On BioScience and Life and Such

Posts Tagged ‘communicating science’

What really happened to will

In Uncategorized on November 24, 2010 at 11:28 am
The no free-will bus campaign
Image by morgantj via Flickr

There’s a lot of talk about free will these days.

Following these discussions the following questions occur to me:

1. Is will incarcerated ?
2. If so, why ?

You shouldn’t free anything or anyone just on a hunch….

More accurately:

3. Is freedom a term that can adequately describe the state of our will ?

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A Scientific Communications Manifesto

In Uncategorized on March 29, 2010 at 10:58 am

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Science icon
Image via Wikipedia

We need to improve the trust in science and scientists. Steven Hill has a recipe for how.

A series of posts on Testing hypotheses…. lists 7 things that would improve trust in science and scientists. This list strikes me as containing all the essentials, and if I may, I’d like to propose that this list becomes the Scientific Communications Manifesto. Below you’ll find the list and links to all 7 posts. Please, go read, it’s probably some of the best few minutes ever spent (if you are a scientist, that is).

We need to get this message out and work for acceptance for taking these measures in the scientific community. If successful, public perception of the importance of science and what science is about may get a long needed overhaul.

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Nothing is ever absolutely negative

In Uncategorized on October 31, 2009 at 1:19 pm

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Homer Simpson exclaiming the famous quote
Image via Wikipedia

On a late Friday afternoon

Quality control department:  “You missed the last two samples in this dilutions series”.

Me:  “Yeah, that’s kind of why we use dilution series – to find our detection limit”.

Quality control department: “But, even though very diluted, those two samples were positives. That means this was an error and needs an error-report”.

Me: “Well no, we define a limit where we can be 99,99% certain that we can reproduce a positive result, these dilutions will be well below that limit”.

Quality control department: “But, that means that you can newer be 100% sure of a negative answer”.

Me: “That’s correct, although the concept you are touching upon (the lack of absolute negation/negativity) is valid for any test and consequently, of a philosophical nature”.

Quality control department: “Then we can never give out a negative answer, at least not without saying that there’s a chance it may be positive after all”.

Me: in silence “¤%%”&&¤…doh” and out loud “”Would that be wise ?”.

Quality control department: “We believe so !!”.

Please notice the use of the word “believe”.

So there you go, hit in the face by the same arguments that created the vaccine-autism wars, the ID vs. natural evolution discussion, the religion meets atheism quarrel……..you cannot prove the absence of something, ergo – it must be there. The mother of all fallacies, but impossible to scientifically refute.

I’ll keep trying though.

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How to have your cake, eat it, and then complain

In Uncategorized on September 20, 2009 at 3:26 pm

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WASHINGTON - JULY 09:  Giant panda Tai Shan ch...
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First: State that most of our genome is junk.

Second: When more and more promoters, enhancers, repressors and other regulatory elements are discovered, claim that this of course was not included in the definition of “most of the genome”. The perfect excuse because it means you’ll never be wrong.

Last: Complain when the press does not understand that “most of our DNA” actually meant “much of our DNA , but with a lot of exceptions” and that science reporters don’t intuitively know which exceptions these are.

Post written using the zpen in dire agony over extremely poor science communication from the same persons who most eagerly criticize science communication from others.

Paper in question added to junk DNA coffin post.

Update: response from Professor Laurence A.  Moran here.

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They say men haven’t evolved towards domestic use

In Uncategorized on September 10, 2009 at 2:11 pm

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Male symbol. Created by Gustavb.

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First off, I have to admit that my scientific knowledge is a bit sketchy on this one. Nevertheless – my impression is that there is a (scientific ?) consensus out there saying the following:

The nature of men is that of the restless promiscuous hunter. Evolution has provided pressure towards maximizing the spread of male genes through procreating with as many women as possible. This way the number of offspring one man can obtain is maximized. Apparently observations supporting this view are the vast amount of sperm cells produced in the male reproductive organs and the continuous (not cyclic) nature of this sperm-production. The logic is, I think, that the production of all these sperm cells would be futile if destined for only one woman with a cyclic reproduction cycle. So far so good.

Consequently, the masculine “nature” is continuously compromised in our modern monogamous lifestyle. Male infidelity is often excused using the arguments above. The same arguments also makes domestic life and caring for the family into a compromise with “natural” masculinity.

Still good ?

Even if making as many offspring as possible seems like a good strategy to pass on (male) genetic material, isn’t it possible that another strategy would work just as well.

You could argue that continuous sperm production is present to counter a single woman’s unpredictable cycle, – or compensate for miscarriages, – or compensate for children born by this woman dying young (not so rare in those older days). This make-one-woman-pregnant-many-times strategy could potentially lead to as many offspring, themselves reaching reproductive age, as the multiple partner strategy.

If you buy into that last argument, there is no reason why the selective pressure on men has been towards domestication and taking maximal care of his one-woman family. And, against inclination towards infidelity.

I’m so sorry for ruining our excuses here my fellow men, but the whole man-as-a-hunter-excuse has been bugging me for a long time. I find it hard to understand why such an idea has been elevated to universal truth. I believe a need for behavioral excuses has overridden scientific rigor on this one. Anyone who can convince me otherwise is more than welcome.

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A couple of more things we didn’t communicate that well

In Uncategorized on August 28, 2009 at 2:50 pm

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I am putting together a list of things lost in translation between science and the public. The full list is compiled here.

Following a couple of discussions on friendfeed on exercise and dieting, I’ve come across two more items, they are:

9. Any kind of exercise will help you lose weight (When the truth is that the exercise needs to be extensive and the right type, if weight loss is to be expected).

10. Carbohydrates and fat are bad for you (When the truth is that we need a balanced diet containing both fat and carbohydrates).

yingyang

yingyang

Too much of anything – even a good thing – is bad. So is too little. – That goes for lack of exercise, but it also goes for too much/wrong exercise. Too much carbohydrates- bad, too little – also bad. Too little vitamins – bad, too much vitamins – also bad.

Balance on the other hand is what results in healthy living. Balance: – in exercise and rest – and in nutrients.

This has been known for centuries. And, it’s proven by science. Contrary to what many may think, life science is seldom about labeling something “good” or “bad”. Rather, it’s about trying to find what makes the right balance.

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Here’s why I get fat when I exercise (part II)

In Uncategorized on August 13, 2009 at 1:01 pm

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WEIFANG, CHINA - JULY 24:  An overweight stude...
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The last couple of months I have lost about 8 kg

🙂

Previously, I had unsuccessfully been trying to lose weight by exercising more (Previous posts on this subject: “I get fat when I exercise, is that normal ?“, “Huge or tiny, either way I am being tricked“, “It’s the thinking that makes you fat stupid” and “Here’s why I get fat when I exercise“).

So this time I decided just to eat less. Not a different diet, just less of the same, and every other day I would skip a meal (lunch or dinner).

The new strategy worked like a charm, and I was planning on blogging my dieting results when I reached the 10 kg mark. But, then I read a veritable bashing of this TIME Magazine piece on how exercise does not necessarily help you lose fat. The criticism of this article I found very unfair. After all TIME was only telling us to put less faith in exercise as a dieting tool, – that’s fair enough isn’t it ? Besides, the points made in the article fit very well with my own experiences. Then a discussion on friendfeed followed, which I found very useful.

The TIME piece probably jumps to conclusions. The study he comments on does not support the conclusion that exercise makes you put on weight. Also the extrapolation of conclusions on adults based on data from studies on children may not hold water. However, the message that the TIME article conveys: the amount of exercise most people regard as sufficient to lose weight may act to the contrary, still hold true.

Looks like the consenus from the discussion is that exercise can help you lose weight, but it needs to be extensive (more than one hour more than 5 days a week) and it needs to be the right excersise (altough I believe the jury is still out on the effect of low-intensity exercise).

So, I’ll keep on skipping lunch and generally eat less, until I for some strange reason, should get enough time on my hands to prioritize 1-2 hours of exercise every day.

Downside is that I feel hungry a lot. Upside is that this may just possibly help me live longer.

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Toll as free marketing material II

In Uncategorized on June 5, 2009 at 1:38 pm

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A follow up to this post where marketing material from SABiosciences was presented. It turns out they now have PowerPoint slides for free download too (sign-in needed). A great example of how industry (including their sales/marketing departments) can participate in spreading knowledge. And great as a resource for those of us who need a cascade-slide for explanation every now and then. You can use these slides in academic non-commercial settings as long as you mention (acknowledge) the company.

Pathway example

Go here for downloading.

A Christmas Reminder and ……duh !

In Uncategorized on December 23, 2008 at 11:02 am

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Father Christmas // Santa Claus // Père Noël
Image by Stéfan via Flickr

To those who read this post – a merry Christmas !

This appeared on several science news sites recently: “Genes may influence popularity“.

I’d like to point out a few things.

Firstly: ……………..duh………….Why is its news that anyone of your skills, your looks or your social behavior (you and your genes) makes you popular (or unpopular).

Secondly: For thousands and thousands of people Christmas is associated with loneliness. Christmas being a family and friends holiday, exacerbate their feeling of being left out, of being unpopular.  To those I’d like to point out that genes do not predestine you to unpopularity or loneliness. To be included in a community, to feel appreciated or even popular, you do not need a rule-breaking gene, a pretty face, athletic skills or extraordinary jolly christmassy outgoingness.

Thirdly: Please pay special attention to the word “may” in the news-headline. This gene may happen to be (mildly ?) associated with a specific behavior, but most certainly there are many other factors, genetic or social, that plays a role in complex behaviour leading to popularity (the actual paper isn’t out so it’s hard to thoroughly review the genetics). One should regard this research as one of many attempts to understand human behavior biology, another tiny step (forwards or backwards !) in a quest that will take many years, perhaps never to be completed.

Nature and nurture teams up and works against some of us sometimes, this becomes especially apparent during Christmas. But, if you want to help others feel popular this holiday ? Forget about genetics  – caring for, and paying attention to, others does the trick:

So what’s the “gene therapy” for those with genetic loneliness? Community service, social interaction, anything to get people out and to give them a sense that they are not alone in the world [says these researchers]. It gives them a sense that they belong. – Summer Johnson, PhD (taken from blog.bioethics.net)
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Quantifying (Scientific) Journalism Quality

In Uncategorized on December 16, 2008 at 11:10 am

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My father is a journalist, he has been so his whole life. He has taught journalist-students and written books on journalism and he is quite objectively, a wise man. I’ll prove that to you by presenting one of his key journalistic concepts – the journalistic equation (slightly modified by me):

J = KP x S(o) x S(k)

Journalism=Knowledge x Presentation x Sources x Skill. The short explanation of (my understanding) of the parameters are: knowledge (K) is the necessary prior information one needs before writing starts, presentation (P) is your ability to reach your target audience, sources (S(o)) represents the sources you have used and skill (S(k)) represents your ability to critically review and balance the information from these sources.

The equation was written to help journalist-students understand some journalism basics (surprisingly many fail in these basic skills). His main point has always been that a score of zero in any of these factors would give you a score of zero for journalism. And, this is adequate I guess, in many settings.

But, since it comes natural to a son to try and outcompete his father or (as a less aggressive alternative) to build further on his work, I’ll try and expand on his formula by putting numbers on it. I believe the formula in this way can be put to good use for us common readers of news, now as a reviewing tool rather than an educational one. Although, hopefully there is something to be learned (for journalists) by being reviewed as well.

J=1 would mean excellent journalism, no flaws, and J=0 would mean completely flawed. All factors get a score between 0 and 1.

As an example, a professor in protein structure biochemistry would get a “K=1” for writing a piece on the crystal structure of a protein and he would probably score “S(o)=1″ on sources. But, the professor could easily score less than one on his ability to scrutinize the sources (S(k)=0,85) and quite possibly get a “P=0,5” for presentation. This would give his news piece a J=0,425. The nature of the equation makes it very hard to achieve a score close to 1, and even with numbers close to 1 for each parameter, J will probably be closer to 0,5 than1. That’s intentional, – a perfect news piece is rare, and most are flawed to a larger or lesser extent.

To complete this project of numerical assessment I need to put together a calculator, and I will. But, for now anyone can still use the equation, – after all it’s just multiplying numbers between zero and one and get a value out. I propose to call it the  J-value (although as a tribute to my father, I may be calling it a “Reinton-value” ).

My small contribution to try and make (science) journalism better…..is from now on to put a Reinton-value on any news piece I comment on.

I hope many others will use this tool too – Reinton-value=J = KP x S(o) x S(k) – remember, power lies in the numbers.

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