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.

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

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.

Crisis in Congress

by Jason Rothauser

United States Congress

This is what a government in crisis looks like. Last month, on October 1, the federal government entered its first shutdown since 1996, when an impasse between President Clinton and congressional Republicans led to the government’s doors being shuttered for almost two weeks. Our most recent shutdown beat that record, coming to an agonizing close minutes before midnight on October 16.

The term shutdown is slightly misleading, as most of the government’s most visible functions continued unabated throughout the crisis. Any service deemed essential—the military, for example, or, ironically, congress itself—continued to function. But every day brought more stories of gaps left by our more peripheral federal services. The federal park system was closed, veterans were turned away from national memorials (with much media attention), and the FDA’s routine food inspection was suspended. More than 800,000 federal workers were placed on furlough, without pay and forbidden to work.

How did we get here?

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WISeR (Women In Science at Rockefeller): A New Initiative

By Asma Hatoum, Mariko Kobayashi, and Alessia Deglincerti

WISeR(Logo)This summer, a small group of postdocs came together to launch a new initiative called wiser (Women In Science at Rockefeller) to begin to tackle a persistent problem: the underrepresentation of female leaders in academic and non-academic sectors of science.

While women hold 60% of all bachelor’s degrees and constitute 48% of the overall workforce, females in leadership positions, particularly in the stem (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields, remain a minority. In 2009, the National Research Council released a congressionally mandated report on gender differences in science and engineering faculty at key transition points in their careers. One of the most striking findings in the report was that a gender gap is most apparent at the phd to faculty transition—women are simply not applying to tenure-track positions at research-intensive institutions. This gender gap is particularly pronounced in the biological sciences: in the 1999-2003 period, women received 45% of biology phds but represented only 26% of applicants for tenure-track faculty positions.

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Academic Governance: A Model

by Daniel Briskin

An unfortunately high proportion of our elected officials are highly opinionated, but irrational people who let their guts drive their politics; many more of them are voters. With the same concerns in mind as the architects of the Electoral College, I don’t want this type of person making decisions for me.

We have had capable people in government, such as former Secretary of Energy and physics Nobel Laureate, Steven Chu. We also have a former Princeton economics professor and department chair Ben Bernanke as the Chairman of the Federal Reserve. Ezekiel Emanuel, a professor of healthcare management and of medical ethics and health policy served as Special Advisor for health policy to the Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. These are the types of people who I want making decisions at the highest level. Their opinions may differ from mine, and are certainly not in line with all other Americans’, but I am confident in these people’s ability to make decisions based on facts. Continue reading

For Your Consideration—Cannes Edition

by Jim Keller

In this installment, For Your Consideration kicks off the 2013 Oscar season with a look at the films to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. This year’s festival, overseen by Jury President Steven Spielberg, will open on May 15with Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, which will screen out of competition.As I’ve stated in the past, the festival serves as the first of a series of jolts to the Academy Awards race and unless you’re an industry insider or a celebrity, you won’t be getting in. So for those of us not in attendance, here’s a look at some of the festival’s films from the Official Selection. My list is comprised of highlights and films with considerable pedigree behind them, to wind up in the throes of Oscar come March:  Continue reading

Fiscal Cliff: The Next Big Challenge for Science

by Christina Pyrgaki

A version of this article appeared on The Incubator blog on February 14, 2013.

For the last 35 years, the University of Lake Superior has published a list of banished words—words in the English language that are deemed overused, misused, or useless. Topping the 2013 version1 was a term that no American has been able to escape in recent months: fiscal cliff.

While I agree that “fiscal cliff” has been overused, I do not know if it is fair to call it misused or useless. The term paints a clear picture of an entire nation standing on the edge of a cliff, in grave danger of falling off with a single misstep. This analogy is not too far from the reality that the US faces, as our society truly is standing on a financial precipice.

Several articles published over the past year have described our ominous situation and have attempted to figure out how it all began. Continue reading

Hitting the Paywall

by Daniel Briskin

Approximately two years ago, in March 2011, The New York Times introduced their paywall, the digital barrier against accessing more than 20 articles per month without subscribing (subsequently, access has been further reduced to only ten articles per month for non-subscribers). Although the Times was not the first publication to limit access to content, their paywall arguably caused one of the greatest brouhahas in regards to upsetting the status quo of modern news distribution. For many people, the Times acts as the default source for nuanced analysis of current events of import, both domestic and international. After providing free online service for over a decade, abruptly demanding that consumers pay for a once free service caused a widespread uproar. Continue reading

For Your Consideration—Crystal Ball Edition Part II

by Jim Keller

Admittedly, last month’s column was thrown together between health battles, and birthday and Oscar celebrations—oh wait, those last two were on the same day, no lie! Without further ado, I give you the remainder of a short list of films—some of which you might be hearing about for years to come as they, too, stake their claim in Oscar glory.

The Counselor (director: Ridley Scott):

Why you might like it: A lawyer-cum-drug trafficker finds himself in over his head.

Why I’ve got my eye on it: The film features Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender—arguably two of the best, working actors of our time. Moreover, it could find Scott in the running for Best Director for the fourth time since 2001’s Black Hawk Down. Continue reading

Directed Acts of Kindness: A Citizen’s Weapon Towards a Better Society

by Christina Pyrgaki

The Wednesday before Nemo hit NYC and after a successful journal club meeting, which involved a combination of good science, brainy company, and fine liquor, I left the university with two friends and colleagues of mine at around 8 p.m. The three of us strolled in the cold evening all the way from The Rockefeller University to the grocery store on 60th Street and York Avenue; after we shopped for snacks, we headed to my friend’s place to have a glass of wine and chat. Continue reading