Beancounters’ corruption of science as media

In the old days it didn’t matter so much which journal research was published in. Now it counts for everything.

Funding bodies now award grants almost exclusively to researchers who have published in a handful of top scientific journals.

According to Peter Lawrence, an emeritus professor at the University of Cambridge, it’s this new accounting mentality that is “corrupting” the scientific process. Professor Lawrence, who used to edit a scientific journal, and is a respected researcher himself, says “it’s a bit like judging a hospital by how quickly the telephone is answered.

“[Awarding grants] was never a very accurate process in the past. But it was done by people reading the [research] papers and determining whether it contained sparks of originality and quality of rigour and argument. Now that aim has been more or less abandoned.”

What counts now is how often the research is cited, or mentioned, by other researchers in their publications, he says. This is supposed to be a reflection of how influential a piece of research has been. But many outside the grant awarding system regard it as a crude measure.

Citations, they say, measure how fashionable and well funded a field of research is rather than its true quality

According to Professor Lawrence: “Once you start doing that, those numbers start gaining an importance to a point where in fact the real value of the work is extinguished.”

The priority now for many career scientists is to market themselves in a way that maximises their ability to have their research published in the top journals. They spend time travelling to scientific meetings to network with colleagues who may be reviewing their work. The research itself can at times seem a secondary concern.

The only way out of this cycle of “corruption”, according to Peter Lawrence, is for grant agencies to move away from counting citations and to actually read research proposals and to judge their quality.

Kind of seems obvious doesn’t it.

Of course, that might require staff at some of the journals deeply immersed in prestige – instead of leadership in investigation – to put in quality time off the networking circuit.

Anti-terrorism adviser skewers opportunist politicians

Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

President Barack Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser on Sunday lashed out at politicians, accusing them of using national security issues as a “political football” for their own gains.

Republicans have accused the Obama administration of mistakes in the handling of the arrest of Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, for trying to blow up a Detroit-bound plan on Christmas Day.

“Quite frankly I’m tiring of politicians using national security issues such as terrorism as political football. They’re going out there, they’re unknowing of the facts, and they’re making charges and allegations that are not anchored in reality,” John Brennan told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

By charging Abdulmutallab in a criminal court and giving him legal rights, Republicans have argued that it prevented the intelligence community from obtaining information from him on al Qaeda and possible future U.S. terrorist attacks.

Brennan revealed that he briefed Republican lawmakers, including Senator Christopher Bond, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, soon after the arrest on the handling of the suspect and they did not raise any concerns.

“They were told about the fact of that cooperation as well as some information he was sharing,” Brennan said. “None of those individuals raised any concerns with me at that point. They didn’t say, is he going into military custody? Is he going to be Mirandized?”

In a statement, Bond had said if Brennan had told him of plans to read the suspect his legal rights, commonly called Miranda rights in the United States, he would have told him it was a mistake.

Just another lying hypocrite, slithering down the pathway to re-election.

Although Republicans have cornered the market in corruption and lies – in recent years – over time, I’ve witnessed Democrats do the same crap for political advantage.

Insects migrate at high speed in wind highways

Migrating insects use highways in the sky to speed their journey, according to a study published in Science magazine.

Researchers say moths and butterflies use sophisticated methods to find winds that will take them in certain directions for thousands of kilometres.

The little creatures travel on winds of up to 100km (60 miles) per hour. They use internal compasses to find these fast moving winds to carry them to their journey’s end…

The scientists say that each insect uses the same complex methods to whisk them to their wintering water-holes in the Mediterranean and back to more northerly climes in the summer.

“We were surprised by the scale of the movements, although we wouldn’t have started the research without some idea of what was happening,” says Dr Jason Chapman of the Rothamsted Research Institute in Hertfordshire, UK, who is the lead author of the report.

What is also surprising is that very few of the insects end up going the wrong way“.

But most moths and butterflies look like they can hardly make it across the garden. So how to they avoid getting ripped to shreds in these fast moving winds?

“When you are flying within the windstream you don’t feel it” says Dr Chapman. “Having said that, we think the way they choose the winds that are fastest is through some sort of turbulence mechanism…

The group that published the research is one of only three is the world using special radar that can detect insect movement up to a kilometre in the air.

Too bloody inspiring for a reclusive old geek like me. I have enough hobbies.

Yet, this is work where I might provide a small measure of record and data within the boundaries of Lot 4 and the adjacent bosque. Tempting.

What if nutballs say you’re the Messiah – and you know you’re not?

Raj Patel’s desk sits in a dusty, cement-floored nook in his garage, just beyond a parked gray Prius, near the washer and dryer. They are humble surroundings for a god.

Followers of Share International, a New Age religious sect, claim Raj Patel is the messiah Maitreya. He denies the claim, but he cannot persuade them.

It is absurd to be put in this position, when I’m just some bloke,” Mr. Patel said.

A native of London now living on Potrero Hill in San Francisco, Mr. Patel suddenly finds himself an unlikely object of worship, proclaimed the messiah Maitreya by followers of the New Age religious sect Share International…

Mr. Patel’s journey from ordinary person to unwilling lord is a case of having the wrong résumé at the wrong moment in history. For this is a time when human yearning to find a magical cure for the world’s woes can be harnessed to the digital age’s instant access to a vast treasure-trove of personal information…

Mr. Patel has emphatically and publicly denied being Maitreya. Bad move. According to the predictions, “Maitreya will neither confirm, or will fail to confirm, he is Maitreya,” said Cher Gilmore, a spokeswoman for Share International…

“It’s incredibly flattering, just for an instant,” Mr. Patel said of his unwanted status. “And then you realize what it means. People are looking for better times. Almost anything now will qualify as a portent of different times.”

What would you do? Continue to deny the neurotic conclusion of looneybirds? Or take the money and run?

Adverts for ‘Valentine’s Day’ remove gay characters

Valentine’s Day is coming! And with it the usual traditions that include an outrageous price hike in roses, an outrageous price hike in restaurant dining, and the well-timed rom-com. The role of the latter belongs to a flick to be released on Feb. 12, “Valentine’s Day.” (What a clever title, eh?)

However, from the posters and trailers for the film it is hard to know that the infamous “McSteamy” is in the film. Eric Dane’s name appears on the movie posters, but, unlike the rest of the cast, his face is not present on the actor-compiled heart. In the trailers for the film Dane is not shown in any of the scenes extracted from the movie, he is just shown alongside his name. So what is Dane’s role? Narrator?

Nope. In reality Dane is a victim of advertisement editing that eliminates the trace of homosexual relationships in a film, even though they are central to the storyline. In other words, the film’s advertisements have been “de-gayed.” (And yes that means that Dane’s character is shacking up with another one of the male desirables in the film.)

In “Valentine’s Day,” Dane plays Bradley Cooper’s closeted football-player boyfriend. Would learning this info from the trailers and posters for the film have made you more or less interested in seeing it?

Unfortunately, regardless of your reaction, those in charge of marketing have already decided for you. Instead of playing on the publicity of a dreamy Cooper and Dane partnership – “Brokeback Mountain,” anyone?, the advertisers of the film have decided to disguise it.

Most of the folks running promotion, distribution, marketing for the wonderful world of American mass media haven’t made it past Chickenshit 101, yet. They should be in Congress.

The government has your baby’s DNA – Who? Wha?

When Annie Brown’s daughter, Isabel, was a month old, her pediatrician asked Brown and her husband to sit down because he had some bad news to tell them: Isabel carried a gene that put her at risk for cystic fibrosis.

While grateful to have the information — Isabel received further testing and she doesn’t have the disease — the Mankato, Minnesota, couple wondered how the doctor knew about Isabel’s genes in the first place. After all, they’d never consented to genetic testing.

It’s simple, the pediatrician answered: Newborn babies in the United States are routinely screened for a panel of genetic diseases. Since the testing is mandated by the government, it’s often done without the parents’ consent, according to Brad Therrell, director of the National Newborn Screening & Genetics Resource Center.

In many states, such as Florida, where Isabel was born, babies’ DNA is stored indefinitely, according to the resource center.

Many parents don’t realize their baby’s DNA is being stored in a government lab, but sometimes when they find out, as the Browns did, they take action. Parents in Texas, and Minnesota have filed lawsuits, and these parents’ concerns are sparking a new debate about whether it’s appropriate for a baby’s genetic blueprint to be in the government’s possession.

RTFA. Not too long; but, detailed. Gives you a chance to consider the viewpoint of these parents – and others. I beg to differ.

I don’t think any kind of scientific information, process or technology should be out of bounds. Nothing of this sort should be banned. There is nothing political, socially relevant about knowledge.

Trying to hide, subvert or prevent knowledge is different. Abusing knowledge is different. That’s what these folks – and I fear.

That’s a political question. I haven’t any problem making strict rules with even more strict penalties for those who abuse the information gained through these programs. Let me repeat that – more strict penalties. Throw away the fracking key!

But, restricting knowledge and understanding. That’s for exclusively class-based societies that don’t include the rest of us in.

Thanks, Cinaedh

Air Force Academy to accommodate Wiccans


They’re planning a student dorm named Hogwarts

The Air Force Academy will add a worship area for followers of “earth-centered religion” — pagans — with a dedication ceremony scheduled for March 10.

A double circle of stones atop a hill on the campus has been designated for cadets and other service personnel in the area to practice Earth-centered faiths.

The academy said Monday that staff at the academy chapel worked with Tech. Sgt. Brandon Longcrier, a follower of the pagan tradition, to establish the site. He’s the noncommissioned officer in charge of the academy’s astronautics labs.

Longcrier said the stones had been moved to the area at some point in the past to keep them from rolling downhill and potentially striking buildings. The crews placed them in a circle thinking it would be a pleasant place for cadets to relax. The circle will join Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist sacred spaces at the academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.

The chief of the academy has made religious tolerance a priority after 2004 a survey of cadets found instances of harassment. Longcrier said earth-centered spirituality includes traditions such as Wicca and Druidism. Wicca is the largest religious group in the Air Force after Christianity.

Not that the Academy will start accepting openly gay or lesbian cadets any time soon.