Archive for: May, 2013

Bold moves to tackle some lingering problems

May 15 2013 Published by under Uncategorized

NIH is bringing out the big guns to address the often discussed issue of the under representation of minorities in science. Which I'm sure is tough given the general grant crunch and sequester issue. You can read all about it here and here. If you don't care to wade into a thicket of admin-speak here are some highlights.

"six-month planning grants to enable under-resourced institutions to form partnerships and position themselves to prepare applications for the multi-year BUILD implementation funding opportunity, anticipated to be announced in 2014"

Basically grant to help you plan to apply for a grant. But what is BUILD exactly?

"This program aims to provide innovative training environments through the Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity (BUILD) initiative, a strong national mentoring network through the National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN) initiative, and robust coordination to disseminate lessons learned from the most effective programs through the Coordination and Evaluation Center (CEC) initiative...."

"BUILD will allow the development and testing of novel models for underrepresented student recruitment and training within the biomedical sciences."

A mentoring network and some long term tests about what they might-could do about the issue. That's it. The due dates for this "planning to think about maybe considering at some future time doing some mentoring of minorities" grant has just past. The NIH diversity page just looks like this:


Makes sense.

3 responses so far

The Permanent Present Tense of H.M.

May 06 2013 Published by under Uncategorized

Psychology & Neuroscience have some great stories that combine human interest and scientific mysteries. Oliver Sacks uses this to great effect in his books (I highly recommend The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat). One of the more interesting stories is getting a book treatment. H.M. the amnesiac patient. To make a long story short & simple, H.M. to treat a problem with seizures, had brain surgery way back in the 1950s. That involved having a lot of his hippocampus removed. Turns out it's kinda important for memory formation. So H.M. just stopped forming memories and became 'stuck' in the 1950s. For some time he participated in memory research as perhaps the most important single participant in human brain research.  Memory researcher Suzanne Corkin, who worked with him for some time, has penned a book aptly titled Permanent Present Tense. This is another one of those, unique person contributes to science stories, similar to Henrietta Lacks (without the ethical issues).

"He is considered the most important patient in the study of the human brain, known worldwide only by his initials, HM. In death, we learned his name. He was Henry Gustav Molaison. He died at a nursing home on December 2, 2008, at the age of 82, after living for most of his life in a state of permanent amnesia. Over 55 years, Mr. Molaison was the subject of intense scientific study, and he's credited with helping scientists unlock secrets of how we form memories. When he was 27, Mr. Molaison underwent brain surgery to cure a seizure disorder, and that surgery left him unable to form new memories of his own." (source)

I haven't read it, I don't have an advance copy or anything, but it will probably be interesting. Especially if you are not familiar with H.M.'s story, or what we know (and don't know) about how memory works. I will probably end up getting this one for some beach vacation reading.

6 responses so far

Scientific fraud, false positives and the hunt for answers

May 01 2013 Published by under Uncategorized

Go read this bit of news published in Nature recently (especially the comments). The quick recap is that a social psychologist, Ap Dijksterhuis has an effect, published over a decade ago, that others have yet to replicate. Researcher’s are skeptical, some replication attempts have failed, he stands by the effect. There's been a lot of back and forth.

The article leaves me feeling a little uneasy. Not just the looming issue of unreplicability, but how we scientists are going to deal with it.

“[Dijksterhuis] adds that social psychology needs to get more rigorous, but that the rigour should be applied to future, not historical, experiments.”

He seems to be doing his best Mark McGwire impression: I’m not here to talk about the past (McGwire was a baseball player accused of cheating whose response was basically to suggest we all forget it and move on).

The article ends with this stinger, a quote from an email sent by one of the skeptics of the effect.

“refusal to engage in a legitimate scientific conversation … invites the interpretation that the believers are afraid of the outcome”

I don’t want to give the impression that I don't think fraud and false positives are issues.  This article in Nature, which is whether you like it or not, a flagship journal of science research. Maybe I'm reading between the lines too much here but the article seems to end with:

They’re not sayin’, they’re just sayin’.

Not to long ago baseball was in a similar situation regarding cheating with steroids.  There is clearly some bad behavior going on. We're not totally sure what to do. Ideas range from testing everyone all the time to doing nothing. Baseball went through a phase where everyone was suspect if there performance was a bit too ... unexpected. Perhaps that is where we are now?

6 responses so far