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Showing posts from 2010

Legal Highs - a few thoughts

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Legal highs have been splashed all over the news recently, but what are they? Are they actually legal? Does that mean they are safe?

The expression ‘legal highs’ is not a new term, all it means is that the active compound in the drugs is not a controlled substance. Les Iverson, a retired pharmacology professor and chairman for the Government Advisory Council on the misuse of drugs recently presented a lecture titled, ‘Can we control legal highs?’ at the University of Aberdeen for the opening of the new Kosterlitz research centre. His definition for ‘Legal highs’ was, “[they are] defined as psychoactive substances obtained legally or by diversion from medical use [they], are not a new phenomenon. We are all aware of solvent misuse, nitrous oxide, party poppers and 'magic mushrooms'”.

The new wave of ‘Legal highs’ that have been plastered across the media over the past few months are mostly based on mimicking the effects of well known illegal drugs such as ecstasy. Some are herb…

Cooking -art or science?

Firstly - a quick plug of my jobs.ac.uk website blog - a blog about life as a PhD student and some advice/tips and experiences which is now up and running. 

I am sat here, watching Masterchef. Feeling very hungry. On Friday I am going to the BBC Good Food show in Glasgow and I am VERY excited. I LOVE food. I love eating, cooking and playing. I have often thought to myself that doing experiments is quite similar to cooking - sometimes following recipes and sometimes going off the wall - sometimes being successful (and sometimes not). Equipment can play a large part in the success of an experiment/cake (my oven does not distribute heat evenly and therefore I always create wonky cakes).

There is an awful lot of money spent on research into food - how to make food taste better, the science behind what we taste. Just recently there was a report on why plane food always tastes rubbish (apparently due to the high noise levels). Heston Blumenthal as made a good fortune from mixing 'scien…

Shuttle pilots, news and new stuff.

I have had a busy few weeks and due to some new things my blog may change slightly...

I have been asked to become the 'real life PhD' blogger for http://www.jobs.ac.uk/ - so I will be posting regular career type information on that blog, I will post the proper URL for this when I get it. I have also set up a science journalism society at the university, we have had some sucess this week with two articles being published in The Gaudie (student newspaper). Small but a start!!

I wrote an article about a talk called 'Reaching for the stars'  which was part of TechFest in Aberdeen . A great science communication event with loads of interesting talks and other funstuff. I spent some time at TechFest at 'car boot science' and it was great fun & extremely messy (lots of coke/mentos/vitamin tablets/rockets) !! 

I thought I would share the article I wrote on my blog as unfortunately I do not think that the newspaper is online. I could have written lots more but unfor…

The Great Science Communication Debate

This blog post will be of no interest to people not actively involved in science communication. It is not accessible for people 'outside' of the science communication scene and for that reason I was reluctant to write it, it is also a rather grumpy post, but there were some things I just felt I had to get off my chest.

I stumbled upon  what is known as 'Science Communication' through my interest and love of science & talking & writing. I love sharing ideas and thoughts and meeting new people so I have become actively involved in 'communicating science'. I have communicated to school children, fellow students & strangers. The people I have spoken to have been interested in what I have had to say. I started this blog because it seemed like a fun thing to do in between waiting for experiments to finish. I get annoyed with news articles that do not present data/facts & research correctly. I read BadScience and LOVED IT. I even joined Twitter (after…

Suffering from Information Overload... BING.

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The Microsoft advert for it's Bing search engine has been stuck in my head for the past few weeks now. Do you like mustaches? As someone that fell head over heels in love with Apple products about a year ago I was slightly reluctant to go back and try something that Microsoft has created. The persistent marketing tells me that, Bing promises to make search results easier to read by being 'visually organised' - I am presuming that is a fancy term for 'uses pictures', but I wouldn't know, I haven't used the system yet. I generally use Google and Pubmed to search (along with a few other sciency search engines).

This morning I have been dealing with/suffering from information overload (apparently soon to become a medical term, 'information fatigue syndrome'). I am trying to figure out a puzzle in my PhD project and I am attempting to do this by going through the literature. It's tough going. A search produces 1000s of results and the information th…

Science - all about the new, in an old fashioned way.

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Scientists work on the unknown; they are at the forefront of knowledge. They know what is new in technology, engineering and medicine before anyone else. Ironically, the way scientists record their information is firmly stuck in the dark ages, they hand write stuff, with pen and paper. The record of the experiments they carry out is contained in handwritten lab books. Hardly anyone still works with paper and ink anymore, is this an example of where something that isn’t broken shouldn’t be fixed, or can technology help make life easier?

Filling out a lab book is annoying. Just writing one basic experiment can involve 2/3 pages of handwritten notes, 3 trips to the printer and a lot of cutting and sticking. As most experiments are repetitions of previous ones the methods are the same but the methods still need to be written out by hand in the lab book. For the majority of experiments results are revealed through a computer and the graphs created from results are also created by a comput…

Conflicts of Interest - What Journalists can Learn from Research

There is a report today in the Guardian covering the 'news' that various PR groups are changing images of areas (such as the country Rwanda) by giving journalists huge freebies (such as holidays to Rwanda) and then getting them to write about it. Of course they are. PR companies are experts in changing the opinions of the general public on people/places/organisations - that is what they are paid to do. I do not have a problem with this, PR is a good thing, it can change lives and educate people on certain topics.  The problem with this sponsored article writing is clear, only one view is being represented by the journalists involved as they are being 'paid' (through the freebies) to represent the people/place/organisation. This leads to an unbalanced article being reported - the journalist more than likely wouldn't have come to the same conclusions if they had been simply told by their boss to 'go and write a report on Rwanda'. Further, it leads to inaccura…

Dance your PhD

PhDs or any form of research can be incredibly frustrating. The nature of what you are doing means that things do not work out as planned and often take 10x as long (for no apparent reason). People that have not undertaken a lot of research may not understand this and may presume that it is down to bad planning of the person involved, sometimes it is, but more than often it is not. I can plan for Great Britain. Day plans, week plans, yearly plans - but I cannot plan for experiments spontaneously not working, or fire alarms interrupting experiments or other random events that seem to happen when an experiment is in mid flow (if aliens were to land they would do it in the middle of a very expensive, very important experiment). As you can probably tell I am going through one of these frustrating times - everything I am doing seems to be failing on me or has come to a complete standstill. HOWEVER, I am not going to moan about how rubbish a PhD is... as many people in the Internet forums s…

Anyone here a Doctor? YES, ME! Oh no, not that kind of Doctor - Gillian McKeith (not PhD)

Last week I gave in, I put aside my pride and joined Twitter. The only people that I thought might be interesting on Twitter are Ben Goldacre, Tim Minchin and Stephen Fry, so I added them and began to follow.......Oh how glad am I that I joined last week!!! Much to my delight (although probably not to my supervisors) I got to watch the unfolding of Ben Goldacre (actual Doctor) vs Gillian McKeith (not a medical doctor, dubious PhD). If you do not know what this debate is about - check out this link for a quick summary of what happened. People are covering this amazing spectacle all over the Internet as it unfolds (and I am sure there is more to come) so I am going to discuss - what does being a Doctor mean? Who is a Doctor? Can you trust people that call themselves Dr ... and what on earth is a PhD?!

Doctor type 1 -  Medical Doctor, usually found in hospitals/GP surgeries looking a bit ropey due to overwork and stress. These people have studied Medicine at a university. Medical Schools …

Women in Science

I haven't posted anything for a few weeks as I have been running up and down the country living in a field and giving presentations to my PhD sponsor.

I did manage a visit to the hairdressers (I seem to think more at the hairdressers than anywhere else, maybe its the massaging chair) which made me think back to one of my earlier posts Women in Science and the media where I had a bit of a moan about how women in science are often ignored by various 'women of the year' award type efforts in womens magazines. I never did get a response from the editor of  Red magazine ... Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised to see an article in one magazine (2 page spread in fact) about L'oreals women in science award with an article that featured two proper lady scientists. It's great that a brand like L'oreal is supporting schemes like this (it does add a hint of glamour to the world of science) and its also great that the magazines are giving it some space (although I suspect L&…

Dejunk/declutter/simplify your life.... by buying more!

Since the CREDIT CRUNCH, quite predictably there has been a big interest in thriftiness (or at least the media are presuming that people are interested in it). To live your life properly now you must have - Auntie Gok's capsule wardrobe (consisting of only 24 items - from the high street), a variety of craft skills so you can fashion homemade gifts/trinkets/sellable items and of course you must de-clutter and sell all the crap you have accumulated over the 'glory years' on E-bay.

I found this article in The Sun, at first glance it appeared quite helpful - 'How to beat a beauty cream habit'. It reveals that  British women have 50 million skin products that they will never use. I don't know who they polled for this, but I imagine I have 10 million skin products personally lying around in my drawers, bathroom, kitchen and car (yes car). I do have half an excuse though, I did work for one of the worlds biggest personal product manufacturers in the world... so most…

Science Story Tracking

The Guardian newspaper is way ahead of the rest of the UK media when it comes to science reporting. They actually publish science articles written by real scientists who have a real understanding of what they are talking about. It's quite simple really. Newspapers wouldn't employ someone who isn't an expert in finance to fill out their Finance sections - so why do they feel that it is OK to get any Tom, Dick or Harry to cover a big science story? Newspapers like science stories (especially health related ones) because the resonate with a large majority of people - so why not spend just a little more time doing it properly? I am pretty sure I can speak for a lot of people when I say that everyone is sick to death of the 'Meat/Bananas/Talcum powder cause cancer' stories.

The latest idea from the Guardian is for a 'Story Tracker' . This week an article on Autism was published in Nature, the Guardian ran an article about the paper and now they have set up a wa…

Simon Singh (get a new hair do)

I was very excited last Friday that I got the chance to listen to and meet Simon Singh at the Aberdeen Word Festival. If you don't know who he is - he's a physicist and writes a column for the Guardian. He has a bizarre haircut.  He is an advocate of evidence based medicine and wrote the book, 'Trick or Treatment' (looking at the evidence for and against alternative medicine). He was sued for libel in 2008 by the British Chiropractic Association, you can read all about it on his wikipedia page and all over the Internet -http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simon_Singh and if you haven't heard about it then you probably haven't seen any news from the UK regularly for the past 2 years.

Anyway, it was a good discussion which focused on the libel case.After the talk, my boyfriend asked  Simon Singh, if you make it easier and less costly to sue someone for libel, then surely then people will be suing each other more? But he made the clever point that other countries seem t…

Election Fever

Its the day before the election and to be completely honest I am  REALLY excited. An election appeals for my geeky love of numbers and stats. I am loving reading the many articles and Internet tools devised to determine how much your vote would count, who you are most like and my favourite Facebook group ' We got Rage against the machine to number 1, we can get the Lib Dem's into office' !. My favourite election 'tool' by far is votemach, matching your views to the party policies. Simple!

The big topic is how each party is going to cut the budget deficit without harming the economy.. all parties will need to save money somehow whilst still making sure that  the country doesn't come to a standstill. So what does that mean for science? Luckily politicians seem to take the view that science seems to be a hot area for investment (quite rightly). The Lib Dems, Labour and Conservative all pledge to continue investment in science - so that is good news.

I had a read …

Women in science & the media

On a rather long visit to the hairdressers (yes scientists do visit the hairdressers) I was handed a copy of Red magazine. Now I enjoy a glossy, trashy, gossip filled magazine as much as the next person but Red is a little different, it's a little more 'serious', it isn't based solely around fashion. Currently it is promoting 'Red's Hot Women' which is a competition promoting intelligent women that work hard and have showed great achievements in their field. The article was entitled 'the top 20 under 30' and all the women featured in the magazine are extremely talented and inspirational... I just have one problem, not one of them was a scientist.

Now this is just one example, I am sure there are scientists that were in the shortlist but didn't make it for whatever reason. I am also not saying that women scientists are better than anyone else. I just want to highlight the fact that the world of science and women scientists get practically ZERO m…

Election Fever

Things have been pretty quiet on the scaremongering science news report front, probably because there is plenty of actual news with the announcement of the general election. I think it is a little early to pass judgement on what it would mean for science depending on which party gets into power (partly because I haven't had chance to have a good read through all of the 'promises' yet) so I will save that for another day.

I did however come across this little gem lurking on the Daily Mail website,

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1265857/Dieting-exercise-NOT-help-lose-weight.html

Headline : Dieting without exercise 'will NOT help you lose weight'

Actual meaning: Reducing calorie intake in monkeys reduced their activity levels and thus resulted in no weight loss. SURPRISING? Not really.

My rough translation of what that means for humans, if you eat 3 cheeseburgers a week and run for the bus everyday but want to shift a few pounds, don't eat salad then t…

The Press and Journal and the Ginger Gene

Following on from last week, I contacted the newspaper that printed the walnut/prostate cancer story and I was pleased that I got a response quite quickly. The editor pointed me in the direction of this website which he assured me 'would answer my questions'.

http://www.webmd.boots.com/prostate-cancer/news/20100322/walnuts-may-help-fight-prostate-cancer

This report seems a fairly well rounded view of the research which was apparently presented (I still cannot find any details of the original research) pointing out that the research has yet to be subject to peer review. There are quite a few discrepences between the Boots article and the one reported in the newspaper, so I sent a polite reply back to the editor,

Dear SIR

Thank you very much for your reply and pointing me in the direction of the article on the Boots website.

The article on the Boots website makes it clear that this research has not yet been subject to peer review and also that the test was carried out in test ani…

Holiday & Badscience

I took a much needed (due to the severe lack of sunshine in the far north of Scotland) holiday for a couple of weeks. It's amazing how good a few hours in the sunshine can make you feel!

I took 6 books with me, most of which were trashy rubbish. Two days before the holiday I bought a book called Badscience on impulse after drinking a few glasses of wine at lunchtime. Wine clearly improved my book choices, Badscience turned out to be the only decent book out of the 6. I really would recommend this book to EVERYONE especially if you work in media/PR/marketing. It really hammers home how science is misrepresented and 'dumbed down' in the media.

Here is my own short example,

I had a little look for the latest ‘revolutionary’ health story in the local newspaper. It didn’t take long to find an article entitied 'How walnuts may fight prostate cancer'.

I will just share with you this small snippet, taken from the article, ‘Prostate cancer growth was reduced by 30% in mice…

Frustration

I am suffering from my first bout of PhD frustration and I am pretty sure this will not be my last!!

My cell cultures have an infection, which means they go in the bin and I can no longer carry out any experiments on them. So I am stuck, I have to wait and grow some more...

I like things to move quickly, I like getting results, I like jumping from one thing to the next and being rushed off my feet!! If I don't have too much to do its likely that I won't get anything done... (bizzare logic, but how I work).

It seems that other students I have spoken to are rushed off their feet, their supervisors seem much more hands on than mine (mine never enters the lab). Both ways have their advantages and disadvantages but I think at the start of the PhD at least it would be really helpful to have someone in the lab - if you don't get told you are making mistakes you may never know and by the time you find out you may have wasted a lot of time!

I am lucky I have a post doc around to help m…
So it's Friday! (Yey) and I am finishing the week on a high, I have my first big data set of results!

I have spent the past 3 hours creating many colourful graphs and I have no idea what the results mean yet... my brain is too frazzled to start thinking about it!

I went to a 'science communication' course this morning which was interesting, they set a challenge - describe your research in lay terms in less than 60seconds. It may seem simple but it is actually quite difficult when you are used to talking in acronyms and technical language! I have to say though, I was a lot better than others!! My thoughts were that you have to think what other people want to hear, you need to give them a reason to listen, how will your research impact them? Or impact something they can relate to? All research, no matter how narrow and in depth it seems can be brought back out to the bigger picture somehow, whether its to help save energy, help someone with disease or studying the universe! …

New Scientist

This is my first experience at blogging, so to tell you a bit about myself.

I am a new scientist, I started a PhD in Medical Sciences about 4 months ago. I gave up a good job and moved 500 miles in the pursuit of love and freedom... (very sad but true and the translation of that statement is - I moved to be nearer my boyfriend and away from a job that was working me 10hrs a day and the odd weekend).

I currently spend a lot of time sat at my desk wondering what I should be doing and thinking up elaborate goals and experiments that I won't be able to do. If I am not doing that I am on facebook or planning a ridiculous holiday experience that I have neither the time or money available to go on.

I do spend some time in the lab, mostly getting lost!

I have seen online quite a few blogs about science/PhDs etc and it seems to me all people do is moan (my boyfriends theory is that people, "don't go on the internet to say nice stuff"). I am a pretty positive person and can stay…