Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Month: April, 2004

Exciting Stuff, Science

For those of you who have been following science news, remember this debacle? Briefly recapping, back in February, Gary Struhl of Columbia University had to retract his 2002 paper that questioned the current theory on Wnt signaling from Cell. One of his former post-docs, Siu-Kwong Chan, had fabricated data. Once Chan admitted to the fabrication, he resigned from his post at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

So how on earth did someone manage to catch this? Well, I guess I didn’t have to look further than my own school. The molecular cell biology program here has several “journal clubs” in which graduate students, post-docs, and faculty participate in. Each journal club is focused on a particular area in biology and basically each week, someone presents a paper or a couple of related papers which then everyone analyzes in a sort of roundtable or intimate seminar fashion (this usually depends on which professor is running the club).

The Cell paper was picked by another graduate student for his journal club which mostly dealt with developmental biology. After looking at the data, one of the post-docs attending the journal club felt uneasy. Something just wasn’t right. What he realized was that one of the figures in the paper was simply a replica of another figure but rotated. So with that, he called up the editor of Cell to point out the mistake and that was that. Or so it would seem.

The Cell editor then called Struhl for his side of the story, saying only that someone from Dartmouth had called about the mistake. Struhl was furious. He jumped to the conclusion that the only person he knew at Dartmouth–who happens to be a professor here–had ratted him out. So this prof (who really didn’t know about all this hoopla) got a call out of the blue from Struhl who wasted no time in ranting his ear off. It was then that the prof remembered that Struhl’s paper had been presented at the journal club and proceeded to tell Struhl that it could have been anybody.

So with his theory that someone was out to get him falling flat on its face, Struhl tried to replicate the experiments in the 2002 paper. He couldn’t do it. It was then that he confronted his ex-post-doc who subsequently confessed to the fraud. Although the truth is now out thanks to Dartmouth’s underappreciated journal clubs, it’s also unfortunate to the parties involved: one man’s destroyed career, another man’s tarnished reputation, and a competing group that had wasted almost two years trying to replicate irreproducible results.

One of Many Dilemmas

Another grad student told me that she believed that anyone entering science should first have a psychological profile done to weed out anyone trying to go into the field for profit. What she is afraid of are not so much people trying to make money, but people who don’t care anything about science and would only hire out their skills for bucks, even if it’s for some unscrupulous end. Also, she thinks that this will prevent people from entering a field and finding out after several years that they want to do something else.

She’s too idealistic in thinking that everyone can do what they love to do. Psychological profiling is not infallible, especially today. Besides, I don’t think most people like someone rummaging around their brain and deciding what kind of person they are. And what about free will?

Fun tube Map. (via London Underground Tube Diary) Renaming subways stations, with hilarious results.

* * *
The Thursday Threesome: Goodie Two Shoes

Onesome: Goodie– What is your your favorite “goodie” you treat yourself to when you’ve finished a project or maybe even just survived a long day? Ice cream? …a long bath? …a good book?


Twosome: Two– Quick! Two things that make you smile! No thinking, just write!

Witty jokes, strange links.

Threesome: Shoes– …and how about your favorite pair of shoes? You know, the ones you look for an occasion to wear! (Yes, guys that ratty pair of tennis shoes does count…)

My sneakers.

What’s Appropriate? The 2Blowhards are grumbling about how young women are letting it all hang out while on the other hand enjoying the ogling. I’m just thinking they’re around exhibitionists too much–not all young women are like that. This is interesting:

[F]rom 15-25, we don’t seem capable of doing much beyond acting out what our hormones tell us to do. Which makes sense: biology has us in a breeding frenzy. Girls during those years sometimes seem to think that they’re just “being pretty” and “having fun” when everything about them is in fact screaming “impregnate me now.”

Well, if that’s normal, color me on the fringes. The craziest thing I’ve done to change my appearance was to bleach my hair which was more of a sign of trying to be different than anything else. It didn’t work, of course.

* * *
Book Questionnaire (Via Reflections in d minor again–maybe I should just make it implicit that all the crazy book memes I get are from her site? And I can’t not do them, I mean, I’m a certified book freak. Actually, I’m not, but I should be.)

What did you last read?

The Structure of Evolutionary Theory by Stephen Jay Gould. I finished it last night (or this morning if you want to get technical). There’s some very cool historical debates about Darwinism, but please don’t quiz me about it. It definitely requires at least a second reading–I’ll probably get my own copy whenever I find myself in a bookstore that stocks it. Warning: not light reading.

What are you reading now?

The Double Helix which is a personal memoir on discovering the structure of DNA by James D. Watson. In the first chapter, he manages to paint everyone in a not so nice light and piss of feminists. But one has to remember that this is written in the view point of a hormone-driven twenty-something-year-old geek who wasn’t getting any.

What do you plan to read next?

The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes. It’s a history of Australia. I think I saw the PBS special about it some time ago.

What would you like to read, but don’t have?

A bunch of books, all of which are listed on my bookrolling page under “Want List”. Although that list is alphabetized, the top one on that list is Faces Under Water by Tanith Lee which is part of a loosely connected tetrology. Last summer vacation I borrowed it from the library and read one chapter before I had to return it. Besides, I’m a sucker for stories about declining and decadent societies.

What would you recommend for others to read?

Arg, I would have to cop out and say there are too many to list, but that’s not true–there are only a finite number of books in the world. I guess it’ll depend on what kind of book you want me to recommend.

What’s your favorite book from childhood?

There’s The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley, but I think that one is one of my favorites because I really liked fairy tales (I still do). My favorite sci-fi series was Isaac Asimov’s books on Norby the time-traveling, wisecracking robot.

What book last made you laugh?

Probably William Zinsser’s On Writing Well. He’s very good at using puns and other literary devices to make a point. But I must add that he’s very circumspect about those puns–only applying when needed–unlike a certain fantasy author I might name.

What book last made you weep?

Some of the books I have been recently reading have depressing parts but I don’t cry from reading.

What book last made you angry?

Books don’t really make me angry, although they do make me annoyed. Like The Double Helix when Watson remarked rather arrogantly that most scientists are stupid. But then again, you have to remember that he wrote this as a young man and was trying to get a rise out of everybody.

Remember the Reading List I posted a couple days back? Here’s another one! (also via Reflections in D Minor, also bolded the ones read) Much more genre fiction, but I think I’ve read far less of these. I’ll tack this list next to the other one and maybe make it my fall reading list. (And if you’re curious for comparison, my current reading list is online here. I won’t be offended if you think my current list is stupid.)

1) Lord Of The Rings – J R R Tolkien

2) To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee

3) Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck

4) Animal Farm – George Orwell

5) War And Peace – Leo Tolstoy

6) Riders – Jilly Cooper

7) The Stand – Stephen King

8) The Sicilian – Mario Puzo

9) Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

10) Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte

11) Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

12) The Saga Of The Exiles – Julian May

13) Sandman:The Dolls House – Neil Gaiman

14) Vurt – Jeff Noon

15) A House For Mr Biswas – V S Naipul

16) Endymion – Dan Simmons

17) Space – Stephen Baxter

18) Hi-Fidelity – Nick Hornby

19) The Dark Is Rising – Susan Cooper

20) Valley Of The Dolls – Jaqueline Susann

21) The Allan Clark Diaries – Allan Clark

22) Charlotte’s Web – Elwyn Brooks (i.e. E.B. White if you don’t know)

23) The Scar – China Mieville

24) The Iliad – Homer

25) Peter Pan – J M Barrie

26) Mansfield Park – Jane Austen

27) Carry On Jeeves – P G Wodehouse

28) Porterhouse Blue – Tom Sharpe

29) Watership Down – Richard Adams

30) Tarka The Otter – Henry Williamson

31) Epitres – Voltaire

32) The Uplift War – David Brin

33) The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain

34) Adolf Hitler, My Part In His Downfall – Spike Milligan

35) Jennifer Government – Max Barry

36) Catch 22 – Joseph Heller

37) Watchmen – Alan Moore

38) Clan Of The Cave Bear – Jean M Auel

39) The Merchant Of Venice – Shakespeare

40) Tess Of The D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy

41) Consider Phlebus – Iain Banks

42) Parliaments – Thomas Carlyle

43) Tales To Ticklish To Tell – Berke Breathed

44) The Day Of The Triffids – John Wyndham

45) Green Eggs And Ham – Dr Suess

46) A Traitor To Memory – Elizabeth George

47) I’ll Be Seeing You – Mary Higgins Clark

48) The Stone Raft – Jose Saramago

49) Lord Of The Flies – William Golding

50) The God Of Small Things – Arundhati Roy

51) Alias Grace – Margeret Atwood

52) Fantastic Mr Fox – Roald Dahl

53) The Hunt For Red October – Tom Clancy

54) Count Zero – William Gibson

55) Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintanence – Robert M Pirsig

56) Wilt – Tom Sharpe

57) The Silmarillion – J R R Tolkien

58) Time Enough For Love – Robert Heinlein

59) The Love Knot – Charlotte Bingham

60) Female Parts – Dario Fo

61) Beowulf – Seamus Heaney

62) Jurassic Park – Michael Crichton

63) The Forge Of God – Greg Bear

64) Jack Holborn – Leon Garfield

65) Bruno’s Dream – Iris Murdoch

66) Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets – J K Rowling

67) Praxis – Fay Weldon

68) The Monkey King – Timothy Mo

69) Stupid White Men – Michael Moore

70) 1984 – George Orwell

71) The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant – Stephen Donaldson

72) From Hell – Alan Moore

73) 101 Dalmations

74) The Time Machine – H G Wells

75) Runaway – Lucy Irvine

76) Huis Clos – Jean Paul Satre

77) Love & Rockets – Jamie Hernandez

78) The Death Of Grass – John Christopher

79) Naked Lunch – William Burroughs

80) Fevre Dream – George R R Martin

81) Books Of Blood – Clive Barker

82) Antigone – Sophocles

83) Wealth Of Nations – Adam Smith

84) The Colour Of Magic – Terry Pratchett

85) Cry Wolf – Wilbur Smith

86) Barman Year One – Frank Miller

87) The Tale Of Peter Rabbit – Beatrix Potter

88) Point Of Origin – Patricia Cornwell

89) Jackdaws – Ken Follet

90) Idoru – William Gibson

91) The Code Of The Woosters – P G Wodehouse

92) Shardik – Richard Adams

93) Helliconia – Brian Aldiss

94) Macbeth – Shakespeare

95) Shattered – Dick Francis

96) Disgrace – J M Coetzee

97) Ink Paintings – Gao Xingjian

98) The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks

99) The Simple Art Of Murder – Raymond Chandler

100) Aenied – Virgil

Too Much

I don’t know if my nose is defective or what, but some people smell. I’m not talking about people who don’t bathe or who have just come back from a workout, I’m talking about something more insidious: the people (mainly women) who douse themselves with too much perfume or cologne. It’s definitely too much when I can smell you when you pass by me on the street. My first instinct is to move as far away from these people as possible–otherwise I would start, no so subtly, hacking and coughing like there’s no tomorrow.

Radar clocks Mini at Mach 3 speed. “A Belgian motorist was left stunned after authorities sent him a speeding ticket for travelling in his Mini at three times the speed of sound.”

The Tree of Life. “The Tree of Life is a collaborative web project, produced by biologists from around the world. On more than 2600 World Wide Web pages, the Tree of Life provides information about the diversity of organisms on Earth, their history, and characteristics.”

Survey Unveils What Happens in Bedroom. “In Sweden and Iceland, 72 percent of respondents said they use their bedrooms for romantic endeavors, while in China the figure was 20 percent. All it said about North Americans was that a fifth – about 20 percent – like to have sex outside the bedroom, but it didn’t say where.”

The Dark Lady of DNA

If Rosalind Franklin had lived, would she have gotten the Nobel Prize? Who knows. Although the decisions on who gets a Nobel are secret, there’s no doubt about petty maneuverings for favored candidates. And the Nobel isn’t exactly known for its generous treatment of women. But as Brenda Maddox explains in her biography, Franklin was far from looking for a Nobel. Yes, Franklin threw herself whole-heartedly into her work, but she didn’t see herself in the rat race that Watson and Crick were so eager to win. Contrary to some views that Franklin was a plodding worker with no imagination, she worked steadily to accumulate enough evidence to be right. She wasn’t one to rush out and publish what she thought was right.

Franklin was born into a well-to-do Jewish family that was already assimilated into British society. But even though she had the trappings of the upper echelons with her refined accent and socialite friends, Maddox argues that this was not enough to banish her feelings of alienation and depression stemming from the era’s tolerance of anti-semitism and marginalization of women. Perhaps that is why Franklin felt more at ease abroad or with foreigners–England to her seemed drab, stiff, and unwelcoming. And perhaps that is why she appears to have two personalities–bright and vivacious to her close friends and colleagues and dour and combative to anyone else who regarded her patronizingly like a child.

But for someone who is so well known to biology students these days, Franklin managed to avoid the subject until J.T. Randall from King’s College put her on the DNA project. In some aspects, it seemed as if she had remained willfully ignorant either following in her family tradition of not talking about it or her own puritanism. Perhaps this contributed to the Sylvia Plath-like quality of her personal life–all the men she ever loved were already married but she had too many scruples to break up a marriage.

It is tragic that her life was cut short, possibly from not knowing the hazards of X-ray crystallography (she died of ovarian cancer at the age of 37) and who knows what she would have accomplished if she was still alive. In the last years of her life, she collaborated with Aaron Klug to elucidate the structure of the tobacco mosaic virus. Even up to the end, she would go to her office regardless of her illness and shrugging off help to study polio. That kind of dedication is moving, if not heroic.

Dear Dartmouth,

I’m not sure what kind of scripts you’re feeding your tour guides, but a fellow student noticed an undergraduate tour guide telling a crowd of prospectives and their parents that there are no graduate students at this school.

I’m well aware that you are conflicted in what sort of image to put forth–is this a research institution or a liberal arts college for undergrads? Like a lot of people with seemingly contradictory aspects of personality, I’m sure you can integrate both. But if you have to present one side in attempt to recruit people, at least don’t lie about it.

One of your supposedly non-existent graduate students.

Unconscious Mutterings

  1. Elastic:: Band
  2. Intervention:: Prevention
  3. Risk:: Taker
  4. Junk food:: Sweets
  5. Arrogance:: Indifference
  6. Responsibility:: Great
  7. X:: Variable
  8. Marshall:: Plan
  9. Kill:: Bill
  10. Brother:: Hood