Book list 2017

I was thinking it might be nice to have a record of the books that I have read over the year. It could help me to make sure that I am at least reading something. I do plenty of reading online but those are usually shorter pieces and not complete novels and such. It also might be of interest to friends and family or for anyone wondering what to read. I will try to keep this list updated as the year progresses. Continue reading

Weird science

I get the contents from a number of journals emailed to me and I then browse through to see if there’s anything interesting or relevant to me. Some might wonder why I do it that way when there are services which will send you only articles that fit specific key words. Simply put, my interests are much broader than just what I am working on and, this way, I can find things that I would otherwise miss.

For example, I would’ve missed seeing this abstract for research showing that people with lower back pain are more likely to have lower back pain later than people who didn’t have previous back pain. It’s about as surprising as a prediction that the sun will rise tomorrow. However, it was nothing compared to the weirdness I found this week.

An intravaginal ring for real-time evaluation of adherence to therapy

Now that’s a weird title! Continue reading

Elsevier, you suck!

Remember when I wrote about the need for open access? I mentioned that some publishers have very high profit margins. Elsevier’s was 37%. Elsevier also has faced years of criticism for its policies, including a long term boycott, which has probably had little effect. You want to know why this happens?

A friend of mine shared a photo on Facebook from Insufferably Intolerant Science Nerd which showed this picture.

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It’s an article about Sci-Hub, a site which allows anyone to bypass paywalls and access research articles for free, hidden behind a paywall. That’s irony. But it doesn’t stop there.

EDIT: This contradiction has since been fixed. I guess since the author found out about it.

I don’t necessarily trust things I see on the internet so I go looking for this paper and find that it indeed costs $35,95 IF you access it through Science Direct, Elsevier’s own research portal. However, if you access it directly from the journal’s page it is free! Not only is it free but it includes this text.

A bizarre and frustrating dissonance exists between what content is routinely made free by scientific journals and what is not. For example, News and Perspective articles such as this one are published free online by Elsevier.

Yes! Annals of Emergency Medicine is published by Elsevier and News and Perspectives are free to access through the journal’s website but access that same article through Elsevier’s own research portal will cost you $35,95. Now, if that isn’t bizarre and frustrating, I don’t know what is. Elsevier, you suck!

My interview about the furry fandom

Some time ago, a friend of mine said that his girlfriend was interested in doing a short documentary on the furry fandom for a class of hers. I expressed interest but it didn’t go anywhere. Then, earlier this year, I was contacted again that there was another opportunity and the project was back on!

The documentary aired on 12 April 2017 on the Viennese non-commercial TV channel Okto (as well as repeats almost twice daily till the 19th) marking my first TV appearance! Marlene said it was okay for me to share after the broadcast which I will do here and add some further discussion. The documentary is very short, and in German, although I am sharing the version where my part only has German subtitles but the original audio.

Continue reading

There IS something outrageous about stamping out dissenting speech

A recent article, by Osita Nwanevu, published in Slate magazine, makes the, superficially, appealing claim that we should stamp out bigoted speech. However, in doing so, he makes a number of logical fallacies and sets up poor standards which we should hope to not find in widespread use.

Before we start, I will say that I am very much on the free speech side of things. I strongly believe free speech is the most important human right there is and that there can be as, without the ability to freely discuss and debate ideas, we can not even begin to entertain the notion of any other human right. The very existence of a right to life or freedom from discrimination is dependent upon one being able to express those thoughts in the first place. Continue reading

Working hours: A shared delusion

Scientists are supposed to be trained to examine and make conclusions based on evidence, however, this is widely ignored when it comes to themselves rather than their object of study. A 2016 poll on the Nature website showed that about 70% of academics work more than 50 hours per week. The lack of a work-life balance was chosen as the biggest challenge for early career scientists by 19% of respondents and almost two thirds have considered leaving research. This is similar to previous results in a 2011 Nature poll where 65% of post-docs said that they worked over 50 hours a week.

In contrast to this behaviour, current research does not support the idea that longer working hours are more productive. One study, based on factory workers during WWI, showed that productivity is proportional to hours worked only to a certain point. Above 48 hours worked per week, productivity per hour sharply decreases. Because of the decreased productivity per hour over longer work weeks it can be that working fewer hours will cause an increase in productivity. Continue reading

Review: Magic in the Middle Ages

Magic in the Middle Ages is a Coursera course offered by the Universitat de Barcelona. It is actually the fifth course from Coursera that I have done and the third one done purely for my own interest. I was initially quite excited because of the topic but, since completing it, I have lost a fair bit of enthusiasm. That’s not to say that it is entirely without merit but I think that, currently, it is not taking advantage of the format and could be aimed better for a Coursera audience.

The course aims to teach students about magic in the middle ages, this includes how magic was perceived, different magical practices and the treatment of magic in both Christianity and Islam. As with most of these courses, it primarily consists of a series of short video lectures followed by a multiple choice quiz each week. There are also two short essays in this course which are judged by your peers. Continue reading