When a major journal’s needs to not match the scientific community’s

 Rasur des Tages 02.01.09

Who governs science? | Stephen Curry
[Via Occam's corner | The Guardian]

Traditionally, science holds itself to account, primarily through internal systems of peer review. But the recent retraction of two papers on stem-cell research by the journal Nature highlights weaknesses in this self-regulatory framework that scientists need to address

To err is human, so why should science be any different? The frailties of science can be easy to overlook because it remains one of humankinds greatest cultural and intellectual achievements; working hand in hand with technology, it has transformed our understanding of the world and our capacity to shape it. But as any scientist will tell you, the daily grind of research is often laborious and repetitive and regularly punctuated by failure either through error or miscalculation, or when our cherished theories cannot withstand the pitiless exactitude of experiment. What keeps us going are the moments of revelation or insight that every now and then swell the heart and the head with a warm pulse of satisfaction. Those small victories are all the more important because science is an intensely competitive career; the endless struggles for funding or the space to publish in the most acclaimed journals, which have failure rates as high as 80 or 90%, means that there are demons of disappointment crouching in every laboratory.

The human side of science was thrown into harsh relief by news on the 5th of August of the suicide of Japanese stem cell researcher Yoshiki Sasai. Sasai was a senior coauthor on two papers published in January this year by the high-profile journal Nature that reported a remarkable breakthrough: the generation of stem-cells by subjecting mouse cells to mild stresses such as pressure or acidic conditions, a procedure dubbed stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency (STAP). But soon after publication the claims made in the papers came under intense scrutiny; there were concerns about reproducibility, a key test of any scientific report, and accusations of image manipulation and plagiarism. By the beginning of April an investigation by the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology (CDB) where most of the work had been carried out found the lead author Haruko Obokata guilty of misconduct for having manipulated data with the intent to deceive. Sasai was cleared of misconduct but criticised in the investigation report for not properly checking the experimental data. On 2nd July both papers were formally retracted by Nature for reasons of plagiarism. A month later a serious and unfortunate incident became a desperate human tragedy when Sasai took his own life.

[More]

This all has to do with a series of papers on stem cells published by Nature that had to be retracted because apparently they were just wrong.

Nature is a journal presented as without peer for its impact and with a scarcity of pages to ensure that it has the pick of the best science. Getting published in Nearer can get a researcher tenure.

So, there is obviously an incentive to write the perfect Nature paper based on making up the data. Peer review is not supposed to replicate the experiments but to make sure the data presented match the conclusions, that confirmation and other biases have not arisen, that the protocols are ethical, etc.

Add this to Nature’s need to publish provocative papers  – thus increasing the impact factor and justifying its price – and we have a recipe for disaster.

Which appears to have happened here.

Now, scientists are people and they make mistakes. The key of to deal with those mistakes. Science over the last 400 years has determined that open investigations are the best antidote.  Secrecy opens the way for fraud.

This is what separates science from alchemy.

Yet Nature, in response to this incident, has done very little in the open – telling us to trust its processes even as it hides them from view.

So how do we know it is fixed? How can we trust any other paper in Nature if we do not know what it does to prevent being gamed? Is it really trustworthy?

In truth, we don’t. we can’t, and probably not

That is because Nature is a business that needs subscribers. Its incentives for success do not always align with science

Unfortunately, corporate nature of company (in our case NPG) is not about encouraging the openness and improving science. It’s against it! Taking in account recent retractions (6 in half of year), closed access (even decade after publication!), closed flawed peer review, shameless promotion of its impact factor (while everybody knows that IF is a joke), absence of feedback and dialogue with peers… you can see how “frontier of scientific publishing” losing its credibility and trust.

So looking at the reviewer’s comments, to get some idea of how the process failed, would be helpful. But Nature says no and to just trust it.

This might not bode well for Nature’s future. Open access approaches tend to align much better with the needs of researchers. We are seeing a sea change in scientific publishing.

Stonewalling the community may not be the best way to go.

 

Olive Oil and climate change

 Growing Olives

A Mega Drought Is Threatening To Drive Up Olive Oil Prices
[Via ThinkProgress]

Southwest Spain is experiencing its worst drought since record keeping began 150 years ago, and agricultural crops, especially olives, are suffering badly. With climate models and Spanish researchers both predicting that Spain’s droughts will get more intense and more regular than before, this is the second year since 2012 that heat and drought have threatened the country’s trademark olive harvest.

Spain produces around half the world’s olives and is the number one producer of olive oil. The drought has speculators, including forecasting agency Oil World, worried that olive yield could drop up to 40 percent year-over-year in 2014. Olive trees flower and start to bear fruit in the late spring and early summer which was an especially dry time in Spain’s main olive-producing regions this year.

“The drought in Spain and its impact on the olive market is potentially very significant,” Lamine Lahouasnia, head of packaged food at Euromonitor International, told the Wall Street Journal. “If the drought does end up adversely affecting Spanish yields, it is very likely that we’ll see rising consumer prices in 2014.”

European olive oil prices are already up over 30 percent since the beginning of the year, a phenomenon driven by above average temperatures and low precipitation across the Mediterranean olive-growing belt. According to the IPCC, the Mediterranean may be one of the most impacted areas of the world from climate change. Already a hot, semi-arid region, hotter summers and more intense and frequent droughts will threaten water supplies and agricultural production.

[More]

It may sound minor but this will happen more and more.

Climate change will severely disrupt agriculture in many countries. Places that got a lot of water will no longer. Other places will get too much.

We have designed our civilization based on relatively stable climate conditions. With those changing, so too will our civilization. 

Changing the lives of billions.

Can real capitalism be returning? I think so

 Apple CEO Tim Cook

Shareholder vs. Stakeholder Capitalism
[Via Economist's View]

Quiet day in blogland. Here’s something to kick around for those of you who are so inclined:

Shareholder vs. Stakeholder Capitalism: …We may be witnessing the beginning of a return to a form of capitalism that was taken for granted in America sixty years ago. …

Are we witnessing the reemergence of “Stakeholder Capitalism”? I’m doubtful.

[More]

I’m not. Let’s look at one of the 21st century corporations that recognizes stakeholders, not shareholders – Apple.

At this year’s annual meeting, Tim Cook was visibly angered by the questions from a climate change denier group. They wanted to know if Apple’s investments in controlling the environmental  impacts of its business helped or hurt the bottom line. They wanted him to commit only to things that made money. Period.

Cook does not get angry in public much. But he knows the value of using it when necessary.

He stated that Apple tries to do what is right and just, to not focus purely on the return on investment (ROI) of what they do.

When we work on making our devices accessible by the blind,” he said, “I don’t consider the bloody ROI.

Then  he said something I have never heard a CEO state, one that the sociopathic leaders of shareholder-driven corporations would never even think:

If you want me to do things only for ROI reasons, you should get out of this stock.

A shareholder corporation focusses only on the ROI and screw anything else. A stakeholder corporation cares about that “anything else.”

That “ anything else” used to encompass a lot.There used to be a multitude of stakeholders a corporation needed to serve – shareholders, employees, customers, suppliers, lenders, and the local community.

For much of the last 25 years, the only stakeholder a corporation focussed on is the shareholder.

It is the Costco model vs the Walmart model. One posits that corporations are run by the sort of moral and ethical people that Adam Smith described. People like Tim Cook.

The other envisions a corporation run by sociopaths. One that ignores its necessary impact on employees, suppliers, lenders and the community.

It ignores its social obligations.

Capitalism only works because of its social connections and norms. It cannot work by itself. It cannot exist in isolation. It is a social construct. It needs people who will participate.

And people are learning the power of that participation more and more to control the social behavior of a corporation. 

Apple has always been focussed on much more than its shareholders (one reason Wall Street has never treated Apple well). That is one reason it has such a dynamic community of fans.

Same with Costco.

The sociopaths tried to convince us that their path was the right one because it would raise up everyone. We have seen that this is not the case and people are beginning to use their power to make companies serve the public more.

It will increase and perhaps we will again return to the stakeholder view of capitalism.

Some  corporations and CEOs may not be as wealthy but society as a whole will be.

Nurse in Atlanta: “We can fear, or we can care.”

Ebola Virus 

I’m the head nurse at Emory. This is why we wanted to bring the Ebola patients to the U.S. – The Washington Post
[Via]

A second American infected with the potentially deadly Ebola virus arrived at Emory University Hospital on Tuesday from Africa, following the first patient last weekend. Both were greeted by a team of highly trained physicians and nurses, a specialized isolation unit, extensive media coverage, and a storm of public reaction. People responded viscerally on social media, fearing that we risked spreading Ebola to the United States.

[More]

The definition of an American:” Most importantly, we are caring for these patients because it is the right thing to do.”

Two of the nurses canceled their vacations so they could care for these patients. 

As human beings, we all hope that if we were in need of superior health care, our country and its top doctors would help us get better. We can either let our actions be guided by misunderstandings, fear and self-interest, or we can lead by knowledge, science and compassion. 

The chart that shows why the S&P finally noticed wealth inequality

11111Lifeboats

S&P: Wealth gap is slowing US economic growth
[Via The Seattle Times]

Economists have long argued that a rising wealth gap has complicated the U.S. rebound from the Great Recession.

Now, an analysis by the rating agency Standard & Poor’s lends its weight to the argument: The widening gap between the wealthiest Americans and everyone else has made the economy more prone to boom-bust cycles and slowed the 5-year-old recovery from the recession.

Economic disparities appear to be reaching extremes that “need to be watched because they’re damaging to growth,” said Beth Ann Bovino, chief U.S. economist at S&P.

[More]

Shorter post: not surprisingly, the S&P only cares about the income gap when the wealthy are no longer seeing increasing incomes.

The S&P states: “A lifeboat carrying a few, surrounded by many treading water, risks capsizing,

Finally a metaphor from Wall Street to counter the rising tide raises all boats.

The S&P is correct and the increasing disparity between the wealthiest and the rest of us distorts the economy. The small number of wealthy exert different incentives on an economy than the multitudes of a middle class.

From the article:

Adjusted for inflation, the top 0.01 percent’s average earnings have jumped by a factor of seven since 1913. For the bottom 90 percent of Americans, average incomes after inflation have grown by a factor of just three since 1917 and have declined for the past 13 years.

And almost all of the increase for the bottom 90% came between the years of 1947 and 1980, when their income doubled. A three-fold increase in 100 years when it went up two0fold in the post-War boom.

Things get skewed. This has been going on for 100 years, with no notice by Wall Street.

But why hasn’t the S&P said something earlier. I believe this chart shows why.

NewImage

I’ve written about this graph before but this one has it broken out into wealth categories. The wealthy and the middle class saw incomes rise in lockstep from 1947 to the early1970s.

They both went up two-fold. During this period,  the middle class grew at rates never seen in our history.

Something happened in the early 70s. For the top 5%, the growth in income continued. For the rest of us, income growth stopped.

But, look at the top 5% since 2000. Their incomes have been flat for the last 14 years. All those Bush tax cuts had little effect on the incomes of the wealthiest families. We hear about increasing CEO salaries but even that is not enough.

So while the bottom 20% actually saw their incomes drop over the last 14 years, the wealthy have been treading water.

Or to use the S&P metaphor. the wealthy are now treading water like the rest of us, with fewer people remaining in the lifeboats.

No wonder the S&P has finally started to care. Maybe something will be done to get more Americans in the lofeboats.

But I’m not counting on it coming from most of the politicians we currently have. They are mostly minions of the wealthiest to begin with.

The American Revolution was fought between authority and democracy, not tax rates

NewImageBen Franklin at the Lord’s Privy Council

The True Origins of the American Revolution
[Via Contrary Brin]

A few weeks ago, I was one of the headlined speakers at Freedom Fest, the big libertarian convention in Las Vegas. Do I seem an odd choice, given my past thorough and merciless dissections of Ayn Rand?

In fact I’ve done this before, showing up to suggest that a movement claiming to be all about freedom might want to veer away from its recent, mutant obsession — empowering and enabling the kind of owner-oligarchy that oppressed humanity all across the last 6000 years. Instead, I propose going back to a more healthy and well-grounded libertarian rootstock — encouraging the vast creative power of open-flat-fair competition

COMPETITION-1…a word that libertarians scarcely mention, anymore. Because it conflicts fundamentally with their current focus — promoting inherited oligarchy.

With that impudent, contrary attitude, would you believe I had a fine and interesting time? My son and I dined at the VIP table with publishing magnate and former presidential candidate Steve Forbes. Along with humorist P. J. O’Rourke and John Mackey (Whole Foods and an avid SciFi reader.) Also at the table? Grover (I kid you not) Norquist, founder of Americans for Tax Reform and a guiding force beyond the American right’s current-central obsession — that government of/by/for the people must perish from the Earth.

Would you be surprised that I was the most-liberal voice at this gathering? And yes, I managed to poke without being rude. (I’ve been known to poke in other directions, too!) I even learned a few things. See an addendum, below, offering more about the Freedom Fest event.

Foremost, though, I want to focus on one piece of polemic that Grover Norquist thrust upon us over dinner, concerning the origins of the American Revolution.

[More]

History does not repeat itself. But it does rhyme” – Mark Twain.

Brin encapsulates much of what I also feel is true. There were many reasons for the Revolution, but almost all derived from Age of Enlightenment/Reason thought – some of it economic in nature, but not focussed on tax rates per se.

  • Monopolies that cut out American merchants and put the yoke of colonialism on American industry while funneling cash to the richest of the British – a process denounced by Adam Smith.
  • Absolute control of money by the British, making a robust American economy almost impossible. At one point, the colonies wanted to be taxed so as to have some cash of their own.
  • Another thing denounced by Smith – rent-seeking by the British rather than opening up new markets.
  • If they were to be taxed, the colonies wanted an equal and representative say in how this was done. 
  • Control of the frontier, preventing anyone from leaving the rule of the British.
  • A primary and radical idea of the Enlightenment  era – all people were equal. So why should a hereditary lord have more power than a freeborn American?

All of these deal with the power of inherited and hierarchical authority as it combats a distributed democracy.

If one wants a quick synopsis of the effects these sorts of policies had on Americans, the utter failure of landed gentry and hereditary authority to understand the American spirit, read about Franklin’s hour in front of the Lord’s Privy Council in 1774

The attempt to utterly humiliate the smartest and most brilliant mind the world knew at the time is shameful. And all it really accomplished was to take that brilliant mind and turn it away from the hierarchical authority of Britain, to focus it fully on the distributed democracy of America.

Franklin was silent in the face of authority but he quickly made his new point of view clear, helping frame many of our most important political efforts. Then, in a truly distributed approach, Franklin would also make sure Britain paid for the insults he took silently when he negotiated the peace treaty.

He found a great way to route around the damage of inherited wealth and hierarchical authority. Destroy its wealth and  disavow its authority.

This is a solution we have done again and again when this battle has been engaged.

Today we find ourselves again fighting a battle between hierarchical authority and distributed democracy. Like then it cuts across parties. In the same way Adams and Jefferson could come together, so too will we see something similar happen.

Because this is at the heart of being an American, as Brin wrote: (his bold):

The colonies were already home to a new spirit and ethos – part cantankerous, part ebullient and hopeful, and part-scientific, with all those portions combining to demand one core question:

“Why should I have to bow down, or be bullied, by another mere human… just because of who his father was?”

The irony is rich. Those today citing the Founders most often are folks who are most vigorously helping propel us back into a world of inherited status, dominated by clans and cartels of aristocratic families.

I’d add “ or how rich he is?” We created the first modern democracy – of, by and for the people – not to just see the top 1% control our economic and political future.

As Brin states our ‘secret sauce” is an open and mutual accountability to and by others,. It is a social contract, something that every ruling class has attempted to destroy.

Make no mistake. The Charleston tories became Confederate plantation lords, who aimed to re-establish inherited-landed-ownership nobility, the classic human pattern that ruined competition and freedom and social mobility in every society other than ours.

And that torch is now carried by hirelings of a new oligarchy, diverting libertarian passion away from flat-open-fair competition over to worship of absolute property rights, no matter how inherited or how much this re-creates the Olde Order that sparked our Revolution.

One conflict Brin omits because it was not directly an American civil matter is World War II. Here, in many ways, the battle between authoritarian rule by a fascist elite and the distributed approaches of Western democracies was again won by those who have been winning these conflicts since at least 1776.

So, every 80 years or so we Americans have been involved in a tremendous battle over the same things, over hierarchical authority’s need to destroy the benefits of distributed democracy.

I expect they will lose once again. And lose big because we have new tools that support distributed democracy to an extent not seen in perhaps 10,000 years.

First Contact – Before we get more data that demonstraes a mundane source, let’s enjoy believing the radio wave bursts are from aliens.

 Alien

Scientists investigate radio wave “bursts” from space
[Via Boing Boing]

Two different radio telescopes have now picked up fast “burst” signals that seem to originate outside our galaxy.

Let’s cut to the chase: Is it aliens?

[More]

It sure would be nice if they’d drop by and say hello.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 440 other followers

%d bloggers like this: