If you didn’t catch the latest episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, be sure to do so. Summary here:
On Sunday’s Last Week Tonight, John Oliver debunked scientific studies that make outrageous claims. Oliver pointed to an example of an all too familiar subject of studies: Coffee. “In just the last few months, we’ve seen studies about coffee that claim it may reverse the effects of liver damage, help prevent colon cancer, decrease the risk of endometrial cancer, and increase the risk of miscarriage. Coffee today is like god in the old testament: It will either save you or kill you, depending on how much you believe in its magic powers.”
These studies can have serious consequences. Oliver explained that they are rarely replicated or fact checked, but that hasn’t stopped news organizations from actively reporting on the studies as truth. The contradictory nature of the these salacious studies can lead people to dismissing actual science that has been peer reviewed… like climate change.
There are always scientific experiments that haven’t yet been replicated or that are just waiting to be disproven. That is because science is a work in progress… we are always improving techniques, and learning more about subjects. I think the real problem lies with the media taking scientific evidence and portraying it as “fact” in order to boost viewership of the story. While scientists can always work harder to improve communication skills, this is a two-way street, and the media simply needs to do a better job of reporting on science.
The rapper showed off his hatred for science and “facts” recently, getting into an argument (and subsequent rap battle) with Neil deGrasse Tyson over the Earth being flat. Well, now the rapper’s point appears to have flat-lined after Tyson’s appearance on “The Nightly Show” on Wednesday.
The scientist responded to a B.o.B. diss by schooling the rapper on exactly why he’s wrong, making points about Calculus and B.o.B.’s “size” relative to Earth. (Yeah, dude went there.) But the best part came when Tyson gave us this gem:
“Isaac Newton, my man, said, ‘If I have seen farther than others, it’s by standing on the shoulders of giants.’ Can I get an amen? So that’s right B.o.B. When you stand on the shoulders of those who came before, you might just see far enough to realize the Earth isn’t fucking flat!”
He added, “And, by the way, this is called gravity!”
The Onion pokes fun at current problems, and yesterday they posted an article about how “seeking funding” has become an official step in the scientific method, along with forming a hypothesis and conducting experiments. While satirical, this problem is ALL TOO REAL. We have discussed numerous times how lack of funding is impacting biomedical research in the US and worldwide, and obtaining funding has become a serious problem for researchers (and postdocs applying for fellowships- like me!). Check out the article:
1. Does music express emotions or just elicit them? Read the next 200 pages to not find out. – Welldogmycats
2. Girls take birth control. Girls then pee out unmetabolized estrogens from birth control. Pee goes to water treatment plant, estrogens not treated, male fish become female fish. – Altzul
3. Nanoparticles are weird and I accidentally made a bomb and electrocuted myself. -M33
4. People trying meditation for the first time get aroused. – PainMatrix
5. When I get rid of this gene, it messes the brain up. A lot. – NeuroscienceNerd
6. Computer AI systems can learn to operate a warp drive and automatically build an instructional system to train people how to do it. My dissertation is probably the only one in existence to reference the Star Trek technical manual. – DrBiometrics
We previously discussed the offensive comments by Steven McKnight, President of the American Society for Biochemistry and Moleculary Biology (ASBMB)… and to refresh your memory, here they are again:
“the average scientist today is not of the quality of our predecessors; it’s a bit analogous to the so-called ‘greatest generation’ of men and women of the United States who fought off fascism in World War II compared with their baby boomer children. Biomedical research is a huge enterprise now; it attracts riff-raff who never would have survived as scientists in the 1960s and 1970s. There is no doubt that highly capable scientists currently participate in the grant-review process. Likewise, unfortunately, study sections are undoubtedly contaminated by riff-raff.”
There was a huge twitter response and NOW, for a limited time only (until June 2), you can purchase an official RiffRaff tshirt! #IAmRiffRaff.
Offered in a range of colors more flattering than McKnight’s words, the all-cotton unisex version is appropriate for wear under one’s fire-retardant lab coat. At just $15, it also fits a postdoc’s budget. The more stylish men’s and women’s tri-blend styles ($20) are perfect for adding that geeky touch so de rigueur at journal clubs, seminars, and Berlin’s finest nightclubs (or so we hear). And with the offer expiring 2 June, they have that element of exclusivity that all fashionistas crave.
All T-shirt proceeds go to support the forthcoming Boston FOR meeting, so riffraff from all fields can do good while also looking good.
Make sweeping generalizations about scientific concepts based on one data point. Start them with “my friend knew this guy …” or “once I heard someone say on the bus …”.
Ask what the scientist is working on. When the scientist responds, immediately zone out. There, that feels better.
Make important equipment unavailable for a petty logistical or political reason. “Sorry,” you’ll tell a scientist, “I know you need to use that instrument, but the Highly Arbitrary University Office of Too Many Administrators has instituted Unnecessary Form 722A-01, which you can’t fill out until you’ve finished the Completely Irrelevant Online Training Seminar, which requires a Creepy Background Check at the Obscure Basement Office You Can’t Find, That Doesn’t Understand What You Do, And Is Always Closed. But you can’t do any of this, because Rival Grumpy Professor is in charge of the program and is still upset that someone in your lab gave someone in his lab herpes in 1977.”
Tell the scientist you’re kind of a scientist yourself because you watched an episode of Cosmos and part of Shark Week.
Move their beaker off the stir plate.
Give the scientist an unimportant-sounding title, like associate research fellow or postdoctoral technician. Apart from pissing off the scientist, this has the added advantage of keeping the scientist’s college friends content that they made more intelligent career decisions than the scientist did.
If you’re the scientist’s spouse, say something like, “You know what would be great? If your lab would let you work part time. Do you think they’d let you do that?”
Assign the scientist to mentor a series of thoughtless, pretentious, disinterested high school students whose parents work in the next building. Good morning, Madison and Caleb. Can you please finish your Starbucks coffee in the hallway? Can you please not touch that instrument? Can you please—no, I’m not on Tinder. No, I don’t have time to watch a Vine video of your buddies doing parkour. What do you mean you’re going home for the day? You’ve only been here half an hour. What do you mean you want a reference letter?
Suggest that vaccines cause paper cuts, that global climate change is a result of lesbian weddings, that the Earth is 239 years old, and that evolution can’t be real because look how goofy this sloth is.
Require PIs to find meaningful employment for all postdocs leaving their labs. Panera Bread doesn’t count, not even the management track.
Call a scientist with a Ph.D. “Mr.” or “Ms.” If they kindly correct you and say, smiling, “Heh, technically, it’s ‘Dr.,’ ” ask to see their medical license, and then instruct them to Google “average medical doctor salary.”
Stand on the scientist, unzip your fly, and go for it. (Read the title of this article out loud a few times—there, now you understand.)
Let the scientist watch while you ask an average ninth grader to add one-digit numbers without a calculator.
Invite an unassailable seminar speaker—someone with clout, tenure, or just a personality more assertive than most scientists (which doesn’t take much). Ask this person to present nonsensical results based on a bombastic and misinformed theory. Force the scientists to applaud. Forbid snarky questions.
When asked to review a scientist’s publications, take full advantage of your anonymity and reject them for reasons that make the scientist say, “Wait, what?” For example, if a paper used a sample size of 100 subjects, write something like, “The sample size should have been >50 subjects!” Wait, what?
Tell the scientist the day before the new semester begins that he or she has to teach a large section of a new class designed to bring communications and geography majors up to speed on basic quantum thermodynamics. Provide no educational resources, teaching assistants, or additional salary. Spread a rumor that the class is an easy “A” and that the professor will happily admit new students at any point during the semester.
If the scientist isn’t pissed off yet, don’t worry; there are still plenty of beakers to move, stir plates to commandeer, and arbitrary intellectual barriers to construct. Because that’s what pisses off scientists most of all: taking away their ability to freely ask and answer questions.