Various Lies

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

(Un)Happy Anniversary

Ah. June 24th. My Wedding Anniversary. Would have been 9 years today.

Bollocks. What a fucking disaster that was.

Plan for today:

Do not cry, or start a fight.

Finish work as close to 5PM as is legally possible.

Hit the gym. Hard.

Do not cry or start a fight.

Do not go to the bar.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

MailBots, Apnea & Hit Men...

The following is an email I wrote a friend of mine just now (edited slightly, obviously). I realised it also made a nice, random blog up date. But here's the issue: I was using my Gmail account. Google let you have this vast, free account, but they advertise on your email page, right? No probs. But, they are obviously "reading" your email too. My friend is an academic at a large university in the SE of the US and reading one her emails the other day I noticed adverts for Large Univ entrance exams "Large Uni: pass your MCATs!" etc.

Mail content specific advertising. Now, my friend is a woman, or "female" as Americans insist on saying, so sometimes our chats get a bit raunchy, more for shits and giggles than anything else (he says, nudge nudge wink wink.) I'm not sure I'm comfortable having them read, y'know! I know that email is as secure as a postcard sent through regular mail, but at least the Royal Mail, or the USPS don't tailor the junk mail you recieve to the contents of your outgoing letters!

I was writting this update, and noticed the adverts on the sidebar were already content specific. So, the Google mailbots are scanning As I Type? What The Everliving Fuck? This feels like a step too far in the invasion of my privacy, and I'm aware of the obvious cognitive dissonance in that statement.

Anyway. What to do? What to do? Double check I'm being scanned as I type (I my be wrong, I'll be the first to admit I jump to conclusions too readily. Some skeptic, huh?). Then...Plan C!

(Plan B, of course, is to figure out what Plan C is, so I can implement it).

Anyway, that's the Mailbot part of this post, here's the rest....


I went to bed at 10. It was great! I've trained Muay Thai everyight this week, and haven't had any alcohol. So, I was sleepy and very ready to crash after watching the UK win AGAIN in the Ultimate Fighter. Except I've developed this weird behaviour in the last few weeks... I'll be lying in bed, dozing and sleepy, only my mind is spinning super fast. I start dreaming, kind of, as my brain is trying to parse all the information spinning in there and so the "dreams" can be quite surreal. Suddenly, as I fall asleep I twich, often violently, back awake. As if my body and hindbrain want to sleep, but my cortex needs to stay awake and process data; so in a last ditch effort to keep the CPU running it sends a command to all my muscles at once.

Over and over again.

It's so strange. I wondered if it was some form of sleep apnea and I was jerking awake as my breathing slowed too far, but I don't think so. I need to figure this out and find a way to shut my thoughts down abit. Too much on my mind, and too much new information to process every day. Any advice is most welcome...

And on that note, looks like my job is getting better and stuff, finally. My boss talked to her boss, (the Vice Chancellor), who is excited about me wanting to move over to the Academic Affairs side of the business. Wanta me on board because she's seen how I cleaned up my current Unit. This would make me a deputy of some sort I guess. Full on Senior Attack Dog position >:) Hit man in the upper eschelons of power!

And hopefully more $$$. please god more $$$. I did my finances the other day. After bills are paid and factoring $300/mo for lunches & drinks ($10/day!) I have something like $400/mo to live on :( not good. How exactly does one pay down vast amounts of credit card debt or save for emergencies/car repairs/vacations on a couple of hundred bucks/onth? Am I being cheap? Is that normal?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

your an idiot

Srsly, if you wanna make a name for yourself in the real world, run a fucking spellchecker on text before you try and go global.


Monday, June 8, 2009

define hypocrisy please?

Journalist and author Simon Singh is being sued by the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) over allegations that he made libelous statements in article he wrote for the Guardian newspaper. His statements referred to BCA claims about chiropractic benefits to pediatric disorders amongst others (asthma etc.). Singh maintains there is no evidence for them to be making such claims, and that furthermore it seems inherently dangerous and negligent to be manipulating the spine of a young child who is still growing. This latter would seem to be common sense to me...but what do I know. I'm just a scientist.

Anyway, an English judge ruled against Singh in a pretrial hearing saying that he had made defamatory statements. English libel law is a fucking joke to the rest of the sane world, and one hopes that this added attention and the 4000+ signatory petition being sent to MPs will help the government and the "legislature" try and address the issue.

In response to Singh's article the BCA, as I mentioned, sued him. They didn't present their case with peer-reviewed scientific literature and clinical studies. In the face of claims of being unscientific, they acted unscientifically. Surprise surprise. There is fuck all evidence for their claims, but of course, now they have proverbial egg on their faces. They can't back-down and admit they're wrong (or indeed, charlatans and snake oil salesmen), so they sue. Thankfully (for someone) Singh is wealthy enough to fight back. Poor fucker, to be. The BCA by acting so utterly deplorably have likely ruined the financial future of Singh and his family. I can't understand why a supposedly "service body" would do something so dickish.

The BCA have now entered the media fray with a statement saying the libel-suit was a last resort. Fucking bollocks, as Singh explains in his article for Sense-about-science; the Guardian offered them a 500 page piece to put their counter argument forward. They also now attack science, science-communicators and writers,

"The brief statement notes that “to stifle scientific debate would clearly be wrong,” but that “scientists must realise that they cannot simply publish with impunity what they know to be untrue and libellous.”"

Go. Fuck. Yourselves. The nature of scientific debate is attacked by this selfish, childish bullshit.

Monday, June 1, 2009

English Libel Law, moral cowardice and the stiffling of scientific discourse.

Below is a copy of a Blog Post written by Prof Stephen Curry of Imperial College London, over at Reciprocal Space on the Nature Network. The lawdogs at Nature Network demanded he take it down because of the potentially libelous nature of the post. Fucking bullshit. English libel law is a fucking joke and farcical at best; protecting no one but homeopaths, chiropractors and other fly-by-night snake oil salesmen by stifling argument, discussion and scientific discourse.

If you're a reader and the UK, I strongly urge you to write to your local MP and demand he or she look into the growing voice for overhauling English Libel Law. Look at Dr Evan Harris MP for more information on this.


I had been working on this post last week when all this Singh business blew up. But in a way it is allied to the topic that I wanted to write about: the meaning of scientific authority. The British Chiropractic Association, rather than relying on the authority of peer-reviewed scientific evidence, has decided instead to throw the law at the unfortunate science writer.

By scientific standards their recourse to law just doesn’t seem right. In part, the BCA may have taken this action because they don’t fully understand the origin of scientific authority. But perhaps we should be sympathetic because there are plenty of supposedly well-informed people out there who don’t seem to have an entirely firm grasp of it.

Karol Sikora, “one of the UK’s most-quoted cancer experts and arch-critic of NHS cancer care” has just been found out for claiming a professorial affiliation with Imperial College that he does not have. On one level, as an Imperial prof myself, I am gratified that such a claim might be perceived as an effective way to boost your authority on weighty matters of medical science! But only if you are the real deal. And even then, how are people to know you can speak with authority?

There can be little doubt that Professor Susan Greenfield, director of the Royal Institution, is in a position of scientific authority. And she is very good at engaging the public. Judging by the number of hysterical headlines in the UK press of late, fed by her commentary on the possible negative effects of computer use on the developing brains of the young, she is certainly getting her message across. But as Dr Ben Goldacre has pointed out on his excellent Bad Science blog, there doesn’t seem to be too much substance to it.

According to Goldacre, when pressed on the matter she concedes to “a lack of evidence and an excess of panic, that these are merely ideas, speculations, hypotheses”. Though a neuroscientist herself, Professor Greenfield seems to have no program to tackle these potentially important questions. One has to wonder if part of her motivation for keeping such issues before the public is due to her endorsement of a expensive ‘mind-training’ computer game, the benefits of which have not been published in any peer-reviewed journal, as far as I can tell.

I can see two potential problems here. Firstly, whatever her motivation, the product endorsement seems to me to undermine her scientific authority on the question of the impact of computer usage on brain development. And secondly, what is the director or the Royal Institution doing endorsing products that claim a scientific legitimacy but have not passed the gold standard test of peer-review?

George Monbiot is a polemicist, not a scientist. As such, he is perhaps allowed more license to pontificate but I find his output in The Guardian a little wayward and in several instances lacking in authority. A recent outburst, sub-titled “Science research in Britain is now all about turning knowledge into business, rather than the beauty of exploration”, is a case in point.

Like any good polemic there are a few kernels of truth. But unlike sound scientific writing, those truths are so cherry-picked that the piece becomes fairly worthless. He has picked up on the fact that the UK research councils all have former industrialists have as their chairs and connected it to the recent introduction of an ‘impact statement’ on all grant applications that, according to Monbiot, requires researchers to “describe the economic impact of the work they want to conduct”. From this he has spun a tale of woe about the corrosion of universities in the UK and the death of the wonder, insight and beauty that comes from science.

Not quite, Mr Monbiot. True, every government of every hue has made noises about making sure that science funding ultimately benefits the UK economy. There is a real debate to be had about this subject. But even a cursory glance at the web-site of the BBSRC (the research council I am most familiar with), would have brought him to this part of the FAQ on the new-fangled impact statements:

Does this focus on impact and benefits imply a shift away from blue-skies to
applied research?

No, we acknowledge that “blue-skies” research is essential to underpin future
advancements in science and will continue to fund high quality basic research. The
scientific excellence of the research proposal will remain the primary criterion for

I can confirm that these are not empty sentiments since I recently sat among my scientific peers on a BBSRC funding committee scoring grant applications. It was very hard work, especially given the breadth of the science emanating from all corners of the UK. But I am happy to report that UK science is in rude good health. Not only was there a wealth of superb applications but the first, foremost, primary, and predominant consideration in judging each application was: is this good and exciting science?

And it was fantastic to see the enthusiasm of committee members for the scope and genius of the applications that excited them. For sure there were sometimes tensions in the room, arguments to and fro, forthright debate. But at the end of the process I sensed that most people were happy with most of the applications that ended up at the top of the pile. The process is by no means perfect and this was itself the subject of our deliberations at the close of the meeting: what steps could we take to enhance the judging process? Again the discussion was robust, informed, open.

Simply put, this frankness, this readiness to critique and be critiqued is the not-so-secret foundation of scientific authority that, strangely, remains a mystery to many. I have this on good authority, ladies and gentlemen. But please feel free to disagree.