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July 2024



Enhancing the format for science blogs

Publishing longer articles and trains of thought, which are updated over weeks, is difficult using blogs due to their lack of versioning systems. These measures would both enhance the quality of posts, and ensure a little more persistence as well as take out the need to publish something new constantly. I would like to go back to ideas I had earlier, update the post (or work) and publish it online. In principle, you can do that well in a Wiki but I miss the comments (to particular versions) and I would like to have the edits offline and only release versions that contains significant updates and generally prefer the no-frills blog platforms to wikis.

Many blogs carry links to posts that were selected as highlights but it would be nicer to update them, wouldn't it? Taking that idea a little further, Spreeblick, an influential German blog introduced a feature that departed further from its classical diary form and introduced persistence by what is called 'Main Feature' in its redesign in November. Instead of having one line of articles, articles of higher relevance remain longer visible to the casual visitor and don't get replaced by shorter, entertaining entries or the 'one line, one link'-posts.

It is very unlikely that I am the only one who has come up with that idea. I checked for plugins for WordPress and Serendipity but did not find the Subversion like behavior that I am looking for. All hints are very welcome.

Let's face it - the current way of blogging favours new posts over development of concepts and ideas. Better non-peer reviewed scientific communication (and even the chitchat) over the internet needs enhancements to its platform too.

Why opting for fraud?

My most dangerous idea was voiced earlier on this blog:

It appears frightening simple to found a scientific career on fabricated results alone - and to get away with it. Most of the scientists that were uncovered doing fraud did very foolish mistakes. More recently, Derek Lowe at In the pipeline wondered how one can actually live under the specter of being an imposter. I largely agree with his analysis of the situation but somehow do understand why you can opt for fraud instead of taking a real risk of failing rather than being uncovered.

There is an enormous pressure on scientists to succeed. You only have limited to time to succeed in a risky business, either because your contract is running out or because of competition. Do you want to be a third class researcher or an underachieving ivy league alumni - or a successful imposter? The emotional burden seems comparable. You should even have a lot fun if you take that road to hell (which seems like a stairway to limbo from down here - limbo ain't so bad, eh?).

Besides that, science is build on trust and I have no sympathy for anyone who opts for fraud rather than accepting the risk. The internet is a bad place to be sarcastic, I know. Don't consider the following advice to ensure your scientific career without being overly dependent on research results as a real.

Start as soon as you get your own lab to keep things in control. Grad school is too early (you'll graduate anyway, getting in is the difficult end). You can try enhancing your results as a Postdoc but don't push it, there are still people who don't like you and are too close to you. Once you have the lab to yourself, go all in.

Work on the forefront in a challenging area that is just too difficult yet boring for others to get in just to check some one else's results. Make sure you collaborate with a clinician that provides you who with whatever odd sample you might need. Don't worry, there is nothing an MD wouldn't do to get his name on a paper. Perform cross-disciplinary studies, employing expensive equipement on precious sample - who will ever repeat it?

In that respect, cell biology is be a good field, the findings are of great impact yet research is difficult and results are somewhat fishy in general. Gel and microscopy pictures are easy to fabricate. Most scientific institutions have site licenses for Photoshop and they all use it before publication anyway. Just use it creatively!

Don't forget some bioinformatics or statistics mumbo jumbo. The anoraks make excellent collaborators as they are not interested in the experimental procedures in the first place, and a call for more experimental data should not pose a problem right? Besides, there is so much data on the web that one could resubmit. Get one statistician to apply noise to it (build a model...) and another one to analyze it. No worries, they don't talk to each other anyway. The human interactome can be constructed from yeast and and worm interactions and 8000 random pairs of proteins at no sweat and you'd even beat existing technologies. Always leave room for further improvements in your next ground breaking work.

You should appear like a real scientist before you become a great one - make sure you are only somewhat successful, stay modest, you get the press coverage when you go down. Don't go to a different fields for publishing every month as a single author. You have all the time in the world, if you know you can do it.

Stem cell research might be a good call again in a few years after the field will recover a from the fallout of Dr. Hwang. He was an amateur anyway (but wore nice ties). Your data must be waterproof - only beginners ever re-use the same picture. It should not be too difficult to redo all the controls in different concentrations (and no samples).

Peer review won't stop you. The reviewers got to decide whether the work is believable and of significant interest, not whether it is true. You can always perform the experiments that the reviewers want - what else could they ask for ever anyway? Just make sure you don't resubmit too soon or declare that the results were sitting on your desk, you just did not include them for clarity.

The difficult part in science is coming up with an original idea anyway - and they all know what results they want to see. Make them happy. If you can come up with an original idea, you've *done* all the hard work. Instead, work on your nimbus. Make sure your Powerpoint presentations look convincing before the publication to spur some talk in the field.

Hire some bright yet dependent people - visa issues are a great handle to keep your personnel on track. To get the right mix, hire some bloke from your home country, who is a hopeless scientist (and knows about it) but brings your good mood to the lab and can act as a bully. He might not even notice what you are up to and praise you as a God (get some satisfaction out of it, after all you gave up the opportunity in commercial enterprises to do good to society).

Go down in style! Wait until you have achieved tenure to ensure maximum damage for the institution you work for - that'll also maximize the press coverage (watch your wardrobe). The wife or the daughter of the dean, preferably both, should be involved in some way. You can still call it an attempt to show the world how leaky the system really is. Write a book about it, laugh at them - these things sell well. You don't even have to face financial consequences - it's all tax payers money anyway - your money, right? And everyone is going to read your blog finally (please, please-please-please link here - promised?)

And if they don't catch you? Switch into a new field immediately after getting tenure, hire some good postdocs that do good work for you finally. Or don't switch, they can even show that you are a visionary, not an imposter. The world of science is yours, take your piece, you deserve it. Only desperate people found companies to rip off investors. Found a lab!

Recent additions

Where was my head in December? I missed two interesting additions to our life science blogosphere (will the term still be accepted in 2006?).

For one, Pierre Evry, a virologist/bioinformatician writes at Yakafokon about "Bioinformatics, Semantic Web and Social Networks". Its blogroll links to Declan Butler's blog, who is a reporter with Nature and authored a recent article on bloggers in the sciences. Seems like he found something convincing, he became a blogger himself thereafter.

Wikipedia vs. Britannica

Wikipedia received a lot of criticism recently regarding its quality. Surprisingly, a peer review analysis of Wikipedia and Britannica in Nature finds Wikipedia at a higher quality.

However, an expert-led investigation carried out by Nature — the first to use peer review to compare Wikipedia and Britannica's coverage of science — suggests that such high-profile examples are the exception rather than the rule.
The exercise revealed numerous errors in both encyclopaedias, but among 42 entries tested, the difference in accuracy was not particularly great: the average science entry in Wikipedia contained around four inaccuracies; Britannica, about three.

Never tried the Britannica myself but after my recent, frustrating attempts to enhance some articles in Wikipedia myself I am about to ask whether Britannica is really that poor?

Science 2.0

Most blogs of the tiny bioinformatics blogosphere featured a link to the Science 2.0/Brainstorming page of the OpenWetWare wiki recently, and I mentioned OWW earlier myself. My excuse for the redundancy: The site is a great collection of ideas and frontiers that we face in publishing outside the classical peer-reviewed scheme and one could imagine that the participating labs realize some of them.

Google and the genes

The Washington Post from Monday presents a chapter entitled "Googling Your Gene" of a forthcoming book called "The Google story" by David Vise, and Mark Malseed [Amazon].
It is about the most brainless, badly researched fad that I have read recently, featuring Craig Venter (who is presented as the guy who "sequenced the human genome" and "made it available to the public"), researchers performing simulations in cyberspace and scholars solely relying on Google as if specialized search engines would not exist.
A company like Google could probably contribute massively to biological research and the compute time in Google Compute is going into protein folding. There is a great potential for Google in field of genetic information but the issue is a sensitive one, particular for personalized medicine. If I would be working in Googles PR department, I would make sure the book does not appear in print if the other chapters are of the same quality.

The Science Commons project

Associated with and inspired by the Creative Commons, the Science Commons project is providing standardized licenses to spread open access and facilitate the exchange of data and publications. It is backed by an impressive group of scientists. I like the separation into data, publishing and licensing, providing a distinction between experimental information, hypotheses and resources such as cell lines.
The Creative Commons website presents the Science Common in depth.

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