Fourth Floor Studio

September 26, 2007

Damn you, weak dollar!

Filed under: science — chris @ 1:25 am

A hostile exchange rate is a budget’s worst enemy.

These days, if you count in US dollars, this implies that only the most impoverished of third world countries are desirable conference destinations. I have barely managed to secure accommodation in the UK within my per diem reimbursement range – we are naturally expected to make our own arrangements as the conference centre does not accommodate all –  at considerable cost, which I must carry forward until the check arrives from Central in 6-8 weeks. I happen to have some money stashed away for rainy days and stupid conference setups, but really! How do they expect post-docs to lay their hands on a spare couple of grand for a booking?


September 13, 2007

Giving up?

Filed under: science — chris @ 6:14 pm

How many times do incarnations of a paper need to be rejected (outright!) before you lose hope in it? This one has been doing the rounds for >3 years in 5+ versions.

August 24, 2007

Newbie python

Filed under: programming, python, R, science — chris @ 12:09 pm

I’ve finally hit a problem requiring multidimensional data structures, mathematical grunt, and speed, coupled with good DB bindings and text/file handling. Normally, I would use a perl script to fetch data from the db and process it with R (as I’ve been having trouble with the R DBI library). However, processing 31K chunks of data for 13K variables each just won’t work in R.

So I’m delving into python as a one-stop shop for all my woes. I’ve been procrastinating about learning the language, because, let’s face it, why write bad code in a new language when you can write ugly code in your long-term favourites.

Some resources I’ve found are: a python tutorial, the NumPy library for data arrays, SciPy and the python DB-API module. I’ll also have a look at StatPy for statistical computing in python.

August 13, 2007


Filed under: administration, science — chris @ 3:35 pm

*cough cough* The dust here is rather thick, isn’t it? I’ve been rather busy being unproductive at work, and I’m about to go on holiday for a while. So here are some random-ish snippets:

  • Nodalpoint facebook group
  • My thesis is up at the Australian Digital Theses project
  • The ADT site sucks big-time, so I can’t get a link just yet [Update: it’s back; thesis is here]

A question to the audience – how do you feel about blogging on current projects, particularly collaborative ones where you are not the primary mover? Spilling others’ beans doesn’t seem very polite now, does it?

July 6, 2007

Australian undergraduate teaching

Filed under: news, science — chris @ 1:30 pm

[…] universities are taking in students to study science who do not have the preparation, and possibly ability, to complete courses of proper rigor[…]

In Australia, the pressure to combat declining science undergraduate enrollment has resulted in dumbed-down courses with lower standards enrolling many unprepared  students (a worldwide theme, mind you). Whilst keeping the departments afloat – at least temporarily – the long-term damage to education and science is huge. The other logical extension, recruiting foreign students, has lead to interesting, if flawed, experiments in foreign campuses.

June 27, 2007

Did he deliver?

Filed under: news, science — chris @ 4:06 pm

These are exciting times. Science continues to push back the frontiers of knowledge, finding new areas of which we were previously unaware and making discoveries that add novel twists to the world views we were taught as children. I intend to ensure that the United Kingdom continues to foster excellence in scientific and technological cooperation. Our success will help realize the creative potential of the next generation.

Blair, T, 1998 Science  281, 1141.

See commentary by Robert May in this week’s Nature.

A just review.

Filed under: science, skepticism, stupidity — chris @ 3:43 pm

Ken Miller’s review of Behe’s new book: “It would be difficult to imagine a more breathtaking abuse of statistical genetics.” (Sub required)

June 14, 2007

Nature wades into the religious debate

Filed under: news, science, skepticism, stupidity — chris @ 8:50 am

Comments by US Senator (and presidential candidate) Sam Brownback prompt an editorial in this week’s Nature:

… the suggestion that any entity capable of creating the Universe has a mind encumbered with the same emotional structures and perceptual framework as that of an upright ape adapted to living in small, intensely social peer-groups on the African savannah seems a priori unlikely.


 Brownback’s NYT opinion piece is littered with the usual flotsam of non-overlapping magisteria, micro- vs macro-evolution, a priori belief in a creator, and of course the requisite “many biologists believe in God” argument. He concludes with this gem:

 Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order. Those aspects of evolutionary theory compatible with this truth are a welcome addition to human knowledge. Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as an atheistic theology posing as science.

Enlightenment, what enlightenment?

June 12, 2007

The utility of arrogance

Filed under: science — chris @ 12:01 pm

Here’s something that has begun many a bar conversation: why are (some) scientists arrogant? From the grand old men of our time to first year graduate students, science seems enriched with people sublimely convinced they are all right, all the time. Here’s a couple of reasons why this might be a selected trait:

  1. Survival. Don’t kid yourself – academics is a cut-throat business. A certain self-confidence is required to navigate the heady political heights of grantsmanship, institutional funding, and policy making. There are many ways of making yourself heard, and it seems that shouting loudly is one of them. Science (unlike the humanities) is fortunate in that eventually data can objectively show who was right, so this doesn’t get too out of hand.
  2. Sanity. Have you ever pinned your career on a five-year project that you have no evidence is even possible? Welcome to science! Given the likelihood of failure, it takes a modicum of self-inflation to even get out of bed in the morning – especially after you’ve just received a vicious, cursory review of your latest paper. Feeling like a twelve-year-old with red ink all over their homework is not something many people continue to face throughout their careers.
  3. Blazing your own trail. Research is essentially a process of making things up as you go along. It involves challenging current wisdom, scrutinising others’ findings, and, at some level, thinking you can do things better. It does take a certain arrogance to do all these things: it’s enshrined in the belief that you can add something to human knowledge.

Now, I’m not saying that arrogance is good, or even excusable. There are plenty of good (and quite a few great) scientists who are modest, kind, even demure. But don’t kid yourself – there’s a little seed of arrogance deep in their souls somewhere. They just don’t let it get out of control.

May 24, 2007

Math(s) for biologists

Filed under: biologists, geekery, science, scientists — chris @ 9:54 am

I’ll break radio silence briefly to catch a meme wave from Neil (via RPM, Deepak and Keith). I’ve disguised my rant as answers to Sandra‘s questions (evil chuckle). Usual grain of salt provisos apply… (more…)

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