#FeeltheMath: finding a balance between passion and data

By Wiley Schubert Reed Photo: Bernie Sanders Rally @ RFK Stadium in Washington D.C., by Johnathan Comer Gravitational waves exist, climate change is real, and Donald Trump is the Republican nominee for President of the United States. Last fall, nearly all polling suggested that Donald Trump would win the Republican nomination. But political leaders and pundits trusted their guts instead of the math. Few believed his run would succeed, and the Republican establishment did little to stop it. Today, Trump is preparing for the General Election, just as the polls predicted. In his article, How I Acted Like A Pundit And Screwed Up On Donald Trump, data expert Nate Silver admits making a “big mistake” by “selectively interpreting the evidence” and using “subjective odds” rather than basing estimates on a statistical model. Had he stuck to a data-driven approach, he concedes, he would have predicted Trump’s upsurge far earlier (he went back and ran data from the fall and winter to confirm). Similarly, this spring, New York Times columnist and Hillary Clinton supporter Paul Krugman wrote an OpEd piece advising Bernie Sanders supporters who were “Feeling the Bern” to instead “Feel the math.” The data clearly forecasted Clinton as

Theranos: the fall of a paper billionaire and the value of transparency & collaboration in science

by Steven Lewis As someone with type 1 diabetes, I prick my fingers several times a day to test my blood sugar. When I heard about Theranos and how it could completely revolutionize laboratory blood testing, I was beyond excited. I was not alone. When Elizabeth Holmes founded Theranos in 2003, it seemed like she was “poised to change health care.” “You'd have to look really hard not to see Steve Jobs in Elizabeth Holmes,” Kimberly Weisul reported for Inc.com in October 2015. Like the turtlenecked icon Jobs, Holmes dropped out of college and seemed destined to radically disrupt an industry before she was 40. Last year, she topped the FORBES list of America’s Richest Self-Made Women with a net worth of $4.5 billion. But on June 1st, Forbes revised its estimate and announced Holmes’ net worth to be zero. Absolutely nothing. On June 12th, Walgreens ended its relationship with Theranos amidst allegations that the company’s technology did not work and that their tests had been run on the machines of competitors. Losing Walgreens was a "crippling blow for Theranos," causing Theranos to close 40 of 45 Theranos Wellness Centers, a critical source of revenue for the company. Despite my hope, I was not shocked.

Wiley Schubert Reed’s argument for the arts

by Wiley Schubert Reed Credit: Bill McConkey, Wellcome Images This is part of an ongoing series that aims to introduce young, aspiring scientists to topics that spark their curiosity. New York City high school student Wildman S. R. explored how art drives the creation of technologies that improve people's lives. More than 2,500 of the world’s leading business, government, academic and cultural influencers gathered this past January in Davos, Switzerland to discuss how new and emerging technologies will revolutionize humanity. World Economic Forum (WEF) Founder Klaus Schwab describes this Fourth Industrial Revolution as “a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.” Moreover, Schwab asserts, “there has never been a time of greater promise, or greater potential peril.” New technologies have the power to change the world for the better, but also for the worse. Gene editing technologies like CRISPR have the potential to cure genetic diseases, but also create the possibility for bio engineered eugenics (The CRISPR Quandary). As digital networks expand and intertwine, the chance for cataclysmic systems failure expands as well: a single hack or act of cyber terror could shut down the power or crash the markets of

One step forward, two steps back….?

by Judith M. Reichel One step forward, two steps back By Judith M. Reichel, PhD The Status Quo So much has been said and written about the “special kind of hell” that often describes the daily life of a postdoctoral research fellow. There have been objections against the poor pay and horrid hours, advice on how to combine a young family with the demands of a prosperous career, and many other more or less specific issues regarding the career choices and trajectories of postdocs. But after all this reporting, writing, and the discussions – what has actually been achieved? Small steps Unfortunately, not much has really changed. While there have been some isolated improvements for more pay, they are limited to a select few universities. In January 2016, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) released guidelines announcing slightly augmented postdoc stipends and yearly stipend increases. However, until each institute where postdocs are employed enforces these guidelines, postdoc stipends remain at the discretion of all-too-powerful PIs. The National Postdoctoral Association (NPA), established in 2003, is trying to rectify this situation. Yet, the NPA is still a fairly young organization, struggling with its own organization and without a big enough budget to put some well-deserved

Four Things I Learned by Starting a Science Podcast

By John Borghi Last week, I released the first official episode of Bold Signals- a podcast where I attempt to capture the human side of science. In each episode, I interview either a scientist about the lived experience of doing science or a non-scientist about how they experience science in their everyday life. If this sounds interesting, you can stream the podcast on SoundCloud or download it through iTunes. A new episode will come out every Wednesday this summer, with a second season starting sometime in the Fall. I started the podcast because I wanted to reveal the struggles and frustrations that exist between the lines of the results and discussion sections of scientific articles. But, even in the short time I've been working on Bold Signals, I've learned a whole lot about how science is produced, applied, and communicated. Here are the bullet points: 1. Making a podcast isn’t so difficult (except when it is) On some level, recording a podcast is as simple as plugging in some microphones and talking with some neat people for about an hour. Before I conducted the first interview, I spent a long time researching recording equipment, editing software, and hosting options. I interrogated experienced

Ebola: A Crisis in Science Literacy

By Meredith Wright A few weeks ago, an alarming link appeared on my Facebook newsfeed: “BREAKING NEWS: CDC confirms first case of Ebola in Paramus, NJ.” Considering that my hometown is only thirty minutes away from Paramus, I was quite shocked and clicked the link, eager to learn more about the circumstances around this confirmed Ebola case. But instead of an informative article, I was met with this: Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate a practical joke as much as anyone. But jokes making light of Ebola, as well as shoddy journalistic practices on display in much of the reporting on Ebola, have no place in the fight to quell this outbreak (and don’t get me started on this Halloween costume). In case you haven’t been paying attention to the news, the worst Ebola outbreak in history is currently raging in West Africa. The Ebola virus is a negative-stranded, membrane-enveloped filovirus- the name is derived from the Latin word filum, inspired by the thread-like shape of this family of viruses- that causes a severe hemorrhagic fever in both humans and non-human primates. This means that upon infection, the Ebola virus enters a cell and lose its envelope. Subsequently, host cell machinery is used

The Future of the Library

By John Borghi I work in an academic library, the Rita and Frits Markus Library at Rockefeller University, but I am not a librarian. I attend weekly lab meets, keep track of the latest developments in research methodology, and read academic journals; I am a scientist, but I am also part of the latest transformation of the academic library. According to my business cards I am a science informationist. It is my job to both proactively bring the information tools available through my library out the research community and using my experience in science to translate the information needs of the research community back to the library. In my own small way, I am thus contributing to the latest transformation of the library- from a repository of books and periodicals to an active partner in the research process. The Rockefeller University Library in 1954. I started as informationist the week after I completed a PhD in neuroscience. However, though this is my first job out of graduate school, it is not my first in a library. When I was fifteen years old, I worked as a page in The Morse Institute Library- the public library of my hometown.

Op-Ed: Nye wipes the floor with Ham

By Daniel Gareau Bill Nye and Ken Ham. Images courtesy of BillNye.com and AnswersInGenesis.org There is a growing movement to teach creationism in parallel with evolution in K-12 science classrooms.  In Kentucky, “change over time” replaced “evolution,” opening the door for creation as a viable alternative. Commonly known as “teach the controversy,” this movement is obviously problematic as it threatens the integrity of the scientific process. To help shed a mainstream spotlight on this issue, Bill Nye of “Science Guy” fame and creationist Ken Ham staged a public debate on the topic: “Is creation a viable model of origins in today's modern scientific era?” However, despite good intentions from Nye, this event was met with skepticism among scientists and atheists alike. The temptation to debate creationists should be resisted according to opinions published by The Scientist and many others.  The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science released an article shortly before the debate stating that Mr. Nye (with an honorary PhD) was not qualified to engage is such a debate and that, in this context, the author feared that the argued cases would be framed as equal. This viewpoint is in line with Richard Dawkins himself, who likens teaching creationism in the science classroom to child abuse. The non-confrontational logic shared

Want to promote women in STEM? Leave home life out of the discussion

written by Jeanne Garbarino At a recent NYWiSTEM meeting at the New York Academy of Sciences on promoting women in scientific careers, I was quite surprised to hear several of the panelists focus, in part, on having a supportive husband, and how that has been critical for their career success. On one hand, this is true for them and sharing this information is being honest. On the other hand, this type of thing can come across as a necessary requirement, which is both inaccurate and unfair. This was not the first time that I have seen the probing of a woman’s home life. Questions like: “How do you manage your household and your lab,” “Can you make enough time for your children without impacting the quality of your work,” or “Do you have a supportive husband?” populate many of these discussions, and I feel that this is adrift from the primary focus: increasing the number and retention of women in STEM, particularly in high-ranking positions. Don’t get me wrong. I understand the value of a household where all inhabitants pitch in equally. I absolutely believe that individuals in a 2+ body home are required to discuss any major career changes with whomever it

Gene Patenting is a Matter of Perspective

By Gabrielle Rabinowitz, @GabrielleRab Image credit: OpenSourceWay On a typical day as a molecular biology PhD student, I combine tiny amounts of clear liquid in a small plastic tube. One of those small droplets contains several billion molecules of RNA, each one a copy of the information from a single gene. I put the tube in a machine that adjusts the temperature to the precise degree needed for the chemical reactions to occur, and I wait. An hour later, something has changed. I still can’t see anything in the clear liquid (the stuff I’m tinkering with is much too small), but something has happened. The tube now contains trillions of molecules of complementary DNA (cDNA), newly synthesized by enzymes which used the RNA as a template. As I look at the little tube in my hand I wonder how pure the sample is, if there is enough cDNA for the sequencing machine to return good results, and what the biological implications of those results might be. I don’t usually wonder about who should own the cDNA that the enzymes just created. But a war is being fought over the right to lay claim to these molecules and others

Want to keep women in science? Pay postdocs more.

By Jennifer Bussell The message is loud, clear, and has reached cultural saturation: women are underrepresented at the top of highly-competitive professions because they cannot reconcile the amount of time needed for such careers with the time they want to spend raising children. Just acknowledging this point has been a recent watershed moment for feminism, triggered by Anne-Marie Slaughter’s controversial Atlantic article and the launch of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. Slaughter and Sandberg offer different views on exactly what’s holding women back, but both agree that much of it has to do with raising children. And, of course, each woman and critic has proposed an array of internal and structural changes to help improve work-life balance for women in highly competitive fields. Last month, the discussion continued here at The Rockefeller University, where Slaughter presented her thoughts on “The Coming Work-Family Revolution.” Since then, and in light of the larger public debate, young women at Rockefeller have been pondering our own experiences and - let’s be honest - concerns about pursuing a career in academic science. Academic science offers a special case of the more general problem of women’s underrepresentation at the top of highly competitive careers. This is because