Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

IF versus EF

June 15, 2012

I have only recently become aware of the existence of the Eigenfactor (EF). It is a proposed measure of the overall influence, impact, prestige of a scholarly journal in its own discipline, or field. The one and only measure with which I was familiar is the well-known Impact Factor (IF), which is actually fairly straightforward to understand. By contrast, the eigenfactor is determined through a rather complex procedure (I am not going to discuss its computation in this post — for details, see here).

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Falsehood perishes… eventually

June 2, 2012

The damage that falsehood can do, if unchallenged and/or perpetuated over a period of time, can be considerable, often long lasting, both to individuals (for whom it is typically permanent — ask anyone wrongly convicted of a crime that they did not commit) and to humankind as a whole. For this reason, it seems a good idea to have procedures in place not only to spot it, but also to expose and debunk falsehood swiftly and effectively, before it spreads.
There exist circumstances in which falsehood acquires a pernicious resilience, even in the absence of a concerted effort on the part of anyone to preserve it. All that is needed is a sufficiently robust system of perverse incentives, which may come about for whatever reason and prove surprisingly hard to die.

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Official endorsement

May 27, 2012

Nope, sorry, this is not a post about politics, there are no upcoming elections anyway. I am writing in frustration, after checking once again on the web the status of a manuscript that I have submitted for publication over two months ago, to find out that it is still under review, ostensibly in the virtual hands of an unresponsive referee.

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In praise of boring projects

April 1, 2012

How many scientific discoveries have been made by investigators carrying out studies that, in principle, should have merely reproduced known results and/or confirmed the conventional wisdom ? I do not have numbers but I suspect many. Serendipity plays much more important a role than many a scientist  would care to admit. 

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What is the deal with that supersolid thing ?

March 18, 2012

I am occasionally asked that question by friends and acquaintances. I am referring here both to professional scientists, typically working in fields other than mine (I happen to have a lot of friends in this category, through my work), as well as to individuals who are not themselves scientists, but have some interest in science and try to keep reasonably abreast with the latest discoveries and developments.

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The mystery of quantization

March 5, 2012

Quantum mechanics owes its name from the hypothesis that originated it, initially proposed by Max Planck, and successively extended by Niels Bohr and others.
The hypothesis of quantization can be formally expressed through Bohr-Sommerfeld conditions, which constitute the core of what is presently called the Old Quantum Theory. Their most immediate consequence is that the energy of an individual particle is in some cases quantized, i.e., only allowed to take on specific, well-defined values, arranged into a regular pattern, describable mathematically by simple formulae.
In these cases, an experimental measurement of the energy yields no other outcome than one of these “allowed” values — nothing in-between is ever observed. This is what is meant by “quantization”.

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Letter from the trenches

February 20, 2012

I have received a letter from a student who obtained their doctoral degree with me a few years ago, and after one postdoctoral appointment decided that their heart was really into teaching.
They wrote me to let me know how things are going, and gave me permission of posting their letter here (I am withholding the person’s name). It may be of interest for those who might be considering switching from research to a teaching career. Currently, only a tiny fraction of doctoral degree holders take that path.

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Whither scientific publishing ?

February 13, 2012

I come back to one of my favorite subjects, prompted by a recent comment asking for my opinion on the proposed boycott of Elsevier, a company publishing a number of scientific journals. In the eyes of many, some of Elsevier’s practices are incompatible with the ultimate goal of achieving the widest dissemination of scientific information and progress — a goal that many a scientist hold so vital that even in a market economy, no acceptable business model for scientific publishing should sacrifice it to the altar of profit.

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Independent and original

January 30, 2012

I doubt if I can offer any deeper insight or more pointed advice to a tenure track assistant professor in the sciences, than what anyone can find on a number of reputable science blogs.
Often times, however, as I go through posts describing the “dos and donts” of young scholars wanting to maximize their changes of eventually landing tenure, while I find myself in agreement with the general ideas expounded (we are not really talking secrets, anyway), I also feel that some of the most common recommendations could be taken too far, or interpreted too rigidly, ultimately doing the probationary faculty more harm than good.

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Education disadvantage

January 21, 2012

If a cash-strapped province or state had to make painful cuts to public services, the immediately noticeable effect would be the outright elimination of some of them.
One would not think of, say, laying off a fraction of all bus drivers and asking the remaining ones to work longer hours, in order to keep all existing bus routes active — some would be phased out, based on various considerations of priority, in order to minimize the inconvenience to denizens, while continuing to offer as much of the original transportation as possible. Some people, however, would have to go to work or to the grocery store in some other, less convenient or more expensive way.

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