The Grouch spent last week on the Left Coast, in San Francisco. The daughters were running in the Leukemia/Lymphoma marathon, and we were on hand to provide moral support and enjoy a kind of mini family reunion. They registered for the Half and finished standing up, crossing the line under their own power, and without injury. That’s a victory right there. A number of L/L survivors ran in the race also.
One of the big shoe manufacturer is the corporate sponsor, which can cause some eyebrows to rise. But organizing an event takes cash and people, so there has to be a sponsor with both. If they sell a few running shoes, OK .
SF has changed a good bit since my last visit, a long time ago. It’s bigger, noisier, more crowded, more like New York (take that any way you want to) than I remembered, and a lot pricier too. Once you get away from Downtown, the older city still seems to be there, quieter, calmer and more relaxed. The new Museum of Modern Art downtown and the De Young Art Museum in Golden Gate Park are absolute stunners. The MoMA won a fistful of prizes from architectural associations. The De Young has a very intriguing exterior design, and a kind of lattice cladding on the central tower that makes the whole building look mysterious somehow. The collections are very good; not s0 much that you’re stupefied and not so little that you wonder where the art is.
We went to a Tom Stoppard play: “Travesties”. It builds on the historical fact that Lenin, James Joyce and Tzara, one of the pioneers of the Dada movement, all were living in Zurich in 1917. What would their interactions have been like, had they met? It’s hard to imagine Joyce and Lenin slinging zingers at one another, but you get used to it. And a good deal of the “action” is set in the Zurich Public Library, so I was sympathetic on that score alone.
Oh, yeah, we ate richly and often. And we walked. And walked and… you get it. I hope the eating and the walking cancel out.
Another cheating scandal! The New York Times Magazine for this past Sunday reports on the events which unfolded at the University of Vermont. For starters, it’s the first case in which the perp was assessed jail time as part of the cleaning up process. The Feds were really annoyed it seems. Second, it shows how to get started in the research fraud racket: pick an area that is sort of important, in order to get funding, but not really, really hot, because too many people will be looking too closely at what you do.
The investigator picked the topic of HDL/LDL levels as influenced, or not, by aging in which not to do research. He made a lot of it up out of whole cloth, claiming that a total of 35 patients had been tracked at regular intervals over a number of years. In fact, only two patients really existed. There certainly seems to be a matter of misdirected talent here… anybody with that kind of fertile and sustained power of imagination shouldn’t be fooling around in a lab. Writing fiction, or movie screen plays, or figuring out how to spin out a few more seasons of Lost would be more lucrative and a lot less likely to result in prison time.
Here’s the link:
It’s time for a quick look over the water to see what the elves at Nature have been up to, that we haven’t noted here. So, now follow some quick reports on new doings at the banner scientific publication, at least in the English-speaking world, and maybe everywhere. First, they are channeling the spirit of Robert Boyle, by fielding a chemistry blog that bears the name of his famous book, The Skeptical Chymist. The newer entries cover the meeting of the American Chemical Society in San Francisco. Comments are welcome, and the site has some interesting out-links to other chemistry sources. Then, there is a debate on the topic of peer review. PR is under close critical scrutiny in some areas, since it doesn’t seem to have done much in detecting the embarrassing scandals involving data faking. The forum has a number of commissioned articles on PR, past and present and the impact of technology and social changes on how prepublication evaluation might be conducted. Finally, the journal has been offering Open Peer Review (OPR) to contributors, allowing them to designate their manuscripts for posting on a web site and general commentary by the informed community. It’s an experiment.
When the BG was a sprat, lo these many years, the paradigmatic science was physics. If movie makers and playwrights wanted to have a shot at something scientific, they picked physics or what might be mistaken for physics on a cloudy day. It probably was the Bomb, and all that led up to It and away from It. Nothing like a big noise to attract attention. Recently, some of the lustre seems to have rubbed off the magic lamp of physics, while biology has climbed on its bicycle and is doing very, very nicely. Chemistry is still chemistry, short on glamour but long on bad smells and commercial payoff. Physics seems to be down in the conceptual dumps, largely due to the failure in identifying a theortetical schema connecting quantum phenomena with relativistic explanations. Some people inside the guild are willing to point the j’accuse finger unambiguously at their candidate for causing the descent into the Slough of Despond: String Theory. In this view of the world, the ultimate elements in the universe are not particles of any type, but tiny vibrating bits of energy called strings. The various combinations of these strings produce The World. ST has been really hot in physics departments all around the world as the best candidate for a grand unified theory that will explain all reality. Its proponents say it makes a lot of sense, and the math in which it is expressed looks cool, even if it is very difficult. The party poopers here are the experimentalists who want to see some evidence. After all the chalk boarding, show us something we can put to a test. There are two new books The Trouble with Physics, and Not Even Wrong, each written bya physics insider, detailing the critical attack on ST. Both have been extensively reviewed in various journals and blogs. The Nature review will suffice here.
The Wikipedia is a “free-range” encyclopedia, created and edited by volunteers. WP has been the subject of some criticism about the reliability of its content, the manner in which topics are selected, and most of all over the ability of just about anybody to edit somebody else’s contribution, whether on matters of fact or on questions of style. Nature reports on an initiative to defuse at least some of these fritction points by creating a parallel encyclopedia called Citizendium, not a name the Blogging Grouch would have chosen, but no matter. The new tool will use the WP content, but approach the question of editing by the creation of subject authorities or field experts, who will vouch for and approve articles to be included in the Citizendium. This new tool is supposed to concentrate on scientific topics, and is viewed as an experiment, but if the trial period passes successfully the subject coverage could be extended. A focus on scientific topics is a bit strange, since they seem to be the ones less likely to suffer inaccuracies or be the subject of malicious editing. I guess it’s hard to raise passions about the wavelength of blue, but easy to do so when discussing Klingon grammar. Watch out for Citizendium which is supposed to launch next week.
For years, scholars working to transform their observations and ideas into acceptably publishable manuscripts have been guided in their task by the prescriptions, admonitions and prohibitions of the Chicago Manual of Style (CMoS). While there are any number of style guides, the CMoS takes pride of place as the one that gives the most comprehensive advice on the broadest field of scholarly disciplines. Math, economics, chemistry, music, you name it, it’s in there, and there are chapters advising on how to handle citations in foreign languages, both those based on the Roman alphabet and those not. Take that, AMA!
A story in the New York Times for Sept. 28 describes the release of an online version of the CMoS, an event which will make manuscript preparation a lot easier for a lot of scholars, one hope anyway. One little dollop contained in the Times piece concerns the existence of a free online service run by the University of Chicago Press, publisher of the CMoS. Often referred to as “Car Talk for Writers”, the site answers questions posted to it by puzzled scribes.
OK, not this again, I can hear the whining now. But, this is an interesting take on that Old Chestnut. The New Atlantis is a think piece publication, which seeks to explore how technology and society relate. The name comes from Francis Bacon’s book describing a society transformed by the knowledge yielded through experimental science. So, I guess the mag should really be called The New New Atlantis. Anyway, there is an item in the Summer issue, Rethinking Peer Review, a four-pager which gives a quick survey of the ways in which internet publication is changing science journals. People tend to think that peer review has been around for donkey’s years, but it’s actually a rather recent innovation. After WWII, the research boom produced a publication boom which swamped the previously existing editorial mechanisms; essentially, an editor and a shockingly underpaid secretary or two. PR evolved out of the need to do some kind of screening on the submitted manuscripts to separate the more from the less worthy. The task of sharing editorial work was simplified by technology, in this case the invention of the photocopier in 1959-60 or so. (Old Codger’s note: making multiple copies of anything was for a very long time a tough job, involving crude and messy methods such as stencils, carbon paper, mimeograph and other things which have virtually disappeared nowadays, and good riddance. The first Xerox machine was greated with something close to delirium). There is no doubt that PR has proven useful and there is no doubt either that it has been invested with claims and expectations that no method relying on human beings can possibly realize. And there has been a steady drum beat of critique claiming that PR is frequently abused and frequently also serves more as a filter to keep out interesting and perhaps unsettling ideas rather than to help ensure quality. More old straw, but the article in question says that the net/web will change this situation drastically, in fact perhaps do away entirely with what we know as Peer Review. PLoS’s new PLoS ONE venture, and Nature’s experimental open review policy are discussed as harbingers of the via moderna