Fourth Floor Studio

June 27, 2007

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…)

March 31, 2007

Rules for Collaboration

Filed under: science — chris @ 4:21 pm

The latest installment of the PLoS Computational Biology “10 Rules” series focuses on collaboration. The rules deal primarily with people skills, rather than explicit guidelines for collaborations. One thing that strikes me is that they are written around a passive assumption, geared toward cases where one is either considering an offer of collaboration, or beginning to pursue one. It may be my bias, but there’s almost an air of “wait until someone more senior approaches you” to the rule-set.

With that in mind, I offer these pro-active corollaries:

Rule -1: don’t wait; find a suitable problem and offer it to potential collaborators. You are much likelier to begin collaborations with people if you take a problem to them, particularly if they are more established than you are. I think one of the problems for people just starting out is exposure: no-one really knows you or your capabilities, so they are unlikely to come to you with a collaboration offer. Find a problem, write up a research proposal (even a blue-sky one), and then start approaching people with skills complementary to the problem. You can’t fish without bait…

Rule 0: beware of farming-out. Some “collaborators” may simply expect to farm out a portion of their work to you, rather than admit you as an equal in an ongoing effort. Unless you feel that being absorbed under someone else’s umbrella would be advantageous, steer clear.

March 20, 2007

RIP John Backus

Filed under: news — chris @ 12:04 am

The creator of Fortran is dead.

“You need the willingness to fail all the time,” he said. “You have to generate many ideas and then you have to work very hard only to discover that they don’t work. And you keep doing that over and over until you find one that does work.”

March 15, 2007

Aggregation and meta-blogging

Filed under: geekery, web — chris @ 2:28 am

The food world is at it, too. Of course, we’ve been doing it for a while.

March 14, 2007

Mind mapping and outlining tools

Filed under: geekery, gtd — chris @ 9:37 pm

I like the idea of mind mapping: a graphical, non-linear representation of connected stuff appeals to me (perhaps I’ve been looking at biochemical pathways for too long?). As an on-again/off-again google search, I’ve stumbled across several implementations of this concept:

See a more comprehensive article.

Update: also see this article in the Linux Gazette, the discerning geek’s literature of choice., for a breakdown of available tools.

A helpful BSD login tip

Filed under: geekery — chris @ 8:53 pm

Welcome to FreeBSD!

If you accidentally end up inside vi, you can quit it by pressing Escape, colon
(:), q (q), bang (!) and pressing return.

All you need to know about vi.

Recent R version on Ubuntu 64bit

Filed under: geekery, linux — chris @ 5:46 pm

Something that’s been bugging me lately is that CRAN doesn’t seem to have recent (ie v2.4+) versions of R ubuntu packages for 64 bit architectures. So I finally bit the bullet and added the debian/ stable/ source path to my sources.list, and voila! Instant goodness. You’re not really supposed to cross-contaminate like this, but I haven’t even broken anything – yet.

Trivial, but annoying.

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