Maybe, just maybe. There have been some intriguing experiments in which various documents have been encoded in DNA sequences and then recovered by appropriate means. I admit to a certain difficulty in visualizing this. By that I mean, it’s hard for me to form a mental picture of how that would work, even if the Boffins and smart guys tell me that it would, and has. But, that’s enough about me. This is all interesting news because the problem of data storage is a very serious one. People are casting about for new ideas on how to accomplish high-density storage of large files, and how to recover them when needed, in some reasonably timely fashion. The existing methods are starting to bump up against their practical limits, so something else has to be made available and fairly soon. DNA as a storage medium may just be the ticket. It’s not the only pony in the race. Other, more ‘physical’ methods are being researched as well, and perhaps a lot depends on who comes up with a good method, if not a perfect method, most quickly.
Yes, if you believe the result of a recent review, published in the Annals of Oncology recently. The authors surveyed a large number of clinical trial reports and found out that researchers tended to downplay the seriousness of side effects, even omitting any mention of them in some instances. Investigators also tended to exaggerate secondary findings, which were not part of the study design and could be traced to chance.
The year just concluded was a very hot time for the growing indoor sport of retracting articles published in various scientific journals for various reasons. These reason include, but are not limited to: making up data, stealing other people’s data, faking images, duplicate publication, using colleagues’ names as co-authors without knowledge and permission, and common or garden plagiarism. While a number of the cases resulted from the action of lower-ranked personnel in the food chain, a number too were the work of PI’s who got caught faking, duping, etc. Our good friends at Retraction Watch have been keep an eye on this for a while now, and they have a year’s end tally:
Read through the whole post, but don’t forget to go back to the RW web site and check out some of the items published after the item above. Some well-established fish have been shown to have just made up data used in grant applications and publications. It’s much easier to do it that way.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve had the strange feeling of lack, of deprivation almost. And for the longest while I couldn’t put my finger on why. But, now I know. WE DON’T HAVE ENOUGH TABLETS! Of course! What a dunce!. The dearth of choice in the tablet market has been painful, even crippling. But, Google is riding to the rescue with a new gadget slated to appear on this coming Monday. Informed sources (i.e. spec, based on leaks and half-understood hot air) are predicting a 10″ tablet with various features, to be launched alongside a new Android phone and some other things. Apple is having a product release show today and Microsoft on 10/29. Aren’t you excited? I know I am! More products with goofy code names: Ice Cream Sandwich. It all sounds like the Sixties when rock bands with deliberately concoted weird names were sprouting all over the place.
DefCon is a kind of pilgrimage destination for the Hacker/Cracker community. Its meeting are wll attended and speakers often unveil interesting things, such as software vulnerabilities that designers ignored, minimized or didn’t know about. One of the guest speakers at this year’s shindig was General Keith Alexander, who is the chief of the National Security Agency. The NSA was created to continue and perhaps even increase the US edge in cryptanalysis, what people generally refer to as code-breaking. They are also supposed to oversee and test American cypher systems to be sure that they are secure. General A. went to DefCon to address the group. His message was that it’s highly desirable to restructure much of the Internet so that the NSA can tell when a cyber attack is in progress, and then proceed to do something about it. He suggests a more centralized architecture. Not all the attendees were happy about the message. The NSA is already way too active on the net as it is, for some people. But, a sense of realism demands that facts be faced. Industrial, financial, commercial, medical and almost all other kinds of institutions are on the net up to their baby-blues, so a serious attack could be really bad business. I am leery of the Spooks myself, but I can see both sides.
The American writer Gore Vidal died at his home in Los Angeles yesterday at the age of 86. Vidal was an extremely prolific and versatile author who preferred the novel as a literary form, but also wrote successful screenplays and scripts for television. He was also known for incisive and well-argued literary criticism, as well as for essays on politics and culture. Vidal was certain that the American republic was under grave threat from the deadening effects of mass culture and from the efforts of moneyed sectors to secure their own advantage at not matter what cost to nation. He was an able polemicist and debater who hit hard, and expected to be hit back, if the opponent was able to do so. Vidal’s life began, literally, at the Military Academy in West Point, where he was born, since his father was a serving Army officer there. His grandfather was the legendary senator Albert Gore of Tennessee, and this connection and a family link to the Kennedys strenghtened his interest in politics. He was given an upper-class education, joined the Army during World War II, and began his career in the burst of writing talent that followed the conflict. His health had been poor in recent years, and he had largely withdrawn from public life.
PS For what this is worth, I recommend the interested reader to Vidal’s historical novels. He has a series of them, depicting the course of US history, but without hero worship or blind adherence to founding myths. Burr was the first, and I think the best, but the book about Lincoln was very good. The only one I couldn’t get through was Washington DC, about the city and its denizens in the late 20th century, although it was written some years ago, and is out of sequence, thematically. But, that’s me.
Deborah Blum seems like a very nice lady. She would probably be a good neighbor, maybe have a cat, garden a bit, return her books to the library promptly, recycle… you know… the kind of person you would give your house keys to while you’re away. Ms. Blum may be all of that and more, but she has a dark side. She’s, like, really into poisons. In fact she wrote a book: The Poisoner’s Handbook, and the birth of forensic medicine in Jazz Age New York, which sold very well and had good critical reviews. And she is now working on another, also on the theme of stuff that is really, really bad for you. So, when I checked the by-line on an interesting posting in today’s Wired News, I was not really surprised to learn the author;s name: the selfsame Deborah Blum.
The story deals with assassination by radiation, specifically alpha radiation emitted from Polonium-210. Alpha radiation is very damaging to the body once it has been absorbed from food or beverages. The person taking it is pretty much a goner, and the onset is hard to pin down. What makes this topical is the attention now being given to the possible exhumation of the remains of Yasser Arafat. Previous examinations of his personal effects are said to have shown very high signals, and the circumstances of Arafat’s death were such as to resemble similar cases in which Polonium had been administered surreptitiously and caused death. These cases all involved persons who were politically inconvenient, shall we say, to somebody, who wanted that person removed. Polonium is good as a weapon in that it’s pretty much sure-fire. It’s bad as a weapon in that, well, you need a nuclear reactor to make it, which implies government or at the least a lot of money and organization. Such provenance is of course a give-away but could serve and intimidation function: “mess with us and see what happens. We’re untouchable. Keep quiet if you know what’s good for you.” It’s all rather interesting. When I hear on the news about Arafat’s exhumation I was quizzical. But Ms. B’s lucid presentation gives a different view. Establishing that somebody was killed by Polonium-210 is one thing:establishing who was responsible for the act is quite another. At a time when conspiracy theories and manias grow like mad, the prospect of another one is not good news.
You mean Harry Houdini, the great escape artist and stage magician, right? No, I mean just what I said. Udini. It’s a name. It’s the name of a new product from ProQuest, one of the biggies in data provision services. The purpose of Udini is to allow private scholars, free lancers, independent journalists, bloggers and similar groups who do research, but don’t have access to a large research library, the ability to search for, find and retrieve material from subscribed content publishers. Those who can get to NYPL, or use an academic library on a ‘walk’-in’ basis are less hampered in their research than are those who can’t. But even for these groups, Udini might make it a lot easier to get work done. Already a large number of academic publishers are participants and more are considering joining up. Researchers who access Udini documents will pay on a sliding scale, depending on the item. The site claims that 12,000 sources and 150 million articles are available. Material in theses and dissertations is also available. I think users will find that some subject categories are far more strongly represented than others are, so taking a look at exactly which journals are on board, and at how large the content base is for each, might be a useful exercise. I want to make it clear that this is not an advertisement, much less an endorsement or recommendation. I’m telling our readers that there is such a thing, and that, in some cases, for some people, it might be useful. Let each one take a look at the product and then decide.
Almost everything is for sale, but still, you have to wonder some times. Disclosure: I am a Facebook ‘denier’. I don’t think FB is all that much. It’s a glorified message board: the web equivalent of what you used to find in supermarket lobbies.The stock hoopla and the sobering up as folks start to realize that they have spent lots of money buying stock in a bulletin board is kind of funny, except for the poor dolts who will lose a bunch they can’t afford to lose. One of the more irritating features of FB is the Likes button. Hank Likes this article. Jane Likes that comment. A little childish, perhaps, but nothing sinister, you say. I would have agreed until this morning when I read a post on The Scholarly Kitchen about back-alley firms that are willing to sell batches of Likes to customers who want to puff their online reputation, or that of some article of merchandise they happen to be hawking. So, you can get some dudes, or even some bots, to generate the Likes for you. The Kitchen piece went on to apply this to the area of “altmetrics”. That’s a newish buzzword for counting some things that previously haven’t been counted in the effort to establish the “Impact” (how I loathe that word!) of an article or, worse, of a researcher. The “alt” is short for ‘alternative’, I guess. So things like download counts would join citation count as a kind of measure for “Impact”. Well, what about FB Likes? Sure, why not? One reason why not is this shadow industry of generating and selling phony Likes. It’s an interesting item. And there were some good comments on the post, from some of the regulars who hang out in the Kitchen, as well as from some Constant Readers.
The Scholarly Kitchen has some interesting ideas on what’s wrong with publishing, or more properly, what’s wrong with publishers. The point is that publishers seem to wait around for somebody to come up with a good idea for making content available to customers. Then the publisher sue, claim this or that infraction of their rights. The author asks; why are they sitting around on their collective duffs, waiting for somebody else to do something? Why don’t they incorporate into their business practice the procedures they wind up challenging in court? It’s their content, isn’t it? Can’t they experiment with something like content-sharing, selling chapters or sections of a book instead of the all or nothing approach inherited from print’s heyday? The tolerance for risk in publishing seem pretty low, but the tolerance for expensive litigation seems to be 100%, possibly because that’s something familiar, like setting sails and pacing the quarterdeck were to captains of the early 19th century, who couldn’t get their minds around steam propulsion. ” Yeah, but what if it flops?” So, it flops. I hadn’t really though about this before reading the post, revealing that I am one of the same dinosaurs sitting in the corner offices of publishing. It’s a tough business and the margins are very thin, but even so. Read the post and see what you think: