Jorge Luis Borges on Shakespeare: which is it, Italian or Jewish?

I think that Johnson was a far more English writer than Shakespeare. Because if there’s one thing typical of Englishmen, it’s their habit of understatement. Well, in the case of Shakespeare, there are no understatements. On the contrary, he is piling on the agonies, as I think the American said. I think Johnson, who wrote a Latin kind of English, and Wordsworth, who wrote more Saxon words, and there is a third writer whose name I can’t recall—well—let’s say Johnson, Wordsworth, and Kipling also, I think they’re far more typically English than Shakespeare. I don’t know why, but I always feel something Italian, something Jewish about Shakespeare, and perhaps Englishmen admire him because of that, because it’s so unlike them.

From an interview. Here.


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A journey to the darkside: wtf is biotech anyway?

All right. So if it’s not one thing, it’s another. At first I was stressing out about this whole actually becoming a PhD candidate thing (which is now official, which means I’m going to celebrate by getting business cards and piercing my ears), and now I have gotten myself WAY TOO INVOLVED in making this multi-user blog for this local biotech group. I don’t even know what biotech is, really, and quite frankly, I… well, read below.

Way Too Involved

I conned my labmate, who apparently hates biotech, to come to a recent event put on by this group, and when we were talking about the thing afterwards he brought up the point that, really, biotech is not something you should be getting rich off of. At the end of the day it’s healthcare and the fact that it is extremely profitable, which granted may foster competition and therefor progress, encourages behavior that is not necessarily best for patients or for science.

And then I was reading this book on House M.D., yes, the TV show (ahem), which mentioned the gifts, travel, meals, etc. that pharma companies are ALLOWED BY REGULATION to give to doctors. This kind of made me furious. I don’t want my doctor to give me some drug just because it’s the one he has free samples of. Though I’m sure he has, and I’m sure I was grateful, cause it was free. But that’s not the point. The book also mentioned the group PharmFree which is ‘an ongoing campaign begun in 2002 by the American Medical Student Association’ to discourage just that. I wonder if they’ve made any progress.

Now apparently pharma and biotech are two different things. But apparently pharma buys up biotech all the time (wordswordswords, somethingsomething, this is the part where I pretend I know what I’m talking about). So to me… that sounds I can lump them together. So I will. THE DARK SIDE.

That being said, I do still pitch this biotech org to people with, “Academics always write, ‘my research will help find cures for this disease, because… ‘, but they actually have no idea.” So I do think there is value in the cross-talk, which is why I stick around, but I’m still worried about how close I am to falling down the rabbit hole. Maybe the value is actually heavily weighted towards the entrepreneurs, and scientists don’t need to know how far away they are from the practical application of their research? But I’m still on the fence, I don’t think it’s quite so lopsided. And what is this value measured in in this context anyway? Money? Scientific integrity? Human lives?

Anyway, the other reason to keep this up, is that it’s easier to fix a broken system by being involved with it than by just complaining about it from the outside.

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So this weird thing that happened in my lab recently: my boss hired his girlfriend as our tech. Hmmm. Seems like a bad idea right? Well, anyway, it’s working out fine, mostly because she’s super easy to talk to and sits next to me.

Another thing that’s happened, kind of a result of my transfer to official doctoral candidate process, is that I’m realizing that I’m not fulfilling any of my own standards for myself, specifically regarding my science. No papers, no teaching, no mentors that are particular impressed with my intelligence and skillz (though my bosses all seem pleased with me). This realization is made much more depressing by the fact that I actually had a pretty successful undergrad research career and now I feel like I have truly regressed.

So these two things combined, means that I had a heart-to-heart with our new tech (AKA the boss’s gf) about how everything is shit (some of this included poorly shielded complaints about the boss), and how I need to turn my PhD around. I also mentioned that a big aspect of doing this involves me not really listening to my boss so much. AWKWARD. Anyway, she was very understanding and supportive, which was nice. I guess I needed to vent. But really, I know everything I need to do, it’s just a matter of the tough process of shedding the old skin and coming out the beautiful butterfly I know I am (Ahem.). I think it’s list-making time. Three real things a day. Weekends off. Let’s go! One million things to do/3 = …

Oh also. Another thing that I’ve realized is that I spend a lot of my day consuming information. Reading books and papers, watching TV shows and documentaries. I really need to start producing things. Papers. Short stories. Whatever. I’m not picky. Quality over quantity is a fine adage, but so is beggars can’t be choosers. (AKA, producing something crappy at this point is better than not producing anything. (Especially for Mr. CV.)) I should at least try my hand at teaching… Maybe, though, I’ll just start trying to make 30 second videos for this blog. They’ll probably be about science.

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The problem with open science

So I went to this talk on Thursday about open science by Michael Nielsen. He quit studying quantum computing, in which he was apparently doing quite well, so he could “work on open science” so he must know what he’s talking about. It was one of those talks where I was constantly thinking of problems with what the speaker was saying and then congratulating myself on how clever I was. Then most of my comments got answered throughout the talk and others were answered during the questions. I did raise my hand a few times, but never with enough conviction to get called on… No matter, that’s what blogs are for, right? Anyway, these are my thoughts, they are likely neither novel nor comprehensive.

Two years ago, I wrote an article for our departmental magazine called something vague like “Science and the Internet,” in which I talked about twitter, RSS feeds, Tim Gower’s Polymath Project and some other things. Needless to say, I felt pretty gratified when this guy used the same example (Tim Gower, that is) as the crux of his ‘open science is better science’ conjecture. He also mentioned Terence Tao’s blog, and his own personal use of sites like delicious and friendfeed. Then at some point, I realized that these examples are really more like the modern equivalent of when you end up rabidly discussing your work after a few pints in the pub or a few cups of coffee in the cafe. In other words, so far the internet is used as a very informal way of communicating science (friendfeed, really?), which while invaluable no doubt, fits more into this category:

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Well that’s done…

So there it is. I have been told I can continue as a real PhD student (!!!) with a few provisions. For whatever reason though, the whole process made me feel pretty terrible. Probably has something to do with my assessors pointing out that a lot of things that I told them I am “really interested in doing” would have taken me about two hours total to do before I met with them. And I hadn’t done them. And a week later… I still haven’t done them.

In other words, I am here:

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Brief Hiatus to end Mid-August

So I have been stuck for the last couple of months actually doing work.

Hopefully this will all be over after I do my transfer viva (AKA pass my quals) and move from provisionary status to actual candidate status.

You may also have to wait til I get back from the vacation I am going to take immediately after that.

So hang on there 1.23 readers. I’ll be back!

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Psychological warfare: innovating science out of the gutter

This great article about science blogging and how to combine it with a successful career in academia suggests writing positive posts (e.g. “this article is really great, this is why I love it”), which I was planning to do. I could also tag it with my research blogging account! Yeah, but not yet. Not in THIS post.

Instead I’m going to talk more about the problems of science and why we waste money on the wrong things and the wrong people. I swear, eventually I will stop complaining about this, especially when I really probably don’t even know what I’m talking about. But I came across these two articles that I think do a great job of explaining what we SHOULD be doing and thought I would share the wealth.

A government center for drug discovery? by the Curious Wavefunction

In which he suggests the backwards study of drugs that have gone through trials and are proven to work, but no one knows why. Specifically he mentions Thorazine for schizophrenia and lithium for bipolar disorder. He targets them as “the only two breakthrough treatments for mental illness”, which sounds reasonable and I am choosing to believe it, though this is the first I’ve heard of such a claim.
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Silly and ridiculous: writing about writing

So I went to this writing workshop today. We did this silly writing exercise. It was supposed to be just a conversation between two people without any action or scenery or whatever, just to see what we put down on paper. This is what I wrote:
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Science at its inappropriatest

I’m going to take this opportunity to point out my own personal joy at the recent influx of inappropriately hilarious science blogs/bloggers/tweeters.

Cases in point:
Drunken Science
[February 5, 2011 addendum]
Fake Science

Seems as good a way to distance/distract the scientific world from its history/culture of stuffiness and elitism as any.

My subconcious leaning to write this post was no doubt brought to you by having recently listened to the Stuff You Should Know Podcast on the Ig Nobel Prize. Apparently one of the guys who got the Nobel Prize for graphene had previously received the Ig Nobel Prize for levitating a frog. Awesome? Awesome.

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Longtime Listener, First Time Caller

I have a new addiction to podcasts. This is my attempt at being your gateway drug. You know you want to.

So in October I moved to England, which in addition to having been a great move scientifically, has also inspired some small lifestyle changes. For example, the combination of my slightly longer walk to work and the loss of NPR in my car, alarm, and work radios lead to a new weekly podcast routine. Car Talk, This American Life, and Prairie Home Companion had been fixtures of my childhood, however my first year of grad school solidified and expanded my listenage of these shows, since it was, as I see it, also my first year of living in the “real world”, in which my life became increasingly filled with monotonous tasks (cleaning regularly,weekends in lab, grocery shopping, etc) to which the radio added just enough of something interesting without distracting too much from the “productivity”. So my repertoire expanded to include all the various NPR news shows, some old-timey radio shows that played at especially ridiculous hours (but were totally worth it), The Moth Radio Hour, Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!, and most significantly, the love of my life, Radiolab.

So now that I am no longer victim to the whims of radio programming and have complete control of my listening schedule, I have reached a whole new level of ridiculousness and methodology. Keep in mind, however, that I’ve only been at this since about October, so the part where I recommend episodes, actually adds up to about a quarter of everything I’ve listened to. This also means that YOUR OWN RECOMMENDATIONS AND CHASTISEMENTS OF MY IGNORANCE ARE MORE THAN WELCOME. Anyway regardless of this fine print, every Sunday night I load up my sweet sweet iPod mini with the following weekly podcasts (yes, they are always in this order):
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