RIP Fig Newton!

August 31, 2010

The great French cycling champion Laurent Fignon has died at the age of 50 from cancer.
As Velonews notes, he was French National Champion in 1984, took the Milan-SanRemo in 1988 and 1989 and Fleche Wallonne in 1986.
Fignon won the Tour de France in 1983 and 1984 and the Giro de Italia in 1989.

1989 Tdf, final stage (source)

Great rider, very classy.
He also had the honor of participating in one of the very best moments in sport, ever. The final day of the 1989 TdF found Fignon ahead of Greg Lemond by 50 seconds. That year the final day was a 25 km time trial- single riders against the clock, no drafting involved. Watching that stage coverage was certainly the greatest moment in sports that I have ever watched. Lemond beat Fignon by 58 seconds to win the 1989 Tour, as it happens, but Fignon was visibly battling the whole way. It was epic.

Hard and Soft Science

August 30, 2010


Seriously! Who does GMP think she’s fooling?

She puts up a post and a series of polls asking where are all the “hard” STEM bloggers. And writes extensively distinguishing “hard” STEM from “soft” STEM. This latter, apparently constitutes all the bio-medical types.

Leaving aside the hilarious fact that GMP somehow failed to notice all the geo-science, math geeks, computer science nerds, fizzycysts, engineers and assorted other “hard” science bloggers, I note that GMP felt compelled to put up this corrigendum:

Some people dislike the hard STEM/soft STEM distinction as it seems to imply that one of them is hard as in difficult and the other one is not. I most certainly don’t think that and I don’t know anyone who does. I simply use the above distinction as equivalent to a non-bio STEM/bio STEM field distinction, and I think most people do the same. But, as Namezia says below, you can alternatively consider it the physical/biological sciences distinction, although I am not sure where this type of classification leaves math and CS people or people who are engineers.

Heh. heh. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAAH!!! oh, masterful!

Here’s the thing, GMP. Nobody who is in biology, neuroscience, psychology… or (gasp) social sciences….favors this distinction. That in and of itself should tell you how it is used. The only “most people” who use this distinction are so called “hard” STEM people who are, yes, most certainly trying to run down other scientific disciplines as less rigorous, less precise and favored by smarter undergraduates who do not require grade inflation.

So please. Spare us your disingenuous corrections. Just sack up and FWDAOTI like a proper member of the “hard” STEM disciplines! We can take it….

A Finding of Misconduct Notice in the NIH Guide today (NOT-OD-10-130) holds more than the usual interest, Dear Reader.

Elizabeth Goodwin, PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison: Based on the report of an investigation conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-M) and additional analysis conducted by ORI in its oversight review, the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) found that Elizabeth Goodwin, PhD, former associate professor of genetics and medical genetics, UW-M, engaged in scientific misconduct while her research was supported by National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), National Institutes of Health (NIH), grants R01 GM051836 and R01 GM073183. PHS found that the Respondent engaged in misconduct in science by falsifying and fabricating data that she included in grant applications 2 R01 GM051836-13 and 1 R01 GM073183-01.

The recent Marc Hauser misconduct case has been widely reported to have depended on or been triggered by whistleblowers from within his own lab. Comments in several places have praised the laboratory members for their bravery and willingness to take the inevitable career hit (possibly irrecoverable hit) in the service of correcting the scientific record.

Remember the profile in Science a number of years ago which described a group of trainees who blew the whistle on Elizabeth B. Goodwin?

Chantal Ly, 32, had already waded through 7 years of a Ph.D. program at the University of Wisconsin (UW), Madison. Turning in her mentor, Ly was certain, meant that “something bad was going to happen to the lab.” Another of the six students felt that their adviser, geneticist Elizabeth Goodwin, deserved a second chance and wasn’t certain the university would provide it. A third was unable for weeks to believe Goodwin had done anything wrong and was so distressed by the possibility that she refused to examine available evidence.

Two days before winter break, as the moral compass of all six swung in the same direction, they shared their concerns with a university administrator. In late May, a UW investigation reported data falsification in Goodwin’s past grant applications and raised questions about some of her papers. The case has since been referred to the federal Office of Research Integrity (ORI) in Washington, D.C. Goodwin, maintaining her innocence, resigned from the university at the end of February.

2006. My how time has flown. There was a brief note from someone in the student’s department indicating that other laboratories had helped them to bring at least one paper to press.

Most noteworthy are the young scientists who worked so hard on the paper at early stages of their careers–because they are victims of this unfortunate situation and are doubly victimized if the conclusion the scientific community reaches is that this paper has no merit. Although the scientific results are the most important component of the vindication of the work, I feel strongly that we owe it to our young scientists to draw attention to the verification.

Hmm, that appears to be the last paper published by O. Lakiza.

An update, which I missed, in Science from June of this year gave us a preview of the Notice.

Four years after a group of graduate students faced the agonizing experience of turning in their mentor for apparently falsifying scientific data, she has pleaded guilty to a criminal charge in the case. Elizabeth Goodwin, who was a biologist at the University of Wisconsin (UW), Madison, until resigning in February 2006, admitted “that she included manipulated data” in a grant progress report “to convince reviewers that more scientific progress had been made with her research than was actually the case,”

it also says this about the fate of the trainees.

But the outcome for several students, who were told they had to essentially start over, was unenviable. One, Chantal Ly, had gone through 7 years of graduate school and was told that much of her work was not useable and that she had to start a new project for her Ph.D. (The reason wasn’t necessarily because of falsified data but rather, Ly and the others thought, because Goodwin stuck by results that were questionable.) Along with two of the others, she quit graduate school. Allen moved to a school in Colorado. Just two students chose to stay at UW.

One hopes the outcome is slightly better for the Hauser trainees…

Another interesting thing that popped up in the Hauser affair was the mention of involvement from the US Attorney’s office. Maybe I’m so focused on the misconduct that I usually ignore any mention of legal penalties. But the Science bit on Goodwin emphasizes that the Department of Justice press release (pdf) indicates a $50,000 fine to the HHS has already been issued. Furthermore:

Goodwin will be sentenced on 3 September on the charge of making false statements and faces up to 1 year in jail and a $100,000 fine.

Again, I can’t recall seeing these before but I may just have missed it. I’m wondering if this represents a new stance in these prosecutions, or perhaps if the PIs in question were just so egregious in their misconduct and obstinate in their defense that the BigGuns were brought to bear.

Ethan Siegel has a highly topical observation up over at his blog, Starts with a Bang. It is as simple as this:

But we do not let fear dictate what we are free to do. Syed, Atiyah, Freida, and all the other Muslims I grew up with are no more or less American than any of us, and it is the right of every Muslim-American to expect the exact same freedoms that we have.

Glenn Beck’s little #Whitestock rally for racist #teabaggers at the Lincoln Memorial may have fizzled in terms of numbers but it really should be a wake up call for RealAmericans. You know, the ones who actually believe in the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the ensuing body of Constitutional jurisprudence. The ones who actually believe in what has always made the United States special, democratic and progressive, rather than longing for the worst of our past.
The theme of the idiots from Glennbeckistan was “Restoring Honor”. What, you might wonder, in the hell is that supposed to mean?
There’s a nice explanation over here at Balloon Juice.

Citation practices

August 28, 2010

A simple question for my Readers about their behavior when drafting a manuscript or grant proposal or creating scientific presentation. How often do you consider, in any way, the identity of the journal in which a finding was published when making your choice?

An ethical scenario was forwarded to the blog today with a request for the wisdom of the crowd. I can but oblige. The query has been lightly modified for anonymity purposed.

A member of my department informed me that a collaborator, another faculty member in our department, gave, without this person’s knowledge or permission, quantitities of unique compounds that synthesized by the lab to an investigator outside our university. That external researcher has recently published work based upon those compounds, and included in that paper an acknowledgement of the collaborator as the source of those materials.

The rest of the note indicates that the person who had synthesized the compounds was not informed by the departmental collaborator or the external investigator. This person only learned about it through a roundabout way that boiled down to “hey, have you seen this paper about this stuff you are working with?”
This is entirely simple, as depicted. Nowadays it is nearly impossible that an investigator would not know that anything sent to a collaborator external to the University requires a Materials Transfer Agreement. Everything. Compounds, reagents, mice, tissues. Everything.
Now true, many times people sort of overlook this for the small stuff. Or overlook it until something actually works out and it looks like a publication is ahead. But c’mon. How can you not know?
Furthermore, everyone knows that you don’t get to screw a collaborator and doing so in your own department is incredibly stupid. It will come out and you will look like a jerk. Particularly when you have failed to file the right MTA paperwork. And, depending on your University policies, you may be in a world of local hurt for letting intellectual property that belongs (formally speaking) to the University into a competing institution’s hands without protecting the intellectual property rights.
(Look, I don’t make the rules and I actually think they are bad for science. But the roots of this go back a long, long ways. Universities have a structural stance toward intellectual property that is highly corporate.)
My view is that the fault here is almost exclusively with the in-house collaborating investigator because s/he could have told the external collaborator that it was all coolio and conveniently neglected to mention that a third lab had actually made the compound in question. Maybe a *slight* possibility that the external collaborator had proceeded to publication without appropriate notification of the in-house collaborator who provided the (third lab’s) compound.
What do you think DearReader? Straightforward? or am I missing something?

We pay some degree of special attention to the doings of the University of California system because it is so huge when it comes to US NIH-funded biomedical research. Policies that exist at the UC campuses affect a large percentage of our target audience and for that matter, many of our colleagues and friends. There is also an assumption on my part that the very size of the UC means that it has an influential effect on policies across the US and maybe even worldwide.

The UAW recently announced that they had reached an agreement with the University of California system (provost confirmation) and about ~6,500 postdoctoral researchers/fellows represented by the UAW.

The UAW and the University of California today jointly announced that UC postdoctoral scholars voted to ratify their first union contract. The union announced that postdocs approved the contract by an overwhelming vote of 2588 to 121, or 96 percent in favor, in balloting that concluded Aug. 11. The postdocs’ union, Postdoctoral Researchers Organize/UAW, and UC reached a tentative agreement on July 31.

No word on whether hilarious Congressional threats to investigate UC uses of federal money had any effect on the process.

An overview of the agreement can be found in this pdf.

One main outcome of this initial agreement is to put the UC postdocs on the NIH NRSA salary scale as a default minimum ($37,740 / yr for new postdocs with less than a year’s experience at present). It seems to be phased in for existing postdocs and in immediate effect for any new hires.

There are also some points about benefits but since I’m not particularly familiar with existing UC postdoc benefit policies I’m not going to comment on that.

I’m viewing this settlement/agreement as a good first step. I’m on record as saying I favor the NIH / NRSA scale as a minimum for all postdoctoral fellows so this more or less ratifies my position.