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DrSzin
11-Jan-06, 01:37
As if one thread about a science-related TV series wasn't enough, I thought I'd advertise the proggy below. It should be a bit less contentious than the one by St Richard Dawkins, but I hope it'll give some idea of how scientific research really works. Prepare to witness a bunch of geeks. :)

There's an article from the BBC website here (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/4596662.stm).

Under Laboratory Conditions (http://www.icn.ucl.ac.uk/dglaser/ulc/)

BBC FOUR (http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcfour/) televison 9pm, Wednesdays 11th and 18th January 2006.

You can look at the flyer (http://www.icn.ucl.ac.uk/dglaser/ulc/ULCTX.jpg) or pointers to the webpages of the contributors (http://www.icn.ucl.ac.uk/dglaser/ulc/contrib.shtml).

In this 2 part series UCL neurobiologist Dr Daniel Glaser (http://www.icn.ucl.ac.uk/dglaser/) takes a journey around Britain's labs and scientific institutions to find out how science really works and what goes on behind the white coat. Nobel prize winners, professors, lecturers and PhD students reveal what it's like to be a scientist, what motivates them, what the levers and mechanisms are that drive a scientific career and the joys and frustrations of being involved in research. For many scientists like Prof Richard Templar at Imperial College, the thrill is of the new.
All of a sudden you've discovered something that nobody else understands and it's like being an explorer and discovering a new continent. It's the most wonderful feeling.
Yet for even the most successful, the journey to discovery is arduous. Dr Tim Hunt won a nobel prize in 2001 for working out what controls cell division and cancer:
Anybody who says that it's an easy life being a scientist hasn't really grappled with nature. Most of the time you don't understand what's going on and trying to make sense of it is unbelievably difficult
Under Laboratory Conditions also reveals that contrary to the perceived image of science as a genteel and worthy pursuit of the truth, science is in fact highly competitive. Scientists speak candidly about how healthy rivalry can easily spill into professional eye-scratching and plagiarism.

JAWS
11-Jan-06, 03:19
I have that marked down to watch even if itís only for Django Reinhardt.

I think the grant problem is nicely summed up by the following:-
When Michael Faraday was asked by William Gladstone, the Prime Minister, what use did electricity have he replied, "One day, sir, you might tax it"

The only thing electricity was useful for originally was to do party tricks to entertain people.
How many grants would you get to carry out research on a party toy in this day and age, especially one which has no apparent use?

As for peer reviews, I will peer review any of your papers, Dr Szin, and I can promise you one thing. You wonít get a single one published which contradicts anything I have published, especially if it shows me up as a fool, no-matter how right you are.
(Hell, my old Science Master must be spinning in his grave at the very thought! Either that or Iíve found the explanation for the hysterical laughter I can hear.)

Can people still get funding to carry out research for no other reason than to expand knowledge? Or does there have to be and end product which can be put to some use?

Rheghead
11-Jan-06, 08:46
You wonít get a single one published which contradicts anything I have published, especially if it shows me up as a fool, no-matter how right you are.


Of course a purist peer reviewer would rejoice the fact that his theory has been proved wrong as he acknowledges that the pursuit of the truth has took a small step forward.

DrSzin
11-Jan-06, 11:36
As for peer reviews, I will peer review any of your papers, Dr Szin, [...]But you can't peer-review any of my papers: you're not one of my scientific peers. :p


and I can promise you one thing. You wonít get a single one published which contradicts anything I have published, especially if it shows me up as a fool, no-matter how right you are. You old cynic, you!

Seriously, the peer-review process works remarkably well. At some level we all dislike receiving criticisms from anonymous reviewers, but no-one has come up with a significantly better system. The most difficult papers to review are speculative ones -- innovation shouldn't be stifled, but obviously-nutty ideas shouldn't be published in the top peer-reviewed journals. There's a fine line between the two and we sometimes get it wrong.

From time to time one experiences an obstructive or stubborn reviewer. In most cases one can ask the journal for another reviewer, and the paper will usually be published on a majority verdict if two out of three reviewers are sufficiently positive about it. The main purpose of the review process is to weed out papers that are obviously wrong, or stupid, or boring, or useless, or perhaps even dangerous in some way. Sometimes the reviewer will make suggestions on how to improve the content and presentation, and also to weed out typos.


Can people still get funding to carry out research for no other reason than to expand knowledge? Or does there have to be and end product which can be put to some use? It depends what you mean by an "end product". It's certainly not necessary to produce (say) a gadget or a cure for a disease, but a research-grant application will always contain a list of aims, objectives and hoped-for outcomes. The latter may simply be an expansion of current knowledge.

DrSzin
11-Jan-06, 11:46
Of course a purist peer reviewer would rejoice the fact that his theory has been proved wrong as he acknowledges that the pursuit of the truth has took a small step forward.Yes indeed. But (s)he would also have the consolation of another citation of his/her own work, and citations are important nowadays. Yup, citations to wrong theories count! This sounds crazy, but it's not as daft as you might think -- there are interesting wrong theories and silly ones: people work on the former and cite them, but they tend to ignore the latter.

Gleber2
11-Jan-06, 15:18
Pardon my ignorance,but where does the music of the gypsy master come into it.:confused:

DrSzin
11-Jan-06, 22:01
Pardon my ignorance,but where does the music of the gypsy master come into it.:confused:One of the links above above claims that the programme has a lively Django Reinhardt sound track interspersed with science archive from 1960's and 70's.

I'm sure this programme is gonna make me cringe. Ach well, it's on in 5 minutes, so I'll soon find out...

JAWS
12-Jan-06, 01:42
But you can't peer-review any of my papers: you're not one of my scientific peers. :p
I know plenty of people who will tell you that such small problems have never stopped me before. :eek:

I very much understand the need for peer review, I only wish the same methods where used under other circumstances. It might just prevent so many other things being directed down blind alleys.

The reason I questioned if an "end product" was a necessary requirement is that I always got a certain impression of how scientific study originally developed.
I might be completely wrong but I see the origins lying with people who just could not resist the question, "Why?".
I also suspect that they would have got nowhere, at that time, if they did not have a lot of spare time and money of their own.
The seem to have been driven not by a wish to produce something but more by an insatiable curiosity and it was often others who found a "use" for their discoveries.

I suspect that if they had waited for "need" to occur before they started that the Sun would still be going round the Earth along with the Stars and the Planets.
(I really must carry out an intensive study of capitals and commas.)

DrSzin
12-Jan-06, 17:50
I very much understand the need for peer review, I only wish the same methods where used under other circumstances. It might just prevent so many other things being directed down blind alleys. Interesting idea. Do you have any particular "other circumstances" in mind? Government policies perhaps? :)


The reason I questioned if an "end product" was a necessary requirement is that I always got a certain impression of how scientific study originally developed.
I might be completely wrong but I see the origins lying with people who just could not resist the question, "Why?".
I also suspect that they would have got nowhere, at that time, if they did not have a lot of spare time and money of their own.
The seem to have been driven not by a wish to produce something but more by an insatiable curiosity and it was often others who found a "use" for their discoveries.

I suspect that if they had waited for "need" to occur before they started that the Sun would still be going round the Earth along with the Stars and the Planets.
(I really must carry out an intensive study of capitals and commas.)I do believe you're correct on all counts. But research is more expensive and more competitive nowadays, and the taxpayers' defender is there to see that the money is spent wisely. [smirk]

Did anyone else watch this programme last night? I thought it was ok, but I wish the presenter would do something with that bit of hair that hangs over his forehead. The geek count was quite high, but not as high as I feared. I only saw one person I know -- I think he was chairing the meeting of the Royal Society in which they were about to choose the latest batch of new FRSs (Fellows of the the Royal Society), but he wasn't mentioned by name.

JAWS
13-Jan-06, 00:27
Mmmm, I suppose playing about with a few test tubes, a bunsen burner and a few chemicals with the hope that you don't burn the whole place down isn't quite what research consists of now.
I would think that digging half of Switzerland and a large part of France up to bury a big circular toy cost slightly more than playing with a candle under a bell jar to see what happens.
I suspect even Bill Gates would be a bit pushed to afford Cern for a plaything.

The other circumstances where peer review would be a good thing is as a cure for the "instant expert". We used to suffer from it quite a lot and I'm sure it happens elsewhere.
Somebody would get promoted, which automatically involved a move, and would appear in the big chair in position which was completely unknown to them.
The intelligent ones, about one in ten, had the sense to find out what it was all about before they did anything. The others would not lower their dignity to ask anybody, after all, they were in charge.
You would see the same mistakes repeated time after time, always with the same results, failure. Often what looked like a sensible change just did not work,
If it did work then it would already be implemented. No matter who tried to explain what would happen it mattered not.

Then somebody decided an R&D Dept. would be a good idea. God preserve the World from R&D Dept.s especially when they are divorced from reality.
I have no doubt they would work when there is a specific thing they are aiming towards. But when they are there to have a finger in every pie then chaos rules. They become convinced of their own infallibility.

Government policies, as you say, are one. Theory takes over from reality.
The whole world can see something is not going to work, except the Government, of whatever type or colour, who blunder from crisis to chaos and back to crisis. Change policy, not on your life. That would mean admitting we were wrong and that would never do, it might look bad.
Enough of that, enough, enough, enough.

I got held up and only caught the tail end of the programme last night. I found it fascinating. A completely different view to that normally shown.
I particularly enjoyed the part about experiments which need watching for days with no sleep. I can understand the camaraderie aspect.
When you are on your last legs and sleep is a very distant memory things like, is my tie straight, is my hair combed, and for the ladies, is my make up still OK are long forgotten. Who cares, I feel like death and I don't care how I look.
Who you are impressing and who you're not disappeared with the night before last's cold coffee.

At the moment I can here a programme on Nuclear Fusion in the background.
Comment of the week, "We could get it if we just knew how to do it!"
Well, yes, even I can understand that!

And you are right, his hair was a slight distraction last night. It needs cutting.

Kenn
13-Jan-06, 01:21
Anybody who says that it's an easy life being a scientist hasn't really grappled with nature. Most of the time you don't understand what's going on and trying to make sense of it is unbelievably difficcult. Quote from Dr Tim Hunt.

Now as a gardener I frequently grappled with nature,most of the time I don't understand what is going on and making sense of anything can be incredibly difficult.


Do I get my PhD now?