Monday, 27 December 2010
Other things high up on my list to look forward to while here in Argentina: swimming in the river, fishing (and maybe this time actually catching a fish), eating, improving my Spanish, and eating some more...
Am looking forward to a very fat 2011!
The only downside (other than the calories)? I miss my kids. Needless to say, they never read this. But who knows... Perhaps one day they will, and perhaps they'll stumble across this post, and then they'll know.
- Posted, in an amazing feat of technical wizardry, from my iPhone
Thursday, 23 December 2010
The Xmas season brings with it all sorts of weird, wonderful, and expensive gadgets, many of which remind me that the words "need" and "want" are in fact synonymous. One gadget I shall not be buying, but which I saw described only this morning, is an iPod dock. No ordinary iPod dock. This one, when not playing music, is a DNA sequencer.
My own DNA is in fine form, although I realize that having hit the big 5-OH this year, my DNA is likely degrading, and moulting nucleotides like a large tabby... Probably, I should have taken the advice I overheard on my recent flight back from Philadelphia (to which I had returned last week just three weeks after my last visit). One of the air stewards (is that what they're called now, or are they instead Aerial Customer Liaison Operatives?) was engaged in earnest discussion with one of the
Thursday, 9 December 2010
Saturday, 4 December 2010
In the meantime, it's likely that the post immediately after this one will be a couple of years old... so if you're looking for my more current posts, just go to my current blog.
UPDATE [8th Dec.] All the entries are now here, and I've just got to sort out the pictures. That's tonight's job.
Friday, 3 December 2010
Thursday, 25 November 2010
Sunday, 21 November 2010
So the Conference of the Psychonomic Society has come to an end, and the intensity of intellectual action that unfolded over the course of the past few days has now abated. St. Louis was the perfect location - it provides no distractions whatsoever. Though it must be admitted that "the arch" is impressive - an imposing monument to ... well... arches. It also has to be said, in St. Louis's defense, that it does host some excellent and memorable restaurants. The conference itself lived up to Psychonomics' usual standards, although the topic of many of my conversations did inevitably drift towards, or open up with, questions about my (rather peripheral) involvement in the Hauser affair (this is the Harvard professor who published data in the journal that I edit that was most likely fabricated - a conclusion I reached based on information passed to me by the authorities at Harvard). Of equal interest, it would seem, was how I feel about having been misrepresented by the NYT (they incorrectly reported that I no longer stand by my earlier conclusion), whether there is anything I can do about that, and what this says about the integrity of the press these days.
So that's that. I am now headed to Philadelphia, where yet more excellent food and equally excellent science awaits me. I am, quite literally, flying off into the sunset (not sure why, as I suspect that Philadelphia is in the opposite direction... I sure hope the pilot's satnav hasn't jammed).
Wednesday, 17 November 2010
Sunday, 7 November 2010
Finally, I’ve gone a whole week without buying a single watch. There’s self-control for you! My last watch was a limited edition (of 50), designed by a pair of brothers here in York. Ridiculously cheap for the price. However, my kids, who have little appreciation for anything at all, unless it’s downloadable and in the category “game”, think it’s complete rubbish.
Friday, 29 October 2010
My frustration with the New York Times piece is that it was picked up by The Crimson, who went so far as to say that I had retracted my criticisms. For the record, I have not. I would implore all journalists to read carefully what I have written, rather than relying on hearsay and speculation.
I shall be writing to the editor of the New York Times to correct the misrepresentation of my views. I shall copy that letter to The Crimson. And when I have done that, I shall update this blog with a copy, regardless of whether NYT or The Crimson publish it. This entire saga is about the misrepresentation of truth. It is ironic that the journalists who profess to expose truth place such little value in it.
UPDATE: On sending the letter to the New York Times, I receive an automated reply saying that I was not permitted to publish the same text in any other medium. Consequently, I have decided not to post the letter here unless the New York Times choose not to publish it. If that’s the case, I will update this post with the (unpublished) letter. If they do publish it, I shall update with the appropriate link. In the meantime, the following snippets from email exchanges with Nicholas Wade should set the record straight:
15 Sep 2010, Nicholas Wade wrote at 19:27:
should one assume that you are now receding from or withdrawing your statement to me of Aug 27? “Given the PUBLISHED design of the experiment, my conclusion is that the control condition was fabricated,”
15 Sep 2010, I replied at 19:33:
I'm not withdrawing it. ... Given the content of the examined videotapes, any other conclusion than the one I reached and which you quoted would simply be implausible. So I stand by what I said.
UPDATE (November 6th): After writing to Nicholas Wade, and then to the letters page of the NYT, and then to his editor, and receiving no reply, I wrote 6 days later again. I did eventually receive a reply. They stand by their article and make no apology for ignoring my email clarifications to Mr. Wade. Colleagues who have read previous entries on this blog have had no problem interpreting where I stood on this issue. But such colleagues are not in the business of selling newspapers and hype, whatever the cost. So to set the cat amongst the pigeons, I have been told, and I shall not reveal more, that when the details of the investigation are eventually published, words such as “shocking” will flow freely. Here is the letter that NYT declined to publish. I shall not respond to any requests from NYT in the future.
Nicholas Wade writes, in Difficulties in Defining Errors in Case Against Harvard Researcher (10/25/2010), that I have retreated from my suggestion that Marc Hauser, found guilty of scientific misconduct by Harvard University, had fabricated data. He selectively quotes from me to conclude that Hauser committed “a devastating error, but not fraud”. In email exchanges with Mr. Wade, and on my blog, I explicitly wrote that I have not changed my interpretation of the evidence as described to me by the Harvard authorities. I explained how the alternative explanation, based on a sequence of errors, both lacked credibility and was inconsistent with information given to me by Harvard. The investigation of scientific misconduct is about the distortion of truth. The New York Times should care as much about the truth as does Harvard, and I trust that this clarification of my position can be added to the record.
Finally: I have been asked why I care about any of this, and why I felt the need to respond to journalists’ requests for my opinion (it was they that contacted me, not the other way around). The answer is simple: As the current Editor of the journal in which Hauser published 15 of his articles, one of which is now known to have contained fictitious data, it is my job to care. Just as it is my job to take a stand against the spreading of falsehoods, whether by rogue scientists, or rogue journalists. And that’s my final word on this matter, until, that is, the full details have been published and I can write here the following: “I told you so”.
Saturday, 23 October 2010
- cut the lawn (seeing as it might rain)
- fix the Heron deterrent around the pond (seeing as the Heron is looking at it)
- worry about the one baby fish I spotted yesterday (seeing as it looked awfully lonely)
- go see The Social Network (seeing as I’m the only person not to have seen it)
- take the weekend off (seeing as the journal’s queues are cleared)
- work on the revisions to a paper (seeing as I’m evidently incapable of taking the weekend off)
- change broadband provider (seeing as my current one can’t resolve my ridiculously slow speeds)
- buy the new MacBook Air 11-inch (seeing as I have no excuse at all: I just want it)
Sunday, 10 October 2010
Hits to this blog have returned to normal after the highs of late August and early September. Harvard Magazine will soon be running a piece that again quotes from me (and this blog), so I shall be curious to see whether hits go up again. It is strangely addictive, monitoring who comes here and when. (Ok, so it is not as addictive as my pond, or even my moss... perhaps because I can’t actually find out who comes here - I can only find out where from, with what browser, on what operating system, etc.). Interestingly, and depending on which kind of publication referred to my use of the F-word, the operating systems from whence came the masses changed quite considerably. The New York Times sent 453 visitors on August 28th. 55% of these were from Apple machines (Macs, iPhones, iPads, etc). Only 40% came from Windows. But Slate Magazine sent 949 visitors on September 7th, with 70% coming from Windows, and only 27% coming from Apple. Does this reflect different readerships? Are NYT readers more Apple-oriented? Or was it simply that the 28th fell on a Saturday and the 7th on a Tuesday, with Macs primarily reserved for weekend use? I suspect it is none of these: It is surely no coincidence that 55% of 454 visitors (August 28th: NYT) is almost exactly the same as 27% of 949 visitors (September 7th: Slate); evidently, it was the same number of Apple enthusiasts on both days, with the only difference being that Windows users came late to the party. Finger on the pulse... that’s Apple folk for you.
For those that worry about my archaic use of the word “whence”: I can categorically assure you that this has been the first time I have ever used that word. It will be my last. My profound apologies.
And for those that worry about my archaic use of the word “Windows”: Again, my profound apologies.
And for those Windows users whom I’ve totally alienated: My profound
Wednesday, 22 September 2010
Almost 38 weeks have elapsed. Sadly, I no longer measure time in years, months, weeks, or days. Nope. 38 weeks is not 265 days (or thereabouts). It’s zillions of manuscripts sent to review, zillions of manuscripts triaged (not sent to review), and gazillions other editorial decisions (accept, reject, revise). Ok. I’ll admit to a modicum of exaggeration. Each of these numbers is only in the hundreds (a word that in the present context rolls off the tongue as easily as a mouthful of hair). And all this while I’ve been applying for grants, writing papers, organizing conferences, going to conferences, planning / managing / collaborating on research (yes, not many people realize that I also do research), dealing with some of the fallout from the Hauser affair, and hardest of all, dealing with the one hangover that I suffered through all of this. Yes; just the one. And no, I do not mean that it was a very long, 265-day hangover. In fact, it barely qualified as a hangover. And in any case, no one noticed. I blame Brian.
Today is notable, aside from being 100 days away from 2011, for the outdoor temperature: 20C. It is an absolute certainty that it will not be this hot again until next year. The fish are already in lazy mode. It’s catching: The kids are in lazy mode too. As am I.
Friday, 10 September 2010
Wednesday, 1 September 2010
Research misconduct means fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism in proposing, performing, or reviewing research, or in reporting research results. (a) Fabrication is making up data or results and recording or reporting them. (b) Falsification is manipulating research materials, equipment, or processes, or changing or omitting data or results such that the research is not accurately represented in the research record. (c) Plagiarism is the appropriation of another person’s ideas, processes, results, or words without giving appropriate credit. (d) Research misconduct does not include honest error or differences of opinion.
I have already given one interpretation of the information I have received. But there is another. It is conceivable that the data were not fabricated, but rather that the experiment was set up wrong, and that nobody realized this until after it was published. As I detailed in my last post, the monkeys received two stimuli at test, and these were meant to be of two different types, but the investigation found that in fact they were both of the same type. So perhaps the computer program that generated the sounds was written wrong (this kind of thing happens), and perhaps no one checked what sounds it was producing before running the monkeys on the procedure (this would be sloppy), and no one scoring the sounds listened to them as they were playing (this would be appropriate given the method), and perhaps no one checking the scoring afterwards listened to those sounds (this would be appropriate if the checking of the scoring was to ensure consistency, but would be sloppy in respect of not checking after the experiment that the monkeys had been listening to the right thing... after all, perhaps NO sound was being played to the monkeys! How could one know without listening? And if one did listen, given that the two test patterns were meant to be of different types, but were in fact always the same, it would only require listening to one pair of test trials to know that the stimuli were wrong). So it could go unnoticed if there were several breakdowns in experimental rigor. And so the data would have been analysed assuming that the two test trials were of different types, when in fact they were of the same type. So how come the paper retracted from Cognition reported a significant difference between the two types? Well... in principle, if you split the data into two, having assumed that half the data were of one type, and half of another, even though the two halves of data are in fact from the same condition, you could get a difference just through chance. In fact, the statistic reported in the paper suggests that you’d get a difference due to chance around 1 in 50 times. So it’s not totally implausible. Is this what happened? Well... if it is, it would still be the case that the raw data would show this chance effect (that the monkeys responded, just through chance, more on some of the trials than others) - it should be possible to recreate the data that were reported in the Cognition article that was retracted. Evidently, though, that was not the case. If it had been, the investigation would have found an explanation for how one could go from the raw data to the published data. And the findings, as presented to me, do not suggest that videotapes had been lost (which would explain why the pattern of data reported in the article could not be replicated from the raw data) - the information I was given makes reference to the examination of the video recordings and the raw data. If the raw data are intact (I have no reason to believe otherwise, on the basis of the information I have been given), then I am satisfied that there is no straightforward (or even more complex) explanation for how the published data were generated, except for the obvious one.
So what should we conclude? It is conceivable that there was in fact no intent to deceive or fabricate if we assume a whole chain of procedural errors including the loss of some of the original data (perhaps I am reading more into the Dean’s letter to me than I should). So if we suppose that data might have been lost, is it still more plausible to assume that there was misconduct here? We still do not know what actually did or did not take place in the Hauser lab. We do not know what actually were the charges against Hauser - that is, which aspects of the ‘workflow’ were deemed to have been misconducted. We don’t even know for sure whether any of the charges are associated with the Cognition article specifically. The Dean’s publicly released letter said that “problems” were found, but it was not clear whether these problems were associated with misconduct. Instead, they could just have been as I described above: sloppy science compounded by chance data and perhaps data loss (though I would have worded the information I was given quite differently if the investigation had concluded that data was indeed missing). So perhaps the charges of misconduct are about something else. And in that case, I would be the first to change my continuing view that, in respect of the article published in Cognition, there was an intention to deceive. I just find it hard to believe that a top lab, run by such a smart person, would compound error after error. But anything’s possible. The issue is whether it’s probable. And given what I have been told, I think the scenario I have outlined is, quite simply, not probable (this is not to say that the investigating team won’t have considered it. I would be surprised if they had not).
It is time now, I believe, to step back, and allow due process to conclude. Most likely, neither of the parties involved (Harvard, Hauser) are able to say anything publicly if there are still federal investigations underway. My hope is that the investigation’s results will be published (I believe they will be), and that when he is able to, Hauser will himself given an account of what he did or did not do. But further conjecture is unlikely to yield new conclusions. My own interpretation may be wrong, in which case, with the right information, I will be the first to wish to correct it.
Unless something major happens to change my thinking about all this, I intend to resume my normal blog-specific activities as soon as is practicable - I much prefer to speculate publicly about the mundane and the personal. I am looking forward to the time when the F-word can resume its usual connotation.
Friday, 27 August 2010
The article was multi-authored, but the retraction of this article attributed to Professor Marc Hauser sole responsibility for the need to retract the article. Anyone who does not know who that is can simply skip this post.
As Editor of the journal Cognition, I was given access to the results of the investigation into the allegations of misconduct against Marc Hauser as they pertained to the paper published in Cognition in 2002 which has now been retracted. My understanding from those results is the following: the monkeys were trained on what we might call two different grammars (i.e. underlying patterns of sequences of syllables). One group of monkeys were trained on Grammar A, and another group on Grammar B. At test, they were given, according to the published paper, one sequence from Grammar A, and another sequence from Grammar B - so for each monkey, one sequence was drawn from the "same" grammar as it had been trained on, and the other sequence was drawn from the "different" grammar. The critical test was whether their response to the "different" sequence was different to their response to the "same" sequence (this would then allow the conclusion, as reported in the paper, that the monkeys were able to discriminate between the two underlying grammars). On investigation of the original videotapes, it was found that the monkeys had only been tested on sequences from the "different" grammar - that is, the different underlying grammatical patterns to those they had been trained on. There was no evidence they had been tested on sequences from the "same" grammar (that is, with the same underlying grammatical patterns). Why is this important? Because if you just tested the monkeys on one underlying pattern, and you record how many times they turn around to look towards the hidden loudspeaker (this is how it was done), perhaps they would turn round as often if they heard **anything** coming from that speaker. So you'd need to include the "same" condition - that is, the sequence of syllables that had the same underlying pattern as the monkey had been trained on, to show that the monkeys *discriminated* between (i.e. turned a different number of times in response to) the different grammars.
It would therefore appear that the description of the study in the Cognition paper was incorrect (because the stimuli used during testing were not as described), and that the experiment *as run* did not allow any conclusions to be drawn regarding monkeys' ability to distinguish between different grammatical patterns. Given that there is no evidence that the data, as reported, were in fact collected (it is not plausible to suppose, for example, that each of the two test trials were recorded onto different videotapes, or that somehow all the videotapes from the same condition were lost or mislaid), and given that the reported data were subjected to statistical analyses to show how they supported the paper's conclusions, I am forced to conclude that there was most likely an intention here, using data that appear to have been fabricated, to deceive the field into believing something for which there was in fact no evidence at all. This is, to my mind, the worst form of academic misconduct. However, this is just conjecture; I note that the investigation found no explanation for the discrepancy between what was found on the videotapes and what was reported in the paper. Perhaps, therefore, the data were not fabricated, and there is some hitherto undiscovered or undisclosed explanation. But I do assume that if the investigation had uncovered a more plausible alternative explanation (and I know that the investigation was rigorous to the extreme), it would not have found Hauser guilty of scientific misconduct.
As a further bit of background, it’s probably worth knowing that according to the various definitions of misconduct, simply losing your data does not constitute misconduct. Losing your data just constitutes stupidity.
Tuesday, 17 August 2010
The talk of scientific fraud did not distract me or various colleagues from talking science, planning science, and drinking some excellent whisky. I am now in Philadelphia, a regular port of call given my collaboration here (for which, as I mentioned in my last post, I just recently received funding - three years’ worth to collaborate with people in Philadelphia, New York, and a city that shares not very much with either of these two: Dundee).
La Colombe, which is almost just around the corner from my hotel, continues to be my favourite coffee shop, and recently added to the list of must-visit stores is Di Bruno - I could live there quite easily if they would just let me sleep in a quiet corner...
Saturday, 7 August 2010
Got back from Samos a week later, and flew two days later to Tenerife for a family holiday. Villa, pool, volcano, whales, dolphins, beer... all essential ingredients to a successful holiday. The cetaceans were wild, seen and photographed during a boat trip. The beer was almost as wild.
Now... anyone familiar with my journal duties will no doubt feel aggrieved at what appears to have been way too much time away from the journal’s coalface. So here are the facts lest anyone complain: This year I have processed on average 16 manuscripts each week (split roughly equally between dealing with new submissions and with revisions - so this means accepting or rejecting manuscripts, recommending revisions, or sending out to review). In the past three weeks, during my vacation ... vacation ... I averaged 19 manuscripts in each of those three weeks. I also revised a manuscript of my own (and a student’s) for resubmission to Psych Science, read and commented on a student’s thesis chapter, and learned I had been awarded £600K by one of the UK research councils for another three years’ research in my lab. Needless to say, I write this because of some bizarre sense of guilt at having been away from my desk for so long. But despite the work that I somehow managed in these last three weeks, I do feel rested and relaxed, and even a little tanned. And hey - I have another three days before I fly to the Cognitive Science conference in Oregon...
Other journal statistics that may be of interest - as of today, I have this year triaged (rejected without sending to review) 45% of the new submissions that I have handled. But with an acceptance rate of 20%, that actually means that any author who gets past the triage stage has a roughly one-in-three chance of eventually being accepted into the journal. I’m not sure if this is a good thing or not.
On a more practical note: We receive more submissions during the summer months than at any other time, and because I have two fewer associate editors working with me than I should have (Elsevier gave us the money for two more, in view of the increased submission rate), I have inevitably been unable to keep up with the flow of submissions - we all (the other associate editors included) are working as hard as we can. But it is not enough, and this means that it can take a few weeks from when a manuscript enters one of the queues (as a new submission, or as requiring a decision) to when it can be dealt with. Fortunately, most authors are either very patient, or are themselves on vacation and have not noticed. A minority, like me, will be working so hard that they barely have time to notice anything at all. To them, I offer this advice: MORE BEER.
Monday, 5 July 2010
Anyhow, my new iPhone 4 makes up for all that. Whether it will help me lose the very considerable weight I gained as a result of the irresistibly good Basque cuisine is another matter entirely. It is even conceivable that San Sebastian will displace Philadelphia as my favorite eating hole. But much as I have been seduced by the allure of San Sebastian, I can assure anyone who cares to listen/read that the best coffee is still to be found in Philly.
There is more to tell, but it will have to wait until after this weekend. I shall be in Germany, no doubt watching an entire nation rise up as one each time their national team scores yet another goal. But while my ears will be occupied with the sounds of German triumphalism, my stomach will be occupied with thoughts of the Basque Country. Ok ... so perhaps my stomach is incapable of thought. But as it increases in size, it is only a matter of time before it achieves self-awareness. World-domination will follow soon after. If I don’t explode first.
Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Equally unlikey, but no less satisying, are the astonishingly good-looking brain scans that my collaborators in Philadelphia have collected. Research barely gets more exciting than this.
Very much less exciting, is all the work I'm behind with. Aside from an experiment to analyze, a thesis to read, three papers to revise, and a gazillion manuscripts to process at the journal, I'm also giving three talks over the next two weeks (one in Austria, two in Spain). One of them is to an advisory board that I'm a part of - advising Elsevier on the next-generation online tools for managing their journals. My talk, based on way more experience than anyone should have to endure, will be about "The mobile editor: The challenges of editing a journal at 30,000 feet" (gives a whole new meaning to "the mile-high club”). The challenge, by the way, is that everyone these days is into “cloud computing” - they forget that “the cloud” is completely useless when you’re flying through them.
Tuesday, 8 June 2010
It is also, coincidentally, the time in seconds it took between the O2 website being updated to introduce the new iPhone and my entering my details so as to be amongst the first to possess it. My iPad, by the way, continues to amaze me. And others. Just today (in Washington DC, where I was attending an NIH review panel), a complete stranger came up to me in Starbucks and said “Is that an iPad? F@!k, that’s amazing!” (Apologies to anyone offended by the pr@fanity - he said it, not me!). I let him touch it. But only after he’d washed his hands...
Gadgetry is taking over the world. It is all too common to see people walking along oblivious to anything but the conversation they’re having with what most often appears to be an imaginary friend. Inevitably, they have a bluetooth earpiece attached to their ear like some monstrous slug glued to their head. Today, though, saw the inevitable culmination of this obsession to talk. I was at Union Station in Washington, DC. The power-dressed woman coming towards me was talking nineteen to the dozen, apparently giving orders to some hapless assistant. But there was not a headset to be seen. Nothing. Not even a clip-on microphone. I figure she hadn’t noticed that her earpiece had jumped ship. I didn’t have the heart to tell her. After all, I could have been wrong, and she might have had some new-fangled gadget embedded in her person. Or been completely mad. I guess that is a plausible alternative. But I like the idea more that she’d dropped her earpiece without realizing. And I suspect her assistant would have liked that too.
Saturday, 22 May 2010
Last Sunday was my 18,263rd day-birthday. Silvia organized a surprise party for me, with help from various friends. And despite having children whose idea of a secret is on a par with a daily news broadcast, I had no idea of what awaited me as I climbed the stairs into the restaurant: Family, friends, colleagues, ex-students, their children, and even balloons. My reaction was not dissimilar to someone choking back the tears... except that I think I may have failed to choke them back - I don’t do ‘nonchalant’.
Amongst the many highlights of the day was my birthday cake. I am including a photo here, though with some trepidation. I’m not entirely sure what that naked woman is doing there! Technically, the cake was sponsored by Elsevier... (with thanks to Debbie!)
Wednesday, 12 May 2010
- Top of the list is my new and very lickable iPad. I used it to give a keynote at a conference in Lund (that’s Sweden, for the geographically challenged). It worked flawlessly. Though I fear it may have attracted even more attention than my talk. Lund is home to some excellent bars that I would recommend to anyone. However, “excellent” is most definitely not how I would describe the Danish/Swedish rail system. Trains were cancelled, platforms changed, and the wrong announcements given over the public address system... I could have stayed in the UK for that kind of service!
- In close 2nd place are DeLonghi, to whom I gave great fat wads of money today. In return, I am about to receive two PrimaDonna Avant bean-to-cup machines. They are still a rarity in the UK, but are, according to the reviews, fantastic. My lab, and associated colleagues, will no doubt suffer huge increases in caffeine intake, thanks to the equally huge (absurdly huge) discount that DeLonghi gave us. Delonghi: Official sponsors of the Psycholinguistics Research Group at York.
- In 3rd place is the University of York online credit card payment system, which I have finally, and successfully, bent to my will (with the not inconsiderable help of colleagues in the Finance Office). It is now possible for people to register, if they so wish, for the AMLaP 2010 conference.
Wednesday, 14 April 2010
Monday, 12 April 2010
Saturday, 3 April 2010
The weather here is fantastic. It’s early autumn, so it can still get up into the late 20s (celsius) during the day. Unfortunately, the healthy glow I’d feel from the fabulous weather is offset by the vast quantities of equally fabulous food that are being forced into me. I now know what those poor geese feel like:
Gerry de Foie Gras
Sunday, 21 March 2010
- sea urchin custard
- and various other things...
Sunday, 14 March 2010
Number #2 on the list of things that seemed, at the time, to be a good idea is my beard. Or rather, the equipment used to keep it in check. There I was, stood in front of my bathroom mirror, giving my newfound facial novelty a trim, when a freshly hewn hair pinged up off my face and with unerring accuracy targeted itself like an exocet missile straight towards, and into, my eye. Nowhere did it say in the instructions for either my beard or its trimmer that safety goggles are advised.
Number #3 on the list, had I not managed to jump balletically to safety at the crucial moment, would have been the fishing line with which I replaced the garden string that had previously served as a deterrent for the Heron that occasionally feasts on my fish. The fishing line is virtually invisible to the naked eye. Which might explain why, despite having positioned it around the pond only moments earlier, I walked straight into it, and nearly ended up taking an unscheduled swim.
But for these three things, life continues to accelerate towards the future. Later this week I go to the CUNY sentence processing conference in New York. Then it’s off for a few days to Philadelphia, where unsuspecting students are being hauled in off the street, in the name of science, and extruded through an MRI scanner. Their brains, lit up like Christmas Trees, reveal all sorts of useful things that make me ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ while at the same time hoping that my collaborators can decipher it all. I get back to York and then, barely 48 hours later, head off for the sunnier climes of Argentina. I can’t wait. Regrettably, of course, I have to take work with me. But I can think of worse things than sitting in an Argentinian café drinking coffee over an internet connection. Sitting in my office, for example.
Saturday, 20 February 2010
iPad: except for the name, the lack of multi-user accounts, multi-tasking, and a front-facing camera for video chat, it is another item that I would find difficult to resist. Multi-tasking could be a deal-breaker, because when traveling, I need to be able to access web-based databases *and* word documents simultaneously (Apple - if you’re reading this: at NIH committee we need to access the online database and simultaneously our notes on the grants we’re commenting on). Apple do many things very well, but they are in danger of forgetting that people multitask, and they need equipment that can multitask with them.
Gaggia: My Gaggia bean-to-cup espresso machine, unlike the iPad, does multitask. It can simultaneously make coffee and leak. Probably, this is an example of multitasking that I could do without. A dose of descaler and a quick prod around the seals with a couple of cotton buds did the trick. But only for an all-too-brief 24 hours. Will need to take a screwdriver to it. Delonghi have offered to step in and help out with a heavily discounted replacement. With luck, and although negotiations are ongoing, they will become official lab sponsors. If only Apple were as approachable as Delonghi...
iPond: Having managed to kill the larger fish in my pond by not clearing the ice off quickly enough (turns out it doesn’t take long), I’ve now installed a pond heater. It’s nothing fancy - just an electric kettle that I dropped into the pond with a longer-than-usual cable feeding into a power-supply. Ok, maybe not an electric kettle... but it does stop the ice covering the entire pond, and so allows the gases that would otherwise accumulate to escape the pond. So when the temperature looks like it’s going to drop, I have to throw the thing in (it’s attached to a polystyrene float), and hope that the fish prefer being lightly broiled than slowly gassed. Needless to say, the running costs of a 600 watt heater are not insignificant, and the lights in the houses all around do noticeably dim as soon as I switch the thing on.
The Olympics: I returned from my US trip in buoyant spirits, brought about not simply by the terrific time I had in San Diego, San Francisco, and Philadelphia, but by the fact that, unlike previous trips, I had returned with my health intact. I got back last Friday. I lasted 6 days. And then the cold hit me. And whereas the iPad believes that streaming is something to do with video, my nose believes it is something else, and is on a mission to use up the world’s entire resource of disposable tissues in as short a time as possible. If streaming were an Olympic sport, my nose would be up there on the winner’s podium.
Research: A rash of new data has hit the lab. Unlike other rashes, this is a good one.
The Journal: A rash of new submissions has hit the journal. Like other rashes, this may require medication. Or plenty of alcohol.
Tuesday, 9 February 2010
So.. Philadelphia... home to the Declaration of Independence, the Liberty Bell, the finest coffee shop in the world, and, matching the quality of the coffee, the finest brain imaging I’ve ever become involved with (oh wait, it’s the only brain imaging I’ve ever been involved with. Well... it’s damned fine all the same! [you have to imagine that last sentence uttered in a very aristocratic British accent. Otherwise it simply doesn’t work]).
Am due to fly back on Wednesday night. Back to a pond that is bereft of the larger of its fish, as well as its pump (it broke, again... but Oase who make it have amazingly good customer service). A new pump awaits me, and will go in at the weekend. In the meantime, I hear that more snow is expected. But so long as I can get to La Colombe (coffee-heaven), I shall not care.
Saturday, 23 January 2010
Life has been quiet since Xmas. I submitted a grant proposal, actioned yet more from the relentless stream of submissions to the journal, went to Germany to give a talk, prepared NIH reviews, bought train tickets, booked hotels, failed (I believe) to secure a sizeable discount on new coffee machines (yes, plural coffee machines), and no doubt failed at many other things too. The Xmas lull was lovely - I did no work for a few days and would have gladly continued the life of leisure. I am already looking forward to next Xmas. By which time my latest acquisition will most likely be long gone. I’ve decided that beards are over-rated, high-maintenance, and no replacement for the joy of handing over hard-earned cash for new gadgetry.
Sunday, 17 January 2010
Clicking on the logo above will take you to a page in iTunes from where you can donate to the relief effort with a single click. 100% of the donation is passed on to the Red Cross. The fact that this is the American Red Cross, and not the UK version is immaterial. They don’t care through which channel the money arrives. If you prefer not to go via iTunes, you can go directly to their website.
Sunday, 3 January 2010
As promised, here are some facts and figures regarding the journal Cognition. This is the journal I edit, together with 6 Associate Editors without whom it would be impossible to manage the journal.
Last year we received 842 submissions. That’s 18% more than the previous year, and almost 50% more than when I took over as Editor-in-Chief back in 2006. Of those 842 submissions, I unintentionally dealt with so many that I’m embarrassed to actually write down the figure here. Collectively, we triaged 36% of manuscripts (i.e. we did not sent them out to review but politely declined them), and we accepted just 21% (we were clearly feeling rather generous in 2009, as we had accepted only 19% in 2008). The average turnaround time between submission and decision (excluding triage cases) was under 3 months, and the average lag between accepting a manuscript and publishing it was also under 3 months. Of course, there were some cases where, for one reason or another, the manuscript languished for up to 6 months, but generally this was because of difficulties in soliciting reviews (often, the reviewers whom we first approached were too busy to accept the invitation to review the manuscript - in fact, almost 40% of the reviewers whom we approached were too busy. This is probably one of the highest such figures in ‘the industry’, but reflects the quality of the reviewers whom we approach). And speaking of reviewers, we approached 1661 different reviewers (and we invited some of these more than once - one reviewer, a member of our ‘editorial board’ completed an incredible 9 reviews in 2009! This particular person did receive a personalised email from me, though a medal might have been more appropriate!).
Despite the relatively fast turnaround, authors who had the misfortune to be handled by myself (let me disambiguate that: it was their manuscripts I handled...) did suffer slightly longer delays: on average, their manuscripts languished up to 4 weeks on various queues (waiting until I decided to handle it myself rather than pass it on to an associate editor, waiting to go out to review, and then waiting for a decision letter once all the reviews were in). But in fairness to myself, this average delay was brought about by two mitigating factors: First, I did travel a fair bit in 2009 (I was away from home for what amounted to the equivalent of two entire months!), and when traveling I can’t clear those queues. And second, and despite not wishing to write down the precise figure, I made on average just under 9 ‘accept’ or ‘reject’ decisions each week of 2009. And that doesn’t include ‘revise and resubmit’ decisions! So it’s not hard to see why there were (and will continue to be) occasional delays. In fact, the statistics show that the rate at which I make those final accept/reject decisions exactly matches the rate at which I receive new manuscripts to handle. Which is just as well, as otherwise the queues would build up and the delays would get longer and longer.
Occasionally, people ask me how I manage this. Ideally, my workload would be around a third of what it actually is - it’s this high because of the huge increase in submissions we received this year, and the inevitable lag between when we get such increases and when Elsevier can put more money into paying for more associate editors (each editor receives a modest ‘honorarium’). Next year, I’ll be able to take on two more associate editors (thank you, Elsevier!), and this will make a big difference as they will reduce my load by almost 50%. But still, it remains the case that I surprise even myself with the workload. It is very clearly the case that I would not have remained sane were it not for an understanding family, understanding colleagues (including a really remarkable set of associate editors without whom I could not conceive of doing this job), fantastic collaborators (without which my research would grind to a snail’s pace), and equally fantastic friends. To all of these people, I say ’thank you’.
Hmmm. It occurs to me that perhaps I am not sitting by the roaring fire, gazing out, over my laptop, towards the snow-covered garden and iced-over pond. Perhaps I did go mad after all, and I am living out a delusional fantasy from the confines of a padded room somewhere in deepest Yorkshire. In which case, it’s not a bad life after all!