Making your own equipment

October 16, 2012

The latest from Backyard Brains…

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When I walked up this year the rig seemed curiously sophisticated compared with past efforts…

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SfN must be on to these guys…no live roaches this year….

Anyway, their schweeetly fabbed plastic bits?

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They built it all themselves using a Makerbot. Tim claimed about a $2,000 cost for the bot. Niiiice

The recent news about Lance Armstrong and his numerous teammates, who are now confessing to having doped, raises parallels to cheating in the profession of science. I suggest you read the linked stories which all contain a fair bit of excuse making from the confessed cheats. “Everyone is doing it”. “I always wanted to be a cyclist”. “I was ambitious” and “They told me I had to if I wanted to survive at this level”. You will also notice that to a rider they appear to say that they made it all the way into the professional ranks without cheating. The hard way. With work and talent. So far the cycling doping stories are free of anyone claiming that they started out as a cheat from day one as a 15 year old amateur. And larded up with stories of long, hard hours on the bike as a teen.

Sounds a lot like academic scientists who make excuses for their scientific fraud, doesn’t it?

Another consideration which fails to emerge is the very nature of the top level competition, 20 days worth of hard racing, 4-8 hrs per day in the Grand Tours. Not clear it is possible for feats of sustained excellence to occur without doping, is it? Do you wonder about what it takes for a record of sustained excellence represented by multiple Cell, Nature and/or Science publications year in, year out from the same lab? You should.

Anyway, I thought I would revisit this personal observation, reposted from my blog.



BikeMonkey Cross-Post
It was someplace in the middle of my college years and I was home for the summer. I went to a circuit race that I’d raced a few times over the years. It was maybe a mile per lap, around a park.

Normally the circuit race is my game…..crits (under a mile, four corners around a block, typically) were cool, in theory, but I didn’t usually have a team capable of support and I’m kind of a wuss at the high-speed, elbow rubbing, apex cornering mid-pack thing. So a full-mile, maybe 1.5 circuit suited me well. Slightly less importance on repeated, high-speed cornering, lengthier straightaways to group up and the possibility of a short rise. Now, I sucked ass at hill climbs, true, but short power climbs, taken up out of the saddle were doable. Short enough and they were actually an advantage to me.

The course had a hill early in the lap after four right angle corners. Then it was about 30 feet of gain from 0.22 mi to 0.37 mi and then it was drifting up, almost flat up to 0.7 mi, then back down to the start line. Just after the course started downhill there was a acute turn, sharper than 90….crank it up to the 1.0 mi mark, bank a 95-100 degree left and it was about a tenth of a mile to the line.

Races were maybe 45 min at that point? I was in the Cat IVs so that seems about right. That would make it on the order of 18 laps or so? maybe 20. Not so far but believe me, you were hauling ass the whole time.

I always loved this course and had managed a prime (intermediate sprints within the race) or two over the years but had never won. My memory suggests that I was never in there for the finish…for whatever reason. Most usually because the climb had me at my limit. I could hang for most of the race, and be at the front enough by the start of the downhill to dice for primes at the bottom of the course. But in the end, someone would light it up enough over the climb late in the race for me to lose contact with the front.

Not this year…..

I was FLYING. I mean, I didn’t feel like Superman, toying with the other riders. I didn’t feel like I was riding a motorcycle. I was working my ass off, dicing it at the front through the danger zones, then sitting in. Chasing down breakaways a few times…. and above all else, strategically climbing the hill. No big deal, I was racing. And I’d get tired….and have to back off for a lap.

But every lap, I was in there. Coming through the left-hand turn that started over the crown of the hill, I would gain places, slip up to the front….shut dudes down. I may even have had to chase down some real climbers on a lap or two. And my HR would spike. But then I’d settle down and catch my breath and get back to where I needed to be.

And there I found myself, last lap. Up the right-hand side as we hit the corner in the middle of the hill…jamming up to the slightly strung out front 10. Slipping into the top five just before the turn onto the downhill…and then I nailed it. It was downhill so I don’t even remember the usual dramatics….flat or uphill and my back wheel was typically jumping around a bit when I spooled up a sprint. But I was goooooooone. Flew into the final bend a bit hot and I do remember juuuuuust not clipping the curb on the outside…and then it was up again and across the line.

FTW.

Of course, I hadn’t been doping, not really. But I HAD been training and racing above 6,000 feet for many months prior to this race. No doubt I had a significant red blood cell advantage over many of my competitors that day. I certainly had one over my own historical races on that course.

This is what EPO does, of course. Increases oxygen carrying capacity. So does blood doping.

Several years ago I started to realize that this is why you see so much explaining and defending out of the cycling dopers that get caught. “Everyone is doing it”. “I had to if I wanted to keep my (domestique) job”. “I had a bad day and needed to stay with the team”. “You still have to put in the work!”.

Yeah….yeah you do. And no, you don’t feel like you are cheating.

What you feel like is …”finally! I feel right. Like I’m where I should be based on my training!”

I can see how it would be very easy to convince yourself it wasn’t exactly cheating.

But it is.

This is my annual no-promises request for you, my Readers, to turn the tables.

I am interested in what you all have to say, scientifically.

So, if inclined drop your presentation details here in the comments or send me an email. Drugmnky at the google mail.

I might stop by.

As those of us in the neurosciences prepare for our largest annual scientific gathering, we should attend to a certain little task to assist with the odds of obtaining NIH grant funding. Part of that process is a long game of developing interpersonal relationships with the Program Officers that staff the NIH ICs of interest to our individual research areas. Many scientists find the schmoozing process to be uncomfortable and perhaps even distasteful.

To this I can only reply “Well, do you want to get funded or not?”.

This post originally went up Nov 12, 2008. I’ve edited a few things for links and content.


One of the most important things you are going to do during the upcoming SfN Annual Meeting in Washington DC is to stroll around NIH row. Right?

I have a few thoughts for the trainees after the jump. I did mention that this is a long game, did I not? Read the rest of this entry »

Thought of the Day

October 10, 2012

If your success as a lab depends on concealing the “real way” to do some technique then your science sucks.

What with the 2012 edition of the Society for Neuroscience meeting rapidly approaching, I thought I’d return to this critical issue in meeting etiquette.

This was originally posted Sept 11, 2008 on the old Scienceblogs version of DrugMonkey.
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Annual scientific meetings have many purposes. One of the most essential purposes that cannot be readily accomplished by other means is the initiation and development of inter-personal relationships. Call it networking, schmoozing or whatever you like. As with any other human enterprise, there are many aspects that are improved by meeting other people face to face and becoming acquainted with them.
There is an aspect of scientific meetings, however, that always presents a very difficult problem for YHN (see Figure 1).

Read the rest of this entry »

Neuropolarbear has a post up suggesting that people presenting posters at scientific meetings should know how to give the short version of their poster.

My favorite time to see posters is 11:55 and 4:55, since then people are forced to keep it short.

If you are writing your poster talk right now, remember to use a stopwatch and make your 5 minute version 5 minutes.

Don’t even practice a longer version.

I have a suggestion.

Ask the person to tell you why they are there! Really, this is a several second exchange that can save a lot of time. For noobs, sure, maybe this is slightly embarrassing because it underlines that even if you have managed to scope out the name successfully you do not remember that this is some luminary in your subfield. Whatever. Suck it up and ask. It saves tremendous time.

If you are presenting rodent behavioral data and the person indicates that they know their way around an intravenous self-administration procedure, skip the methods! or just highlight where you’ve deviated critically from the expected paradigms. If they are some molecular douche who just stopped by because “THC” caught their eye then you may need to go into some detail about what sort of paradigms you are presenting.

Similarly if it is someone from the lab that just published a paper close to your findings, just jump straight to the data-chase. “This part of figure 2 totally explains what you just published”

Trust me, they will thank you.

As Neuropolarbear observes, if you’ve skipped something key, then this person will ask. Poster sessions are great that way.

By hook or by crook

October 9, 2012

One of the worst feelings in science is to beat your head against the wall, trying to get your ideas funded, only to see multiple RFAs and PAs appear several years later. Or, to see someone finally get “your” grant funded.

I have three suggestions for sanity.

1) If you’ve stopped fighting on Idea 1 because you got funding to work on Idea 2….try to be philosophical* about it. I have approximately 10 fold more scientific ideas than I can ever dream of supervising at one time.

2) keep at it. Keep sending in apps even if someone else got funded. Who knows? Maybe you will end up the only one of multiple grants to actually produce anything!**

3) do it anyway on the back of some other project you have funded. Yeah, it can be risky come renewal time but….screw it. Life is too short to let your best ideas languish until you have specific funding.


*the first full grant I ever wrote…
**I won’t lie. That shit feels good.

The recent fax (yes, they still call it this despite it arriving via email attachment) from CESAR (Vol 21, Issue 40; October 09, 2012) puts us back on an occasional theme of this blog.
They have adapted data from the latest update from SAMHSA’s National Household Survey on Drug Abuse. This figure shows the number of past year users of selected illicit/recreational drugs.
Interestingly, marijuana use continues to trend up from the approximate plateau of 2002-2007, while use of cocaine is trending downward. Even the nonmedical use of prescription drugs (which has been a big problem overdose-wise) is relatively flat. Rounding slightly, we’re looking at some 30 million past year users of marijuana compared with 4 million past year users of cocaine.

So why is this interesting? Well, as we’ve covered in the past the notion of conditional probability of dependence is a key issue for parents and policy makers and yet we have really poor estimates on that. Direct studies are usually limited in scope and the big-scale epidemiological stuff is too imprecise- i.e., rarely are there good diagnostics of dependence. So we sometimes have to infer things based on, e.g., daily use rates versus annual rates. Something like that. Fortunately the more precise studies and the broader interpretive efforts tend to agree.

Roughly speaking the conditional probability of alcohol dependence is on the order of 4%, for cannabis on the order of 8-10% and for stimulants, including cocaine, on the order of 15%.

So, applying these rough estimates to the past-year data above, we end up with something on the order of 600,000 dependent on cocaine and 2,400,000 dependent on marijuana. If you dropped the estimate of conditional probability for marijuana to the 4% of alcohol, you still end up with 1.2M people dependent on marijuana.

My point, as always, is that the definition and scope of a “drug dependence problem” is going to depend on frame of reference. One important frame of reference in my view is the number of people who are affected. This, btw, is why we think of alcohol dependence as such a huge problem even though just about every estimate suggests the conditional probability of dependence is one of the lowest. Because the percentage of the entire population exposed to alcohol on a regular basis is so large, the number of people who are dependent is relatively large.

New Scientopians!

October 8, 2012

Thirty-seven

Elephants, Giraffes, Baboons

Transient Interactions

Enjoy!

From Kristin Booker at xojane:

But at the end of the day, a simple answer should be sufficient, random stranger. If I decide to answer that question at all, I’m being nice. All further questions past the answer, “I’m Black,” will now be met with one answer and one answer only: “I’ve answered your question.”

I am who I am. Who my progenitors had sex with is none of your business. Kindly stop asking. This interview is now over. *throws mic down*

I saw this from a link to jezebel.

In other news, despite being kinda majority culture this woman puts it well.

To completely switch gears on you, I often think of this song in the context of academic genealogy.

Grumpy

October 3, 2012

I dunno.

I liked this manuscript I just reviewed okay but it wasn’t super unusually awesome or anything.

But I just had the strongest desire to rebut the Third Reviewer and the Associate Editor to the Editor in Chief.

I thought they were being a bit too demanding and harsh.

And the other two reviews (one of them mine) were hardly softballs.

Meh.

Back to my grant writing.

Oh, this is a good one.

@boehninglab asks:

Has anyone heard of study section tanking a grant b/c of too much % effort listed (in particular, 40%)? @drugmonkeyblog #NIH

I have no specific recollection of such a thing but it does tingle a slight chord of my memory. Suffice it to say that I am not surprised one bit if this has occurred.

If anyone has seen such a thing go down in a study section (or received such comments on a summary statement) I would be fascinated to hear the rationale that was advanced.

Is this an attack on soft-money faculty?

I have definitely seen criticisms that not enough effort was being devoted, but that has typically been in the realm of supporting BSD investigators at 3% or the relatively junior PI at something below 15% effort. The criticism over too much effort seems to contrast with this.

Editorial Boards

October 1, 2012

Obviously it is an academic career credit to be selected as the Editor in Chief of a journal, no matter how humble that journal may be.

And I would tend to say the same for Associate Editor appointments, i.e. those positions with the authority to manage review and make accept/reject decisions.

The role of Editorial Board membership is less obvious. This is a nebulous category for which your name is formally listed but your only responsibility is to promise to do reviews when asked. Probably not even that for some of these gigs. The other “responsibility”, I surmise, is simply to lend your name and reputation as a seal of approval to the journal.

This latter is the only reason that makes sense when a list of BSD types appears on the Editorial Board of what is generally regarded as a lowly, but still somewhat respectable, journal in your field.

How many of these Boards should you be on? When you are on zero, then presumably you should take whatever is on offer. But after that? How many? 2? 10?

Is there a point at which Editorial Board participation just looks like ego gratification? Should you gently suggest the EiC ask someone younger, browner and/or female-er?

I happened to be looking over an Editorial Board of a journal recently and was thinking they really could stand to refresh with some younger and less majority-in-science names. Perhaps I shall send the EiC a list of suggestions….