WFB closed a class act by dying at his desk, in his study, writing something. It was a “die with your boots on” moment if ever there was one. He was for decades the chief Apostle and Prophet of American conservatism and its most eloquent and effective spokesman. Born to wealth, he worked as hard as any scribbler in “the pulps”,trying to make ends meet on a nickel a line. He was bright, smart, a good writer, a superb debater and genuinely funny.
There are a number of obits gathered on Arts and Letters Daily. I think the best ones are from the London Times and The London Telegraph.
The New York Times reports that tomorrow, Thursday, the Encyclopedia of Life will be made available with an initial inventory of some 30,000 species. It will take about another ten years to get the remaining 1.5 million plus into the can, and there has to be some attention given to the discovery of new critters. According to some estimates, there are many more undiscovered species than those known about. The project has some significant backers who have made $50M available for development costs in the first five years. A great deal of the money is going to the creation of special tools that will help EoL authors create pages to describe individual species much faster than was the case in previous efforts of this kind. The descriptions for each critter will include graphics, color, audio files (eg. birdsong) and other data apart from taxonomic descriptions alone. For a long tme biologists have been trying to elucidate what has come to be called the Tree of Life, but now that rather mirage-like goal may actually be within reach. E.O. Wilson was the guiding spirit, and now serves as honorary chairman. The current project director is James Edwards. Everyone in biology is pretty excited at the dizzying prospect, but some wonder where all the needed content will come from. Taxonomists are an endangered species themselves. One byproduct of EoL may be to encourage younger scientists to consider systematics as a career choice. No money in it, but that might change too, at least a little.
Encyclopedia of Life
No promises on that link.
The Arts and Sciences Faculty at Harvard University adopted a plan whereby the ‘final draft’ of any manuscript accepted for publication would be placed on the University’s web site, unless the author(s) specifically requested that this not happen. This step would make default Open Access (OA) publication the norm, which is probably a first. Other institutions have considered this policy but the big H has done it. Some things are not clear, at least not from the news reports. Can faculty impose a “blanket” delay, or must each final draft be restricted by separate action? What happens when coauthors split over releasing the pub on the School’s site? Lots of potential for discord there, no? And, what exactly is the “final draft?” I think some of these will be easier to solve than others, but there’s no way around the fact that this is a very big boost for OA publication. The new issue of Nature has a short news item on this, and notes that this policy would conflict with the editorial policies of Cell, Science, and, well Nature So, we shall see. Do the publishers accomodate themselves to Harvard or Harvard to the publishers?
Methods in Enzymology is an important resource in bioscience, and the Medical Library has recently arranged for online access to it for UTMB personnel. The first installment, so to speak, of coverage runs from the year 2000 to the present, but in the near future access will be extended to the entire corpus of the title, from 1955 to the present.
The Bandit chief in The Magnificent Seven justifies his predations against the poor villagers by the rather Darwinian explanation that “if God did not want them shorn, He would not have made them sheep.” But most of the time, the sheep don’t need to be fleeced by force or threats; they run right up to the Fleecer and practically thrust their money into his pockets. So it was with the fabulous John R. Brinkley. An American, a child of the Middle West (Kansas), a graduate of one of the many dubious “medical schools” existing at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries and definitely a man with eye for the main chance. That was the Great Day of the Patent Medicine and Snake Oil salesmen, a tribe who roved the American continent vending their potations and preparations to a credulous populace. To be fair, there wasn’t really much scientific medicine to be had past the Eastern seabord, and even if there were some around, it wasn’t able to do much for a lot of people. Dr. B. did some market research and found that a lot of men back then, as now, had worries about losing sexual vigor. He proposed to help them by means of the surgical implantation of goat testes into their own genitals, at the rate of $750 for the operation. That was a lot of money in the WWI era, so Brinkley was not exactly going cheap. But even so, the money started to roll in, and the operating suite was a busy place indeed.
How all this got started, was kept going, and was finally derailed, largely through the effort of Morris Fishbein, MD, dedicated quackbuster and paladin of the nascent American Medical Association, is detailed in a new book:
Charlatan: America’s Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him and the Age of Flimflamby Pope Brock. Crown Publishers: 2008. 304 pp. $24.95
Brinkley was in many ways the prototypical American “booster”, so prominent in the Roaring Twenties, and skewered so mercilessly in the novels of Sinclair Lewis. But he was no dope either, and he had the huckster’s intuitive grasp of what people want. He was one of the major forces in the development of radio. He built a mega station south of the border, from which he beamed promotional messages mixed up with music, news and other announcements, since he realized that continuous promotion of goat gland surgery was not likely to keep many listeners. At a time when nobody was really sure what to do with radio, Brinkley’s Mexican Million Watt sender got people thinking. Finally, Fishbein exposed him, and the Mexican government got so nervous about some of the pro-Nazi content coming from the
station that they shut it down. He died a relatively young man, of heart trouble. Fishbein went on to become the unoffical spokesman of organized American medicine. Dr.B was an amazing figure. As the guy said, Only in America!
Technology Review peers at the tea leaves and prognosticates on what it claims will be the most important technologies of the year. Some of them seem pretty far out on the developmental curve to me, but these things often happen with surprising speed. I like the idea of of wireless power transmission, which connects with something that the bizarro genius Nikola Tesla was messing around with before the money ran out. Cellulosic ethanol sounds like a great way around some of the problems surrounding the large scale production of biofuels, and nanoradio really appeals to me mainly because I’ve always like radio and think anything connected with it is really cool.
What’s in a name? Plenty, as it turns out. Researchers in the Asian countries are publishing as never before, but many of them are not getting the recognition they deserve and their contributions are not being properly acknowledged and used because of problems in ascertaining who has done what. Journals and indexing/abstracting services such as MEDLINE and Chemical Abstracts have rules about the way in which author names appear on publications or in citations. The rules date from a period in which the largest portion of scientific research came from the Atlantico-European area, in which certain naming conventions, such as last name followed by first initial(s) could be applied to save space on the one hand, and with a good degree of accuracy on the other. Although, it must be said, the fit was far from perfect. But with the great increase of research publication from China, Japan, and Korea conventions such as “last name, followed by two initials” didn’t work so well. In some countries of Asia, the “first name, last name” concept does not exist. And there is also a relative paucity of names…many,many people share the same name and also share other denoters. So it can get to be a problem. Nature has an article on this matter and on some possible ways to combat its effects. Librarians have been aware of this issue for many, many years, and adopted tools and countermeasures to help make sure that personal names were identified properly and treated consistently in finding aids, most notably the Library’s catalog. The advent of online searching in the Seventies made it all more serious because the pitfalls in name searching were unknown, or not taken seriously. It’s good to know the rest of the world is catching up to us.
On Dec. 26, 2007 the President signed legislation instructing the NIH to adopt measures to ensure the deposit, in an Open Access archive, of reports describing the results of research funded by the Institutes, “in whole or in part”. A “voluntary” program initiated in 2005 failed quite miserably and now the lawmakers mean business. NIH created a set of policies to implement the legislation. Essentially, if you take NIH funding, you MUST see to it that the final accepted manuscript, with supporting materials, is archived in the NIH’s electronic repository PubMed Central.
There are probably some questions, so here’s a suggestion: Follow the link below and READ CAREFULLY Prof. Peter Suber’s analysis of the NIH policy and what it means and how authors should act. (Note: Prof. Suber’s background is in philosophy and law, both disciplines requiring careful attention to texts. He is also a committed advocate of Open Access publishing.) No matter how you feel about this measure, or about OA generally, you will profit by reading this careful and detailed summary. DO NOT TRY TO SKIM OR SPEED READ through this. Print it out, go someplace quiet and READ IT ALL, MORE THAN ONCE. The article contains a number of internal links to official NIH documentation and the FAQ. There is also a good discussion of some open questions, and a quick summary of threatened legal action on the part of publishers who feel that their Ox is being gored.
The article is entitled The Mandates of January and describes an astonishingly large number of OA mandates issued by various bodies and agencies. These are worth reading too, but to get to the NIH case, scroll down until you read: “The day after Christmas, President Bush….” That’s it.
Finally, there’s a long backstory to this, but in essence what has happened is that Congress has bought the “equity/justice” argument saying reports of publicly funded research should be generally available without further costs or fees. Congress is also intriqued by the suggestion that easier access to research will speed up the development of improved diagnostic and therapeutic interventions, maybe even cures. This may not be true, but nobody in Congress wants to be seen opposing a measure that might result in treatments or even cures. So, the gloves are off.
A new web service called BIOMEDEXPERTS allows persons working in the biological sciences to gather information about others working in the same area. The parent organization is Collexis Holdlings, Inc, and Dell Computer is also a part of the project. Promotional material describes BIOMEDEXPERTS as a kind of social software for biological researchers. Here is some boilerplate: “Where first generation social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn require users to enter data, BioMedExperts is a life science open platform that goes to the next level – it continuously captures the research activity of experts worldwide, serving as a definitive source to identify relationships to others within the community, either by topic or geography”
The Medical Library is now able to offer UTMB personnel online access to Journal Citation Reports (JCR). The JCR is the source for data on Impact Factors (IF) assigned to journals, and this information is, in turn, sometimes used in the professional evaluation of individual investigators. UTMB personnel wishing to ascertain the IF of a journal can do so by starting at the Medical Library web page. In the section labeled Core Resources, the link Impact Factors takes the searcher to the initial page of the JCR.