Archive for category Humor

Do we place too much trust in experts?

Over the weekend I spent about 4 hours making some videos, writing some short Powerpoints with some images from online sources and assembling some rather random terms and making up “Shtuff” for April 1st. The result was the video shown below…and if you want to get the full story watch it end to end. See if you UNDERSTAND what I was talking about and whether it was convincing enough to be believable. The results might be different if you are a chemist versus you being a friend or family without a scientific background.

The next day I came clean. It was an April Fools joke. I described in detail how I created the effect in a separate video.

I expected most chemists to call me on the scam very early but that didn’t happen. In fact a number of scientists I know quite well commented very positively on it. Some were in emails and some on the social media platforms. Only one person called me on it early. Maybe lots of other chemists spotted the problems. Maybe they didn’t watch the video through and just trusted me. Nevertheless I know that people I respect were ready to repeat the experiment with their kids, try it in class and so on. One person commented on Facebook what I thought would happen “I think it is more a reflection of the credibility you have with the science community …”. I think this is likely true…for my family, my friends and many others. I am “trusted” by people and seen to be credible….but on April 1st I am not to be trusted for sure!!!

I have many examples of where credible people are trusted when there are obvious flaws in their statements. In the Open Science/Open Access/Open Data arena I see trust simply granted to many so-called experts when their arguments are full of assumptions/declarations/opinions and not fact-based. I encourage more questions and less granted trust!

I also believe that the premise of my second video is correct…language in our specialty areas allows us to isolate, confuse and, for some, stay aloof. The brilliant people I know around me are able to tell their stories of science in language that non-specialists can understand. That’s a special skill that we should all work on. Except, of course, on April 1st, where it helps!

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Investigative Journalism Video into the International Star Registry

Following on from some of the recent reviews of my experiences with the International Star Registry here and here. Since then I have found that even Wikipedia lists the ISR as having been called on their charlatanry. Wikipedia even comments

“The ISR threatened Perkins Observatory at Ohio Wesleyan University with legal action when assistant director Robert Martino put up a website criticizing star-naming companies, despite it being factually correct.[6] Even after Martino removed any direct reference to ISR, he was warned that he should not talk about star-naming at all.[citation needed] Eventually Martino was forced to host his criticisms privately and on newsgroups.[7]

My boys and I did a little video today regarding a little investigative journalism just for fun. Of course we are simply quoting data we are finding online, not declaring that what we find online is factual. Just as ISR create black spots on a map to show the presence of stars that may not, in fact, exist (at least that’s what the maps show!)

We made two movies…one of them is the outtakes..

The Investigative Journalism Movie

 

 

The Outtakes

 

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Why are pornstars more notable than scientists on Wikipedia?

I’m a BIG Wikipedia fan. It is one of my favorite sites, our 9 year old twins have spent many hours on the site with me, and I have personally spent a lot of time, including Christmas, curating chemistry on Wikipedia. I like what Wikipedia has achieved, have willingly contributed articles, but also enjoy a good laugh at Wikipedia’s expense when appropriate. In the past 24 hours I’ve giggled at the latest XKCD cartoon as well as this blog post about Jimmy Wales.

Despite my affection for Wikipedia this week I am annoyed about what’s going on for me on Wikipedia. I’ve read The Wikipedia Revolution and understand the editorial activities and I’ve had many discussions about how authors of Wikipedia articles have been “beaten up” in a friendly way. I’ve been warned about Conflict of Interest policies and yet, because I think it’s important, have tried to navigate the complexities of contributing articles. At present however my contributions on Wikipedia regarding scientists and projects I know about have all been flagged, either for deletion or for “notability”.

I’ve  written the bulk of these articles: Gerhard Ecker, Sean Ekins and Gary Martin. Some of the flags on the articles include “It may have been edited by a contributor who has a close connection with its subject. Tagged since November 2011.

Gary Martin and Sean Ekins are personal friends so YES, I have close connections with the subject. And I believe I can objectively write a good article about them. Just like I wrote about the village I grew up in…Afonwen. I only spent 12 years of my life there….so have a close connection with that too. I have known Gerhard Ecker for about three years, and know about his work from reading his articles and hearing him speak, and feel its valid to contribute an article as I JUDGE he’s a notable scientist. Gary Martin has almost 300 publications, and an h-index of 27. In the domain of NMR anyone who is doing small molecule structure elucidation is almost certainly using technology he has contributed too. He is notable. Sean Ekins is also notable, in my opinion. And surely Wikipedia is about collective opinions.

I have tried to follow notability guidelines for academics but have clearly failed so encourage anyone reading this post to help clean up the articles. If any of you out there happen to know Gerhard, Gary or Sean DON’T contribute though…you might get flagged as being a contributor who has a close connection. It’s much better to write about people you don’t know. Clearly I understand the possible bias …

If I look at the number of chemists on Wikipedia I find the following list of about 480 chemists. That article is a list of world-famous chemists. There is also a smaller list of Russian Chemists. The end of the list looks like this:

See also

These are likely all NOTABLE chemists as I couldn’t find a single article in the list with a challenge on it…but I confess to not looking at each one one at a time. But that’s what we have for chemists….a list of world-famous chemists, biochemists and Russian chemists.

Many of us have heard about how “open” Wikipedia is including many of the exchanges regarding pornography on Wikipedia. In many cases I have to simply caution “welcome to the internet”. We all know its out there…how could we not. There is material on Wikipedia that is shocking, but at the same time educational. But where I take issue, just for comparison purposes, is that top-notch scientists, in my opinion (and I judge that of many others) can be flagged as not notable, yet pages like those listed below for pornstars can exist without question, without flagging but,  I have to assume, are both encyclopedic and notable.

Similar to the list of chemists a search on pornstars gives a full article here but then these incredibly long lists!

The last one is quite a list! I guess its appropriate to list pornstars by decade but scientists tend to perform better over the longer term and can have 40-50 year careers whereas I don’t even want to imagine that for the other career! I struggle to see why the list of references for Ron Jeremy is any more notable/appropriate than the list of references for Gary Martin.

What’s ridiculous is that there is even an article about pornstar pets. What??? This has more of a place on Wikipedia than some of our worlds most published scientists? Is there something wrong with this picture?

While I may not fully understand what is deemed to be appropriate in terms of notability for a scientist, and I do understand the judgment that I might be too close to the scientists to be objective (but I challenge that!) I definitely challenge the status that ponstars deserve more exposure, pardon the pun, than the worlds chemists.

Despite my rants I understand the challenges that will likely show up as comments on this blogpost. I understand that I will be pointed to WP:COI and WP:Notability. I do not get to set the rules, I need to follow them as I am a small part of a very important community of crowdsourced improvement. But, overall, I remain surprised at how there appears to be so much diligence looking at the articles of scientists rather than those of pornstars. I think scientists are generally involved in very notable activities that generally distinguish them from the bulk of the population. I think pornstars are involved in activities that are not particularly notable as the bulk of the population will do them at some point in their life….well, not ALL activities that pornstars do I’m sure…..

I believe we need a change in policy. I believe that scientists deserve more notability than pornstars and that diligence, while appropriate, should be used in a more tempered manner.

There is an alternative solution…

 

 

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Terminal Dimethyl means Death by Methane twice

When writing talks I try to find interesting (and where possible fun) examples of how challenging the world of managing chemistry data is for all of us that work in the world of managing 10s of thousands, or in our cases millions of compound pages for the community to use. I have told many stories over the past few years of the challenges we collectively have in regards to data quality and how it flows between our databases unabated. My latest example used at the recent talk at the EBI (ChemSpider – An Online Database and Registration System Linking the Web) was the structure known as Terminal Dimethyl presently on PubChem, DrugBankWolfram Alpha and PDBe. It was originally inherited into ChemSpider also but has been deprecated. I left a comment on DrugBank a couple of weeks ago but it hasn’t been published yet…generally such errors are removed VERY quickly by the DrugBank hosts. I added a comment to Wolfram Alpha and received a canned response and no changes to the record as yet.

There ARE ways to communally resolve these issues and I will blog about that shortly.

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The Preferred Spelling of Cheminformatics

The spelling of cheminformatics or chemoinformatics has been a topic of discussions in a number of venues….most of the ones I have been involved with have been around “brewed liquids” with lots of joviality. Some objective data have been provided and comments made. QSAR World even pitched in. As of my talk at Bio-IT World I think there is now one more alternative….see the sign below…but I am not sure it will catch on.

An Alternative Spelling for Cheminformatics "Cheminiformatics"?

 

 

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A Fun Observation Searching for a Chemistry Paper on Google

I’ve recently moved the ChemConnector blog from home-based servers to be hosted by WordPress. There have been some issues with doing so and there is still work to do in mapping over all old images into the new theme. Not as easy as hoped. It’ll get fixed. In parallel I’ve decided to finally put my CV online with links to the actual publications I’ve written as it is getting increasingly difficult and frustrating to keep managing my CV and I’d rather host it online anyway. I’ve got the paper collection on Mendeley, and Scivee and partially on LinkedIn but it seems more sensible, and easier, to just manage online and the blog seems to be the right place to do that.  So, my CV is now listed here.

One of the challenges that I have taken on is to link as many of the publications as possible to the actual articles using DOIs as much as possible. In general this has been quite easy but some, not quite so simple. The general path has been to copy-paste the title of the article from my CV directly into Google and find the paper and paste the http://dx.doi.org/INSERTDOI here as a link. You’ll see a list of them on the CV now. When that fails then just the reference itself generally finds it for me.

There have been a couple of interesting observations in the work that are “unimportant but interesting”. For example, this one on my CV. Paper number 28 lists as:

28. M.R. Detty, D. Young and A.J. Williams, A Mechanism for Heteroatom Scrambling in the Synthesis of Unsymmetrical Chalcogenpyrilium Trimethine Dyes, J. Org. Chem. 60, 6631 (1995)

and a search on

“Mechanism for Heteroatom Scrambling in the Synthesis of Unsymmetrical Chalcogenpyrilium Trimethine Dyes” brings me this list of hits on Google. All three hits are different versions of my CV but none of them are the original paper.

Search Results

  1. AntonyWilliams | SciVee

    Nov 12, 2010 A Mechanism for Heteroatom Scrambling in the Synthesis of Unsymmetrical Chalcogenpyrilium Trimethine Dyes, J. Org. Chem. 60, 6631 (1995)
    www.scivee.tv/user/6516Cached
  2. 2008 December 05 archive at The ChemConnector Blog by Antony

    Dec 5, 2008 A Mechanism for Heteroatom Scrambling in the Synthesis of Unsymmetrical Chalcogenpyrilium Trimethine Dyes, J. Org. Chem. 60, 6631 (1995)
    www.chemconnector.com/chemunicating/2008/12/05
  3. [PDF]

    Antony Williams Resume

    – Apr 15

    File Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat – Quick View
    28. M.R. Detty, D. Young and A.J. Williams, A Mechanism for Heteroatom Scrambling in the. Synthesis of Unsymmetrical Chalcogenpyrilium Trimethine Dyes,
    www.iamscientist.com/…/Antony%2520John%2520Williams%2520Final%2520CV%2520Version%…

 

However…there is the listing at the top of the page asking:

Did you mean: Mechanism for Heteroatom Scrambling in the Synthesis of Unsymmetrical Chalcogen Pyrylium Trimethine Dyes

So, Google wants to split chalcogenpyrilium into two words to do the search. It shouldn’t be two words according to the title I have, and wasn’t in the paper as I recall, but why not search and see if it helps.

There, at the top of the search is:

A Mechanism for Heteroatom Scrambling in the Synthesis of

- 1:53pmby MR Detty – 1995 – Cited by 3Related articles
A Mechanism for Heteroatom Scrambling in the Synthesis of Unsymmetrical. Chalcogenopyrylium Trimethine Dyes …. heteroatom scrambling involves the entire chalcogenopy- …. leads to symmetrical telluropyrylium dye la and sele-
pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jo00125a066
with Chalcogenopyrilium (note the inserted “o”) rather than chalcogenpyrilium. If I click through I find the paper here at http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jo00125a066 and find that I had the title wrong. I had it wrong in the three versions of my CV scattered around the internet. Now I’ve got it correct on the blog version of my CV.
Google never ceases to amaze me. The fact that its helping me to correct spellings in my own CV…how embarrassing…and impressive at the same time!