Tuesday 21 February 2017

ARGH! How to give your journal a bad reputation

Received on 21 February 2017:

Dear Dr. Richard J Edwards,

Good Morning…..!

We are in shortfall of one article for successful release of Volume 3, Issue 2. Is it possible for you to support us with your transcript for this issue before 28th February? If this is a short notice please do send 2 page opinion or mini review, we hope 2 page article isn’t time taken for eminent like you.

We are confident that you are always will be there to support us.

Await your response.

Brittney Reeves
Advanced Research in Gastroenterology & Hepatology (ARGH)

Begging for a two-page article in a week from someone who doesn’t even work in the field… ARGH indeed!

Sunday 5 February 2017

An ode to Trump

There once was a Donald called Trump,
Who springs high when Bannon says jump,
His empathy’s lacking,
His sanity’s cracking,
A scary yet pitiful chump.

Friday 27 January 2017

In Defense of Science

From the Evolution Directory (evoldir) mailing list today:

Governmental scientists employed at a subset of agencies have been forbidden from presenting their findings to the public. We have drafted the following response for distribution, and encourage other scientists to post it to their websites, when feasible.

Graham Coop
Professor of Evolution and Ecology
UC Davis

Michael B. Eisen
Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology
UC Berkeley

Molly Przeworski
Professor of Biological Sciences
Columbia University

The message, for any affected US scientists out there:

We are deeply concerned by the Trump administration’s move to gag scientists working at various governmental agencies. The US government employs scientists working on medicine, public health, agriculture, energy, space, clean water and air, weather, the climate and many other important areas. Their job is to produce data to inform decisions by policymakers, businesses and individuals. We are all best served by allowing these scientists to discuss their findings openly and without the intrusion of politics. Any attack on their ability to do so is an attack on our ability to make informed decisions as individuals, as communities and as a nation.

If you are a government scientist who is blocked from discussing their work, we will share it on your behalf, publicly or with the appropriate recipients. You can email us at USScienceFacts@gmail.com.

I’ve also heard a rumour that Michael Eisen is running for senate. That would be cool - we need fewer Trumps and more science-savvy politicians.

Thursday 26 January 2017

Is it fair to compare "Alternative Facts" with "Alternative Medicine"

I came across this “meme” on Facebook today:

“The very concept of alternative medicine exists to create a double standard where the rules of science and evidence are stood on their head specifically to manufacture the result that is desired by cranks, charlatans, snake-oil salesmen, and self-proclaimed gurus. There is no alternative medicine. There is just medicine. Either it works or it doesn’t work.”
-Steven Novella

The inevitable retort was: but what about some “natural/traditional” medicines that have not been thoroughly studied. These might work. So, surely it’s an unfair comparison?

My response to that is this:

When people bullshit based on their gut feelings, they can also be right sometimes. It’s only when someone looks into it do we know whether it is actually fact or fiction. “Folk medicine” and natural products may have good (or bad!) effects but it is wrong to imply that they are medicine until we know whether/when they work.

In the same way that an opinion is not an “alternative fact”, a natural product that somebody thinks might do something is not “alternative medicine”.

Then, of course, there is the less generous - but even more apt - comparison of bare-faced lies with bare-faced fraudulent treatments like homeopathy - things demonstrably false that are being badged at truth under the label “alternative”.

I just hope that the war on “Alternative Facts” is more successful than the war on “Alternative Medicine”. The real problem with taking action based on made up stuff is that reality doesn’t care how well-meaning you are, or how much you want it to be true. Hopefully, America will not suffer too much at the hands of reality before Trump and/or his cronies realise this.

Monday 27 June 2016

Stay angry Britain - but at your politicians, not each other

This is a call to voter on both sides: stay angry about Brexit and hold those ultimately responsible to account. I am not talking about Leave voters, or the Remain voters who won't shut up. I am talking about our political leaders who, despite often being pictured pint-in-hand for PR purposes, couldn't organise the proverbial piss up in a brewery.†

Donald Trump and Marie Le Pen aside, it is pretty clear that the Brexit affair is a national embarrassment. But I don't feel embarrassed by the decision itself - even if I think it's terrible - I feel embarrassed by the way that politicians appear* to have handed responsibility of the biggest political decision of our generation to the Great British public but then neither (1) adequately equipped to make an informed decision, (2) taken precautions to ensure that people were voting for what they thought, nor (3) put any plans in place to deal with anything other than the expected Remain victory. [*The vote was actually only a recommendation to parliament, who still make the ultimate decision.]

Remain supporters feel justifiably angry that the nation was duped into what they see as a calamitous decision of unprecedented proportions. But Leave supporters should feel equally angry. For, whilst you technically "won", the manner of your victory - underpinned by false promises and undermined by subsequent back-tracking and recriminations - removes any real mandate to act unilaterally on the outcome. Do you really want to hang onto a “victory” achieved only by cheating? Do you want to be the 1986 Maradona of British politics? Well, forgive me if I don’t consider that in-line with a traditional British sense of fair play.

Democracy is about compromise but if we're not careful we'll end up with a compromise that makes no one happy - of exactly the sort that "Project Fear" predicted. As Boris has implied, Britain is likely to try hard to maintain free trade, which means no change to borders (that we already control!) or the influence of EU law, but leaves us sitting on the outside peering in, rather than driving reforms and agendas.

It is in the interests of both camps to acknowledge that this referendum was a terrible idea, poorly executed. Such complex and wide-ranging decisions should not be based on a single vote on a single day. Nor should either side be allowed to get away with telling blatant lies. We need to stay passionate about the legitimate issues behind the Leave success - housing, education, jobs and healthcare - and push our politicians together to come clean about the causes and the solutions. If it turns out that the EU and immigrants are not simply scapegoats, or if the real facts about immigration and EU interference still leaving you wanting to leave, let’s vote Leave again and move forward together.

Above all else, let us drive for political reform to make Britain more democratic, which means abandoning first-past-the-post voting and replacing the House of Lords with an elected body, at the very least. I would also like to see voting become mandatory as in Australia, but with the option to abstain on the day.

To the politicians of Britain, I make this plea: don't follow through with Brexit purely because you are scared of appearing weak and undemocratic. That, ironically, is the weak and undemocratic thing to do. If you want to appear strong, and really want a democratic answer to the Brexit question, it is time to (wo)man up and admit that the whole way the referendum was conducted was a fiasco of gigantic proportions.

†Footnote. The exception to “Stay angry Britain - but not at each other” is the racist arseholes across the country who have taken the Brexit vote as a mandate to racially abuse anyone they don’t like the look of. Leave and Remain voters must unite to counter this ugly trend and come together to make one thing clear: the person not welcome in my country is the British racist, not the target of their abuse.