from gawker:

At the June service, Ticha sang a hymn while Stella accompanied him on piano. This harmonious expression of devotion so disturbed the delicate racists of Pike County—the 98% white home of the infamous Hatfield-McCoy feud—that church leaders spent the next five months locked in debate. In November they took a vote and agreed to ban interracial couples from public worship.

I’m sure this is all the fault of snooty rich elite liberal New York Jewish Democrats though. You know, what with their sneering. And their Hollywood movies that offend RealAmerica.

Couldn’t possibly be the fact that these pseudo-Christian hate mongers are racist to the bone. Naaah. report says it’s only a 9 to 6 vote in favor of the ban…phew, just a dinky little church. No biggie. Must be an outlier. Right?

From the NYT:

Dr. Farid and Eric Kee, a Ph.D. student in computer science at Dartmouth, are proposing a software tool for measuring how much fashion and beauty photos have been altered, a 1-to-5 scale that distinguishes the infinitesimal from the fantastic. Their research is being published this week in a scholarly journal, The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

here’s one example of the before/after, more at the lab’s website here.

Pretty impressive what can be done with a picture these days.

Kee and Farid, 2011, A perceptual metric for photo retouching is Open Access at PNAS

Swinging for the fences

November 29, 2011

In baseball, the fans have a tremendous affection for home run hitters. You may perhaps recall the gripping excitement when juiced pharmaceutically enhanced sluggers Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire were battling in 1998 for the single season Home Run Record. Even those who are not fans of baseball could understand this competition and the feat intrinsic to hitting a home run.

Esoterica like batting average and on-base percentage are, of course, far more useful to the actual winning of baseball games, but people who excel in these categories receive comparatively less attention. More on this later. The thing about home run hitters is that they strike out. A lot. Take a look at this list of top home run sluggers and this list of strikeout leaders (pitchers apparently left off). Tremendous overlap, right?

Now, as you all know we are fond of debating career issues in science around these parts. One perennial topic is the severe culling process by which only a fraction of those who acquire a science PhD go on to a long and happy career as a major grant-funded academic scientist at the professorial and/or Principal Investigator level. A minor fraction.

As the NIH-focused scientific community is engaging (formally and informally) in some introspection about the proper state of the workforce, some questions may arise about the quality of various training efforts. As I may have mentioned before, post-graduate training programs get evaluated on periodic basis by external committees. My program was evaluated when I was a graduate student and I’ve seen the outcome of at least one such review of a program as a participating faculty member. It strikes me* that some of the outcome measures of interest to such reviews may paste on to the baseball analogy, in this case with respect to swinging for the fences.

In this analogy, let attaining the faculty job represent a home run for the training program. No need to limit this to graduate students, we can also use this rubric for assessing an institution/department or a NIH-funded postdoctoral training grant for the postdoctoral training interval as well. The strikeout? Well, for argument’s sake, let’s say that this is an academic zero for the trainee in question- which means no authored publications. Not just first author, a goose egg on any author credit.

Remember these evaluations of graduate programs (and training grants) can be considered to last the life of the program. No need to focus on just a 3 or 6 year interval…assume these trainees are followed essentially forever.

What would be an ideal balance of outcomes? Suppose a program is a Sammy Sosa / Mark McGwire type program and places, for argument’s sake, 50% of its graduates in faculty positions. Nice high-falutin’ faculty positions, mind you. Which pretty much assumes these folks are getting first author credits on very high Impact Factor journal publications.

However, also let us suppose this comes at a high strikeout cost. Say 25% of the trainees get a few pubs but they are middle authors and these people just sort of go on to have careers not viewed as the Big Leagues- perhaps in biotech, BigPharma, career academic sub-PI scientists. And the remaining 25% are blanked. Zero publication credits, not even as middle author.

Contrast this with your favored ratio. Would it be better if 100% of authors get some presence on an authorship line? If all get a first author paper, no matter how humble the journal? Is there anything to raise an alarm about an appreciable strikeout rate when it comes to trainees and publishing scientific work? Would it be okay if “everybody publishes” comes at the cost of reducing the home runs significantly? Suppose all trainees publish, all get first authorships in society level journals…but only 10% get faculty jobs?

I throw this to you, Dear Reader. What balance would you like to see** for a training program? What ideal tradeoffs would you prescribe (or review favorably)? Does it differ for postdoctoral versus predoctoral training?

Are other measures more akin to batting average and on-base percentage more likely to benefit the ultimate goal of winning baseball games (some nebulous concept of scientific output that contributes in a real way)? Or is the purpose really just to aggrandize personal stats and other (dare I say) inside-baseball, flashy goals such as Ivy League professorships and multi-R01 funded laboratories?

*actually this was in a conversation with someone who may or may not wish to self-identify in the comments

**be sure to mention if you find the example of very high home-run rate combined with appreciable numbers of strikeouts in this context to be entirely foreign or familiar in your science experiences.

From the Sacramento Bee:

At the “Kush Expo Medical Marijuana Show” in Anaheim this month, the 420 Nurses were joined by the Ganja Juice girls and a bikini troupe for an Orange County dispensary sponsoring the Expo’s “Hot Kush Girl” contest. A whooping, largely male throng cheered as 21 women competed for signature edition bongs and cash prizes.

“The marijuana industry is male-dominated, and dudes love to look at hot chicks,” said Ngaio Bealum, Sacramento publisher of a marijuana lifestyle magazine called West Coast Cannabis.

And this, my friends, is yet more evidence that medical marijuana and compassionate care nonsense is 10% about legitimate treatment for health problems and 90% about schmokin’ some weed.

In more ridiculousness, you too can try to be a “420 Nurse“. Aka, Pot Pinup.
h/t: @Dirk57

Science Professor muses on Stay or Go?, the well known conventional wisdom that any serious scientist will inhabit different Universities for undergraduate, postgraduate, postdoctoral and professorial career stages. If you stay at one location for two consecutive stages then you must be a crappy scientist.

The true reality is that geographical limits in a training history are imperfect predictors of scientific quality. There are negative factors to remaining in the same environment, mostly having to do with being steeped in one narrow scientific perspective. Variously defined, you realize.

The appearance, however, does not always reflect reality. I know of many people who trained in disparate locations as grad students and postdocs…but the labs were near clones of each other. I also know of a rare few who stayed at one University across *multiple* transitions yet received greater diversity of perspective than the prior examples.

In short, it depends.

Given this, and given that anyone with a brain more advanced than a carrot realizes this, we must ask ourselves why such a seemingly hard and fast career rule persists.

I submit to you that women in science are disproportionately, for better or for worse, likely to be geographically anchored. Deployment of the “rule”, in lieu of considering individual merits/limitations, therefore contributes to the persisting sex disparity in science career success.

Is there any useful purpose for the “rule” that I am missing, Dear Reader?

Interesting post up at the haydenlab blog:

In the post-SFN hangover phase, many neuroscientists are in a slightly more anxious state about the possibility that they are about to be scooped. Surely with all those posters, you must have seen someone who has the same brilliant idea in their head as you, right?

With a few exceptions, these fears turn out to be silly. Why?

The author then goes on to list a number of reasons why getting scooped* is not as bad as is usually imagined. I tend to agree** with the points being made. One that is obscured is that in most areas of real science, the paper that does the best job is going to rack up the the respect and citations. Even if it appeared after the very first report of the general phenomenon.

So I tend to think scientists should remember they are playing the long game. And not get too concerned about the possibility that they are about to get scooped.

*someone else manages to publish an experimental finding that you are working on before you get your paper published.

**the pursuit of GlamourMag science prioritizes the first publication of something over many other factors, including scientific quality and genuine impact, for example.

Hur, Hur, Hur….good one Nature, good one.

Those women, they just aren’t like us real members of the academic world, right? Good thing they take care of our needs so we menfolk can do the hard thinking, eh?

What a load of adolescent bollocks. Imagine my surprise to find that it was Edited by our old buddy Henry Gee. You remember Hank.

Normally I’d advise ignoring this sort of intentionally offensive attempt to draw attention to a print magazine. After all, this is just what they do when they feel their circulation and readership are flagging. But, this is one of the more high profile academic publications. And unfortunately that means the promulgation of old sex-role tropes needs to be addressed.

You will find excellent commentary which will help you to catalog the many problems with Nature’s latest piddle on the carpet of Academia at the following links.
Paul Anderson
Anne Jefferson
Janet Stemwedel
Christie Wilcox


this comment nails it. especially with

Finally Mr Gee, since Nature seems not to be discriminating about what fiction it publishes, I have three stories of my own you might wish to consider publishing in future issues of Nature:

Gayspace (a hilarious tale of how gay people access parallel dimensions to look fabulous)
Blackspace (a hilarious tale of how black people access parallel dimensions to be fast sprinters)
Jewspace (a hilarious tale of how Jewish people access parallel dimensions to save money)

Or maybe you’d have the sense not to publish these. Because they are offensive, and based on stereotypes. And you’d be right.


language NSFW, as you might expect.

I gotta say I have no idea WTF he’s talking about with the gay mafia thing, tho. anyone?

h/t: guanabee

I ran across a petition on the Twitts today that asks Congress to support scientific research in the current budget discussions. This one is focused on the NIH:
Congress: increase federal research funding for the National Institutes of Health

The text reads, in part:

Dear Members of Congress

I am writing to you today to implore you to support the House proposal to increase the 2012 National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget by 3.3% ($31.7 billion). Since the 1930’s, the NIH has been a fundamental supporter of basic biomedical research in the U.S. Funding from the NIH supports research in all 50 states. These awards are made to over 3,000 universities, medical schools, and research institutions, and they support more than 350,000 researchers. NIH funding to basic research has supported findings that were honored by 121 Nobel Prizes, including this year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. The nonprofit coalition United for Medical Research concluded that funding by the NIH in 2010 produced $68 billion in new economic activity, which is a greater than 100% return on our investment!

I urge you to add your name to the petition.
The bumpersticker is from Zazzle.

Consider the last few manuscripts you reviewed.

How many labs could credibly have submitted that manuscript if you didn’t know who the authors were?

Assume they had been written without any “as we previously showed” type of language but with citations otherwise unchanged. What would be your confidence in your bets as to lab identity?

The Backyard Brains folks are at it again.

Presentation 22.17SU/YY91 will be on display Saturday 1:00 p.m. – Sunday 5:00 p.m. with their presentation time scheduled for Sunday. It is entitled:

The blue light special: a portable, low-cost optogenetics kit for the classroom

The abstract reads:

Optogenetics is an innovative technology for studying brain circuits, but to date the lay public has had little exposure to its potential and limited access to low-cost tools to do experiments. What if you have an interest in cutting-edge neuroscience but you aren’t near a university? What if you prefer to do science in your garage, in a truck-bed, or on a plane on a boat? What if you are a high school biology teacher who wants to keep your students abreast of the most current neurotechnology but the latest millage did not pass? We can help you! We have designed a low-cost, easy-to-build, and portable electrophysiology rig for simple optogenetics demonstrations. The rig consists of a extracellular amplifier (our SpikerBox), a 3D-printed 3-axis micromanipulator, an off-the-shelf monocular 30X microscope, a high intensity blue LED (light-emitting diode), and an LED control circuit that can be precisely controlled with a tailor-made iPhone application or simple tone generator. We have successfully used our first clunky prototype to record blue light-evoked electromyograms from channelrhodopsin-2 expressing Drosophila larvae. We plan to spend the summer refining our prototype (making it more stable, improving control of light emission) and genetic tools. We plan to begin demonstrations in high school classrooms by Fall 2011. We also have other low-cost neurotechnology inventions to show you, so come by our poster to participate in real-time peer review!

Right? RIGHT? You know you think this is cool. Go see their presentation folks, they always amuse, entertain and educate.

Update for additional reading on Backyard Brains and Marzullo and Gage
The $100 Spike
The $100 SpikerBox v1.0
Backyard Brains

If you want to understand the child molestation case that has rocked Penn State University in full, you need to read PhysioProf’s take on the matter.

Joe Paterno–who has been the head coach for 46 years is the absolute monarch of that program, with absolute power. Regardless of whether he satisfied the bare minimum of legal requirements to report what he knew about the rape of children to his “superiors”–which as absolute monarch at Penn State, he really had none

emphasis added, but not really needed.

Go Read.

There was a rumor on the Twitts today about a study section experience in which the triage line was severe (35%, yikes)…but that isn’t the bad part. In a 10% or worse payline environment, discussion of the top 35% seems appropriate.

What was absolutely horrifying was the blocking of the usual (IME) rule that any reviewer could lift any application out of triage and insist on discussion.

I believe this to be an absolutely fundamental safety valve to avoid the frequently bemoaned notion that “one biased reviewer torpedoed my grant”.

I myself have found occasion to pull grants up for discussion. I doubt I ever got those particular versions funded but I know for sure of ones that got funded on a subsequent revision. I can’t prove that my pulling it up for discussion led to the favorable outcome for the revision. But I think it safe to assume that if this path is replicated elsewhere in CSR then, statistically, this has an effect.

Don’t get me wrong, one reviewer saves are going to be rare…but what if it were your grant?

Thanks to Doctor Becca of Fumbling Towards Tenure blog…

A great opportunity to have a chat with some of your favorite online neuroscience peeps.

Either a liar or an idiot

November 8, 2011

BikeMonkey Post
Apparently Tiger Woods’ ex-caddie Steve Williams holds a grudge against the Tiger. Upon receiving some caddie award, he apparently said: “”My aim was to shove it right up that black – – – -hole,” in the context of his new employer winning a golf tournament. I gotta say, when I finally found the quote after hearing a bunch of breathless coverage of the “racist” remarks on the radio, I was distinctly unimpressed. I mean, yes, perhaps he should have described Tiger’s rectum as being “smug” or “arrogant” or “overrated” or something but…c’mon.

But what really annoyed me about this was a moronic statement made by a legend of the sport, Greg Norman.

Asked if racism is a problem in golf, Norman said he’s “never seen it at all.”

According to Wikipedia Greg Norman was active from 1975 to 2009 in professional golf. That entry also indicates that Norman played the Masters tournament regularly, including an unbroken streak from 1981-2002.

The Masters is held, of course, at Augusta National which only allowed black members to join in 1990 after being threatened with the loss of their tournament by the PGA.

The action by Augusta National, which is situated in Augusta, Ga., came in the wake of the controversy that surrounded the racial makeup of Shoal Creek Country Club outside Birmingham, Ala., where the P.G.A. Championship was held last month.

In response to the events at Shoal Creek, three of the main administrative bodies in golf, the PGA Tour, the P.G.A. of America and the United States Golf Association, all adopted new guidelines effective in 1991 requiring private clubs that want to host tournaments to demonstrate that their membership policies are not discriminatory against minority members or women by policy or practice.

And in case the lack of black members doesn’t convince you (“wayul, them coloreds just don’t wanna join our lil’ club, Colonel”) perhaps this will:

Because of the Masters, one of golf’s four major championships, the club has long been one of the nation’s most visible bastions of all-white golf. No black player played in the tournament until Lee Elder in 1975. And until 1982, when the competitors were allowed for the first time to bring their regular tour caddies, all the caddies in the tournament were black.

Because it just doesn’t look right to have white men carrying the golf bags of other white men, you know?

Greg Norman played at Augusta many, many times. He was a professional golfer of some note when the professional organizations felt it necessary to adopt new guidelines to force old style racist country clubs to modernize or lose the considerable benefits of a PGA event.

Yet he allegedly never saw any racism in the sport “at all”?

Greg Norman, if quoted within reasonable context, is either an idiot or an asshole.

Additional Reading

A brief history of black contributions in golf
Decline of black caddies a bad thing?
Robert Lee Elder
Charles Sifford