Assessing Scientists By Publications And Impact Factor Is One Of The Most Harmful Scientific Practices

I have a blog post titled Assessing Scientists By Publications And Impact Factor Is One Of The Most Harmful Scientific Practices on the OpenUP Hub blog.

OpenUP is a European Commission project for explaining, discussing and sharing information about open access. The website is not very well set out and difficult to navigate, with some information seeming to be missing completely, but it has good intentions. In any case, I decided to enter their blog competition since there’s an opportunity to win a trip to an open science conference in Brussels which could be nice.

My entry relates to just some of the problems in scientific publishing that are due to the practice of evaluating scientists according to publications and the impact factor. But I will direct your attention there to read more.

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Cape Town water crisis: My experiences

Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.
-W. H. Auden

When I visited my family in Cape Town a few weeks ago there was one topic which came up every day; water. Even before had I landed there was announcement on the plane that Cape Town was in the middle of a severe drought and that everyone should use water sparingly. This was followed up with posters in the airport and the first tangible signs of how life had changed. I finished up in the airport bathroom but there was no longer the luxury of soap and water. That had been replaced with waterless hand sanitisers, as in my family’s homes.

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Four authors write about the Central Dogma without understanding it

One of the nice things about reading older scientists’ blogs and Twitter feeds is that you get reminded of things you should know and have your own views corrected from their years of experience. One of the things that I’ve seen Larry Moran, professor emeritus at the University of Toronto, write about repeatedly is the Central Dogma of Molecular Biology.

The Central Dogma is a concept that was described by Francis Crick, one of the two scientists who described the structure of DNA, and can be summarised by saying that sequence information can be transferred between nucleic acids or from nucleic acids to protein but never from protein to either protein or to nucleic acid. Or, in graphical form with arrows showing transfer of sequence information:

central-dogma-crick-1970

https://www.nature.com/nature/focus/crick/pdf/crick227.pdf

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Congratulations Angelika Czedik-Eysenberg

This is a very positive post where I can congratulate my friend and co-worker Angelika Czedik-Eysenberg for being one of five female scientists in Austria to receive a L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science fellowship!

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Culture and values in academia

I saw this recently on Twitter.

It links back to an article on Inside Higher Ed by Lynn Talton about better structure in one’s work life. Specifically it brought up three main topics that shouldn’t be neglected; “Getting Involved in Something Outside Your Research,” “Exploring Research Beyond Your Specialty” and “Prioritizing and Planning Your Development as a Professional.” These are all things that I agree are really good to do but which I don’t think are given the attention they deserve. Continue reading

Some comments after the Interscience symposium

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.

170px-Caduceus.svgThat 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.