There’s an old Irving Berlin song…”Let’s face the music, and dance”. Science is not doing much dancing, but the mag is facing the music, playing loudly out of the report issued by a special study group convened by editor Donald Kennedy in the wake of the Stem Cell caper, in which two papers which appeared in the AAAS journal, dealing with purported breakthroughs in stem cell biology, were shown to be based on fraudulent results. The Dec 1 issue of Science contains a special section on the study group’s recommendations. It’s good news/bad news kind of thing. On the plus side, the investigators could not fault the way the journal handled the manuscript and the reviewersâ€™ comments. On the minus side, obviously, a faked paper got through the defenses, with serious negative consequences. The study group makes several recommendations, including one to insist on the submission of more primary research data, especially in “high risk” submissions. This extra surveillance is going to cost and the group raised the possibility of “conflict with authors” as drawback. The Grouch is not impressed. It’s Science, remember? If Kennedy tells the authors to sit on a cake of ice with their pants down and stay there till he says it’s OK to get up, the authors will do it, and smile all the while. You think they’ll yank their manuscript and send it someplace else? Not bloody likely, as Eliza said. This story got a lot of play in the general media, so the BG is tacking it on to today’s new content in LibraryLink. A special site was created for a statement by the editor, for the report proper and for other related links. It seems pretty comprehensive.
Here’s a quick update on some things that have been happening in Library Land.
The National Library of Medicine’s subject thesaurus, Medical Subject Headings (MeSH), is revised annually and the revision for 2007 has been added to the system. So, searches conducted in MEDLINE through any of the various product interfaces for it (PubMed, OVID, etc) will be using the new indexing and searching vocabulary. Find out more about MeSH:
NLM has been working on the support material for PubMed and has created several interactive tutorials that are task-specific. They cover topics such as searching by author or by journal name, creating saved searches, using MeSH term to create a search. The general PubMed tutorial can be found on the blue sidebar of the PubMed screen. Anybody who searches PubMed should view the tutorial, and re-view it several times a year. Also in the blue sidebar are the HELP and FAQ functions. The HELP contains the various task specific tutorials I just mentioned, and they are denoted by the title QUICK TOUR, next to an image of a snippet of film.
Take a look.
In 2007, NLM will add a resource called Citing Medicine: the NLM Style Guide for Authors, Editors, and Publishers. Unfortunately, I can’t be more precise about the date, but when the product is ready, I’ll post a announcement.
No, I’ve got it right, thanks. That’s the name of a book by Charles C. Mann, a science journalist who has been following developments in the archaeology and anthropology of the Americas before contact with Europeans. It’s a lot of territory to cover, in both the strict and the extended senses of that word, but Mann does a good job of synthesizing the results of many individuals and research teams, stretching back some fifty years or so. It’s a big book, structured around three themes: Indians (he uses the term deliberately and tells why in an appendix) were many times more numerous than the Received Version states or implies. Many tens of millions may have died off as a result of diseases brought across the Atlantic. Indians were in the Americas far longer, and achieved a great deal more, than the previous histories suggested. And lastly, Indians did not live lightly on the land, but changed, altered, and engineered it to suit their own purposes. What Columbus and the others encountered was a human creation, managed over millenia by societies who didn’t like what they found in nature, and changed it. It’s a big venture into “almost everything you thought you knew was wrong”, and not surprisingly there are some who don’t buy it…at all, or only in part. One of the funny parts concerns Mann’s surprise when he discussess these ideas at major universities. People in the audience ask him how they can find out more about these notions, but the joke is that the auditorium is full of people who can do exactly that. Academic boundries are so tight and communication across them so difficult that even novel or even revolutionary notions don’t get much attention on campus outside the guild.
It takes an outsider to create something like a synthesis. Then too, Profs are afraid of being too good at talking to the Multitudes, for fear of being dismissed as a mere “popularizer”. Ho, Ho, Ho time is coming. Give Santa a hint. Tell him you want 1491.
1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus (Paperback)
by Charles C. Mann
560 pages. Vintage
The plays of the German dramatist Bertholt Brecht are coming back into favor. Mother Courage has had a successful revival on Broadway, with Meryl Streep as the eponymous Mom. And, his Life of Galileo just finished a very nice run in London’s Olivier Theater. Brecht’s dramaturgical techniques went out of fashion, perhaps from over-familiarity, and his Communism has definitely been relegated to the ideological ragbag. Still, he could write a good play, and Galileo shows him at the top of his form. The work itself went through several verisons, reflecting the author’s changing ideas and commitments, which is important to note, since it’s what the Germans call an Ideendrama, or drama of ideas. The people have to exemplify the concepts, and the concepts or ideas have to conflict but you can’t make it a comic Good guys and Bad guys doodle, like a cowboy picture. Doing this in a non-sleep inducing, and even in an exciting fashion is no small trick. Galileo was made into a movie, starring Charles Laughton, but that was kind of a mess and kind of a flop. Brecht vacillated on his view of science; he was rather less positive and optimistic after Hiroshima than he had been before. So, his hesitations were made manifest in the various drafts and versions of Galileo. Ideendrama seems to be making a modest comeback in the English-speaking realm at least. Proof , Copenhagen, Arcadia all deal with scientifiic topics. It’s a nice change, if you’re tired of A Chorus Line .
Dr. Jennifer Rohn, editor of LabLit, published a meditative review on the London version of the Galileo which repays attentive reading.
The BG posted a story about the sale of Thomas Eakins’ The Gross Clinic to a joint ownership arrangement of the National Gallery and the Crystal Bridges gallery, under construction in Arkansas. In Sunday’s NYTimes there was an article on the painting in the Close Reading feature. Close Reading takes well-known cultural objects and reviews them from some critical standpoint…perhaps technical, perhaps social. The piece about the Eakins painting was interesting and strange at the same time. Some of the interpretations suggested seem pretty silly, but what do I know? To me, it’s just a good painting.
PS. I noted that the item linked to in the online version is much reduced and severely edited, compared to the story that ran in the print version. Caveat lector, about this and other things.
The Gross Clinic is one of the greatest American paintings of the 19th century. It was painted by Thomas Eakins, of Philadelphia, to memorialize Dr. Samuel D. Gross, a revered teacher and mentor at the Jefferson Medical College in that city. If America had a Pantheon for its artists, Eakins would be right up there. Many consider his paintings to be among the greatest this country has ever produced, in any style , at any period. For years, the Clinic resided in a special exhibit section of the institution. But, the red hot art market caused the Jefferson trustees to think about selling their masterpiece and using the proceeds to develop the campus, which is located in downtown Philly, where space is cramped and land is pricey. Some sort of joint ownership deal has been worked out between the National Gallery in Washington and the new Crystal Bridges museum in Bentonville, Ark. That town is the HQ for Walmart, and Walton money is involved both in the museum and in the purchase of the picture. More people will see the picture in either of those places than can see it now, and it will enjoy expert curatorial attention, so I guess it’s a plus all around. The Clinic depicts an operation for osteomyelitis, and is interesting for medical historians in that it shows common surgical practices during Gross’s time. Nobody in the scene is masked, gowned or gloved, and a figure thought to be the patient’s mother is visible to the left of the table. It’s powerful and even upsetting work:
And his name was Peter…Peter Rabbit. He had some irritating siblings, who always obeyed their mother and always did the right thing. OK, we’re talking about the creations of Beatrix Potter. I doubt if there is anyone in North America, or anywhere on earth, unfamiliar with Ms. Potter’s menagerie of cute critters, so wonderfully depicted by the author herself. But Beatrix Potter’s skills went beyond illustrating kids’ books, though that is no small accomplishment. Get the book and look at the pictures again. They’re lovely, astonishingly lovely. She was an accomplished artist, and used her skills in botanical illustration. She was also a fine naturalist, devoted to the lowly slime and fungi, and would have made some original contributions, had she been allowed to publish her discoveries. But, late Victorian England was an iffy place for women seeking recognition in the sciences, and BP was a shy creature, unwilling to use the sharp elbows. She had her revenge in a way, in that her books made her a nice pile of change. She prudently invested this in land, expanded her holdings and found a realm for her interest in nature by exploring her own lands. There are several books about the lady on the market, including a selection of her drawings and paintings. She was another one of those annoying Brits, who get stuff done.
(Be sure to go all the way down the page to Further Readings, and check out those links)
The New York Times Magazine for November 5 ran a long article on the current state of the Oxford English Dictionary, familiarly known as the OED. In this piece, the author concentrates more on the way the dictionary is managed today than on its history. Editors and lexicographers make intensive use of the Internet, and have created their own search tools and term candidate managing software to help in the preparation of the the Third Edition. In fact, the Third may be the last “edition”, since it seems very likely that digital publication will be the only way that the OED can be created and maintained. There may be only one, continuously appearing “edition”, and I guess in time the edition statement will just be dropped. No other language has anything like the OED and its editors are anxious to keep its reputation for flawless scholarship intact, while trying also to add new words as quickly as possible. Old words are often give new meanings, and obsolete or specialist words suddenly appear in new contexts. The Grouch’s favorite example is “parse”. The OED also tries to list the first use of a word or phrase in English, with quotation, but it often happens that earlier examples of the word used in that meaning turn up, so revision is necessary on that score as well.
Well, that’s sort of right and sort of wrong. I was looking through the same issue of the NYRB that I used for the last post and ran across Dyson’s article on a book, Ivar Ekeland’s The Best of All Possible Worlds: mathematics and destiny, which discusses Maupertuis and his formulation of the Law of Least Action. The first part of the article capably reviews the work in question. Then Dyson goes on to state where and how he differs from the author in describing the key events in scientific history. Continental Rationalism has to be balanced against Empiricism, theory is vital, but depends on experiment, mathematics gives rigor, but has to leave room for imagination, even fantasy. It sounds pretty drab in my hands, but Dyson’s presentation is much more fluent, learned and graceful. Freeman Dyson is one of the Grands Seigneurs of Physics, who knew and worked with many of the 20th century’s most important researchers. His own scientific contributions are considerable, and he has done yeoman service as an explainer and interpreter of scientific ideas. We should hope that there will be many more such essays.
This item appeared in the October 19 issue, but does not appear on the NYRB web site. The Review does not make every article available online, but maybe this one will come up later. Get the printed version. It’s worth it.
The New York Review of Books carries a short (for the NYRB) article by Jason Epstein on Google and its impact on publishing. He refers to five books for various pieces of information and for arguments on what Google has done so far and on what could be possible in the near future. One of the books so mined is Anderson’s The Long Tail, and Epstein is convinced that books are just as likely to work in this suggested model as music and video already do. The Grouch cheered when the author faced up to what other observers seem to have fudged or missed: people won’t or cant’ read, that is READ, long texts on a screen. Digitization, alone, is not enough. Some kind of Print on Demand (POD)that produces a decently bound volume for a reasonable charge in a short time is the key to effective delivery. Epstein has a commercial interest in such a venture, which has a modest deployment schedule, and mentions a couple of similar experiments. And there is no reason why libraries have to be the only source of POD services, although they’d be nuts to stay away from it. Commercial chain outlets of all sorts offer photo development, internet services, faxing, copying. So why not books on demand? A lot of time and money has been spent on devising new types of screens that somehow aren’t really screens. That is, they are supposed to overcome or minimize the body’s reaction to staring at, well, screens: decreased blink rate, drier eyes, and the subliminal mess in the eye-brain complex caused by flicker and pixel panic. I say at least some of the cash should flow in the direction of producting cheap, reliable, effective POD equipment. The possiblities are staggering, at least for those who want to read, and can. But, that’s another story.