I finished The 120 Days of Sodom and Daring Do and the Eternal Flower and can now give short reviews here and add them to the list of books I’ve read in 2017.
The 120 Days of Sodom (1785 (first published 1904), this edition + translation 2016) by The Marquis de Sade
A highly-controversial book which has been banned at various times – it’s still, I hear, illegal to display Sade’s works in shop windows in France. Even if the name of the book isn’t familiar, the name of the author should be. The Marquis de Sade is the man from whose name we get the term “sadism.” He was a French Nobleman and a libertine who followed his passions without concern for others. This led him through a number of scandals over his sexual behaviour and eventually saw him imprisoned.
While in prison, he wrote The 120 Days of Sodom, whose manuscript was only re-discovered and published decades later. The story details four libertines who, with a cast of boys, girls, young men and old ladies, seclude themselves in a Swiss castle to indulge in their most base urges. In the narration it is described as “the most impure tale ever written.” It certainly lives up to that name and there would be very few people not shocked by some of the content which includes paedophilia, bestiality, scat, watersports, rape, torture and snuff. I think one of the footnotes by the translators gives a taste of what it is like in the later chapters. Continue reading
On Thursday and Friday I was lucky enough to attend the Interscience symposium held at the University of Vienna and hosted by the Vienna Doctoral Schools. The idea was partly to show off the new doctoral schools that were supposed to join students together and partly to encourage interdisciplinary communication. There were four invited speakers with the rest being PhD students from the fields of maths, physics, biology and psychology.
Overall, it was a great experience and I got to see things that I ordinarily would not. I can’t say I followed everything (especially the maths) but many of the speakers were nice and clear and I got a better understanding of many different topics. I probably should’ve taken notes during the talks but I do remember two things that came up which I do want to mention.
First, one of the speakers was giving an idea of the sense of scale of various objects and mentioned the size of a “virus cell.” Viruses are not/do not have cells. They exist as viral particles or virions which are small protein structures that surround their genetic material. Those particles can then infect host cells which the virus uses to reproduce. As I recall, it was a physicist that made that mistake so it’s easily forgivable.
The next problem was slightly less forgivable as the speaker was an assistant professor although it is also so widespread a mistake that many accept the error as not being an error. The problem was that she displayed this as the symbol for medicine.
That symbol is called the Caduceus and, despite what you may think, it is not the symbol for medicine. It is the staff of the messenger god Hermes and represents thieves, merchants and messengers. The correct symbol for medicine is the Rod of Asclepius; a plain staff with just a single snake curled around it.
Most professional medical associations do use the correct symbol with the incorrect one seeming to have originated due to a mistake made by the US army in the early 1900’s. Unfortunately, UCT”s Faculty of Health Sciences used the incorrect symbol on their centenary tie (which I have) and that’s just a little sad. You can read about the two symbols in more detail in this article in the Journal of Pharmacy & BioAllied Sciences or this blog post by Dr Keith Blayney.
There is a large and important debate in the scientific community at the moment which concerns access to research publications. Currently, a large amount of research is only available if a researcher or institution is willing to pay, often exorbitant fees, to access it. The debate has focussed on many issues, such as whether it is right for publishers to profit off research that is funded by the public when the researchers receive nothing or how a combination of high costs and funding limitations further the research gap between developed and developing countries.
There is increasing pressure, for example by the European Union and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to move to something known as open access, where authors pay a publication fees but where the research is then freely available to everyone. One player that often comes up in these discussions is Sci-Hub. Continue reading
This is a bit of a weird post because, in one sense, I’m actually criticising a journal publisher for making articles open access but, the bigger point, is that it is for a limited time and reveals a very troubling mindset. First, let’s talk about what sparked this. Scientific publisher Springer Nature is currently holding its Change the World event. It’s chosen about 180 of the best scientific articles it published in 2016 and is making them available for free. That’s great! But… at the end of this month, those articles will no longer be free unless they were originally published as open access articles.
I am using Change the World as an example but what I’m going to say here applies to all scientists that promise to improve people’s lives then publish behind a paywall. Springer Nature is framing its event as being a huge benefit to the world. I trust science, I’m sure that what is in those papers really can make a difference to the world. But lets just assume we really believe it when they say: Continue reading
I published a new article in Bio-Protocol this week describing how to isolate strains of Ustilago bromivora from the spore material that forms on infected plants. It’s certainly not all my work; the protocol is a modification of a published protocol and has been worked on by many people in the Djamei lab, as indicated in the acknowledgements. I just happened to be the one who chose to write it up.
After the publication of our previous paper on the U. bromivora/Brachypodium pathosystem, we were approached by Bio-Protocol to publish certain protocols in full in their journal. You would think that people would be eager. It’s a lab protocol and writing it up takes very little work yet you get an article published. I was the only one that expressed an interest in writing this up. I imagine it’s because it’s not a “sexy” paper but that mindset neglects something very important. Science is not just about findings; it’s a way of discovering how the world works which can be applied to any situation. At the foundation of that is the idea of sharing one’s methods so that, at least in principle, anyone with sufficient skill can repeat what you have done. Continue reading
At the beginning of this month I was able to spend the whole week at a furry convention. In addition to seeing old friends, meeting some great new people, hiking and other fun things… I managed to get in some reading! So time to update my book list 2017.
The Red Cross swimming safety poster.
People are very quick to make judgements, especially in our current society which seems to favour outrage as a response. This happens especially quickly when it comes to topics like sexism, racism and so on. These are all real problems which affect many people but we must be wary about jumping to conclusions without sufficient evidence.
There is an article in Slate magazine which talks about the Red Cross and racism. The starting point of that discussion was a 2014 safety campaign poster which was pulled last year for being “super-racist.” It earned that dubious distinction because:
A “cool” blonde girl waits her turn by the diving board, for example, and a “cool” fair-skinned dad minds his small child. The vast majority of the “not cool” rule breakers, meanwhile, have brown skin: One boy runs through a puddle, another dives too close to a swimmer, and a little black girl pushes a white girl into the pool.