Legions of links (and the odd thought)

By Grant Jacobs 06/10/2011 1

Well, not quite legions and, yes, the title is a little weird. In my defence, it follows from the title of an earlier post this week being Endless reading.

Over the recent hiatus some interesting reading has piled up in my web browser tabs. As I’d like to get back to some coverage of current science, rather than what others are saying or the latest scandals–there seems to be a never-ending supply of these!–I’m clearing the desk, offer you a select few of them.

Newly-awarded physics Nobel laureate Brain Schmidt proves to be on twitter (@cosmicpinot). Some suggest this may be a first. He hails from Canberra, Australia. The profile for this twitter account reads ’An overly busy Cosmologist, Grape Grower, Astronomer, Wine maker, Dad, and Husband’. His tweet stream includes wine making. I wonder what he thinks of the Otago Pinots?[1]

Here’s his reply to those who tweeted congratulations:

What a day! Haven’t had time to tweet! Thanks to everyone for their support, & especially to the High-Z team-20 people who made this happen

Sci-fi to work more with sci? On io9 Roy Scarfo has reported on what he describes as well-known science fiction author Neal Stephenson’s call-to-arms to fiction writers to start collaborating with scientists’. I’d ask, can we also include in that a call for scientists to try their hand at science fiction writing?

Any publisher willing to shift a large advance into my bank account?? Just kidding.

More seriously, I read Neal’s spiel as a call for more descriptions of innovations that really could happen – in principle at least. Looking forward in a positive light, that is. This, in turn, requires some appreciation of science or engineering, as the case may be.

Could the slowing beating of cilia (tiny hair-like projections of cells lining the surface of tissue) aid determination of time of death in a way that is less confounded by other factors? It seems that nasal cilia keep on trying to do their thing for a while after the body has died, at diminishing rate, offering a possible means to trace back to time of death. Who knew? (Our resident forensic scientist probably did. I certainly didn’t.)

Favouring disabled applicants if skills match. Despite being having been a consultant for ten years now, I scan job applications in the event there might be one that is a particularly good fit to my skills and interests. One from Germany included the line ’Disabled people with identical qualifications will be favoured.’ I don’t think I’ve seen this before. Is this the norm in Germany?

Today the New Zealand’s Marsden grant results were announced. Congratulations to all winners! I’m a little disappointed in that the Royal Society of New Zealand offered that this page offered ’Details of all Marsden Fund grants’ but we only get to see the titles. (My emphasis.) It would have been nice for the short summary abstracts to be included, perhaps, or the glosses written by science communicators. (Assuming there isn’t a pressing need to hide the details of the projects.)

Another thing. Looking at the University of Otago[2] results there were exactly twice the number of grants to male PIs than female PIs, 12 compared to 6, but the women got larger grants on average than their male counterparts at ~$NZ850,ooo compared to ~$NZ827,000. (I’ve no idea what the ratio of male to female applicants were.)

Arsenic life’–as it’s become to be known–has been revived with recent discussion:

Bora’s (incredibly long) list of articles on this topic prompted me to tweet to him that this might be the starting source material for a science communication thesis study. In reply David Dodds tweeted that the comparison between how arsenic life the faster-than-light neutrino work were presented was very instructive – the former being presented as conclusion and the latter as a hypothesis to be confirmed. Indeed.

Continuing with controversies, the XRMV-CFS saga continues to be played out, with recent developments including reports that Judy Mikovits being sacked from the Whittemore Peterson Institute for Neuro-Immune Disease (WPI) and questions over a figure:


[1] I’m in Otago. And biased, of course!

[2] I’ve two minds about that the institutions are disclosed on the applications (UOO in the case of University of Otago) or if this ought to be blinded.

Other articles in Code for life:

How did you learn to critique the scientific literature?

Endless reading

Teaching kids critical thinking

Life sciences want bioinformatics, but not so much e-infrastructure?

Free books: basic statistics, evolution and origin of man

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