Girl, Interrupting

September 19, 2010

Why is science important?

Filed under: random,science — sylviamclain @ 8:15 pm

Alom Shaha runs a webpage called
“Why is science important?”

where amongst other things, people, some scientists some not, give their veiws on why science is important.

I wrote something for this if you care to look

“Discoveries come in the most unexpected places”

Its a cool website, with good views, have a browse around

July 13, 2010


Filed under: random — sylviamclain @ 3:45 pm

I am off on holiday – [to my small number of readers]
to Northern Spain….
will be blogging like a fool on my return……

will be back in 2 weeks

July 1, 2010

Why are academics so snotty about blogging?

Apparently many academics in biology and astronomy discourage blogging because it has no reliability or prestige .

Huh? Well both of these things are true, to some extent, of course; but isn’t this also true of dissemination in traditional peer reviewed scientific journalism too? Even peer reviewed published papers can be bad and maybe even unreliable, as I blogged about before here, though admittedly this is rare. And peer-reviewed publications really don’t usually bring you prestige – I have never for instance been stopped on a plane and been asked for my autograph because of some paper I have published in Angewandte Chemie.

Ok so maybe the criticism of blogging being unreliable is almost understandable, you can blog about anything (as is obvious from this post) and it may not be ‘reliable’, you can blog about aliens in your closet too! But this wouldn’t be unreliable it would just be weird. What the academics surveyed likely mean is that non-scientific ‘science’ might get put on the web and be an unreliable source. On no! Shock, horror, you don’t need a blog to do that, it already happens all of the time in the media.

The ‘no prestige’ argument, though, this is just silly – I guess there are a random few that go into scientific research for ‘prestige’, but I bet not most of us.

I think most of us go into science for a desire to understand, or create, or learn about the world around us or even to teach. The prestige might be a nice side value for some (not me) but is that really why you are a scientist in the first place? Maybe so but I would not think that is true for the majority. And it certainly can’t be for the money.

To my mind, these views are a bit snooty and a bit ,well archaic. The Nature article quite rightly points out, given that most surveyed scientists state they think its important to engage with the public – blogs do make sense.

Personally, I think blogging about science is great – obviously because I do it. But reading science blogs also helps me to look at things in a different way and gather other information in scientific fields I don’t spend much of my day thinking all that much about. On top of this, most bona fide science blogs – such as blogs and, actually include links to the research they are talking about, I can read the original peer-reviewed papers the articles are based on. What’s not to love?

Stop being so snobby fellow academics – embrace the future

June 28, 2010

That’s why I am in it, for the money

Filed under: random — sylviamclain @ 4:04 pm

I became a scientist, because of the money, really as Simon Jenkins pointed out, so I could live off the earnings of other people. And OH what a fortune I make, because academics are the most highly paid of all public sector employees – as everyone knows. And his implications that we scientists are high-preists who just lobby for money, and don’t do much but navel gazing? THAT obvservation, that is spot on!

But I feel sorry for the poor journalists like Jenkins, he must be underpaid, he must have to write grants to write those articles and pay for his assistants – and I am sure he has to deal with Full Economic Costing, too, which would sadly, sadly cut his resources down and take away precious time. I, who live off the tax-payer, feel sorry for him. It must be tough to be able to predict EXACTLY what he is going to write before he has to write, like 5 years before he writes it, because you know this is how people like him get paid. But he is good, he probably knows in advance what is going to be high-impact journalism, even 10 years before it gets there.
Of course, I am sure, that his journalistic opinions will lead to a great technology some day, and without all of the damn money that us scientists waste.

It must also be really. really tough for him because he gets rejected about, oh 70% of the time, for his grant money and articles. I guess he just has to scrape by on whatever data he can scrap together by himself, to write those opinion pieces. Its a tough gig

I especially feel sorry for him because, on top of this, I bet poor poor Simon has to mentor and teach and administrate and try to get himself reimbursed for all of those viva’s he has to do (there are alot of them I hear at the Guardian)..

When you work in academic science on the other hand, you can just get paid! If you have a good lobby and faith in your research (you don’t actually have to DO research you just have to have faith) you will be swimmin’ in cash. You know what I do all day? Drink tea, oh and play on the internet – and people treat me with absolute reverence because I am a SCIENTIST – free drinks at the pub, awed stares, the celebrity life. We, like the Holy See, even have special robes we slip into…

I know I keep repeating this but besides the perks, I get paid so much money! My husband works in academics too, and together we are so rich that we just jet-set around the world – who has TIME for a mortgage?

You know Simon Jenkins says he has a ‘wonder in science’ and that that ‘wonder’ should be taught,

but I don’t think so, I just want the money.

June 13, 2010

Facts shmacts

Filed under: bad science,random,science ethics — sylviamclain @ 12:54 pm
Tags: , ,

in support of Dr. Goldacre…

There is a recent controversy between Ben Goldacre and Jeremy Laurance concerning Goldacre’s ‘attack’ on health journalists. Laurance, doesn’t like it, and one of the points he brings up is that Goldacre doesn’t know the pressure journalists are under with deadlines and etc. Which presumably means we should be forgiving about him not checking the facts.

Well cry me a damn river …

We as scientists are under greater and greater pressure to do the same thing that journalists are doing according to Jeremy Laurance, namely, in order to keep our jobs in research we need – grants, publications, high-impact papers, etc. Where there is obvious pressure to pubish faster than we maybe normally would.

I feel this pressure, I need papers, I have several which are ‘almost there’ but I don’t think are good enough to publish. I have a fair amount of research experience, have written a fair number research publications (admittedly not inthe 100’s) and at this stage I have a pretty good idea when I might need to publish something, and when I need to hold off and do some more work.

So you might be thinking, yeah but you don’t have a deadline. REALLY? Scientists have deadlines just like anyone else (I am sure Ben Goldacre has deadlines too – he is after all a journalist). We give talks, go up for probation (and these days redundancy boards thanks to budget cuts), write grants (where your track record is assessed partly on your number of publications), have to get students (who don’t want to work for you if you aren’t well published) and all while teaching and doing administration.

But is anyone, ANYONE, going to feel sorry for me in the literature just because I had to publish my research quickly? And say, well, its ok that the facts weren’t checked, because scientists are under too much pressure these days? I sincerely doubt it.

And what kind of scientist would I be if I just shoved half-baked research out?
A really, really bad one is what I would be.

Whatever you think about his methods, it should be remembered that Ben Goldacre’s column is called BAD SCIENCE, and not ALL JOURNALISTS ARE CRAP – and this is actually important. There are bad scientists just as there are bad scientific journalists. And both are similar in that they either don’t check their facts or they don’t finish their job. And I think all Dr. Goldacre is pointing out is, they should have checked the facts.

June 3, 2010

Monkeys can’t take their booze

Filed under: drugs,random,Uncategorized — sylviamclain @ 9:00 am
Tags: ,

and neither can adolescents…


New Scientist reports in an article Binge Drinking Rots Teenage Brains that if you binge drink as a teen, your stem cells are going to die and you will have lasting damage to your spatial and memory thought functions (space and damn what was I saying?)

They found this out after feeding adolescent monkeys alcohol daily over 11 months and then doing an autopsy on their brains 2 months later.

Is doing an autopsy after 2 months really proof of lasting damage?
I would say no – but hey maybe I am wrong

In this article this research:
…. reinforces the rationale for anti-alcohol policies in the US and elsewhere which aim to raise the age at with people start to drink.

First of all I am not advocating youthful (or any) binge drinking… but this is not really a good direct link… The damage may or may not be lasting from tippling human teens BUT from this article it isn’t clear to me that your brain won’t recover and that the damage is truly lasting. They didn’t give the little monkeys time to shake it off and see how they grew into adulthood

Using these kind of studies to support why kid’s shouldn’t drink, doesn’t work. It never has, its like Nancy Reagan’s just say No campaign – that didn’t work either.

Or the
This is your brain on drugs add in the US from the late 1980’s…
brain on drugs

this doesn’t work either –
Why doesn’t it work?

Because usually these kinds of campaigns are either based on some kind of psuedoscience or on faulty scientific reporting. Or worse, as in the present case, it’s based on exaggerating some real scientific results, making them appear to have a much stronger causal link than they actually do.

Its not that I think you shouldn’t campaign against the use of drugs in teens or anyone else for that matter, but at least try to be more realistic about it, and don’t use scientific tactics unless they are reasonably presented. This not only doesn’t help anyone stop binge drinking but it gives scientific evidence a bad name.

Science reported in this fear-mongering kind of way can come back and bite you in the face. Why? Because its over-egging the pudding. And people aren’t stupid – when they find out it isn’t necessarily or completely true, then its easy to reject the scientific bases altogether.

Its easy for people to distrust what scientists say or rather what is reported that scientists say, when there are over-arching conclusions about why something is bad for you. And it doesn’t help to increase scientific literacy, or help stop binge drinking in teenagers or monkeys for that matter.

March 18, 2010

yo, I do have something to say

Filed under: random — sylviamclain @ 7:06 pm

Uh, but not quite yet

Blog at

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