Friday, April 18, 2014

Vaccine Autism Journal Club announcement

The question of vaccines and autism came up again on Facebook, as it often does.  I made my usual comment: the key study that supposedly linked vaccines and autism was falsified; many other studies have tried to reproduce its results, and failed; if you know of a study that does show a link between vaccines and autism, please post a link to it.  Obligingly, someone did post a link to a blog post listing 22 studies that supposedly link vaccines and autism.  There's no shortage of problems with the blog post, but that's not the fault of the authors of the 22 studies.

I'm therefore launching a vaccine autism journal club project.  I will read each of these papers, one per week, and invite you to read them along with me. Each week, I will post my thoughts on the paper here, and we can have a discussion in the comments section. We'll discuss whether the evidence the authors show justifies the conclusions they draw, whether there are any other interpretations that explain the data equally well, and whether the representation of the authors' findings in the original  blog post is fair.

So next week, we'll start with the first paper.  See you then.

Recent ACS Chemical Biology Community blog posts

This week's post is about what I've found most surprising in my experiencing tutoring undergraduates in chemistry.  Hint: I spend about as much time tutoring math as I do chemistry.

Last week's post was about email management systems.  If you scroll down to the comments, you'll see that my email management problem may be solved.

The week before that's was about questions raised by a recent talk I attended on quality control.

Happy reading.  If you have any feedback for me (you'd like to see more of this or less of that), please leave a comment either here or at the blog itself (you'll need to make an ACS Network ID, but it's free).

Monday, March 31, 2014

Neither "skateboarding" nor an "accident"

Letter submitted to the Baltimore Sun:


Dear Baltimore Sun,

I was disappointed to see your headline for the story about U.S. Naval Academy midshipman Hans Loewen's untimely death ("Midshipman dies after skateboarding accident", March 30).  From the family memorial, it sounds like Mr. Loewen was run over by a car.

Americans consistently and significantly underestimate the dangers posed by motor vehicles, and headlines like this one contribute to this public misperception and the consequent underinvestment in public transit infrastructure, difficulty in passing distracted driving laws, and, of course, tragic and entirely preventable deaths of pedestrians, cyclists, and skateboarders, not to mention occupants of other motor vehicles.


(As far as my own title, I certainly don't mean to suggest that whoever was driving the car intended to kill anyone, but I do very much want to reinforce that crashes aren't accidents.)

Thursday, March 20, 2014

new ACS Chemical Biology Community blogging gig

I'm very honored to be blogging for the ACS Chemical Biology Community on the ACS Network (and no, you don't have to be an ACS member to read my blog posts).  My first post, "So you're just going to sit at home?", is all about how looking for a job is a full-time job.

Monday, January 13, 2014

word of the day: confrere

The word of the day is confrere:

Etymology:  Middle English confrere (compare frere, Friar), < French confrere (13th cent. in Littré) = Provençal confraire, Catalan confrare, Spanish co(n)frade, Italian confrate, medieval Latin confrāter, < con- together with + frāter brother. As a naturalized English word (of which the pronunciation would now be /kɒnˈfrɪə(r)/ or /-ˈfraɪə(r)/ ) it appears to have become obsolete in 17th cent.; but it has been taken back into frequent use as a borrowing from modern French, and is usually written confrère. 
1. A fellow-member of a fraternity, religious order, college, guild, etc., a colleague in office. 
2. A fellow-member of a learned profession, scientific body, or the like.  [ < modern French.] (OED)

"The paradox is that, just as Thomas Pynchon or Don DeLillo dramatizes paranoia with a texture of specificity, the paranoid types are, in their own way, often much more empirically minded - willing to follow the evidence where it leads, even if that is right through the looking glass - than their more cautious confreres.  it is, in other words, possible to construct an intricate scenario that is both cautiously inferential, richly detailed, on its own terms complete, and yet utterly delusional."

 - Adam Gopnik, "Closer than that: the assassination of J.F.K., fifty years later", 4 November 2013 The New Yorker

Sunday, January 12, 2014

word of the day: fantod

The word of the day is fantod:

Etymology:  ? An unmeaning formation suggested by fantastic adj. and n., fantasy n., etc.: compare fantigue. 
A crotchety way of acting; a fad. (OED)

"I do care about them, but what they don't know, and I would never have the heart to tell them, is that the idea of their no longer being a married couple bothers me not at all.  My only fear is that, separate, no one else would have them, that I'd get stuck with them one at a time or have to watch them wither away in solitude.  These scenarios give me the fantods.  Am I selfish?  Yes and no.  I'm a bachelor and hope someday to be an old bachelor."

 - Thomas McGuane, "Weight Watchers", 4 November 2013 The New Yorker

Saturday, January 11, 2014

word of the day: bentonite

The phrase of the day is bentonite:

A clay found in the Fort Benton strata of the Cretaceous of Wyoming. Also, any of several clayey deposits containing montmorillonite which have various practical applications. (OED)

"The doctor who'd hired me wanted a marshy spot behind the house excavated for a pond, and I had my Nicaraguan, Angel, out there with a backhoe, trying to find the spring down in the mud so that we could plumb it and spread some bentonite to keep the water from running out."

 - Thomas McGuane, "Weight Watchers", 4 November 2013 The New Yorker