Faculty of 1000

Post-publication peer review

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Last drinks

Posted by stevepog on 19 March, 2010

Richard has previously mentioned my imminent departure from f1000 and it’s come to the day where I pack up my desk, hand back the security pass and read my last free copy of The Scientist.

It’s been a great experience being involved in a forward-thinking project like f1000 and getting stuck into the social media side of PR (like it or loathe it, PR has a place amongst the Twitter, Youtube, Facebook generation)

But aside from meeting some brilliant people through Twitter (@scicheer, @tallscientist, @boraz, @sciencegoddess, @ritarubin to name a few), this humble blog is where most of the action has happened.

And so allow me to reflect back on some of the inspiring, thought-provoking or just plain amusing posts from my six months here.

Most recently, Callum’s post stirred up controversy on all sides with the Pubmed and PLoS discussion from a few days back, on a day where our usual daily hit count doubled due to the massive interest from the science community.

Richard’s weekly roundups have been getting a lot of interest as he, obviously, looks over the  week’s happening at f1000 and in the broader world of science.

His post on the Faraday Prize Lecture would have excited anyone with multiple passions into maths, music and science while the new competition on scientific mistakes, while not drawing the same enthusiastic responses as his #sci140 comp, has still been kicking along.

For my own part, the most enjoyable pieces I had the chance to write involved anything from the Great Garbage Patch to periodic table-chanting cheerleaders, how music can make us smarter and scientists with fantastic beards.

I’ll leave you with this shot of my Science Online companions and I at the Chapel Hill campus of the University of North Carolina, which we visited during the SciOnline 2010 conference in January.

There’s some historic significance to this well that we are still unsure of but apparently it’s the place where freshmen kiss each other for luck. We declined to participate in the ritual (owing to being neither freshmen nor single) and instead opted for this memento.

It’s one of the good memories I’ll take away from my time at f1000, along with the all-too-regular Friday afternoon cakes and of course the dedication and enthusiasm of work colleagues towards making f1000 a quality database for post-publication peer-reviewed biology and medicine research.

I’m off to travel Europe for five months and then head home to Australia. Thanks to everyone for the support, keep reading the blog and, in the words of my friend Darlene, GO SCIENCE!

**PS I’m on Twitter at @stevepog for anyone wanting to keep in touch and my sports-focused blog is http://stevepog.blogspot.com

Posted in f1000, Friday afternoon, Random | Tagged: , | Comments Off on Last drinks

Is it a cancer drug or not?

Posted by stevepog on 16 March, 2010

The media faces constant criticism from medical specialists and  advocacy groups whenever it trumpets the latest new wonder drug to cure any form of cancer.

Many spurious claims have over the years been splashed across the UK Daily Mail’s front page, prompting backlash from organisations such as the National Health Service, Cancer Research UK and even the appearance of a Facebook group with more than 40,000 members criticising the Mail’s cancer cure/cause agenda.

But the recent news that pharma giant Roche was revising its position on Avastin after the drug failed in a late-stage study, evaluating the blockbuster as a treatment for advanced stomach cancer, was an example of where the stock market, media expectations of a miracle cure and a pharma giant collided.

The Wall Street Journal said the announcement had the effect of:

‘undermining market expectations the drug could reach annual peak sales of more than eight billion Swiss francs ($7.48 billion)’

Roche’s PR team has had the very difficult job of trying to push the share price back up and regain investors confidence. One of their newest stabs at this crisis communications was a release today stating that

‘the eyesight of two patients with a rare condition was saved through the groundbreaking use of the drug Avastin’

At the time of writing, the news is only 20 minutes old so and there is little detail contained on how many people have been involved in trials by Southampton ophthalmologist Dr Andrew Lotery, only to state that his research on treating Sorsby’s Fundus Dystrophy (SFD) has been accepted by US journal Retinal Cases & Brief Reports. The release goes on:

He (Lotery) said it was the first time the drug had been used to treat the rare genetic condition(SFD) which caused the two patients, both in their 30s, to suffer blurred vision and a general deterioration of sight.
Avastin halts the growth of blood vessels and stems bleeding and is commonly injected with good results into the eyes of patients with “wet” age related macular degeneration (AMD) – the leading cause of blindness in the western world in people over 50

Avastin has already been trialled successfully in conjunction with chemotherapy in ovarian cancer sufferers so the prospect of another potential target would be welcomed by the shareholders but more importantly, by sufferers of the targeted conditions. But this is a situation where the media needs to tread carefully and wait for stronger research to appear before latching onto another cure-all drug.

New antibiotic treatments for gastric cancer

On another cancer story, Yoshio Yamaoka, an F1000 Medicine faculty Member from Japan, has looked recently at the use of various drugs to treat Helicobacter pylori infection, which often leads to gastroduodenal ulcers, gastric cancer and associated diseases.

While there are positive signs from a large multicenter trial in Japan of H. pylori antibiotics on patients with gastric cancer, Yamaoka warned that practitioners should exercise caution with regard to widespread antibiotic treatment saying,

‘if all infected persons are to be treated, we should consider the increase in frequency of antibiotic resistance and unexpected consequences such as esophageal adenocarcinoma, asthma, and autoimmune disease’

Posted in Communication, f1000, FMs, Medicine, Random, Science | Tagged: , , | Comments Off on Is it a cancer drug or not?

Hair apparent

Posted by stevepog on 8 March, 2010

beware of the bearded man bearing breadfruit

Sometimes there’s a real life-changing thrust to blog posts, that drives at the heart of a pivotal issue in modern society and make people question their motives, passions, opinions or even educational goals.

But seeing as we’re all coming down off a post-Oscars high, let me preempt your own judgement by rating this one as an Inglourious Basterds compared to the Hurt Locker of more worthy blog scribblings.

Actually, it’s really more of a Valkyrie than QT’s latest effort but then Tom Cruise never won any awards for his ability at copying accents (and it obviously wasn’t nominated for the 2010 awards so it’s less zeitgeisty).

Anyway, my point is to direct your eyes to the picture of the man on the left, much-respected Stanford neuroscientist and f1000 Faculty Member Robert Sapolsky.

With a beard that would make Hagrid feel ashamed, Sapolsky must be a delight as a lecturer. He’d also make a great magician with no need for a top hat either.

Sapolsky is a seasoned reviewer for f1000 and contributed a very positive review of a recent paper in Nature which discussed Prejudice and truth about the effect of testosterone on human bargaining behaviour. The crux of the paper was in a press release we put out today but the first emailed responses from journalists focused not on the weighty issues being discussed but of course, the accompanying photo above.

In one reporter’s words, it encouraged her to ask for more information on him as “I’ve been meaning to do somethign (sic) on weirdy beardies for a while”.

This is not the first time we’ve discussed hirsute scientists and our friend Joanne Manaster has a similar penchant (purely scientific) for bearded biologists. But it reinforces once again how much we should respect a scientist who sports this look: if he shows half as much commitment to research as to beard growth, a cancer/malaria/Xbox-related RSI cure is surely not far away.

*it’s ok, I cringed while writing the headline as much as you probably did reading it. To me it felt like the title for a bad 90s C-grade comedy starring a faded stand-up comic.

Then I did an IMDB search (I’m writing this in real-time, so the punchline could be a fizzer) and whaddya know?

It was closest in wording to a bad Canadian comedy flick , a 1912 black and white romantic drama and best of all, the ridiculously titled, Michael Flatley: Eire Apparent, about the most arrogant Irishman to ever pull on a pair of tights. Riverdance fans, I’ll meet you in the car park if you want to take issue with that assessment.


Posted in Communication, f1000, FMs, Journalism, Press Releases, Random, Science | Tagged: , , , | 6 Comments »

When animal activists go too far

Posted by stevepog on 25 February, 2010

We have previously discussed the honorable activities of the Americans for Medical Progress (AMP) and its members, including Dario Ringach whose recent paper on animal activism was highly rated by our reviewers.

AMP send regular email updates to scientists and this item looked at an extremely important issue, so I am reproducing it here in full:

SCIENCE BLOGGERS DECRY ACTIVIST TARGETING OF CHILDREN

Five members of the Science Blogs community have posted strong commentaries today denouncing the activist targeting of a scientist’s child.

As background, UCLA professor Dario Ringach, one of the organizers and participants of last week’s panel discussion about animal research with AR adherents, and two of his colleagues had protests at their homes a few days in advance of the event. In an after-action communique about the protests, it was stated that activists knew where one of Dario’s children went to school and are planning to stage a protest there.

Janet Stemwedel, a panelist in the UCLA discussion, led the outcry on her widely-respected Adventures in Science and Ethics blog with a post entitled “Time to Get Mad. Time to Speak Up.”
(http://scienceblogs.com/ethicsandscience/2010/02/time_to_get_mad_time_to_speak.php ) Here is the thrust of her call to action:

“For just daring to stand up and share his view, Dario was targeted for more home demonstrations. And now, activists threaten to bring the demonstration to his children’s schools, to “educate fellow students what their classmate’s father does for a living”.

“Express the view that scientific research is worth doing, plan on your kids being harassed? Is that what we’ve come to? Is this really the society we want to live in?

“If it’s not, we need to stand up and say so, in no uncertain terms.

“Having differing opinions is not a crime. Nobody’s kids should be targeted for harassment because you disagree with their parents. We need to call this behavior out, no matter who does it, no matter what cause they hope to further with it.

“Each time these tactics are the ones that are used, we die a little as a pluralistic society, no matter which side we support. Any member of the public paying attention to such shenanigans should be outraged, and should say so.

“And members of the scientific community especially have reason to oppose these tactics. They reflect, after all, the impression that scientists aren’t really a part of our society, that they’re not really members of our moral community. You can bang on their windows and scare the crap out of their kids, and “normal” people won’t make a peep about it.

“Scientists are normal people, despite their specialized skills and interests. They need to see this bullying for what it is and raise their voices to reject it.

“Scientists, are you mad? Then stand up and say it.”

Four other prominent members of the Science Blogs community have already responded to her call, and other articles are likely to come in following days.   The Science Bloggers are:

PZMyers at Pharyngula:
http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/02/terrorists_of_the_animal_right.php

Orac at Respectful Insolence:
http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2010/02/animal_rights_thugs_researchers_children.php

Dr. Isis at On Becoming a Domestic as Laboratory Goddess:
http://scienceblogs.com/isisthescientist/2010/02/go_read_this_now_1.php

Nick Anthis at The Scientific Activist:
http://scienceblogs.com/scientificactivist/2010/02/here_we_go_again.php

(Please note that some of the posts link to animal rights websites.  If you wish to see what is connected to a specific link and are unwilling to visit activist sites, send us a note.)

How to respond to Dr. Stemwedel’s call to action?   A first step would be to participate in the lively discussion that is continuing in the comment sections of her blog and those of the other writers.  Also, sign the Pro-Test Petition if you have not already  – www.raisingvoices.net – and encourage your family, friends, colleagues and elected officials to do so as well. Consider becoming more involved in outreach about the research message, whether it is to schools or with adults in your community; we have a starter’s guide at www.amprogress.org/advocacy and would be delighted to send you materials and facilitate contacts with other research advocates in your area and with your interests.

Posted in Communication, f1000, FMs, Random | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

More food for thought

Posted by stevepog on 24 February, 2010

By Steve Pogonowski and Bea Downing

Work dramas, late bills, latent childhood trauma: adult life is full of potential for the average person to get stressed and deal with it by ‘comfort eating’.

As discussed in a previous post by Callum, labeled ‘Food for thought’ (hence my segued sequel/blatant rip-off title here), there are ongoing studies starting to appear in the earlier pages of top-ranked journals that look at the psychological, rather than purely physical, causes and effects of weight gain and obesity.

But the fact remains that there is still much to learn about the biological processes resulting from the mental stresses of daily life.

In a recent F1000 Biology Report, Faculty Member Achim Peters from the University of Luebeck and Dirk Langemann of Carolo-Wilhelmina-University looked at recent advances detailing how stress affects neurometabolism and eating behavior.

Stress increases the brain’s demand for glucose and, in some people, causes comfort eating and weight gain due to a weak sympathoadrenal response.

Under stress, the brain’s metabolic rate – and glucose demand – shoots up by 12%. Two mechanisms then come in to increase glucose availability to the brain: brain-pull and storage-push. Brain-pull mechanisms increase the percentage and amount of energy that the brain can withdraw from the blood across the blood-brain barrier, while storage-push mechanisms increase blood-glucose levels to flood the system with energy.

During periods of chronic stress, the stronger storage-push response results in the blood being loaded with energy. When the brain’s demand for glucose falls, the storage-push is still releasing glucose into the blood. The remaining glucose is mopped up by insulin and stored as fat.

Peters and Langemann said:

“Evidence accumulates that the stressed mind can choose a metabolic coping strategy by switching its supply mode from brain pull to ‘comfort eating’.”

Chronic stresses in adult life, such as job-related demands and difficulty paying bills, may weaken the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and the sympathetic nervous system. In adults with depression and anxiety, weight gain and the risk of obesity were increased in a dose-response fashion with the number of episodes of these common mental disorders.

Problems can also strike earlier in life: early-life stress and juvenile trauma result in long-lasting changes in the activity of the autonomic nervous system and body weight. Prenatal psychosocial stress exposure is associated with hyperinsulinemia in later life, a strong predictor of weight gain and a typical marker of brain-pull inefficiency.

Posted in Communication, f1000, FMs, Press Releases, Science | Tagged: , , , | Comments Off on More food for thought

Adrift in an ocean of trash talk

Posted by stevepog on 10 February, 2010

My lesson for today: Don’t argue with an oceanographer over our responsibility for cleaning up the Great Garbage Patch. Actually, don’t argue with an oceanographer over anything marine-based and also don’t call someone (the inspirational Annie Crawley) an oceanographer who isn’t.

Credit: Slate Magazine

I made the mistake of saying that an article in Slate by Nina Shen Rastogi was wrongly titled, as I believed it should be asking how we can clean up the patch, not WHETHER we should bother.

Chief scientist Miriam Goldstein from Seaplex (@seaplexscience on Twitter),  which is The Scripps Institution of Oceanography/Project Kaisei expedition to measure plastic in the North Pacific Gyre, replied:

Actually I agree w headline. Open-ocean cleanup EXTREMELY expensive/technically challenging. Need to carefully consider cost/benefit.

The humbling part wasn’t in being dissed in under 140 characters for my lack of knowledge but in seeing what the important issues are when it comes to a massive area of trash that can’t just be cleared up with a few sweeps by a barge.

Like the Slate article author, I imagined the patch as a large mound of floating rubbish, spinning endlessly whirlpool-style without the plughole to drain out of. I had read of  banking fortune heir David de Rothschild’s headline-grabbing voyage on a yacht made of reclaimed plastic bottles, taking in the North Pacific Gyre on a route from San Francisco to Sydney (a project delayed partly by the extremely ambitious task of building such a boat).

But changing the concept that the Patch really isn’t a Patch at all will take some undoing. Perhaps there’s a word in another language that would better do it justice (and one not so similar to those of cute 80s dolls would bring home the message better anyway).

As Miriam said, cost and benefit are obvious considerations when looking at possible clean-up efforts. As Rastogi said in Slate, “despite the oft-repeated claim that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is “twice the size of Texas,” we don’t really know the exact size of the Patch or how much garbage it contains.” (To Americans, Texas must seem really large: to Canadians, Australians, Russians etc it’s kind of small).

So committing x billion dollars to cleaning up an area of unknown mass and size could be essentially fruitless. Commenters on the article made the wise assertion that cutting the trash pile off at its source (drains, business waste overflows, garbage dumps, discarded material from boats etc.) was the only way to significantly reduce the Patch in the long-term.

In the way that more scientists are presenting sensible future-focused approaches to managing climate change (see original papers, later reviewed on f1000 Biology, from Lawler and Tear et al. for a solid review and another from Graham and McClanahan et al. on coral reef ecosystem stability), so Project Kaisei and other organisations are working on strategic responses to the issue, such as recycling retrieved waste and using large nets to snare bigger pieces of trash and leave marine creatures unharmed.

So arguing with an ocean scientist isn’t a good idea and hopefully government decision makers can come to that same conclusion.

Posted in Communication, f1000, Journals, Science | Tagged: , , , , | 8 Comments »

Denying evolution, denying climate change: how does ‘belief’ fit in with science?

Posted by stevepog on 28 January, 2010

Denialism by Michael Specter

One of the more interesting speakers at the recent Science Online conference in North Carolina was the author of Denialism and lover of controversy, Michael Specter.

The New Yorker staff writer gave an impassioned speech at the conference’s opening gala on the current blight of denialism, which he defines as what happens, “when an entire segment of society, often struggling with the trauma of change, turns away from reality in favor of a more comfortable lie.”

Specter’s  targets included US-centric personalities and companies such as anti-MMR activist Jenny McCarthy, vitamin supplement king Dr Andrew Weil and basically the whole organic food community, which no doubt alienated some Wholefoods-loving audience members.

He also spoke about the media’s culpability in prominently running stories  that influence the demise of useful drugs and often lead people to lose trust in science. If Specter was aware of the UK’s Daily Mail, he could have added that paper to the blacklist (an excellent Facebook group has been set up listing the Mail’s scare stories about cancer, here).

At conferences and presentations I’ve attended, it’s a constant gripe that the public often associates belief with science and that people will choose to trust a homeopathic remedy or not believe in climate change despite all the unequivocal scientific evidence to hand proving the opposite. This is already an old theme among the science community but the rise in popularity of pro-science media advocates such as Specter and the UK’s Ben Goldacre and George Monbiot are hopefully a sign that people are tired of believing wonderdrug claims or gloomy scare stories and want to know the facts behind the hype.

Here is a short clip of Specter’s talk (apologies for the low sound and shaky recording):

Posted in f1000 | Comments Off on Denying evolution, denying climate change: how does ‘belief’ fit in with science?

How do you summarise Science Online 2010 in 140 characters?

Posted by stevepog on 19 January, 2010

Inquisitive, hungry, intense, can get nasty? Science nerd or squirrel?

Science Online 2010 wrapped up on Sunday and, despite its brilliant format, great networking opportunities and overall general coolness of fun and quirky participants, I was left with a dilemma.

If anyone can possibly tell me how to wrap up a conference about science, the web, technology and journalism to fit into a Twitter post, I will either fund your child’s college education (or at least buy them a cell biology textbook) or do the Locomotion at the next Sci Online 2011 (as an Australian, sorry about Kylie Minogue).

Because for anyone new to Twitter or just not good at headline-style conversation, even isolating topics into a catchy tweet was difficult. If you don’t believe me, check out the archive here and see what really catches your eye.

My point being that, for those who have mastered the art of the tweet, it really does equate to microjournalism and full-length blogging should as such be given the same cred as ‘dead-tree’ media (thanks to an unknown conference delegate for pulling out that term. Should we call web writers ‘ozone-depleting’ or ‘powergrid-draining’ media?).

It will take a while to get my summary of the conference to a respectable length, so for now I’ll refer to others who have already slept off their jetlag, showed their respect to the great dreamer on Martin Luther King Day and got their thoughts into an ordered state not overly addled by caffeine or sweet tea (an abominable North Carolina drink, sorry for saying so).

Co-organiser Bora gathered a full list together at http://scienceblogs.com/clock/2010/01/blogmedia_coverage_of_scienceo.php, which includes some of my favourites so far:

http://galleyproofs.blogspot.com/2010/01/things-i-learned-at-scienceonline2010.html

http://scienceinthetriangle.org/2010/01/rebooting-science-journalists/

http://www.walterjessen.com/scienceonline2010-follow-up-medical-journalism/

http://www.sciencecheerleader.com/

http://johnmckay.blogspot.com/

In another recent news, here’s a link to a new f1000 Report discussing osteoarthritis treatments:

f1000 Report by Yves Henrotin

Posted in Communication, Conferences, f1000, Journalism, Literature, Science | Tagged: , , | 6 Comments »

oh carolina, my spidey senses are tingling

Posted by stevepog on 12 January, 2010

Inspire or scare your grad students! Credit to zazzle.com for original button

Ah North Carolina, home to sweet potatoes, Krispy Kremes, Pepsi, the Wright brothers’ first flight, old-time music (whatever that is) and Venus Fly-Traps. And for four days in January, also home to the moderately sized gathering that is the Science Online 2010 conference.

Skim over the program here and try to contain your jealousy at the thought of all those techy web science people squeaking about how microbiology and microchips can join together in glorious harmony. My cynicism aside, it sounds like a great lineup – though if anyone dresses up in a Spiderman outfit to take the web/science mashup too far, I’ll head straight to the bar.

Closer to home, Richard’s discussion on author listings in scientific papers has generated some interesting debate, especially as one academic suggests cage fighting as a method to solve ordering issues. Brings to mind images of a Celebrity Deathmatch between Watson and Crick or Curie and McLaren. Could make the punters more interested than the usual war of words ever does.

*As for all the spidey talk, I did rewatch Spiderman 3 last night and, like Avatar, found it a bit too touchy-feely to be a great action film. Though being a long-time fan of Venom, his appearance made it ploughing through worth the glossy Hollywood coating. But I’ll save further movie analysis for another blog in another place.

Posted in Communication, Conferences, f1000, Random, Science | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Seasons Greetings, Feliz Navidad, Joyeux Noël, Frohe Weihnachten, 圣诞快乐

Posted by stevepog on 24 December, 2009

*instead of bombarding your inboxes, we thought it better to host our Christmas card here and send you best wishes, safe travels and happy searching (for Christmas presents, f1000 evaluations, whatever takes your fancy).

Posted in f1000 | Comments Off on Seasons Greetings, Feliz Navidad, Joyeux Noël, Frohe Weihnachten, 圣诞快乐