Tag: research


Is the Staggeringly Profitable Business of Scientific Publishing Bad for Science?

This has been another episode of simple answers to simple questions.

The story is, of course, about ferociously corrupt scientific journal publisher Elsevier, which interestingly enough was founded by the ferociously corrupt media baron Robert Maxwell, who is ironically enough the father of Ghislane Maxwell, who is alleged to have some serious ethical issues as well.

The reveal here is that monster that is Elsevier was nurtured by British intelligence.

Today in Wicked Bad Ideas

Congress is looking to staple the National Science Foundation (NSF) to commercial interests, because it is so blazingly obvious that the problem with science in the United States is clearly that there are not profit incentives, said no one ever:

A bipartisan group of US senators and representatives has introduced legislation in Congress that would significantly change the operation of the National Science Foundation (NSF). Proponents of the bill say that the proposal aims “to solidify the United States’ leadership in scientific and technological innovation through increased investments in the discovery, creation, and commercialization of technology fields of the future”. To do so, the so-called Endless Frontier Act would expand the NSF’s remit, rename the organization and provide more than $100bn in support. The proposal has gained approval from many, but some have objected that it may undercut the NSF’s main objective, which is to fund basic scientific research.

Those behind the bill – four prominent US congresspeople – say that its introduction stems from the perception that international competitors, and particularly China, threaten to overtake the US technologically. “To win the 21st century, we need to invest in technologies of the future,” says Ro Kahana, a Democratic congressperson from California. “That means increasing public funding into those sectors of our economy that will drive innovation and create new jobs.”

Chuck Schumer, a New Yorker who leads the Democratic minority in the Senate, says that the US “cannot afford” to continue to underinvest in science while still “lead[ing] the world” in advanced research. That view is backed by Republican senator Todd Young of Indiana. “By virtue of being the first to emerge on the other side of this pandemic, the Chinese Communist Party is working hard to use the crisis to its advantage by extending influence over the global economy,” he claims. The new act, adds Republican representative Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, who is the fourth member of the group introducing the legislation, “is a down payment for future generations of American technological leadership”.


Yet the proposal has drawn some criticism. Former NSF director Arden Bement told Science of his concern that the bill could indicate to Congress – which appropriates agencies’ funds – that investments in the bill’s innovative technologies override the importance of the NSF’s core mission of funding fundamental, curiosity-driven research. But Bement’s successor France Córdova, who completed her six-year term as NSF director in March, argues that current-day science involves more seamless integration between fundamental and applied research.

Gee, ya think?

One of the causes of inequality in our society are the extensive and intrusive subsidies provided by the government to private industry,  things like this initiative, and the expansion of IP provisions.

This is bad for science and bad for the economy.

The Adventures of Boaty McBoatface

Remember how an internet meme hijacked a naming poll for the new research ship for the Natural Environment Research Council?

Eventually, the ship was named the David Attenborough, but one of its unmanned underwater vehicles was named Boaty McBoatface.

Well, now the colorfully named UUV has made a significant find:

Remember Boaty McBoatface? In the years since the naming snafu over a research vessel grabbed international headlines, Boaty has been off gathering crucial deep-sea data on the effects of climate change.

Now, the findings from Boaty’s first mission are out — and they shed light on how Antarctic winds that are strengthening due to climate change are impacting sea levels.

But before we dive into what Boaty found, let’s remember how it got here.

Back in 2016, Britain’s Natural Environment Research Council asked the public for help naming a new cutting-edge polar research ship. Shackleton, Endeavor and Falcon were among the contenders put forth, as NPR reported at the time. But the Internet had another idea. Voters in the online poll overwhelmingly threw their support behind “Boaty McBoatface.”

The U.K.’s science minister at the time, Jo Johnson, vetoed the people’s choice, saying the vessel needed a name that was more “suitable.” The ship was ultimately named Sir David Attenborough, after the well-known natural historian.

But the council did pay homage to the Internet’s extraordinary naming powers by naming a smaller, more modest vessel Boaty McBoatface. And the autonomous yellow submarine has had a very successful maiden voyage.


“In recent decades, winds blowing over the Southern Ocean have been getting stronger due to the hole in the ozone layer above Antarctica and increasing greenhouse gases,” the researchers said in a statement.

They wanted to see how these stronger winds on the surface were impacting the environment far below the waves — and whether that deep ocean activity was contributing to rising sea levels.

So they sent Boaty into underwater valleys, traveling to depths of up to 4,000 meters (nearly 2.5 miles). Boaty’s longest journey took three days and traveled 180 km, or more than 110 miles.


Boaty was able to pinpoint a previously unknown way in which this mixing is causing water to warm up across large areas, she said. Usually, deeper, colder water mixes with shallower, warmer water — think of vast amounts of water moving up and down.

Well done Boaty.

Correlation? Causation? ¯_(ツ)_/¯

Scientists have identified what they claim is a biomarker for chronic fatigue syndrome.

I am not so sure.

What they are describing is a marker for a stressed immune system, and there are any number of conditions that stress the immune system.

What they need to do is look at how this test works for people with other related conditions: Depression, mitochondrial disorders, McArdle’s disorder, etc.

Then again, I’m an engineer, not a doctor, dammit!*

People suffering from a debilitating and often discounted disease known as chronic fatigue syndrome may soon have something they’ve been seeking for decades: scientific proof of their ailment.

Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have created a blood test that can flag the disease, which currently lacks a standard, reliable diagnostic test.

“Too often, this disease is categorized as imaginary,” said Ron Davis, PhD, professor of biochemistry and of genetics. When individuals with chronic fatigue syndrome seek help from a doctor, they may undergo a series of tests that check liver, kidney and heart function, as well as blood and immune cell counts, Davis said. “All these different tests would normally guide the doctor toward one illness or another, but for chronic fatigue syndrome patients, the results all come back normal,” he said.

The problem, he said, is that they’re not looking deep enough. Now, Davis; Rahim Esfandyarpour, PhD, a former Stanford research associate; and their colleagues have devised a blood-based test that successfully identified participants in a study with chronic fatigue syndrome. The test, which is still in a pilot phase, is based on how a person’s immune cells respond to stress. With blood samples from 40 people — 20 with chronic fatigue syndrome and 20 without — the test yielded precise results, accurately flagging all chronic fatigue syndrome patients and none of the healthy individuals.

The diagnostic platform could even help identify possible drugs to treat chronic fatigue syndrome. By exposing the participants’ blood samples to drug candidates and rerunning the diagnostic test, the scientists could potentially see whether the drug improved the immune cells’ response. Already, the team is using the platform to screen for potential drugs they hope can help people with chronic fatigue syndrome down the line.

They have shown a test for immune response to various stressors, but this does not make it a reliable test for CFS, nor for that matter, does it prove the existence of CFS.

Absent a mechanism, or a more extensive study and comparison to other conditions that resemble, it’s very preliminary to claim proof of anything.

*I love it when I get to go all Dr. McCoy!

About F%$#ing Time

The mammoth University of California (UC) system announced today it will stop paying to subscribe to journals published by Elsevier, the world’s largest scientific publisher, headquartered in Amsterdam. Talks to renew a collective contract broke down, the university said, because Elsevier refused to strike a package deal that would provide a break on subscription fees and make all articles published by UC authors immediately free for readers worldwide.

The stand by UC, which followed 8 months of negotiations, could have significant impacts on scientific communication and the direction of the so-called open-access movement, in the United States and beyond. The 10-campus system accounts for nearly 10% of all U.S. publishing output and is among the first U.S. institutions, and by far the largest, to boycott Elsevier over costs. Many administrators and librarians at U.S. universities and elsewhere have complained about what they view as excessively high journal subscription fees charged by commercial publishers.


Indeed, UC’s move could ratchet up pressure on additional negotiations facing Elsevier and other commercial publishers; consortia of universities and labs in Germany and Sweden had already reached an impasse last year with Elsevier in their efforts to lower subscription fees.


Jeff MacKie-Mason, who heads UC Berkeley’s library and is also co-chair of the negotiation task force, says Elsevier just didn’t move far enough to UC’s position. The publisher’s final offer “was closer to what we wanted in terms of open access” but nevertheless included a price increase, he says.


UC published about 50,000 articles last year, and a substantial share, about 10,000, appeared in Elsevier journals. For subscriptions and article fees, UC paid about $11 million, the Los Angeles Times reported recently. (UC says the information is confidential under a nondisclosure agreement.)


UC also noted that some of Elsevier’s newer content is already freely available through open-access publishing, open-access repositories, interlibrary loans, and “other legitimate forms of scholarly sharing.”

That last bit is actually the folks at the University of California system in talking in code.

What they are really saying is that, not withstanding the multi-million dollar judgement that Elsevier got against it, the Russian based Sci-Hub has is the future:

Little more than three years ago, Elsevier, one of the world’s largest academic publishers, took Sci-Hub to court.

It was a mismatched battle from the start. With a net income of more than $2.4 billion per year, the publisher could fund a proper case, while its nemesis relied on donations.

Elsevier won the case, including millions of dollars in damages. However, the site remained online and grew bigger. Ironically, the academic publisher itself appears to be one of the main drivers of this growth.

Several universities from Germany, Hungary, and Sweden previously let their Elsevier subscriptions expire, which means that tens of thousands of researchers don’t have access to research that is critical to their work.

This is where Sci-Hub comes into play.

The “Pirate Bay of Science” might just quietly play a major role in this conflict. Would the universities cancel their subscriptions so easily if their researchers couldn’t use Sci-Hub to get free copies?

Sci-Hub founder Alexandra Elbakyan has always been forthcoming about her goals. Sci-Hub wants to remove all barriers in the way of science. She also made that crystal clear when we interviewed her back in 2015.

“Everyone should have access to knowledge regardless of their income or affiliation. And that’s absolutely legal. Also, the idea that knowledge can be a private property of some commercial company sounds absolutely weird to me,” she said at the time.

I feel nothing but glee at the misfortunes of Elsivier.

They are a bunch of contemptible parasites.

It’s Called a Windshield Wiper

I saw an article talking about how Silicon Valley is a terrible place for testing self driving cars because the weather there is too good.

Of course there is not a whole bunch of snow there, but there are ski resorts about 100 miles away, and mountains, etc.

They also make the point that this is a tremendously difficult problem.

The truth is that it is not a big problem.  The solution is called a windshield wiper.

In fact, I spent nearly a year working on a windshield wiper system for the LIDAR sensor clear on the US Army’s now canceled MULE (Multifunction Utility/Logistics and Equipment ) program.

The windshield wiper was complex, because the sensor covered about 200 degrees, and the windows were faceted with sharp edges, and I had to design a linkage to make the wiper follow the profile, and EMI/RFI shielded cabling, and gas tight seals, etc. ………

This is not trivial, but the solutions are straightforward, and California can accommodate pretty much all of the environmental conditions with the exceptions of tropical rain forest and tundra.

The real problem with the self-driving cars being developed in Silicon Valley is that the Silicon Valley ethos simply does not work for things that have to work outside of a computer.

The debacles at Theranos and Juicero are classic examples as to what happens Silicon Valley tries to conquer the real world, it turns to complete sh%$.

There may be self-driving vehicles capable of driving on any road before I die, but they will not come from the minds of Google, or Tesla, or Uber.

It might come from the NSA, it might come from Detroit, but truly autonomous cars are not cute cat GIFs, so I don’t expect them to come from the Randian supermen of Silicon Valley.

Boaty McBoatface Lives

I still think that that the whole boat should have been so named, but I am still heartened by the maiden voyage of the remotely operated submersible:

A yellow submarine dubbed Boaty McBoatface has obtained “unprecedented data” from its first voyage exploring one of the deepest and coldest ocean regions on Earth, scientists have said.

The robotic submersible was given the name originally chosen for a new polar research ship by irreverent contestants in a public competition. Embarrassed officials decided to ignore the popular vote and instead named the vessel the RRS Sir David Attenborough in honour of the veteran broadcaster. A storm of protest led to a compromise that allowed the name to live on.

The submarine plunged to depths as far as 4,000 metres to obtain information about temperature, water flow speed and turbulence from Orkney Passage, a region of the Southern Ocean about 500 miles from the Antarctic Peninsula.