Friday, November 04, 2011

Friday stuff

I almost wish I was a neurobiologist so I could use the word "metabolomic," which I saw in this week's editorial in Science on "Understanding the Human Brain." It begins:
collecting. There are major projects under way to completely characterize the proteomic,
metabolomic, genomic, and methylomic signatures for all of the different types of neurons
and glial cells in the human brain. In addition, “connectomics” plans to provide the com-
plete network structure of brains, and “synaptomics” aims to uncover all molecules and their
interactions at synapses. This is a good time to pause and ask ourselves what we expect to
find at the end of this immense omic brainbow.

If you haven't read the statement of Diederik Stapel, the social psychologist who was found to have committed massive fraud in his studies and publications, you should -- it's rather heart-breaking. All I've been able to find is his version in Dutch, which I let Google translate, so it's probably not a perfect translation. That version ends:
Social psychology is a big, interesting, beautiful and strong discipline, provides unique insights into human behavior and therefore still a lot of attention. I made the mistake that I see the truth in my hand I want to put the world and just wanted to make something more beautiful than it is. I have used improper means to the results attractive. In modern science is the ambition level is high and the competition for scarce resources is enormous. In recent years, these pressures become too much for me. I have the pressure to score, to publish, the pressure to always be better, not have faced. I wanted too much too soon. In a system where there is little control, where people often work alone, I am wrong repulsed. I would stress that the mistakes I've made, not born of self-interest.

I realize that there are many questions. My current state constitution does not permit me to answer. I will still have to dig deep to find out why all this happened, what has moved me to do so. I need help I have now also been given.
By the way, it's worth noting who initially suspected the problems and reported them: junior researchers from his department. (An interim report, in English, is here.) Remember that the next time someone tries to claim that global warming is a "massive conspiracy." The "Whistle Blowers" section of the report says:
Three young researchers from the department concerned voiced their suspicions about the forgery of data by Mr Stapel to the head of department at the end of August 2011. After months of observation, sufficient details had been gathered to demonstrate that something was not right. The researchers all deserve praise for reporting these abuses. It is noted that they were in a dependent position and had much to lose....

The Committee has learned that there were other whistle blowers at an earlier stage. A
total of three young researchers had previously raised the alarm regarding datasets
provided by Mr Stapel, and the risks for them were no less severe. Furthermore, two
professors had previously observed data that were ‘too good to be true’. However, none
of these earlier reports were acted upon. There were various reasons for inaction, which
we will return to in Section 3.3.

A result published this week finds that the fine-structure constant, "alpha," may not be constant. (Here's the preprint.) The results suggest it is larger at vast distances from Earth. It's only about a 10 ppm difference, but could still be a lot of fun.


Speaking of the fine-structure constant, I recently read Deciphering the Cosmic Number: The Strange Friendship of Wolfgang Pauli and Carl Jung (2009) by Arthur I. Miller. I never knew that Pauli had a mystical side, that came out (or was created?) in his 30s after the suicide of his mother. Also, that early in his career (the married) Jung was a womanizer who sometimes had sex with his patients.

I also liked this story: when Pauli was 21 years-old he published a famous review of relativity that impressed everyone. About this time Einstein gave a well-attended lecture (as you might imagine) on relativity at the University of Berlin, which Pauli, still a student, attended in Tyrolean leather pants. After the lecture there was silence as everyone waited to see who should have the honor of the first question, when Pauli stood up and said, "What Professor Einstein has just said is not really as stupid as it may have sounded."

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