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Monday, September 29, 2014

Worth the wait...



Apparently this set is pretty popular - which is encouraging in its way - so it was on backorder for a fair while. Of course, the progressive vibe was rocked a little by the fact that the first thing my daughter asked while rummaging through the pieces was why the dark-haired scientist looked so angry. I said it was probably a frown of concentration, but figured it was also worth telling her about Lisa Meitner and Rosalind Franklin, by way of possible explanation for the lack of smiley-facedness in these particular characters. But I don't think she grasped the gravity of the information, and her 6 yr old mind certainly couldn't fathom why missing out on some lame "prize" that didn't come with cake and/or ice cream would be some sort of a big deal. A conversation for another time perhaps.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Lab blues and other humbug...

Teaching pharmacology: where one talks about selective drugs with specific effects that tell lovely, tidy stories about how this phenomenon is caused by that mechanism leading to the effective treatment of such-and-such a condition.

Doing pharmacology: where one uses drugs that have multiple cellular targets - many of which are as yet ill-defined/unidentified - with completely different downstream effects depending on the cell type, species, protein expression levels and localization, temperature, stage in the lunar cycle, the NASDAQ index and a few other things besides, and that rarely have a remotely sensible chain of causality linking their cellular effects to the actual clinical outcome.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Snap shots: Elite male faculty in the life sciences employ fewer women, J. M. Sheltzer and J. C. Smith, 2014

"For instance, Moss-Racusin et al. (15) sent science faculty identical resumes for a laboratory manager position in which only the name and gender of the applicant were changed. The applicant with the male name was judged to be more competent and hirable and offered a larger starting salary than the female applicant."
From Sheltzer and Smith, PNAS, 2014

Monday, June 09, 2014

$4.5 Billion Braindoggle Initiative

"Now, after more than a year of meetings and deliberations, an NIH-convened working group has fleshed out some the goals and aspirations of BRAIN and tried to offer a more realistic appraisal of the funding needed: $4.5 billion over the course of a decade, or roughly quadruple the project’s currently planned budget."
A mere bagatelle... Although, one wonders what one would expect to hear from a panel largely composed of neuroscientists on the subject of how much public lucre should get funneled into... erm... neuroscience.
"Neuroscientist Cornelia Bargmann, of Rockefeller University in New York City, who led the working group, sought to put that cost in perspective at a press conference today, saying it amounted to “about one six-pack of beer for each American over the entire 12 years of the program.”
Well, when you put it like that, I mean, it's nuffin, right! Only, the same can be said for just about everything that is government funded, and it's the cumulative weight of all those mere six-packs that starts to impact the wallet of Joe... erm... Six-pack. Which is why it 's disingenuous to frame public expenses in such a manner. $500 million a year on a single field within the health sciences is not chump change.

Former director of the NIGMS, Jeremy Berg, tweeted

"Understanding is a very important goal, but investigator-initiated research can often meet this goal better than top-down"
Do we have solid evidence that his sort of top-down approach is better than the conventional investigator-initiated method? No, we really don't. Admittedly, this is because it's a devilish thing to determine with any accuracy. The Genome Project advocates will talk a big game about the influence of this initiative on both scientific progress and the economy, but the rub is that we cannot know how things would have gone had the Genome Project never been implemented in order to make a fair comparison (although in the case of both genomics and proteomics, private sector interests were already investing in these fields, and the unanswered question has always been why public funds were used to compete in an area already attracting substantial private investment). This is the problem with this sort of approach; it can always be sold as a success and used as justification for another boondoggle down the road.

The Brain Initiative approach is also unconventional in that it appears to be highly focused towards technical innovation in the absence of a clear set of problems to be tackled (beyond the vague problem of, "We don't understand the brain very well"). Ordinarily, one has a tangible problem that cannot be solved by modern techniques, which subsequently acts as the driving force and guiding hand for the development of new techniques. For example, the longstanding problem of not being able to switch specific neurons ON and OFF is what ultimately drove the emergence of the optogenetics field, which has arguably flourished quite admirably without the need for a focused top-down NIH initiative.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Old school selfies and the narrow window that is the 5 yr old attention span...


In a mall photo booth this morning, it took two shots before I could convince Wee Girl that the camera was under the telly screen not in it. By the fourth shot her mind was already elsewhere.