Scientists Decide: No interesting stories in Science

By John Borghi

First Flight of a Liquid Propellant RocketOn March 16, 1926, Robert H. Goddard launched the first ever liquid-fueled rocket in Auburn, Massachusetts. Though this test did little to silence the mocking editorials and harsh criticisms that had followed Goddard since his 1920 proposal that liquid-fueled rockets would eventually reach beyond Earth’s atmosphere, it was a major breakthrough in modern rocketry. Collecting the pieces of his rocket from a snowed over cabbage patch late in the afternoon on the 16, Goddard probably could not have envisioned that his harshest critics would eventually turn to avid supporters. On July 17, 1969, the day after the launch of Apollo 11, the New York Times published an apologetic retraction of its criticisms of Goddard and hailed him as “the father of modern rocketry.”

Eighty-eight years almost to the day after Goddard’s launch, a group of scientists working at the State Hospital at Montpelier (SHAM) released a statement that no interesting stories could possibly emerge from science. “Science is serious business, obviously,” reads the statement, written primarily by the SHAM’s director of communication, Dr. P.H. Ony. “An engaging narrative requires interesting characters, a conflict, and a resolution. Unfortunately, science just doesn’t include any of those things. Have you ever read the methods section of a scientific paper? Pretty dry, am I right? I’m speaking as a scientist myself; there are just no interesting stories in science.”

Members of the scientific community have been quick to respond to Dr. Ony’s statement. On Facebook, the famed molecular biologist Dr. P. Seudo wrote “Nope, that’s completely incorrect,” and “Sometimes scientists get so wrapped up in their grants and lab work that they forget the drama of what is happening around them. Of course there are interesting stories. Science is full of people trying to solve problems, often while under a tremendous amount of stress.”

Dr. Ony could not be reached for comment, but a statement on his Twitter account stated his position simply: “Always remember, there is nothing exciting about molecular biology, rockets, or vindication.

For Your Consideration – Crystal ball edition!

By Jim Keller

Last year’s Crystal Ball edition yielded four of nine eventual Best Picture nominees. Gravity, American Hustle, The Wolf of Wall Street, and Nebraska as well as Best Picture winner, 12 Years a Slave, were all discussed as hopefuls long before they bowed. So if you think spring is too early to talk about Oscars, think again. Here are some films debuting this year that could wind up in the Oscar conversation as the year progresses.

A Most Wanted Man (director: Anton Corbijn):

Why you might like it: Based on John le Carré’s novel, the film follows a Chechen Muslim as he gets caught up in the international war on terror after he illegally immigrates to Hamburg, Germany.

Why I’ve got my eye on it: The film was discussed last year in this column, but its release was subsequently pushed back. Corbijn’s The American (2010) wasn’t able to best his debut, 2007’s Control, but I’m interested to see what he can do with a le Carré novel. Plus it has a lead performance by the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman.

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April Fools!

By Aileen Marshall

April Fools’ Day is celebrated on April 1. This is the day when it’s common to pull pranks on friends and false news stories run rampant. However, the truth is always revealed later that day. While not an official holiday, the practice is commonly accepted.

No one really knows when the tradition started. Many cultures going back to ancient times have a spring rite of turning the social order upside down, when unacceptable behavior acceptable just for that day, as a way of celebrating winter’s end. In England, the tradition is that the prank must be pulled and then revealed by noon. Anyone who attempts a prank after noon is considered the fool.

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Spring Breaks in April

By Susan Russo

Special Free Events and Short Excursions


Macy’s Flower Show

When: April 1-6

Where: 34th to 35th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues

Tartan Day Parade, with bagpipes, kilts and dancers

When: April 5, starting at 2:00 p.m.

Where: 45th to 55th Street on Sixth Avenue

“Pillow Fight in the Park,” teddy bears and pillows, but “no feathers”

When: April 5, 3:00 to 6:00 p.m.

Where: Washington Square Park, West 4th and 6th Street between MacDougal Street and University Place

“Easter Parade” wear or admire fancy hats and costumes

When: April 20, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Where: 49th to 50th Street on Fifth Avenue

“Celebrating Earth Day” a three-day event, with family activities, films and performances

When: April 22, 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Where: Union Square, 14th Street between Irving Place and Fifth Avenue

“Tribeca Family Festival” street fair, music, chefs’ demonstrations, crafts and films

When: April 26, 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Where: Greenwich Street between Hubert and Chambers Street

 “9/11 Memorial 5K Run/Walk” Family Day, “to support the memorial and museum”

When: April 27, 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

Where: Church Street between Cortland and Liberty Street

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New York State of Mind : Aylesse Sordillo, Graduate Fellow

By May Dobosiewicz

Aylesse Sordillo

Been here: 7.5 years

Lives in: Central Harlem

From: Outside of Boston

Is there something you do regularly that you could only do here?

For sure. I’m really into underground electronic music shows, and New York is one of the only places where you can pretty much see everyone since they’re not the kind of people who tour super broadly. PS1 has a whole summer series called WarmUp. They have a backyard where they do electronic music shows with music and beer.

Do you have a favorite museum?

The Brooklyn Museum.

If you could change something about New York, what would it be?

It would be less expensive to live here.

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An interview with White Out: The secret life of Heroin author, Michael W. Clune, Ph.D

By Bernie Langs


I did not know what to expect when I procured a copy of Michael W. Clune’s memoir, White Out: The Secret Life of Heroin, after reading a blog review about the book in the New Yorker. I very quickly became engrossed in White Out, consumed by its tale of the author’s life of addiction. The book presents with a cast of colorful characters appearing throughout and the exciting tale of Dr. Clune’s highs and lows: his deceits, his run-ins with the law, and finally, his recovery. I found great humor throughout the memoir, and became attached to the author’s ability to weave complex sentences that delight the reader in a strange and unique fashion. I found Dr. Clune online in the Department of English at Case Western Reserve University, where he is an Associate Professor specializing in American literature, literature and science, and poetry. I also came across several academic papers by Dr. Clune. Here are his enthusiastic responses to my questions.

BL:  Having read some of the essays you’ve produced as an academic, after reading White Out, I was struck by how different the “voice” is between the memoir and the professional writing.  In fact, there are no traces, in my opinion, that the author of the White Out could write in such a detailed, let us say, complex academic way. Did you make a conscious effort to distinguish the tone of White Out from what you produce in the humanities?

MC: My academic writing is quite different in tone and syntax from my creative writing. I would say that in the former, I strive for clarity. I want to communicate my ideas and my findings as clearly as possible. Clarity is not always the same as accessibility. Clarity sometimes involves carefully distinguishing my views from various arguments made by others. I always try to avoid jargon, but sometimes the work requires the judicious use of terms of art. I begin to write my academic books and essays after a long process of research and thought. The writing involves communicating what I’ve discovered as cleanly and economically as possible. In my creative work, the situation is different. Here, the writing itself is the discovery process. Since my preferred mode of writing is memoir, I don’t need to work out the plot in advance. I simply sit down to write, and try to understand my memory and experience through the process of creating images and phrases that seem to fit. The language has to be very flexible; I have to work with a greater range of tone and meaning. In particular, humor is a crucial resource for my creative work. I’m constantly asking myself—how do I make this funny? What angle reveals the humor in this situation? Humor for me is a path to objectivity. When I can laugh at a memory or an experience, I become distanced from it. Laughter enables me to see myself from the outside, and grants me a different level of understanding. In my creative work, humor functions for me as a kind of strange analogue to the scientific method.

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New Science journal to publish exclusively through Twitter

By John Borghi

Building on several recent developments in academic publishing and social media, a new publication platform for the distribution of scholarly material was announced this Wednesday by The Society for Concise Science. The new online platform, named after the chemical name of the protein, titin, (which is 189,819 letters long and, thus, cannot be printed here), will publish a journal, tentatively titled

Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg, exclusively through Twitter.

In his introductory press release, Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg’s loquacious editor-in-chief, Dr. A. Ey, described the origins of the new journal “Observing the slow move from traditional publishing metrics such as impact factor to alternatives based on online discussion, it became obvious to us that we could optimize scientific communication by publishing directly to social media.” Several dozen pages later he went on to state that, “Since they will not be constrained by the artificial limitations imposed by ‘luxury’ journals such as Nature or Science, researchers will be able to thoroughly describe the theoretical basis, methods, results, and conclusions of their research projects in 140 characters.”

When preparing submissions for the new journal, scientists will apparently be asked to include both a hashtag with the name of the journal and lengthy digital object identifier. While information about multi-author submissions, the peer review process, and the integration of tables and figures into journal submissions is still forthcoming, reaction from the scientific community has already been quite mixed. Comments on the science-based Tumblr BoldSignals have ranged from “This looks amazing!” to “This is completely ridiculous.”

Other Headlines:

-Residents of Webster, MA Vote to Officially Rename Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg to Lake Something Shorter

The oldest Irish bar in the city

By Aileen Marshall


Most New Yorkers have heard of, if not been to, McSorley’s, a downtown bar. Popular belief is that it’s the oldest bar in the city, it even has sawdust on the floor. Many historical figures have patronized it over the years. It’s also famous for being one of the last to allow women. It had a unisex bathroom until recent years.

Officially, the name is McSorley’s Old Ale House, at 15 East 7th Street, in the East Village. According to the bar’s website, it was established in 1854 by John McSorley, a recent Irish immigrant. The original name was “The Old House at Home.” In 1865 the building was upgraded and John and his family moved in upstairs above the bar. According to city records, the address was a vacant lot until 1861. A writer for New York Magazine did some historical research and found it opened in 1862.  The title of oldest continuously running bar in the city had been Bridge Café on Water Street, established in 1794. However, McSorley’s can claim to be the oldest Irish bar in New York City.

In 1888, John McSorley bought the building. John’s son, William took over the bar in 1911.  William sold the bar to Daniel O’Connor (in 1936), a longtime patron and retired police officer. O’Connor’s daughter, Dorothy Kirwan, inherited the bar when her father died in 1939. Since the pub did not allow women, she made her husband manager and only came on Sunday nights after it was closed. Dorothy’s son, Danny, took ownership of the bar in 1975. He then sold the bar to Mathew Maher, an Irish immigrant and friend of this father’s, in 1977. Maher still owns McSorley’s today.

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New York State of Mind

This Month Natural Selections interviews Matthew Meselson, Visiting Professor from Harvard University. By May Dobosiewicz.


From: California

Been Here: Two months

Staying in: The Upper East Side 

What brought you to NYC?

We thought it would be warmer with not as much snow and rain as Boston, but we’ve had one really unusual winter here!

Do you come often?

Yes, pretty often. We have a son and daughter down here, and now we are introducing two of our grandchildren to New York. My wife grew up in New York. There’s something about the air here, she feels like she’s at home.

Do you remember the first time you came to New York?

Yes, it was 1949. I used to make rare earth chemicals and sell them to the AD Mackay Company on 198 Broadway when I was a kid in Los Angeles, California. I came to New York and wanted to visit the company, imagining it would be some fabulous place with all kinds of chemists, but instead it was just a little office and a room with shelves and shelves of dusty bottles. I was selling praseodymium oxide and samarium oxide—really pure stuff—for 60 cents a gram, and they were charging about ten dollars for it. A huge markup! The old couple that owned the company took me out for lunch, told me they were going to retire, and that if I wanted the company, I could have it for free. I was only 19 years old, and I thought, do I really want to spend my life doing that? I said “No” and got on a ship to La Havre, France.

What do you think of New Yorkers?

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Brooklyn Night Bazaar

By Jason Rothhauser

For both the hip and hungry, Brooklyn has been host to a growing new trend over the past few years: the food festival. The idea is simple: take the fun and novelty of a music festival or a craft fair, mix it with the kind of gourmet delights that foodies hunt the city for, and stir vigorously.

You may already be familiar with the Great Googamooga (a seasonal food and music festival in Prospect Park) or Smorgasburg (an indoor/outdoor “flea food market” in Williamsburg). Both invite restaurants and vendors from all over Brooklyn to set up individual booths and allow visitors to sample some of the borough’s brightest culinary hot spots in one shot. The newest is Greenpoint’s Brooklyn Night Bazaar, and it’s easily worth a visit.

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Ten Years of Natural Selections

By Daniel Briskin

The first issue of Natural Selections was published in February of 2004. In these past ten years, much has happened, on campus and off. For all that has happened, however, much has stayed the same, including the humor. This year we are republishing the best and most timeless pieces from the corresponding month in 2004.

Continuing on with our salute to the tenth anniversary of Natural Selections, here is this month’s republished comic from 2004.

Lost in translation

For Your Consideration – And They’re Off! Edition

By Jim Keller

Last year I equated the Oscar race to a horserace where each studio bets on its thoroughbreds and hopes that they can at least place at the end. I explained that the studio is the owner, the public relations department is the jockey, and the horse is the actor or film in the analogy. Here we thrust those roles I’ve discussed in the three-part Ones to Watch edition under a microscope to separate the nominees from the contenders and to identify the power players for each studio. I’ve also included my rankings as they stood on the eve of the Oscar nominations—the  number in parenthesis indicates my placement following nominations. I chose the maximum ten nominees for Best Picture and all categories reflect five nominees. The top five in the chart were my nominee picks, those that fall outside of that were outside chances that I had listed. There is only one actual nomination that I did not have in my picks or as having an outside chance, Philomena for Best Picture.

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Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

By Aileen Marshall

We all know that the third Monday of January was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the holiday established to honor the civil rights activist. But do you know how it came to be an official federal holiday? This writer can remember a time when the holiday didn’t exist.

Martin Luther King, Jr., born January 15, 1929, was a significant civil rights activist in the 1950s and 1960s.  King was an ordained Baptist minister and had a degree in sociology from Morehouse College in 1948 and graduated from Crozier Theological Seminary in 1951. After he completed his Ph.D. at Boston College in 1955, King became the pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. It was there that his history of civil rights activism began. In 1955 Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus, in defiance of local segregation laws. That spurred King to organize a city-wide bus boycott by the African-American community. Activists also challenged the bus segregation law in the courts. (The law was eventually overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.) King went on to encourage more non-violent acts of civil disobedience. Martin Luther King, Jr. was known for this style of making protests without aggression, such as sit-ins at lunch counters. His efforts and those of others led to the end of segregation laws in twenty-seven cities. King’s most famous event was the 1963 March on Washington, which included his “I Have a Dream” speech and emphasized his belief that one day all Americans would be equal and live in harmony. In 1964, he became the youngest man to win the Nobel Peace Prize. King was assassinated in 1968 by James Earl Ray while standing on his motel balcony in Memphis where he traveled to support a sanitation workers’ strike.

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New York State of Mind

MelvinThis Month, May Dobosiewicz interviews Melvin White, Environmental Assistant, Laboratory Safety & Environmental Health.

From: The Bronx

Been here: 30 years

Lives in: Manhattan


Do you feel that New York has a sense of community?

I do. I’ve had so many rough experiences, and as a whole I’ve received good love from my community, even when I’ve made mistakes. Sometimes you see somebody with a mean face walk by, but if you met that same person in a different environment, you’d probably have so much in common. That’s what makes this city so social.

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Midday Melodies

By Derek Simon

What makes great art? This is a question that thinkers have been pondering ever since civilization’s infancy and I dare not attempt to answer it in less than a page. Instead, I’ll posit what makes a great artist by using, in my opinion, the classical music world’s finest champion: Ludwig van Beethoven.

Of all composers, Beethoven is probably the most well-known. Haydn wrote 104 symphonies but almost none are recognizable to the casual listener. Mozart wrote 41, but the first 20 or so are completely forgettable. Beethoven wrote only nine symphonies but at least two are so famous that even people that have never listened to a piece of classical music have likely heard them: the first movement of the Fifth Symphony (duh-duh-duh-DUH) and the last movement of the Ninth, the Ode to Joy. Beyond that, numerous other pieces of his music are easily recognizable (the Turkish March, Für Elise, and the Moonlight Sonata are examples.) But why is this? Clearly, there’s something universal about Beethoven’s musical idiom, something in the sound he produces that appeals to most humans. Therefore, universality is the first characteristic that I believe defines a truly great artist.

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Culture Corner : music roundup

By Bernie Lang

In the past couple of months, I’ve been to live concert performances in the major music genres of jazz, rock, and classical music. I found myself reflecting after each show on how these differing types of music are standing up within my own personal test of time.

My brother graced me with a ticket to see jazz saxophonist Joe Lovano play at the Village Vanguard. I hadn’t been to the fabulous Vanguard in many years, but remembered it as a small and intimate space for a performance. After I insisted that we sit in the back of the club, my brother immediately guided us to seats just one table away from the small stage. And I’m glad he did. Mr. Lovano played with a fantastic group, consisting of a piano player, a bassist and two drummers/percussionists. His saxophone playing was on a virtuoso level as he hovered above us, and the songs were exciting and exuded an extremely positive vibe. Mr. Lovano also showed off great and complex chops on the flute and clarinet, literally wowing the audience, who at the end gave a very warm ovation, which was gracefully and gratefully received by the band members. Mr. Lovano’s unique, complex, somewhat traditional sax melody lines, and his unwavering power and emotion on the ballads, will remain with me. I had written jazz off as a past interest, but this wonderful show rekindled my curiosity in this difficult form of music.

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Ten Years of Natural Selections

By Daniel Briskin

Screen Shot 2014-02-07 at 19.33.28This month’s issue marks the tenth anniversary of Natural Selections; issue one was published in February of 2004. In these past ten years, much has happened, on-campus and off. For all that has happened, however, much has stayed the same, including the humor. This year we are republishing the best and most timeless pieces from the corresponding month in 2004.