audiences, some more than others

Me: @BoraZ: Journos investigate people, parse words. Scientists investigate nature. What is more worthy?

@lippard: @BoraZ I would say that there are instances of investigative journalism that have had more value than some instances of scientific research.

Me: @BoraZ: @lippard possible, but that is investigating the rare instances of misconduct by people, not investigating the natural reality. Science?

@john_s_wilkins: @BoraZ You’re asking this of a profession that thinks it needs to “give the other side” when reporting on science, i.e., quacks

@LeeBillings: @BoraZ Twitter is useful tool, but probably not best way to interview for the story you seem to be after, as responses lack depth and nuance

@LeeBillings: @BoraZ Still looking forward to reading your resulting story, of course

Me: @BoraZ: @LeeBillings you can add longer responses on FriendFeed: that’s what it’s for

@1seahorse1: @BoraZ Do you mean that I have to be nostalgic about my ape tribe and life in caves ? :-)

@TyeArnett: @BoraZ parsing data can be as dangerous as parsing words sometimes

@ccziv: @BoraZ Do not underestimate or devalue the importance of words, ever.

This shows that different people have very different ideas what ‘investigative reporting’ is and have even more difficulty figuring out how that applies to science! Let’s go nice and slow now, explore this a little bit more.
First, I think that what Dave meant in his first tweet -

@davemunger: @BoraZ To me, it means going beyond looking at a single study to really understand a scientific concept. Diff from traditional “inv. journo”

- is not ‘investigative reporting’ but ‘news analysis’ (again, see my attempt at classification), something akin to ‘explainers’ done occasionally by the mainstream media (think of This American Life on NPR and their ‘Giant Pool of Money‘ explainer for a great recent example). It is an equivalent of a Review Article in a scientific journal, but aimed at a broader audience and not assuming existing background knowledge and expertise.
The different worlds of journalists and scientists
This discussion, as well as many similar discussions we had in the past, uncovers some interesting differences between the way journalists and scientists think about ‘investigative’ in the context of reporting.
Journalists, when investigating, investigate people, almost exclusively. Scientists are much more open to including other things under this rubric, as they are interested in investigating the world.
Journalists focus almost entirely on words, i.e., what people say. In other words, they are interested mainly on the process and what the words reveal as to who is winning and who is losing in some imaginary (or sometimes real) game. Scientists are interested in results of the process, obtained by any means, only one of which is through people’s utterances – they are interested in investigating and uncovering the facts.
Journalists display an inordinate amount of skepticism – even deep cynicism – about anyone’s honesty. Everyone’s a liar unless proven not to be. Scientists, knowing themselves, knowing their colleagues, knowing the culture of science where 100% honesty and trust are the key, knowing that exposure of even the tiniest dishonesty is likely The End of a scientific career, tend to trust scientists a great deal more. On the other hand, scientists are deeply suspicious of people who do not abide by high standards of the scientific community, and The List of those who, due to track record, should be mistrusted the most is topped by – journalists.
This explains why scientists generally see as an interesting method of providing scientific information to the public, assuming a priori, knowing the track record of these institutions and what kind of reputation is at stake, that most or all of it will be reliable, while a journalist exclaims “propaganda”.
The Question of Trust
In this light, it is very instructive to read this post by a young science journalist, and the subsequent FriendFeed discussion of it. It is difficult for people outside of science to understand who is “inside” and thus to be trusted and who is not.
Those on the “inside”, the scientists, are already swimming in these waters and know instantly who is to be trusted and who not. Scientists know that Lynn Margolis was outside (untrusted) at first, inside (trusted) later and outside (untrusted) today again. Scientists know that James Lovelock or Deepak Chopra or Rupert Shaldrake are outside, always were and always will be, and are not to be trusted. Journalists can figure this out by asking, but then they need to figure out whose answer to trust! Who is inside and trusted to say who else is inside and trusted? If your first point of entry is the wrong person, all the “sources” you interview will be wackos.
Unfortunately the mistrust by journalists is often ‘schematic’ – not based on experience or on investigating the actual facts. They have a schema in their minds as to who is likely to lie, who is likely to use weaselly language, who can generally be trusted, etc. They use this rule-of-thumb when interviewing criminals, corrupt cops (“liars”), politicians, lawyers, CEOs (“weaselly words”), other journalists (“trustworthy”) and yes, scientists (“suspicious pointy-heads with hard-to-uncover financial motives”).
The automatic use of such “rule” is why so many D.C. reporters (so-called Village) did not understand (and some still do not understand) that someone who is supposed to be in the “use weaselly language” column – the politicians – should actually have been in the “lying whenever they open their mouths” column for eight years of the Bush rule (or, to be fair, the last 30 years). It did not occur to them to fact-check what Republicans said and hastily move them to the appropriate “chronic liars” category and report appropriately. They could not fathom that someone like The President would actually straight-out lie. Every sentence. Every day. Nobody likes being shown to be naive, but nobody likes being lied to either. Their need for appearance of savviness (the opposite of naive), for many of them, over-rode the need to reveal they’ve been lied to and fell for it (“What are you saying? Can’t be possible. They are such nice guys when they pat my back at a cocktail party over in The Old Boys Club Cafe – they wouldn’t lie to me!”). And many in their audience are in the same mindset – finding it impossible (as that takes courage and humility) to admit to themselves that they were so naive they fell for such lies from such high places (both the ruling party and their loyal stenographers). And we all suffered because of it.
The heavy reliance on such rules or mental schemas by journalists is often due to their self-awareness about the lack of knowledge and expertise on the topic they are covering. They just don’t know who to trust, because they are not capable of uncovering the underlying facts and thus figure out for themselves who is telling the truth and who is lying (not to mention that this would require, gasp, work instead of hanging out at cocktail parties). To cover up the ignorance and make it difficult for it to be revealed by the audience, they strongly resist the calls to provide the links to more information and especially to their source documents.
Thus He Said She Said journalism is a great way for them to a) focus on words, people, process and ‘horse-race’ instead of facts, b) hide their ignorance of the underlying facts, c) show their savvy by “making both side angry” which, in some sick twist, they think means they are doing a good job (no, that means all readers saw through you and are disgusted by your unprofessionalism). Nowhere does that show as clearly as when they cover science.
A more systematic investigation into ‘investigation’
Now that I raised everyone’s ire, let me calm down again and try to use this blog post the way bloggers often do – as a way to clarify thoughts through writing. I am no expert on this topic, but I am interested, I read a lot about it, blog about it a lot, and want to hear the responses in the comments. Let me try to systematize what I think ‘investigative reporting’ is in general and then apply that to three specific cases: 1) a scientist investigating nature and reporting about it in a journal, 2) a journalist investigating scientists and their work and reporting about it in a media outlet, and 3) a science blogger investigating the first two and reporting how good or bad job each one of them did.
A few months ago, I defined ‘investigative journalism’ like this:

Investigative reporting is uncovering data and information that does not want to be uncovered.

Let’s see how that works in practice.
Steps in Investigative Reporting:
1) Someone gets a hunch, wiff, a tip from someone or an intuition (or orders from the boss to take a look) that some information exists that is hidden from the public.
2) That someone then uses a whole suit of methods to discover that secret information, often against the agents that resist the idea of that information becoming available to the public.
3) That someone then puts all of the gathered information in one place and looks for patterns, overarching themes, connections and figures out what it all means.
4) That someone then writes an article, with a specific audience in mind, showing to the public the previously secret information (often including all of it – the entire raw data sets or documents or transcripts) and explaining what it means.
5) That someone then sends the article to the proper venue where it undergoes an editorial process.
6) If accepted for publication, the article gets published.
7) The article gets a life of its own – people read (or listen/view) it, comment, give feedback, or follow up with investigation digging up more information that is still not public (so the cycle repeats).
Case I: Scientist
1) Someone gets a hunch, wiff, a tip from someone or an intuition (or orders from the boss to take a look) that some information exists that is hidden from the public.
The keeper of the secret information is Nature herself. The researcher can get a hunch about the existence of hidden information in several different ways:
– delving deep into the literature, it becomes apparent that there are holes – missing information that nobody reported on yet, suggesting that nobody uncovered it yet.
– doing research and getting unexpected results points one to the fact that there is missing information needed to explain those funky results.
– going out into nature and observing something that, upon digging through the literature, one finds has not been explained yet.
– getting a photocopy of descriptions of three experiments from the last grant proposal from your PI with the message “Do this”. Great method for introducing high school and undergraduate students into research, and perhaps to get a brand new Masters student started (of course, regular discussions of the progress are needed). Unfortunately, some PIs continue doing this to their PhD students and even postdocs, instead of giving them freedom of creativity.
2) That someone then uses a whole suit of methods to discover that secret information, often against the agents that resist the idea of that information becoming available to the public.
The scientific method includes a variety of methods for wresting secret information out of Nature: observations, experiments, brute-force Big Science, natural experiments, statistics, mathematical modeling, etc. It is not easy to get this information from Nature as she resists. One has to be creative and innovative in designing tricks to get reliable data from her.
3) That someone then puts all of the gathered information in one place and looks for patterns, overarching themes, connections and figures out what it all means.
All the collected data from a series of observations/experiments are put together, statistically analyzed, visualized (which sometimes leads to additional statistical analyses as visualization may point out phenomena not readily gleaned from raw numbers) and a common theme emerges (if it doesn’t – more work needs to be done).
4) That someone then writes an article, with a specific audience in mind, showing to the public the previously secret information (often including all of it – the entire raw data sets or documents or transcripts) and explaining what it means.
There are three potential audiences for the findings of the research: experts in one’s field, other scientists, and lay audience (which may include policy-makers or political-action organizations, or journalists, or teachers, or physicians, etc.).
The experts in one’s field are the most important audience for most of research. The proper venue to publish for this audience is a scientific journal of a narrow scope (usually a society journal) that is read by all the experts in the same field. The article can be dense, using the technical lingo, containing all the information needed for replication and further testing of the information and should, in principle, contain all the raw data.
The scientific community as a whole as the target audience is somewhat baffling – on one hand, some of them are also experts in the field, on the other hand, all the rest are essentially lay audience. It is neither-nor. Why target scientific community as an audience then? Because the venue for this are GlamourMagz and publishing in these is good for one’s career and fame. The format in which such papers are written is great for scientists in non-related disciplines – it tells a story, but it is extremely frustrating for same-field researchers as there is not sufficient detail (or data) to replicate, re-test or follow-up on the described research. Publishing this way makes you known to a lot more scientists, but tends to alienate your closests colleagues who are frustrated by the lack of information in your report.
The lay audience is an important audience for some types of research – ones that impact people’s personal decisions about their health or about taking care of the environment, ones that can have impact on policy, ones that are useful to know by health care providers or science educators, or ones that are so cool (e.g., new fossils of dinosaurs or, erm…Ida) that they will excite the public about science.
Many scientists are excellent and exciting communicators and can speak directly to the audience (online on blogs/podcasts/videos or offline in public lectures or science cafes), or will gladly accept to do interviews (TV, radio, newspapers, magazines) about their findings. Those researchers who know they are not exciting communicators, or do not like to be in public, or are too busy, or have been burned by the previous interactions with the media, tend to leave the communication to lay audience to professionals – the press officers at their institutions.
While we have all screamed every now and then at some blatantly bad press releases (especially the titles imposed by the editors), there has been generally a steady, gradual improvement in their quality over the years. One of the possible explanations for this is that scientists that fall out of the pipeline as there are now so many PhDs and so few academic jobs, have started replacing English majors and j-school majors in these positions. More and more institutions now have science-trained press officers who actually understand what they are writing about. Thus, there is less hype yet more and better explanation of the results of scientific investigation. Of course, they tend to be excellent writers as well, a talent that comes with love and practice and does not necessitate a degree in English or Communications.
5) That someone then sends the article to the proper venue where it undergoes an editorial process.
The first draft of the article is usually co-written and co-edited by a number of co-authors who “peer-review” each other during the process. That draft is then (2nd peer-review) usually given to other lab-members, collaborators, friends and colleagues to elicit their opinion. Their feedback is incorporated into the improved draft which is then sent to the appropriate scientific journal where the editor sends the manuscript to anywhere between one and several experts in the field, usually kept anonymous, for the 3rd (and “official”) peer-review. This may then go through two or three cycles before the reviewers are satisfied with the edits and changes and recommend to the editor that the paper be published (or not, in which case the whole process gets repeated at lesser and lesser and lesser journals…until the paper is either finally published or abandoned or self-published on a website).
6) If accepted for publication, the article gets published.
Champaign time!
Then, next morning, back to the lab – trying to uncover more information.
7) The article gets a life of its own – people read (or listen/view) it, comment, give feedback, or follow up with investigation digging up more information that is still not public (so the cycle repeats).
After Nature closely guarded her secrets for billions of years, and after intrepid investigators snatched the secret information from her over weeks, months, years or decades of hard and creative work, the information is finally made public. The publication date is the date of birth for that information, the moment when its life begins. Nobody can predict what kind of life it will have at that point. It takes years to watch it grow and develop and mature and spawn.
People download it and read it, think about it, talk about it, interact with it, blog about it and, most importantly, try to replicate, re-test and follow up on the information in order to uncover even more information.
If that is not ‘investigative reporting’ at its best, I don’t know what is.
Case II: Science Journalist
1) Someone gets a hunch, wiff, a tip from someone or an intuition (or orders from the boss to take a look) that some information exists that is hidden from the public.
The hidden information, in this case, is most likely to be man-made information – documents, human actions, human words. It is especially deemed worthy of investigation if some wrong-doing is suspected.
2) That someone then uses a whole suit of methods to discover that secret information, often against the agents that resist the idea of that information becoming available to the public.
As the journalist cannot “go direct” and investigate nature directly (not having the relevant training, expertise, infrastructure, funding, manpower, equipment, etc.), the only remaining method is to investigate indirectly. The usual indirect method for journalists is to ask people – a very, very, very unreliable way of getting information.
Since investigating the facts about nature is outside the scope of expertise of journalists, they usually investigate the behavior and conduct of scientists. This is “investigative meta-science reporting”. In a sense, there is not much difference between investigating potential misconduct of scientists and misconduct of any other group of people. The main difference is that the business of science is facts about the way the world works, thus knowing who got the facts right and who got the facts wrong is important and who misrepresents lies as facts is even more important.
Unfortunately, due to lack of scientific expertise, journalists find this kind of investigation very difficult – they have to rely on the statements of scientists as to the veracity of other scientists’ facts or claims – something they are not in position to verify directly. If they ask the wrong person – a quack, for example – they will follow all the wrong leads.
Thus, the usual fall-back is HeSaidSheSaid model of journalism, reporting who said what, not committing to any side, not evaluating truth-claims of any side, and hoping that (also science-uneducated) audience will be able to figure it out for itself.
Since they cannot evaluate the truth-claims about Nature that scientists make, journalists have to use proxy mechanisms to uncover misconduct, e.g., discover other unseemly behaviors by the same actors, unrelated to the research itself. Thus discovering instances of lying, or financial ties, is the only way a journalist can start guessing as to who can be trusted, and then hope that the person who lies about his/her finances is also lying about facts about Nature – a correlation that is hard to prove and is actually quite unlikely except in rare instances of industry/lobby scientists-for-hire.
The actual research misconduct – fudging data, plagiarism, etc – can be uncovered only by other scientists. And they do it whenever they suspect it, and they report the findings in various ways. The traditional method of sending a letter to the editor of the journal that published the suspect paper is so ridiculously difficult that many are now pursuing other venues, be it by notifying a journalist, or going direct, on a blog, or, if the journal is enlightened (COI – see my Profile), by posting comments on the paper itself.
3) That someone then puts all of the gathered information in one place and looks for patterns, overarching themes, connections and figures out what it all means.
Once all the information is gathered in one place, any intelligent person can find patterns. Scientific expertise is not usually necessary for this step. Thus, once the journalists manages to gather all the information (the hard part), he/she is perfectly capable of figuring out the story (the easy part).
4) That someone then writes an article, with a specific audience in mind, showing to the public the previously secret information (often including all of it – the entire raw data sets or documents or transcripts) and explaining what it means.
Journalist advantage – they tend to be good with language and writing a gripping story. If the underlying information is correct, and the conclusions are clear, and the journalist is not afraid to state clearly who is telling the truth and who is lying, the article should be good.
5) That someone then sends the article to the proper venue where it undergoes an editorial process.
The editor who comes up with titles usually screws up this step. Otherwise, especially if nobody cuts out important parts due to length limits, the article should be fine. Hopefully, the venue targets the relevant audience – either experts (who can then police their own) or general public (who can elicit pressure on powers-that-be).
6) If accepted for publication, the article gets published.
Deadline for the next story looms. Back to the grind.
7) The article gets a life of its own – people read (or listen/view) it, comment, give feedback, or follow up with investigation digging up more information that is still not public (so the cycle repeats).
Now that the information is public, people can spread it around (e-mailing to each other, linking to it on their blogs, social networks, etc.). They bring in their own knowledge and expertise and provide feedback in various venues and some are motivated to follow up and dig deeper, perhaps uncovering more information (so the cycle repeats).
Most of science journalism is, thus, not investigative journalism. Most of it is simple reporting of the findings, i.e., second-hand reporting of the investigative reporting done by scientists (Case I). Or, as science reporters are made so busy by their editors, forced to write story after story in rapid succession, stories about many different areas of science, most science reporting in the media is actually third-hand reporting: first-hand was by scientists in journals, second-hand was by press officers of the institutions, and the journalist mainly regurgitates the press releases. As in every game of Broken Telephones/Chinese Whispers , the first reporter is more reliable then the second one in line who is more dependable than the third one and so on. Thus a scientist “going direct” is likely to give a much more reliable account of the findings than the journalist reporting on it.
There are exceptions, of course. Each discussion of science journalism always brings out commenters who shout the names of well-known and highly respectes science journalists. The thing is, those people are not science reporters. They are science journalists only in the sense that ‘Science Writers’ is a subset of the set ‘Science Journalists’. This is a subset that is very much in a privileged position – they are given freedom to write what, when, where and how they want. Thus, over many years, they develop their own expertise.
Carl Zimmer has, over the years, read so many papers, talked to so many experts, and written so many books, articles and blogposts, that he probably knows more about evolution, parasites and E.coli than biology PhDs whose focus is on other areas of biology. Eric Roston probably knows more about carbon than many chemistry PhDs. These guys are experts. And they are writers, not reporters. They do not get assignments to write many stories per week on different areas of science. They are not who I am talking about in this post at all.
Do they do investigative reporting? Sometimes they do, but they chose other venues for it. When George Will lied about climate change data in a couple of op-eds, Carl Zimmer used his blog, not the NYTimes Science section, to dig and expose the facts about the industry and political influences, about George Will’s history on the issue, about cowardly response by Washington Post to the uncovering of these unpleasant facts, etc.
Rebecca Skloot did investigative journalism as well, over many years, and decided to publish the findings in a form of a book, not in a newspaper or magazine. That is not the work of a beat reporter.
Case III: Science Blogger
1) Someone gets a hunch, wiff, a tip from someone or an intuition (or orders from the boss to take a look) that some information exists that is hidden from the public.
Bloggers are often looking for blogging materials from two distinctly different sources: the Tables of Content of scientific journals in the fields they have expertise in, and services that serve press releases (e.g., EurekAlert, ScienceDaily, etc.). They are also usually quite attuned to the mass media, i.e., they get their news online from many sources instead of reading just the local paper.
What many bloggers do and are especially good at doing is comparing the work of Case I and Case II investigative reporters. They can access and read and understand the scientific paper and directly compare it to the press releases and the media coverage (including the writings by other bloggers). Having the needed scientific expertise, they can evaluate all the sources and make a judgment on their quality.
Sometimes the research in the paper is shoddy but the media does not realize it and presents it as trustworthy. Sometimes the paper is good, but the media gets it wrong (usually in a sensationalist kind of way). Sometimes both the paper and the media get it right (which is not very exciting to blog about).
2) That someone then uses a whole suit of methods to discover that secret information, often against the agents that resist the idea of that information becoming available to the public.
Replicating experiments and putting that on the blog is rare (but has been done). But digging through the published data and comparing that to media reports is easy when one has the necessary expertise. Consulting with colleagues, on the rare occasions when needed, is usually done privately via e-mail or publicly on places like FriendFeed or Twitter, and there is no need to include quotes in the blog post itself.
Bloggers have done investigative digging in a journalistic sense as well – uncovering unseemly behavior of people. I have gathered a few examples of investigative reporting by science bloggers before:

Whose investigative reporting led to resignation of Deutch, the Bush’s NASA censor? Nick Anthis, a (then) small blogger (who also later reported on the Animal Rights demonstrations and counter-demonstrations in Oxford in great detail as well).
Who blew up the case of plagiarism in dinosaur palaenthology, the so-calles Aetogate? A bunch of bloggers.
Who blew up, skewered and castrated the PRISM, the astroturf organization designed to lobby the Senate against the NIH Open Access bill? A bunch of bloggers. The bill passed.
Remember the Tripoli 6?
Who pounced on George Will and WaPo when he trotted out the long-debunked lie about global warming? And forced them to squirm, and respond, and publish two counter-editorials? A bunch of bloggers.
Who dug up all the information, including the most incriminating key evidence against Creationists that was used at the Dover trial? A bunch of bloggers.
And so on, and so on, this was just scratching the surface with the most famous stories.

3) That someone then puts all of the gathered information in one place and looks for patterns, overarching themes, connections and figures out what it all means.
This is often a collective effort of multiple bloggers.
4) That someone then writes an article, with a specific audience in mind, showing to the public the previously secret information (often including all of it – the entire raw data sets or documents or transcripts) and explaining what it means.
The target audience of most science blogs is lay audience, but many of the readers are themselves scientists as well.
5) That someone then sends the article to the proper venue where it undergoes an editorial process.
Most blogs are self-edited. Sending a particularly ‘hot’ blog post to a couple of other bloggers asking their opinion before it is posted is something that a blogger may occasionally do.
6) If accepted for publication, the article gets published.
Click “Post”. That easy.
7) The article gets a life of its own – people read (or listen/view) it, comment, give feedback, or follow up with investigation digging up more information that is still not public (so the cycle repeats).
Feedback in comments usually comes in really fast! It is direct, straightforward and does not follow the usual formal kabuki dance that ensures the control and hierarchy remains intact in more official venues.
Other bloggers may respond on their own blogs (especially if they disagree) or spread the link on social networks (especially if they agree).
If many bloggers raise hell about some misconduct and persist in it over a prolonged periods of time, this sometimes forces the corporate media to pick up the hot-potato story despite the initial reluctance to do so. But this applies to all investigative reporting on blogs, not just science.
Also, bloggers are not bound by 20th century journalistic rules – thus the exposure by impersonation, what the conservative activists did to ACORN, is perfectly legitimate way of uncovering dirt in informal venues, but not legit in corporate venues.
One more point that needs to be made here. Different areas of science are different!
Biomedical science is a special case. It is huge. It has huge funding compared to other areas, yet not sufficient to feed the armies of researchers involved in it. It attracts the self-aggrandizing type disproportionately. Much is at stake: patents, contracts with pharmaceutical industry, money, fame, Nobel prizes… Thus it is extremely competitive. It also uses laboratory techniques that are universal and fast, thus it is easy to scoop and get scooped, which fosters the culture of secrecy. It suffers from CNS disease (necessity to publish in GlamourMagz like Cell, Nature and Science). It gets inordinate proportion of media (and blog) attention due to relevance to human health. All those pressures make the motivation to fudge data too strong for some of the people involved – very few, for sure, out of 10,000s involved.
On the other end of the spectrum is, for example, palaeontology. Very few people can be palaeontologists – not enough positions and not enough money. There is near-zero risk of getting scooped as everyone knows who dug what out, where, during which digging season (Aetogate, linked above, was a special case of a person using a position of power to mainly scoop powerless students). Your fossil is yours. The resources are extremely limited and so much depends on luck. Discovering a cool fossil is not easy and if you get your hands on one, you have to milk it for all it’s worth. You will publish not one but a series of papers. First paper is a brief announcement of the finding with a superficial description, the second is a detailed description, the third is the phylogenetic analysis, the fourth focuses on one part of the fossil that can say something new about evolution, etc. And you hope that all of this will become well-known to the general public. The palaeo community is so small, they all already know. They will quibble forever with you over the methodology and conclusions (so many assumptions have to go into methods that analyze old, broken bones). It is the lay audience that needs to be reached, by any means necessary. Many paleontologists don’t even work as university professors but are associated with museums, nature magazines, or are freelancing. The pressure to publish in GlamourMagz is there only as a means to get the attention of the media, not to impress colleagues or rise in careers.
Most of science and most scientists, on the other hand, do not belong to one of these two fields and do not work at high-pressure universities. They do science out of their own curiosity, feel no pressure to publish a lot or in GlamourMagz, do not fear scooping, are open and relaxed and have no motivation to fudge data or plagiarize. They know that the reputation with their peers – the only reputation they can hope to get – is dependent entirely on immaculate work and behavior. Why keep them suspect because two media-prominent sub-sub-disciplines sometimes produce less-than-honest behavior? Why not trust that their papers are good, their press releases correct, their blogging honest, and their personal behavior impeccable? I’d say they are presumed innocent unless proven guilty, not the other way around.
I’d like to see an equivalent of for state universities and small colleges. What a delightful source of cool science that would be!
Update: blogging at its best. After a couple of hit-and-run curmudgeounly comments posted early on, this post started receiving some very thoughtful and useful comments (e.g., especially one by David Dobbs) that are edifying and are helping me learn – which is the point of blogging in the first place, isn’t it?

On the radio later today

Anton and I will be on the radio, WXDU Durham Duke University Radio, tonight at 7pm. We will be interviewed by Christopher Perrien about ScienceOnline2010, science blogging, etc. This is a part of the Science In The Triangle series and the podcast will be available on iTunes early next week.

Clock Quotes

Sometimes the fool who rushes in gets the job done.
– Al Bernstein

Tweetlinks, 9-26-09

Follow me on Twitter to get these, and more, in something closer to Real Time:
How would Einstein use e-mail?
College students are not as intelligent and Smarter people go to college, so average university students less intelligent?
How blogging has augmented my career
More crappy flu journalism, this time Alternet [rant alert!]
@TrixieTracker @chillnc I remember as a blog is now a very useful phone App
The Secrets of Time Square’s Ridiculous Billboards
Friday Weird Science: The Hyena Mating Game
RT @thegarbagegirl: We’ve reached the garbage patch! [20 minutes ago from web] //the amazing blogging. (hashtag #SeaSaturday)
On the same ship that just entered the Garbage patch, bloggers: The Plastic Ocean and Oceanographic Research Vessel Alguita (hashtag #SeaSaturday)
David Brooks: our nation’s premier expert warrior
Terry Tao: A speech for the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (on how the internet is changing science, especially mathematics)
The Open PhD – What a Concept (discussion on FriendFeed)
Newswire Analysis: Google Scholar’s Ghost Authors, Lost Authors, and Other Problems
The Buglife Spider Hunt
Three evolution books reviewed and NCSE Reviews and A radio show and three book reviews
Is the best research unfunded research? Does getting a grant make one over-cautious and conservative?
RT @dangillmor More evidence that the old-style print folks have completely taken over WashPost editorial what a waste – Post Editor Ends Tweets as New Guidelines Are Issued
RT @ccziv Interesting article on pet chickens by @susanorlean in 9/28 New Yorker: The It Bird and Ask the Author Live: Susan Orlean
Swinging Chicken Ritual Divides Orthodox Jews
This is an interesting list, by @Scobleizer, of people on Twitter you may be interested in following: You’re not on Twitter’s suggested user list but you are in good company
Tx @jayrosen_nyu for drawing attention to Wilmington StarNews (NC) @MyReporter ‘answerer’ The answer is 42, of course.

Send Grrrrl to Antarctica

There are only a couple of days left. Some competitors have already asked their supporters to switch their vote from them to Grrrl. Right now, she is the only real science blogger with a chance to actually win this. So, if you have not voted yet, or voted for someone else, go vote now. Just click here right now, register (simple and quick) and vote.

The Open Laboratory 2009 – the submissions so far

OpenLab logo.jpg
Here are the submissions for OpenLab 2009 to date. As we have surpassed 370 entries, all of them, as well as the “submit” buttons and codes and the bookmarklet, are under the fold. You can buy the 2006, 2007 and 2008 editions at Please use the submission form to add more of your and other people’s posts (remember that we are looking for original poems, art, cartoons and comics, as well as essays):

Continue reading

Clock Quotes

It is the steady and merciless increase of occupations, the augmented speed at which we are always trying to live, the crowding of each day with more work and amusements than it can profitably hold, which has cost us, among other good things, the undisturbed enjoyment of friends. Friendship takes time, and we have no time to give it.
– Agnes Repplier

Tweetlinks, 9-25-09

Follow me on Twitter to get these, and more, in something closer to Real Time:
Embargo? Embargo? The case of the missing flu paper – An open-and-shut case for open science?
Blogging geoscience meetings
Congrats to Cary, NC for being named as one of America’s “Next Cities” by Next Generation Consulting: Where Are the Next Cities?
RTP: To understand the history of science/technology parks read the NRC report, for future read ours – Future Knowledge Ecosystems: The Next Twenty Years of Technology-Led Economic Development
News, Medical Students, Social Network Analysis: Digital Histories can’t be Deleted
Beautiful world – award for science images -Lennart Nilsson Award
The best writing mistakes and how to make them.
Good user experience is not optional
fMRI of a dead salmon: Why dead fish have almost nothing to do with ‘voodoo correlations’ in neuroimaging
Coywolf (part wolf, part coyote): Evolution of a coywolf, and range expansion
A challenge for you: Community coworking space and Web worker job training
Clearwater Woman Attacked By Alligator and Gator Attack Way Too Close to Home
Words – Social networking has only added to the power of words.
Stacy Baker, Harold Kroto and Francis Eberle on NPR Science Friday: Building Science Education
Virtual Science University (videos)
Science (and more) to Music
Journey South – global study of wildlife migration and seasonal change.
Sleepless in America – a good blog about biology/medicine of sleep.
Monarch Navigation, Whale-eating Worms, UN Climate Summit – The World Science podcast
How Drinking Is Like Yoga…
Way to go, Charlotte — get out there and boogie down!
The Meaning of Liff By Douglas Adams and John Lloyd
Will The Singularity save journalism? New media virtual interview No. 2 – Chip Oglesby interviews Dan Conover.
Vickie’s Prostitution Blog. Recommended.
Good science, wrong answer – periodicities in the extinction record?
Title decoding, the Jabberqocky method.
How to talk to complete idiots – Three basic options. Choose wisely, lest you go totally insane

New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 19 new articles in PLoS ONE today. As always, you should rate the articles, post notes and comments and send trackbacks when you blog about the papers. You can now also easily place articles on various social services (CiteULike, Mendeley, Connotea, Stumbleupon, Facebook and Digg) with just one click. Here are my own picks for the week – you go and look for your own favourites:
Neuroanatomical Variability of Religiosity:

We hypothesized that religiosity, a set of traits variably expressed in the population, is modulated by neuroanatomical variability. We tested this idea by determining whether aspects of religiosity were predicted by variability in regional cortical volume. We performed structural magnetic resonance imaging of the brain in 40 healthy adult participants who reported different degrees and patterns of religiosity on a survey. We identified four Principal Components of religiosity by Factor Analysis of the survey items and associated them with regional cortical volumes measured by voxel-based morphometry. Experiencing an intimate relationship with God and engaging in religious behavior was associated with increased volume of R middle temporal cortex, BA 21. Experiencing fear of God was associated with decreased volume of L precuneus and L orbitofrontal cortex BA 11. A cluster of traits related with pragmatism and doubting God’s existence was associated with increased volume of the R precuneus. Variability in religiosity of upbringing was not associated with variability in cortical volume of any region. Therefore, key aspects of religiosity are associated with cortical volume differences. This conclusion complements our prior functional neuroimaging findings in elucidating the proximate causes of religion in the brain.

Evolutionary Descent of Prion Genes from the ZIP Family of Metal Ion Transporters:

In the more than twenty years since its discovery, both the phylogenetic origin and cellular function of the prion protein (PrP) have remained enigmatic. Insights into a possible function of PrP may be obtained through the characterization of its molecular neighborhood in cells. Quantitative interactome data demonstrated the spatial proximity of two metal ion transporters of the ZIP family, ZIP6 and ZIP10, to mammalian prion proteins in vivo. A subsequent bioinformatic analysis revealed the unexpected presence of a PrP-like amino acid sequence within the N-terminal, extracellular domain of a distinct sub-branch of the ZIP protein family that includes ZIP5, ZIP6 and ZIP10. Additional structural threading and orthologous sequence alignment analyses argued that the prion gene family is phylogenetically derived from a ZIP-like ancestral molecule. The level of sequence homology and the presence of prion protein genes in most chordate species place the split from the ZIP-like ancestor gene at the base of the chordate lineage. This relationship explains structural and functional features found within mammalian prion proteins as elements of an ancient involvement in the transmembrane transport of divalent cations. The phylogenetic and spatial connection to ZIP proteins is expected to open new avenues of research to elucidate the biology of the prion protein in health and disease.

Home Educating in an Extended Family Culture and Aging Society May Fare Best during a Pandemic:

Large cities can contain populations that move rapidly from one section to another in an efficient transportation network. An emerging air-borne or contact based pathogen could use these transportation routes to rapidly spread an infection throughout an entire population in a short time. Further, in many developed countries, the aging population is increasing. The family structure in these societies may also affect the course of a disease. To help understand the impact of an epidemic on family structure in a networked population, an individual based computer model that randomly generates networked cities with a specified range of population and disease characteristics and individual schedules, infectivity, transmission and hygiene factors was developed. Several salient issues emerged. First, a city of highly active individuals may in fact diminish the number of fatalities because the average duration of the interactions between agents is reduced. Second, home schooling can significantly improve survival because the institutional clustering of weak individuals is minimized. Third, the worst scenario for an aging population is the nuclear family where the aged population is confined to large housing facilities. Naturally, hygiene is the first barrier to infection. The results suggest that societies where extended families and small groups manage most of their own affairs may also be the most suitable for defense against a pandemic. This may prove applicable in city planning and policy making.

Today’s carnivals

Friday Ark #262 is up on Modulator

Clock Quotes

I sometimes think of what future historians will say of us. A single sentence will suffice for modern man: he fornicated and read the papers.
– Albert Camus

Tweetlinks, 9-24-09

Follow me on Twitter to get these, and more, in something closer to Real Time:
An Ontology for Biological Similarities
Open Access Publishing Is Not Perfect, Yet
Misunderstanding Dawkins: The Role of Metaphor in Science
Which scientists can you trust? (also discussed on FriendFeed) – something I’d like to see discussed at ScienceOnline2010
Page links to newspapers avail 2 UNC folks, including several versions of @dailytarheel
Michael Nielsen & Clay Shirky: Futurologists ‘R Us
That Which Does Not Kill Me Makes Me Stranger
Happy to announce I got on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Science Communication
There is a fury and and sadness inside that I cannot express via Turning Kids Into Criminals – Horrendous consequences of the statutory laws
On Web, A Most Novel Approach – “I hand-sold at least 2,000 to 3,000 copies.” Modern methods of book promotion.
Blogger Book Explosion
Bridging the Chasm between Two Cultures

The Simplest Way to Reboot Your Brain
– take a nap!
Survival of the Kindest and Survival of the Kindest
Year of Science 2009: Science Zine-a-thon Contest
Blog Action Day – Climate Change
Dutch science minister supports OA
Real Lives and White Lies in the Funding of Scientific Research – Scientific funding turns researchers into bureaucrats
What I LOVE About…the Triangle (one reason)
American Scientist Pizza Lunches: Pizza Lunch Podcasts
Bloggers’ fault for a newspaper breaking embargo? Leaking moon water is all Twitter’s fault – Times Delhi reporter should have behaved professionally, not blame scientists who are chatting on Twitter. His fault.
Who can research scientific iPhone apps and do a demo of them at ScienceOnline2010?
I love how Patrick Brown doesn’t mince words in the comment#1 of this: New Nature Journal to Offer Open-Access Option
John Wilbanks: It’s the Customer, Not the Container — SSP IN Keynote – good comment thread.
Antennal Circadian Clocks Coordinate Sun Compass Orientation in Monarch Butterflies and Unraveling Traveling and Butterflies Use Antenna GPS to Guide Migration
Scientists transfer ‘insomnia gene’ to mice – horrendous overhyping!
Scientific Photography group on PictureSocial.
Silencing citizen journalists, while using their photos: Dust storm flushes out citizen journalists
SNPwatch: Common Variants May Influence Glaucoma Risk in Individuals of African Descent
Measuring the amphibian meltdown

Foodblogging/storyblogging in the Triangle – the first Long Table

Under the fold are some pictures from the inaugural Long Table event at 3Cups in Chapel Hill with Moroccan food prepared by Sandwhich, organized by Anton and Erin Zuiker.
There were about 35 people there. I knew a few of them from before, but it was mostly new people I got to meet. Some people were new even to Anton and Erin as this was a publicly advertised event, open to the first 35 people who sign up. Every now and then, a person would get up and tell a short story related to food and travel, mostly about unforgettable meals in unforgettable places.
I am aware of only one blog post about it so far – by Lenore Ramm – although a couple of other people in the room are known to have blogs or are on social networking sites. We all hope that this will become a regular feature on the local social celandar – trying new venues, new cuisines, and new story topics each time.

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New and Exciting in PLoS this week

Let’s check all seven PLoS journals tonight…. As always, you should rate the articles, post notes and comments and send trackbacks when you blog about the papers. You can now also easily place articles on various social services (CiteULike, Mendeley, Connotea, Stumbleupon, Facebook and Digg) with just one click. Here are my own picks for the week – you go and look for your own favourites:

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Today’s carnivals

The 120th edition of the Skeptics’ Circle is up on Pro-science

Good news

Today, I accepted the invitation to join the editorial board of the Journal of Science Communication. Now I am reviewing my first manuscript….

Techie Tuesday

On Tuesday night I went to the RTP headquarters for Techie Tuesday, an occasional event when people who work in various companies in the Park come over, after work, and have some good food, a beer, and get to relax and chat and meet new people. It is quite a lot of fun. Pictures under the fold (better quality on Twitpic):

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Clock Quotes

Every day has been so short, every hour so fleeting, ever minutes so filled with the life I love, that time for me has fled on too swift a wing.
– Aga Khan III

Tweetlinks, 9-24-09

47 institutions in 14 German Federal States will take part in the Open Access Week 2009.
Prevention of Winter Depression
Iran’s science minister does science the easy way: by plagiarizing [updated]
Glenn Beck and left-right confusion
Getting a jump on journalism bootstrapping
‘You and Your Research’ (PDF), or how to become the ultimate Ivory Tower insider.
Elaine Marshall is running for Senate.
Raleigh News & Observer has a new website – what do you think? Improvement, but is it going far enough?
Clive Thompson on How the Real-Time Web Is Leaving Google Behind
Frameworks and Lessons from the Public Participation in Science Research Report – Four models for participatory projects: contribution, collaboration, co-creation, co-option
Participatory Journalism … what’s it all about?
If You Want to Catch a Liar, Make Him Draw
57 College Presidents Declare Support for Legislation to Ensure Public Access to Publicly Funded Research in the U.S.
Stunning shots of thirsty bats swooping down for a drink from garden pond
Bad news for bloggers and citizen journalists: Shield law: Definition of ‘journalist’ gets professionalized
NIH Administrators Ignore the Advice of Peer Review Panels- OH NOES!!!!!
Explainers for hire: Research for hire: A revenue model for the news? and Commoncraft – science, PR or journalism?
Clay Shirky on the future of news
There is no single future for scientific journals
RT @jayrosen_nyu: Academics show how media reported ACORN charges “without investigating truth or falsity” – PDF.
Data sharing after publication
Clay Shirky: Let a thousand flowers bloom to replace newspapers; don’t build a paywall around a public good
No duh: Surgery success is not linked to phases of the moon
I Don’t Want To Hear About Distributed Conversations Any More
Only a week left till next Blog Pick of the Month at PLoS ONE – make sure it is aggregated on
RT @StacyCBaker Science teachers or anyone interested please call in during my segment on NPR Science Friday this week (2:20-3:00).
EduPunks: RT @academicdave : Washington Monthly, WaPo and NPR.
How Federico Caprilli changed the way we jump horses: and now we have Prix Caprilli and Caprilli School
On and science journalism: Carl Zimmer – Apocalypse Via Press Release and John Timmer – PR or science journalism? It’s getting harder to tell
GOP Favors Public Option for Property, Not People (former NY Times investigative reporter writes at Firedoglake)

Clock Quotes

There are times when fear is good. It must keep its watchful place at the heart’s controls. There is advantage in the wisdom won from pain.
– Aeschylus

Tweetlinks, 9-23-09

Triangle is first stop in U.S. global health revamp
CNN’s New Journalism Strategy: Out-Dumbass The Internet (video)
Why Fall Colors Are Different in U.S. and Europe
Cartooning Evolution Home, 1861-1925 – awesome evolution-themed cartoons from old newspapers.
UNC pharmacy prof Stephen Frye on Ernie Hood’s Radio In Vivo today at noon EDT on WCOM-FM
Survey of Healthcare in America and an Argument for Change
The once-quiet scientist – A former animal researcher decides to speak out.
The Obama Roadblock: Why He’s Sagging Online
The wrong way to do it – Graphing data on healthcare on TV – inept or politically motivated?
Diversity in Science Carnival in Honor of Hispanic Heritage Month: Call for Submissions!
Easy + Easy + Easy = Impossible – awesome multi-oscillator system (+ video).
Don’t be such a scientist: A review
Science: Appreciating the process, not just the products
Pigs on the loose outside Stokesdale Elementary
What Birthers Want – Notes From an Exclusive Interview With Orly Taitz.
Whoops: Anti-ACORN Bill Ropes In Defense Contractors, Others Charged With Fraud (Glenn Greenwald says: “If we had real media this would be a huge story: it sums up everything and therefore will be ignored”)
He Traded Company for Caves to Study Effects of Isolation – RIP Maurizio Montalbini, an unorthodox circadian researcher.
Raleigh-Durham area ranks third in U.S. for college degrees
Article-Level Download Metrics–What Are They Good For?
Clay Shirky and accountability journalism and Clay Shirky’s bracing dystopianism and Clay Shirky’s bracing dystopianism.
47 institutions in 14 German Federal States will take part in the Open Access Week 2009.
Google Wave Team Gives Up on Internet Explorer – If you want to continue using Internet Explorer at your own peril….
The First Long Table Dinner – Lenore blogged it. I was there.
I also went to Techie Tuesday at RTP and took a few pictures: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.
And I got new glasses and posted a ton of new pictures of myself on Facebook.

The Open Laboratory 2009 – the submissions so far

OpenLab logo.jpg
Here are the submissions for OpenLab 2009 to date. As we have surpassed 370 entries, all of them, as well as the “submit” buttons and codes and the bookmarklet, are under the fold. You can buy the 2006, 2007 and 2008 editions at Please use the submission form to add more of your and other people’s posts (remember that we are looking for original poems, art, cartoons and comics, as well as essays):

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NCZoo2 - elephant.jpg
at the NC Zoo (photo taken by iPhone)

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New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 21 new articles in PLoS ONE today. As always, you should rate the articles, post notes and comments and send trackbacks when you blog about the papers. You can now also easily place articles on various social services (CiteULike, Mendeley, Connotea, Stumbleupon, Facebook and Digg) with just one click. Here are my own picks for the week – you go and look for your own favourites:
Relationships of Cetacea (Artiodactyla) Among Mammals: Increased Taxon Sampling Alters Interpretations of Key Fossils and Character Evolution:

Integration of diverse data (molecules, fossils) provides the most robust test of the phylogeny of cetaceans. Positioning key fossils is critical for reconstructing the character change from life on land to life in the water. We reexamine relationships of critical extinct taxa that impact our understanding of the origin of Cetacea. We do this in the context of the largest total evidence analysis of morphological and molecular information for Artiodactyla (661 phenotypic characters and 46,587 molecular characters, coded for 33 extant and 48 extinct taxa). We score morphological data for Carnivoramorpha, †Creodonta, Lipotyphla, and the †raoellid artiodactylan †Indohyus and concentrate on determining which fossils are positioned along stem lineages to major artiodactylan crown clades. Shortest trees place Cetacea within Artiodactyla and close to †Indohyus, with †Mesonychia outside of Artiodactyla. The relationships of †Mesonychia and †Indohyus are highly unstable, however – in trees only two steps longer than minimum length, †Mesonychia falls inside Artiodactyla and displaces †Indohyus from a position close to Cetacea. Trees based only on data that fossilize continue to show the classic arrangement of relationships within Artiodactyla with Cetacea grouping outside the clade, a signal incongruent with the molecular data that dominate the total evidence result. Integration of new fossil material of †Indohyus impacts placement of another extinct clade †Mesonychia, pushing it much farther down the tree. The phylogenetic position of †Indohyus suggests that the cetacean stem lineage included herbivorous and carnivorous aquatic species. We also conclude that extinct members of Cetancodonta (whales + hippopotamids) shared a derived ability to hear underwater sounds, even though several cetancodontans lack a pachyostotic auditory bulla. We revise the taxonomy of living and extinct artiodactylans and propose explicit node and stem-based definitions for the ingroup.

How to Achieve Fast Entrainment? The Timescale to Synchronization:

Entrainment, where oscillators synchronize to an external signal, is ubiquitous in nature. The transient time leading to entrainment plays a major role in many biological processes. Our goal is to unveil the specific dynamics that leads to fast entrainment. By studying a generic model, we characterize the transient time to entrainment and show how it is governed by two basic properties of an oscillator: the radial relaxation time and the phase velocity distribution around the limit cycle. Those two basic properties are inherent in every oscillator. This concept can be applied to many biological systems to predict the average transient time to entrainment or to infer properties of the underlying oscillator from the observed transients. We found that both a sinusoidal oscillator with fast radial relaxation and a spike-like oscillator with slow radial relaxation give rise to fast entrainment. As an example, we discuss the jet-lag experiments in the mammalian circadian pacemaker.

How Are ‘Barack Obama’ and ‘President Elect’ Differentially Stored in the Brain? An ERP Investigation on the Processing of Proper and Common Noun Pairs:

One of the most debated issues in the cognitive neuroscience of language is whether distinct semantic domains are differentially represented in the brain. Clinical studies described several anomic dissociations with no clear neuroanatomical correlate. Neuroimaging studies have shown that memory retrieval is more demanding for proper than common nouns in that the former are purely arbitrary referential expressions. In this study a semantic relatedness paradigm was devised to investigate neural processing of proper and common nouns. 780 words (arranged in pairs of Italian nouns/adjectives and the first/last names of well known persons) were presented. Half pairs were semantically related (“Woody Allen” or “social security”), while the others were not (“Sigmund Parodi” or “judicial cream”). All items were balanced for length, frequency, familiarity and semantic relatedness. Participants were to decide about the semantic relatedness of the two items in a pair. RTs and N400 data suggest that the task was more demanding for common nouns. The LORETA neural generators for the related-unrelated contrast (for proper names) included the left fusiform gyrus, right medial temporal gyrus, limbic and parahippocampal regions, inferior parietal and inferior frontal areas, which are thought to be involved in the conjoined processing a familiar face with the relevant episodic information. Person name was more emotional and sensory vivid than common noun semantic access. When memory retrieval is not required, proper name access (conspecifics knowledge) is not more demanding. The neural generators of N400 to unrelated items (unknown persons and things) did not differ as a function of lexical class, thus suggesting that proper and common nouns are not treated differently as belonging to different grammatical classes.

Early In-Hospital Mortality following Trainee Doctors’ First Day at Work:

There is a commonly held assumption that early August is an unsafe period to be admitted to hospital in England, as newly qualified doctors start work in NHS hospitals on the first Wednesday of August. We investigate whether in-hospital mortality is higher in the week following the first Wednesday in August than in the previous week. A retrospective study in England using administrative hospital admissions data. Two retrospective cohorts of all emergency patients admitted on the last Wednesday in July and the first Wednesday in August for 2000 to 2008, each followed up for one week. The odds of death for patients admitted on the first Wednesday in August was 6% higher (OR 1.06, 95% CI 1.00 to 1.15, p = 0.05) after controlling for year, gender, age, socio-economic deprivation and co-morbidity. When subdivided into medical, surgical and neoplasm admissions, medical admissions admitted on the first Wednesday in August had an 8% (OR 1.08, 95% CI 1.01 to 1.16, p = 0.03) higher odds of death. In 2007 and 2008, when the system for junior doctors’ job applications changed, patients admitted on Wednesday August 1st had 8% higher adjusted odds of death than those admitted the previous Wednesday, but this was not statistically significant (OR 1.08, 95% CI 0.95 to 1.23, p = 0.24). We found evidence that patients admitted on the first Wednesday in August have a higher early death rate in English hospitals compared with patients admitted on the previous Wednesday. This was higher for patients admitted with a medical primary diagnosis.

A Mammalian Lost World in Southwest Europe during the Late Pliocene:

Over the last decades, there has been an increasing interest on the chronology, distribution and mammal taxonomy (including hominins) related with the faunal turnovers that took place around the Pliocene-Pleistocene transition [ca. 1.8 mega-annum (Ma)] in Europe. However, these turnovers are not fully understood due to: the precarious nature of the period’s fossil record; the “non-coexistence” in this record of many of the species involved; and the enormous geographical area encompassed. This palaeontological information gap can now be in part bridged with data from the Fonelas P-1 site (Granada, Spain), whose faunal composition and late Upper Pliocene date shed light on some of the problems concerning the timing and geography of the dispersals. This rich fossil site yielded 32 species of mammals, among which autochthonous species of the European Upper Villafranchian coexist with canids (Canis), ovibovines (Praeovibos) and giraffids (Mitilanotherium) from Asia. Typical African species, such as the brown hyena (Hyaena brunnea) and the bush pig (Potamochoerus) are also present. This assemblage is taxonomically and palaeobiogeographically unique, and suggests that fewer dispersal events than was previously thought (possibly only one close to 2.0 Ma) are responsible for the changes seen around 1.9-1.7 Ma ago in the fauna of the two continents.

Tweetlinks, 9-22-09

Celebrity, blogging and the role of the academic
Journalism FAIL on climate change: Vital signs weak for climate bill (via @jayrosen_nyu: “For a perfect example of “will it work?” outranking “is it true?” see The Politico’s savvy”)
Rebooting the News #26 (podcast)
Canadian Health Care, Even With Queues, Bests U.S.
Deadline Sept. 28 for DuraSpace/SPARC Open Access Week Contest Entries
Open Access Week has a FriendFeed room – join in.
Melatonin Promotes Oligodendroglial Maturation of Injured White Matter in Neonatal Rats
Novak Djokovic imitates then plays against John McEnroe (video)
Making the World Safe for Smart: Why TED Matters – “In America, the gospel of average is one of the most recurring & potent political and societal forces”
The menace of the public option – specifically, the public library option.
Nine Scientifically Proven Ways to Get Retweeted on Twitter (I know, title promises causation, but even figuring out these correlations is cool).
Miss Baker will be on NPR Science Friday this week, talking about using blogs/social networks in classroom.
If Hollywood Taught Science Class
Journalism still finding recruits if not profits – Alana Taylor portrayed in Forbes: How should j-school students think about their future and profession.
Saving sharks, the oceans, and more! Introducing …OCEAN!
Can I Get A Witness: “”if you want to be a journalist, you need to actually perform the act of journalism””
Even Philip Davis could not inject too much snark into this: PLoS Releases Article-level Metrics, still works from an assumption that Impact Factor is important, though.

Clock Quotes

Man does not live by words alone, despite the fact that sometimes he has to eat them.
– Adlai Ewing Stevenson


NCZoo8 - flamingos.jpg
at the NC Zoo (photo taken by iPhone)

Journal of Science Communication 8.3

The new issue of the open access Journal of Science Communication is out. From the Table of Contents:
Filling the gap between theory and practice:

Jcom’s adventure was launched nearly eight years ago, when a group of lecturers and former students of the Master’s degree in Science Communication at SISSA of Trieste, decided to have training joined by the commitment to research on science communication issues.

Mapping gender differences in understanding about HIV/AIDS:

The present article investigates public understanding of HIV/AIDS related issues that touch the thought structure of common citizen, among the Indian public. Analysis is based on a representative sample collected from 10 states of India. The authors have also analysed the relative cultural distance at which men and women, as separate groups, could be placed. The relative cultural distance, for each of the selected issues, has been computed and it was found that men, as a group, are closer to scientific thought structure compared to women.

Getting adolescents to inform themselves about ecogenomics: a Dutch case study:

Public opinions toward emergent technologies may be highly dependent on the manner in which people are introduced to these technologies for the very first time. In this light, understanding how such first introductions are related to adolescents’ information seeking behaviors and their developing opinions may be particularly interesting because this target public can be considered to be not only future users of the technology but also future decision makers of its development. The present paper presents a case study of the introduction of ecogenomics among 246 adolescents who were asked to inform themselves about this technology and to write two essays: one that would reflect their personal opinions, and another that would reflect their advice to the Dutch government about further funding of ecogenomics research. Results showed that the Internet was by far their preferred source of information and that most adolescents held positive attitudes toward ecogenomics as expressed in essays that reflected their personal opinions and advice to others. In their perspective, ecogenomics was a positive development in science because of expected benefits concerning medical and environmental applications, such as the potential discovery of new antibiotics and the possible use in bioremediation.

Images of women in STEM fields:

This study investigated how eighth-grade students perceived images of women in STEM and non-STEM careers. Thirty-six images were posted on-line; we measured five characteristics of each image. Forty students participated in the study. We found that there were significant differences in attractiveness, creativity, and intelligence between STEM and non-STEM images. There were no significant differences for good at her job and organization. In addition, there were no significant differences among STEM and non-STEM images of women of the same race.

The socialisation of scientific and technological research:

In the last decades, production of science and technology as well as science-society relationships started changing rapidly. Research is asked to be more effective, fast, accountable, trans-disciplinary, result-oriented, policy-driven and able to generate benefits for people and firms in the short and middle run. While a strong intensification of science-society relationships is occurring, an increasing number of actors and stakeholders are involved in research production. At the same time, pervasiveness of technology is rendering users an active part in technological development; economic and social interests on science and technology are growing on a global scale; new democratic and ethical issues emerge. Despite the European institutions’ efforts, all those trends and phenomena are occurring in an extremely fragmented way. In this scenario, a fairly balanced and consistent co-evolution between science and society can no longer be taken for granted. This is just the starting point of the following comment section that, through the Luciano d’Andrea, Sally Wyatt, Erik Aarden, Jos Lejten and Peter Sekloča’s writings, aims to analyse the different aspects and questions around the socialisation of science and technology’s matter.

The ‘book’ medium and scientific editorial communication: prospects and ongoing changes:

The volume “Il libro contemporaneo” (The Contemporary Book) by Giuseppe Vitiello offers a global view of the “book” as a model and as an instrument of communication and for learning in the society of knowledge; it specifically deals with scientific editorial communication, through a complete and systematic reconstruction of the bodies involved, of the production and dissemination processes, also in the framework of the technological changes pushed by new media. In particular, the author critically analyzes some relevant aspects such as the role played by the journal as the most relevant mean for scientific knowledge dissemination, the scientific writer figure, the strengthening of large publishing groups and the challenge open access implies.

Learning science in informal environments: people, places and pursuits. A review by the US National Science Council:

In January this year, the US saw the publication of the preview of an impressive review work on the practices and the studies concerning learning science outside schools and universities, i.e. what is referred to as informal education.
The document, promoted by the National Science Council of scientific academies (National Academy of Science, National Academy of Engineering and Institute of Medicine), is the result of the work by a committee comprising 14 specialists who collected, discussed and then organized hundreds of documents on pedagogical premises, places, practices and pursuits concerning scientific informal education.
Nobody doubts that museums, magazines, after-school activities, science festivals and any other science communication offers have a positive impact on the people’s knowledge, attitudes and behaviours. But what do we really know about what actually happens in these experiences? What sense should be given to the word “learning” in these cases? Do the different communication tools or environments have also a different impact? What factors make them more or less effective? These are the main questions the document wants to answer, carefully evaluating the present state of the art.


Music that makes me laugh, or makes me want to dance, is entertaining music.
Music that makes me think or admire the artist’s skills, is good music.
Music that makes me cry is Great Music. Rare.

Tweetlinks, 9-21-09

Seven keys to building healthy online community
Is your work cited in journals which are not ISI listed? Publish or Perish
God And Prosperity – Ronald Bailey sums up a new paper by Gregory Paul in the journal Evolutionary Psychology.
Why the news media became irrelevant–and how social media can help
UCLA Art | Sci Center & Lab – UCLA Art/Sci Center promotes Third Culture: collaboration between (media) art & (bio/nano) sciences.
How Bad Papers Get Published in Good Journals
Begging meerkat pups
Sea Stars Grow Faster as Water Warms
AT&T 1993 “You Will” Ads – In 1993, you couldn’t do any of these things (video).
Why the answer to health care is about as popular as puppy pot roast: You Have No Idea What Health Costs: If You Did, You Might Just Want Real Reform.
This is where I was last night – The Long Table dinner (and to prove it, here are some pictures).
Good for the N&R – the book is a format, not a formula, and I can’t help asking, my favorite book for what?
Even Glenn Beck Is Right Twice a Day – Frank Rich digs into the Glenn Beck phenomenon in ways that Time magazine conspicuously failed to.
Canadian Health Care, Even With Queues, Bests U.S.
Common Knowledge: Communal news in a fragmented world and Something to Talk About: The Internet as a communications tool
Science reporting and personal bad habits
Science Communication: It’s not just about the message
Science Communication: A Conversation

Today’s carnivals

Scientia Pro Publica #12 is up on Lab Rat

Clock Quotes

In my garden there is a large place for sentiment. My garden of flowers is also my garden of thoughts and dreams. The thoughts grow as freely as the flowers, and the dreams are as beautiful.
– Abram L. Urban


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at the NC Zoo (photo taken by iPhone)


Totally copying Chris’ idea, let me do this experiment – put here the choice links that I posted on Twitter over the past week. Does not include links I “Liked” on FriendFeed or Facebook, just links I tweeted or retweeted over the last seven days, roughly in chronological order:
Michelle Malkin and the anatomy of the 2 million protester lie
Blogs & Clouds — The Real-time Web Takes Another Step Forward
What Is Socialism in 2009?
Defying Gravity (but not the unforgiving reality of the television market)
Book Review: Islands in the Cosmos
In a Shark’s Tooth, a New Family Tree
One Injury, 10 Countries: A Journey in Health Care
Information-rich and attention-poor
New Outlet for Sharing Science
‘New Media Medicine’ at MIT
Voice chat coming to Facebook
Sen. Snowe and the Mad Biologist’s Rule of Base Ten Numbers
Peer Review Failure?
They Should Have Called It ‘Darwin: The Revengination’
re: Cycling | Society for Menstrual Cycle Research Blog
Freedom of Information: what’s in it for researchers? (and Daleks). Workshop, Glasgow, UK, 14th September 2009
Nieman Reports on Journalism and Social Media
JHU Student Killed Intruder With Sword Hours After Burglary and Sword-wielding Hopkins student kills intruder, neighbors react
Mainstream Media Miss the Point of Participatory Journalism
Are We Drowning Our Young Scientists in Paperwork? A ScienceInsider Conversation
Mobile app sees science go global
Dog Origins, DNA & Identity, Medical Isotope Shortage (podcast)
Science & Fiction (podcast)
What is the scientific paper? 2: What’s wrong?
Cracking the Spine of Libel
Liking Apps Dot Gov, Loving Kundra
It’s the Editor, Stupid
Unlucky sea ducks: stranded shorebirds
‘We figured out during the case that it was saying hamburger’
Lessons for Science Envoys and A Universal Truth
Frank Schaeffer: GOP sub-culture is ‘a fifth column of insanity (video)
We’re Number 37 (video)
NewsFAIL, because journalism isn’t dying fast enough (the funny blog of the week)
The next level of student engagement: Open Access Week and beyond
Pachyderms exhibit at NC Zoo gets Association of Zoos and Aquariums award
Two-way Communication Between Common Biological Pathways And Body’s Daily Clock
Is multitasking unethical?
Burglar leaves his Facebook page on victim’s computer
‘Lessons I’ve Learned’ from distortions of PLoS One Energy Sprawl report
Zero Tolerance, Zero Effect, Says Expert
The Long Table – Inaugural event: Sept 20 at 3CUPS
Is Futurity the Future?
A New Horizon for the News
Copulation Music
Report a bad doctor to the authorities, go to jail?
On vampires and ways of knowing and In Which I Disagree with Jerry Coyne and More on religion, literature, and vampires and Defining terms and A brief note on analogies, all by Josh Rosenau and responses: Ways of Knowing and Using Analogies on the Internet Is Like Doing a Really Futile Thing.
Does Anyone Read Our Papers?
fMRI Gets Slap in the Face with a Dead Fish
2 CJR articles, Research, Not Relations… and Science Needs a Storyline, each wrong in its own way.
Your News Content Is Worth Zero to Digital Consumers
That’s an odd place for a mouse to hide…
H1N1 Rap by Dr. Clarke (video)
Craig Venter is on a boat (video)
Change Congress holds Mike Ross accountable (video)
NextBio is giving out $500 travel grants 4 grad students 2 attend the conference of their choice
The Purposes and Problems of (teaching) Labs
Fine-touch pressure thresholds in the adult penis
Twitteleh: Twitter for Your Jewish Mother [Parody Video]
Science reporting: is it good for you?
I love article level metrics at PLOS. LOVE them.
Oklahoma high-schoolers fail civics (video)
Demystifying Clinical Trials: Q&A with Sandy Kennedy of Quintiles Transnational
Newspapers get the kind of communities they deserve
Eyetracking points the way to effective news article design
Why I’ll be getting my kids their flu vaccines
Open Access, PLoS article level metrics part of syllabus for PhD course at Uni Hyderabad
Soviet version of Winnie the Pooh (1971 – video)
Author of Time’s Beck profile digs a deeper hole
For Better Social News Times, Make It The Twitter Times
North Carolina State Archives’ photostream
The social thermometer: Temperature affects how we perceive relationships
Friday Weird Science: the malleable prosthesis
Why Do We Sleep?
Post-Medium Publishing
Where Does Sex Live in the Brain? From Top to Bottom.
Inviting The World To Dinner
Arctic Geese Skip Migration as Planet Warms
Newsroom-less journalism in a coffee shop or similar place: Q&A with Brian Russell of Carrboro Creative Coworking