Archive January 2012

“Other” career paths – #IamScience Grant Jacobs Jan 28


I’ve previously written about careers other than the implied norm of school → undergraduate → post-graduate → post-doc → academic staff.

Those interested in browsing short takes on others’ science-related career paths could read a storify account of the #IamScience twitter stream. Skip past the back story if you’re in a hurry and start from the first use of #IamScience after the header. (Readers here should know the ‘standard’ tip of using ctrl-F or command-F to search a web page for keywords, right?)

One tip for those new to storify: when you get to the bottom hold up for a bit, as it will try load more content. On some browsers/networks this may take a second or two.

It’s great to see the variety of life stories. (The sample will be biased to those now involved in science outreach, especially the earlier replies, as this stream has it’s origins in ScienceOnline 2012.)

It’s a curious collection of stories, well worth exploring in idle time in a weekend.


As for me? I’m off for a walk on an Otago beach.

The Dunedin area has many quiet beaches. I’m still mulling over which one to visit today. Shown below is Victory Beach, named after the shipwreck of the Victory in 1861 whose flywheel (shown to left) rests in the sand not far from the low tide mark near the outlet mouth.


Medical bioinformatics / genomics challenge Grant Jacobs Jan 27


$US25,000 is on offer for a challenge aimed at finding ’best methods and practices for improving the reliability and accuracy of the genomics-to-clinic pipeline — spanning sequencing, analysis, interpretation and reporting — to provide the most meaningful results to patients and their families.’

The challenge is being put up by Children’s Hospital Boston (USA); applicants must include members with experience in bioinformatics, genetics, and medicine. Aspiring applicants should note that ’no more than 20 teams will be selected to participate.’

Further details are on the challenge website.

Even if you have no interest in entering, it’s worth thinking about what this might involve.

The description mentions technical disciplines that might be involved. I can’t help but note that this is also a communication challenge. The audience indicated in the challenge are ’patients and their families’. Obviously the charts and whatnot typical of research papers will be inappropriate.

Following this, I can imagine a role for those with experience in science communication. Infographics might also prove useful.

(Hat tip to GenomeWeb.)

Other articles on Code for life:

Find a home for your research paper, authors, related papers — ask Jane

Teaching bioinformatics at high school

ISCB to respond to Research Works Act (HR 3699)

Research project coding v. end-user application coding

The Roots of Bioinformatics in Theoretical Biology

The software developer’s generalisation dilemma

What should be taught in science communication courses? Grant Jacobs Jan 26


(An invitation to discussion by way of ruminative thoughts inspired by a presentation on science communication. Do share your thoughts!)

A few nights ago I received via twitter a link to a presentation [PDF file] by Prof. Lloyd Davis, Head of the Centre for Science Communication (CSC) at the University of Otago, New Zealand, titled Science Communication: a ’Down Under’ Perspective.

The University of Otago is the local university. As you might expect where I am able to I attend seminars held at the CSC, so naturally I was curious to read what Lloyd Davis had to say.

Prof. Davis’ presentation discusses the communication aspects, presenting three areas he identifies ’as providing the essential framework for any course teaching science communication’:

  1. Story telling – the art of using narrative.
  2. Engaging – that mix of lede, design, etc., that draws readers in. (On-line this might be extended to include ‘reach’  through social media.)
  3. Enhancing creativity – think of creative techniques in non-fiction, film-making or internet-hosted media.

I’d like to use this as an excuse to consider non-communication aspects that might also be a part of science communication courses, especially those relating to gathering of sound subject material.[1] Or at least ruminate on them. I can’t do much more than ruminate given that I’m not a specialist in science communication. (I’m leaving aside practical skills such as interviewing; readers are welcome to suggest these in the comments.)

In particular, I want to mention critical analysis.

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More science communication goodies in the wake of ScienceOnline2012 Grant Jacobs Jan 25


The rush of material being posted in the wake of the ScienceOnline2012 meeting continues unabated.

Tweets from attendees faded as they travelled back to their homes, then surged as conversations picked up again and announcements of follow-up material started coming out.

The full list of blog posts about the meeting can be accessed from the wiki. I’d like to point to a selection of items I’ve found in my in-box that others might find useful or enjoy.* I’m not pointing out most of the blogs with personal thoughts and the like, good as many of these are, as there are too many – you’ll have to check the wiki or google ‘scio12’ (select blogs and in the last week in the left-hand side).

Of course I’m make room for a few touching exceptions like Emily Willingham’s thoughts posted at the biology files. David Kroll has the backstory on his blog.

The full list of winners and showcased entrants from the Cyberscreen Science Film Festival at Science Online 2012 makes for interesting viewing. I showed one entrant in my previous Science Online-related post. I’ve shown the Grand Prize winner in the Maya animation section below.

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Science communication potpourri Grant Jacobs Jan 22


Over the past few days I’ve been following ScienceOnline2012, mostly via twitter. The agenda for the meeting can be found in the wiki pages.

Below I’ve gathered a small sampling of items that might be of interest or value to others who have an interest in science communication. (Yes, I’m cleaning out all the browser tabs that I opened while the meeting was hurtling forward.)

There were several attempts to offer visual summaries of sessions. For Why do scientists hate and fear the media? Rachel Weidinger offers:


A good written follow-on to this session can be read at the Genomics Blog of GenomeAlberta.

For all writers, or writers-to-be, Maryn McKenna’s concise but excellent summary of tools for writers is worth investigating. Others might prefer different tools or approaches, but it’s good to consider what is available, right?

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Vitamin C as cancer treatment – Sir Paul Callaghan reviews his trial Grant Jacobs Jan 20


In New Zealand we received news some time ago that well-respected physicist Paul Callaghan was trying vitamin C therapy for his cancer. Paul Callaghan is also well-known for his science communication efforts.

News today is that he has reviewed his trial of this treatment. He has been reported as saying he found ’absolutely no evidence’ it worked.

Kate Newton’s article is worth reading – it’s a nice example of clear journalism to my mind. Readers should note the scientific approach taken, measuring the outcome of the treatment, e.g. ’tracking its effectiveness through a blood test for protein carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA), which indicates cancer levels.’

Of this self-study he is quoted: ’I have, as a result, learned enough to say that there is absolutely no evidence of any beneficial effect of high-dose intravenous vitamin C in my case.’

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Animating our DNA* Grant Jacobs Jan 20


One part of biology that fascinates me is the three-dimensional structure of genomes and all that goes with them within the nucleus, the central organelle in our cells containing our genomes and the molecular machinery that organises, moves and processes our genetic information.

In the TED lecture below Drew Berry speaking in Sydney, Australia, shows off animations of molecular life.

The animations he shows are of DNA, chromosomes and the proteins that work with them.

Here, let me get out of the way so you can watch it -

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Homeopath says to treat a burn… burn it some more Grant Jacobs Jan 16


A homeopath claims to have been taught at a homeopathy course that burns should be treated by burning them further.

Y’know: like cures like and all that.

Reading the homeopath’s description, it’s worse. There’s mystical ‘vital forces’ at play too. Sigh.

More importantly, this ‘alternative’ remedy causes harm.

Often it’s argued ‘what’s the harm’ of alternative remedies. In most cases homeopathic treatments in and of themselves do no harm simply because they have no effect beyond that of a placebo. They can cause harm come from delaying effective treatment, however.

Here the treatment itself causes harm.

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Elections – time for policies to be deposited in advance? Grant Jacobs Jan 15


Some time last year I asked what scientists might want from the political parties.

A few days ago Jennifer Nickel drew my attention to an article on idealog, which calls for ’an independent body to cost, and analyse, the policy platforms of parties at the start of the election cycle.’

This is suggestion is in similar vein to my suggestion of NZ Science Party and the advisory groups present in the English system. For science policy, the English have the Science Advisory Council; over organisations cover various areas of medicine and so on.

One thought I shared privately at that time was that it might help if the political parties standing for election were obliged to deposit key policies* at some set time ahead of the election, say 6 weeks before election day. The aim would be to give sufficient time that the policies could be throughly examined and to encourage that election ‘debate’ be over the understanding of the policies.

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Woo-ful MPs Grant Jacobs Jan 14

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In a blog post earlier this year, Orac asked ’Which [Republican] candidate is reiki or “energy healing”?’

It reminded of reading that Richard Prosser, a NZ First candidate in the recent elections in New Zealand and now a member of parliament,* was described as ’Having a life-long interest in alternative therapies, Richard qualified as a Reiki Master in 1994, […]’.

Orac has described reiki thusly ’Basically, reiki is faith healing that substitutes Eastern mystical beliefs for the more “conventional” Christian beliefs that undergird the the scams of faith healers like Benny Hinn or Peter Popoff.’ - i.e. that old ‘laying of palms’ thing in other clothing.

In similar vein, the wikipedia entry for reiki writes ’practitioners believe that they are transferring universal energy (i.e., reiki) in the form of ki through the palms, which allows for self-healing and a state of equilibrium.’

Read more in the linked articles (and elsewhere) and you’ll get the gist.

Orac may be poking at Republican candidates, a plentiful source of humour and bizarre beliefs, but I was left wondering if we’re doing much better in New Zealand or not.

So, readers, what other New Zealand MPs have ‘alternative remedy’ bents, or espouse views inconsistent with science?**

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