A structured procrastination

By Grant Jacobs 06/02/2011

My title comes from Heather Etchever’s post Open Tabs, in which she describes her cleansing her browser of open tabs as structured procrastination.

This, of course, consists of rummaging around my browser, looking at tabs I’ve left open to read later, or consider writing about, and plopping down a paragraph or two rather than a full article.

It’s a potpourri, so you should find something to suit your tastes. I’ve enboldened phrases that capture each topic.

A little while back I responded to a tweeted suggestion for a session on getting past writer’s block in ScienceOnline2012–yes, they’re already started planning for next year’s event–so seeing John Timmer’s article Electrical current to the brain can get people to think different instantly had me thinking, could this be a cure for writer’s block?! (Tongue-in-cheek, naturally.) Check it out for yourself.


Holly Tucker, author of Blood Work: A Tale of Medicine and Murder in the Scientific Revolution, writes on her blog how we can’t write off the strange ideas of early scientists (or proto-scientists) as ’sheer uninformed superstition or folklore.’

Her article reminds me of reading the very early publications from the Royal Society of London.

While not as extreme as the examples she illustrates in her article (the illustrations are worth seeing, too), her point that these were sincere but misguided conclusions reminds me of how ‘odd’ I found some of the early thinking to me.

It’s worth reading a few of these early workers first-hand if you can, I think. You appreciate better her point and that in many ways these workers have been presented in a ‘cleaned up’ fashion in a lot of writing.

I’ve previously written on the value of having some understanding of the history of your discipline, whatever it might be.

If you’ve ever wondered about genetic differences between siblings, try reading Razib Khan’s article where he delves into this topic at some length. (Readers will probably want to be comfortable with some basic biology before tackling this; that said, it’s an excellent piece.)

While we’re still on the subject of people, I ran into these older (September 2010) long and excellent articles on Uber Tan Syndrome, where subjects prefer to get about on all fours (part one; part two at Greg Downey’s Neuroanthropology). (Those do research blogging will not miss that this article has ~30 references!)

This infographic shows New Zealand is one of the easier places to start a small business, worldwide.


If you have a cat and you want to work out what breed your cat is, you definitely want to check out this poster.

Be warned that it’s on the big side, at 3200 x 2400 pixels, but then it has to be.

Let Jonathan Eisen, academic editor in chief of PLoS Biology wants to know what you’d like to see in PLoS Biology – and what you’d like to see less of too. The comments include a link to an interesting editorial (in the journal Genetics) on maintaining journal standards. This part of the discussion revolves around the distinction between professional editors, who are not practising scientists, and academic editors, who are, with a call for the final judgement on the acceptance of an article to lie with the latter rather than the former.

Peer review has a central place is modern-day science. There’s a more muttering about peer review in other places, including in England’s House of Commons. (Peer review needs to be peer reviewed?) I’d like to think that somewhere this relates to the future of scientific journals. (While John Wilbanks focuses fairly tightly on the written accounts of research, I would have expanded this to include on-line databases and the like. My bias may be showing, however: I spent quite a few years maintaining a large database and I still feel these efforts get less academic credit that they can deserve.)

Not too long ago, Retraction Watch featured a journal which will never feature a retraction. In this journal, all submissions are instantly rejected. Well worth reading for the list of benefits of submitting your work to this notable exception in the world of science journals.

Oncologists and cancer researchers should take note that Anil Potti’s previously retracted Lancet Oncology paper has now been retracted in addition to retractions of some of his earlier work. One positive element in this is the role of statistics in examining the data.

There are many more that I can bring you, but in order that you might get something tonight (NZ time), I’m procrastinating any more structured procrastination. Actually, I have to go and cook dinner… I hope there is something here for most readers.


* As you can see my structured procrastination got procrastinated. Actually, I haven’t enough time to do more. But this much should keep some of my readers out of mischief for a bit.

Other articles at Code for life:

The best places to read

Seeking science-y reading?

Capturing bodies – medical imaging data

What’s the weirdest university course you know of?

Fact or fallacy, a survey of immunisation statements in the print media

0 Responses to “A structured procrastination”

  • That’s only a tiny selection of them… I’ve enough to do two or three more of these, but while my typing is OK, it’s not that fast.

    (I see I somehow I forgot to remove the Footnote. Never mind.)

  • I love it! It’s exactly what I need on a Monday morning! But like a blog festival, it’s oddly time-consuming to put it up in a blog post, perhaps more than to actually read the posts. Then again, I think there is added value in describing them – it’s the actual glimpse into your mindset for having opened them in the first place. I really enjoyed this.

  • Hi Heather,

    Thanks for coming by this way and thanks for the words of support.

    You’re right about how long it takes to write these. Perhaps I should do re-run my post asking how long it takes to write a science blog article, but this time asking how long it takes to do a link collection?! (with introductions/thoughts.) It takes longer than I suspect readers think!

    While I’m writing: anyone liking the subject of unusual findings in people (referencing my description of Mary Tucker’s book, here) should check out Alison’s latest post, quirks of human anatomy.