LibraryLink recently reprted on a story in Nature about the proposal for an online system to assign and preserve taxonomic names of newly discovered animal species. In strolling around the Net in search of material for LL, the Old Curmudgeon was surprised amd pleased to see that this story had some “legs” as we say in the trade. It got around, in other words. C.K. Yoon writing in the NYTimes described the ZooBank scheme, but went on to gather and discuss several other, similar plans. BIOCODE wants to surrender the Linnean kingdoms and create a new, unified registry of life. An initiative called uBio wants to go in the opposite direction by gathering, recording and cross-referencing any taxonomic description or common name, including misspellings and variation for a given organism, so that all information about the critter can be brought together in one place. The All Species Foundation is even more ambitious, since it wants not merely to descibe, but also to go out and find and name every last species on the planet. If that’s not enough for you, Wikispecies, Species 2000, and the Electronic Catalogue of Names of Known Organisms are also around somewhere. So far from being a brackish backwater, taxonomy is just buzzing with plans, projects, suggestions and schemes on what to do and how to do it. Take that, you Molecular Biologists!
The Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE) published a long article on the use of the journal Impact Factor (IF)by administrators to evaluate the research contributions of individual scientists. IF information was originally intended to be a rough index to the quality and importance of scientific journals, but its use has been extended, illegitimately in the view of many observers, to the evaluation of individual scientists and their contributions. Publication in high impact journals has become a very serious career task for investigators. For their part, journal editors have sought to boost the IF rating of their own mags by various expedients, some of which are described in the CHE story. The pursuit of good IF numbers, and the various efforts to “game the system” on the part of desperate authors and editors lead to a situation in which the drive for the right IF is starting to direct the research enterprise itself. The IF was originally intended for librarians as one element of several to be considered in collection management decisions. It was never meant to be applied to the evaluation of a particular scientist, and even the guy who thought it up, Eugene Garfield, creator of the Science Citation Index, urges prudence and caution in the use of IF data. If that’s so, how did we get into this mess? Well, think about it. There’s a lot of evaluatin’ to be done. There is a premium on finding a simple, clear, precise, quantitative and therefore “objective” method to use. IF data is clear, quantitative and objective, in spades. The rankings march out to three decimal places. The Grouch realizes that it’s easy to be wry at someone else’s expense. Despite the excesses of a “culture of evaluation”, evaluation of some sort is necessary. Abuse, misues and “maluse” of IF data is no joke to many researchers, who are suffering from it, and to editors who see themselves constrained to use shady means to boost their IF tallies and to waste previous time worrying about this. But there seems to be a lunatic side to this IF business. Maybe it’s time to think about something else.
The Number That’s Devouring Science
If this link doesn’t work, use Our Journals from the Library page, type in the journal name on the query line, select PASSWORD PROTECTED JOURNALS, and on the succeeding screen enter your UTMB email ID and password. NOTE THE CHE password, and use it when you want to get content.
Personal Peeve: The article refers to Eugene Garfield as Mr. Garfield, but other professionals are identified with their doctoral titles. Garfield has a PhD in Structural Linguistics from Columbia, in addition to his library degree. Maybe a small point, but the BG is crabby this morning.
A Wiki is a program that allows for distributed, shared authorship of a document or set of documents. The word comes from Hawaiian, where “wiki” means “quick, rapidly, without delay”…like pronto or schnell, maybe. At least, that’s what the Blogging Grouch read. Think of a wiki as a blog to which anyone can contribute articles….literally, anyone. There are all kinds of wikis in different applications. One of the more interesting developments has been the Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia based on wiki software. Volunteers from around the world contribute articles on topics, and these are added to the corpus, which is supposed to expand to cover roughly the same ground as one of the multi-volume reference works which have been familiar in libraries and homes over the last 200 years or so. There are Wikipedias available in various languages, but the biggest ones are the English and German versions. Apart from the technology, the Wikipedia project raises some interesting questions. Who are the authors? Is what they say reliable and trustworthy? Are there errors of fact or interpretation? Is such a thing as Volksencylopedia really possible? And are the errors or misinterpretations any worse that what you would find in the Britannica, say? How much do errors on this or that point matter when one considers the great advantage of a generally reliable source available online at no charge? Some Wikipedians? Wikipedites? see the project as another way to reject Authority and the Tyranny of Experts. Others say that what counts is quality, accuracy, reliability and, well, Authority. People use encyclopedias to get straight, factually correct and reliable answers, and providing these requires a certain mastery of the topic at hand, expertise in other words, the thing experts are supposed to have. Good intentions and a rosy feeling about the Community are not enough. Can the Wikipedia deliver? See for yourself.
World Wide Wikipedia:
The Wellcome Trust is the largest private funder of scientific research in the UK. Effective October 1, all Wellcome grantees MUST publish the results of research efforts funded by the Trust in an Open Access (OA) journal. This decision is the last step in a series of measures to nudge grantees in the direction the adminstrators want them to go. But the time for nudging is over. This new policy is interesting also in that it does not allow an embargo period greater than six months. It also makes no concession to publishers, pointing out that grantees had, as a condition of the award, agreed to provide research results in an OA form at the Trust’s expense. Authors’ obligations to the Trust come first, all other things to the contrary notwithstanding.
OA advocates are happy with the Wellcome announcement, and are especially pleased at the obligatory character of the OA requirement. NIH introduced a voluntary policy asking authors to deposit a copy of the accepted manuscript reporting results of work done on NIH grants at PubMedCentral. The compliance rate for the voluntary measure turned out to be rather low, a fact which produced a flurry of breast-beating and hair-tearing on the part of some who should have known better. The Wellcome policy may mark the next phase in the OA story. When a major funder takes the gloves off and says “Do it this way, or get your money someplace else”, that sets a precedent others cannot simply ignore. There is dissatisfaction in Congress at the weak results of the voluntary policy, and some muttering to the effect that, persuasion having failed, it may be time to try the Lash. We shall see.
Peter Suber, an OA enthusiast, discusses the decision and supplies some useful links:
One of the great medical mysteries surrounds the life and work of William B. Coley, MD, a New York surgeon active in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries . Coley noted with astonishment that when one of his virtually hopeless cancer patients contracted a severe strep infection, the cancer disappeared completely and the patient returned to health. Coley spent the next several years trying to develop a useful cancer therapy out of this observation, with different preparations to induce the cancer-killing infection and the body’s reaction but had tantalyzingly mixed results. Some desperately ill patients were cured and some were not. “Coley’s fluid” or “Coley’s toxins” were regarded as curiosity or a mystery, since there was evidence enough to suggest something was happening, but nobody could figure out what, or why it worked. The NYTimes recently published an extensive article on the rebirth of interest in Coley’s toxins on the part of several big pharma companies, and explained that there now may be better scientific understanding of the mechanisms that Coley just stumbled across, but was unable to isolate or harnass reliably. In the book A Commotion in the Blood; life, death and the immune system, Stephan S. Hall tells the Coley story in detail,as part of a history of immunotherapy, and shows that Science just was not ready to exploit Coley’s insight. It would take many years of research before even the outlines of possible immunotherapies , and the rationale for them, could be sketched. Coley enjoyed a long and successful career as a surgeon, but felt that the greatest prize had eluded him. One of the major firms conducting the research described in the Times article is named Coley Pharmaceuticals.
Get Hall’s book from the Library: WD 300 h179c 1997
Read the NYT piece:
Revival for Immunity
The rise of Google has been one of the more remarkable stories of the Internet Age. Industry observers and the “geekerati” generally spend, apparently, a good deal of time in speculating which way the Behemoth will move and what its next product or service will be. Its balance sheet looks pretty good…indeed very good. So Google has enough dough to explore several avenues, like a dowager trying on hats. Some commentators have suggested a Battle of the Giants, in which the big G takes on Microsoft in a fight to the coporate death, a kind of internet based Rome and Carthage. Others suggest a multi-path, mult-product approach which ignores Microsoft, preferring instead to field services such as cheap, universal web access, internet telephony, etc. The Grouch, with his usual dose of misanthropy and cynicism, suggests that it’s als0 possible Google hasn’t any big idea at all, that there is no “master plan”, and that the company will toddle along exploiting whatever clever notions its brainy staff come up with, pushing those that pay off and dropping those that don’t. That seems to these eyes pretty much what has been going on up till now, with very respectable results. MIT’s mag Techology Reviewrecently published a shortish survey of what putatively “informed outsiders” think could be in the works. Or not. It reminds the BG of the Cold War days, when “analysts” created elaborate scenarios about the Soviet Union, its intentions, weapons, etc, on only the very slimmest evidence. For analysts, read “guessers”, or guessers with slide rules, or calculators. Does anybody use a slide rule nowadays?
The Grouch made passing refrence to a book without giving proper bibliographic particulars, in case a LibraryLink reader might want to read it, and apologizes for the lapse. The item in question is:
Adam’s Task; calling animals by name. The author is Vicki Hearne, and the book was published in 1986 by Knopf. The Grouch will also undergo a period of suitable and strict penance for this departure from good library practice.
FORTUNE is not high on t he BG’s reading list, but a colleague was zipping through the 75th Anniversary issue looking for something, and in an article on Samsung Electronics, stumbled on TRIZ. This is an acronym, from Russian, which translates into something roughly like Theory of Inventive Problem Solving. Way back in the bad old Stalinist times, a reviewer in the Soviet patent office noticed that innovations and discoveries seemed to occur in waves. He began to wonder if innovation did not depend on flashes of genius, but might be a teachable skill, open to all, like playing the banjo or typing. Find the principles, set them forth, follow the rules, and voila, or its Russian equivalent, you get Innovative Problem Solving. So, the TRIZ movement got started, and has spread from the motherland of Communism to such capitalist citadels as Ford and Samsung. It’s an intriguing idea, so the BG did a little looking and sure enough, there’s a whole TRIZ movement, with its own journal and everything. The Grouch thinks considerable reserve is in order, having been run through the sheep dipping pens of the various managment fads that have come and gone, without much effect on the way things get done. But, it wouldn’t hurt to at least, like, look. Ford is perhaps not the best witness to call, but Samsung is an interesting company. Maybe there’s Trizing and then again there’s Trizing.
Explanatory article..rather dense
The Blogging Grouch looks back with amazement at how much the people of earlier ages managed to get done, and without the help of “productivity aides” such as PC’s, software, faxes and so on. The 19th century was jammed with prolific writers and investigators all squirreling away in their studies and labs, producing the most astonishing things. One of these pioneers was a Spanish researcher, the son of a small town physician, a so-so student, would be athlete and chess nut, who decided that he would unravel the structure of the nervous system. And, he did. Working pretty much alone, in his kitchen, with a simple microscope and his drawing abilities, Santiago Ramon Y Cajal patiently traced, and then drew with pen and ink, the elements that are now so familiar but which were in the 1880′s completely unknown. He made the greatest progress when he adapted the histologic staining methods of another kitchen researcher, Camillo Golgi, who also worked largely alone and with only the simplest equipment. The two pioneers were perhaps similar in temperament, but they differed in their understanding of the nervous system. Golgi supported a “conectionist” view, in which nerves were formed without breaks or interruptions, like a telephone cable. Ramon Y Cajal was sure that the matter was more complicated. He visited Berlin in 1888 and dumfounded everybody at the meeting with the elegance of his dissections and illustrations. Golgi and Ramon Y Cajal shared the Nobel in 1906.
This is an oft-told tale, but it gets another treatment, by an American neurosurgeon. Nerve Endings; the discovery of the synapse by Richard Rapport , published by Norton. The review in Nature was enthusiastic.