It’s a gloomy, rainy morning, the kind on which you open the mail to find that your manuscript has been sent back, perhaps with a chilly note that the item in question “does not meet our needs at this time”. Take heart, for you have joined the Great Army of the Rejected. And many authors, now famous, spent a long time slogging in the ranks before somebody decided to take a chance, and the Rest, as the saying goes, become History. Think about Theodore Geisel, Dr. Seuss to you, who was told repeatedly by the best minds in publishing at 27 publishers that his book was too weird and too far off the patch to be publishable. The 28th took a chance on To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street, launching Dr. S on a path that would brink sales of more than 400 million copies of the good man’s productions. There is even a compendium of head-slappers, tales of how good, even great, writers were turned away with a hard smack on the fanny. It’s called Rotten Rejections: A Literary Companion (1990), edited by Andre Bernard, and some of the editorial miscalls are pretty funny. So, take heart. The author’s life is a hard and lonely one, whether s/he is writing fiction, poetry, or research findings, and the hide of a rhinoceros is very good cover.
The story is available from Arts and Letters Daily
Robert Fulford is the author. It’s in the right hand column.
The AAMC has launched a resource to help medical educators. MEDEDPORTAL offers persons involved in medical education the opportunity to deposit learning modules or tutorials they have developed and enjoy the benefit of professional review by colleagues. The site also allows educators to search for materials they might want to use in their own teaching. Before spending a great deal of time and effort working up a course item, it might be wise to see if somebody has saved you the trouble by creating a first-rate presentation of whatever thorny concept you are trying to teach. And, simply browsing or window shopping among the items posted might jump-start your own neurons to think about your task in a slightly different way, with good results. Take a look:
The Library has added a number of electronic textbooks in general medicine, nursing and various clinical specialties under the umbrella heading of Books@OVID. The titles are provided by OVID Technologies, Inc. which also creates the proven search interface to MEDLINE and a number of other literature retrieval services. There are about 50 titles in the list. Users can browse the contents of the individual books, browse by subject or make use of either a simple query function or the full OVID search. The simplest way to get to Books@OVID is to start on the Library’s home page, select Databases from the column on the right, and on the succeeding screen, which is labeled Core Databases, find the link to Books@OVID, four items down from the top.
This blog has several aims. One of them is alerting readers to new services or improved capabilities in the information resources offered by the Library to its user base. We probably have not done enough of this, but here’s a down payment on better performance. The Web of Science (W0S) now offers a web-based version of EndNote, which searchers can access and use from inside the system. The feature is called My EndNote Web. You create your own profile, come up with ID/password authentication, do some practice and follow the instructions. You then have your own EndNote citation manager, to help you organize your references, and create bibliographies in the various output styles required by the journals to which you are submitting. WoS offers this web-based basic version as a perk to persons affiliated with the institution subscribing to the searching system. You can access the EndNote utility from the Web of Knowledge page, or from inside WoS, once you have conducted a search and have results to process. Importing from searching systems such as MEDLINE, Cinahl, PsycInfo is also allowed. If your affiliation with the subscribing institution ceases, then so does you MY EndNote, so be careful.
Librarians are a quirky bunch. They are the original contrarians, in as much as they want everybody to do things that most people don’t want even to hear about, much less really deal with. Keep things neat; Arrange stuff so you can find it again; Preserve it for use another day. Yeah, Yeah,Yeah. Who cares about all that? Well, what would you care about? Would you care about the tapes showing the original Moon landing? Should the record of the first time a human being stepped out onto a heavenly body other than the Earth be given some sort of intelligent and permanent curation? I think even the most disorderly among us would say: “Absolutely. What are you, crazy?” Well, NASA doesn’t think so, or didn’t until some engineers from the Apollo 11 mission went looking for the tapes, in an effort to review and perhaps improve the video footage. The technical background is rather engineer-geeky. The article reporting on this appeared in WIRED, the digit-head’s version of the The New Yorker, if that helps any. But the point I’m making here is that NASA didn’t do much at all with the Moon landing tapes, from the point of view of preservation. In fact, nobody knows where they are, or even if they are still in existence. They easily could have been erased, and then re-used for some other project. There are no reliable records about where they were stored, whether they were moved, who had them then or who might have them now. Stuff like this gives librarians fits. If the gummint can’t hang on to and take care of the video record of the first landing of our species on another world, what level of efficiency and effectiveness, would you guess, is applied to other materials? Recording technology has changed tremendously since 1969 and time simply marches on. Machines can no longer be found to read tapes from the era. The tapes may have disintegrated, or been affected in ways that make their content inaccessible. The people who knew about them are dead, or at least out of government service. NASA had budget cuts. Give ‘em a break! Yeah, maybe, but the first Moon landing? Wasn’t that, like, special? Aesop says never tell a story without drawing an improving moral, so here it is: the same thing is going to happen again, big time. And on a colossal scale. And the people who will have caused this data loss catastrophe will be retracing, step for step, the path taken by NASA staffers. One big difference will be that of extent. The loss will be many, many times greater than the one described here, and will spread out into all sectors of society, public and private. There is so much more recorded information around, in so many formats. It will be a kind of social dementia, an information Alzheimer’s.
PS. The story in Wired is good, and the people described in it are dedicated, skilled and admirable. Reading about them is not a complete downer, but the reverse.
So if you’ve been looking for a reason to hang around the lab some more, think about this one. Waltz across the stage to shake the King of Sweden’s hand, and you can live two years longer than you would have otherwise. Two reseachers in the UK reviewed the life spans of 524 Nobel nominees in the sciences, including of course the 135 prize winners. Nominees averaged a lifespan of 76 years, but winners stiffed the Grim Weeper, to quote my friend Archie Bunker, by 1.4 years (on average), and another couple of months in the case of nominees and winners from the same country. Why? “Status seems work a kind of health-giving magic”, said one of the authors of the Nobel longevity study. The size of the cash prize did not affect life span, nor did being nominated more than once. That explanation about the “magic” of status is not really very good, says the BG. High Status people live longer because they’re High Status People. There’s a name for this kind of reasoning, but I forget what it is. The research was reported on YAHOO! News, gathered from Reuters.
The Open Access (OA) publishing model is still in its early days. The Public Library of Science (PLoS) has launched a series of OA journals which enjoy very high scientific and critical reputation. Whether PLoS can make the thing go financially is still in doubt, but they are trying. The gang at PLoS recently added another horse to the stable, and it definitely is of a different color. PLoS One is the name of the new addition, and it differs from its stable mates in promising to publish any submission that is methodologically sound. The PloSians know they are swimming against the current in this one, but their thought is that PLoS One will let new materials get up on the web fast, and then be offered to the expert community for comment. In the “received model” of review, referees have to opine on the significance of the submission, but PLoS figures that lots of comment and suggestions for emendation, correction or enhancement are in themseleves signs of significance. Nature has a story on the newcomer, and on some reactions found when they asked how people felt about it. Harold Varmus, spiritual godfather and editor in chief at PLoS has long been critical of what he has called ‘CNS Disease’…the tendency to regard excessively publications in Cell, Nature, or Science. Critics have been after life science publishers for excessive timidity in exploiting the possiblities of electronic publication, especially for not making their offerings more like ArXiv, the Physics’ “commuity’s” pre-print server, which allows lots and lots of comments, which are of course, de facto reviews by de facto referees. Some of the contributors who have manuscripts in the PloS One hopper say that they were drawn to the site by the chance to try something new, and to help the OA movement along, at least a little. We shall see.
Nature on PloS One
PLoS One Home
The BG just sneered at “year in review” news programs. But, undaunted and unashamed, he will talk this week about exactly one of those, only with a kind of twist. Dr. Ben Goldacre, a UK physician who writes about bad science in his weekly feature Bad Science, compiled a review of the year’s work in health scares, phony health claims, and generally fakeola stuff masquerading as science. It all has a British slant. That’s good, because it shows that our cousins are just as apt to be suckers as we are over here. It’s also good to see that we are all suckers about the same things. There is enough local color to give the piece sufficient edge to make it interesting, but we are all, it seems, pretty much of a muchness…ready to toss away our dollars and pounds on unproven, unproveable or flat out ridiculous nostrums. Sigh!
In late December, we usually get a banquet of “year in review” news shows, in which the networks re-use footage they already have to make “new” programs, and not have to waste new episodes of popular shows, on people who are not at home, since they are out doing Christmas stuff. So, the BG wants to change pace a little and offer a preview: good science books coming up in 2007. Thanks to the UK’s GUARDIAN, we can see what the scientific publishers have up their sleeves. Some of the items picked sound interesting, and even fun. I know that in some scientific quarters, academic ones I’m thinking of mainly, sniffs are sniffed at the thought of authors who are “mere popularizers”, especially if these same authors make a nice buck with the book. The historians have the same problem with their “popularizers”, and feel the same resentments. There ain’t no justice. But, the public wants and needs both narrative history and good exposition and explanation of what’s happening in science. Whoever can do that, should. If there’s small check in the mail, fine with me.
PS. I’m kind of interested in the new life of Lady Caroline Herschel, who was a fascinating person, and the Herschels themselves a fascinating clan. Music and astronomy.
At the risk of getting a little bit twee on this site, the Grouch will follow up with a note that a new movie, Miss Potter, portrays the life and work of Beatrix Potter, who was featured here as a first class scientific artist, and excellent field naturalist, in addition to being the author and illustrator of Peter Rabbit and other kids’ books. I’m hoping they make something decent out of it. I’m a sucker for those period pieces, with lots of lush, green English countryside and impossibly cute villages, stuffed with improbably nice people who apparently have never had an angry thought or uttered a cross word. Ah, the movies!
Following up on another story, the BG is pleased to report that the good burghers of Philadelphia, or at lest those among them with trust funds and check books, have scraped together enough moola to keep Thomas Eakins’s painting The Gross Clinic in the city. Jefferson Medical University, which owns the painting, made it a condition of sale that local interests be given a certain period of time to raise funds sufficient to make the sale to non-Philly interests unnecessary. And, they did. So Jeff will get a nice pile of money AND get to keep Dr. Gross on the walls where he now stands. Hooray. And if any of this encourages anybody to look into the work of this American master, hooray for that too.