How Sustainable is Science in Practice? Labs go Green.

They may do good science, but research labs produce lots of garbage. By some estimate, the plastic waste generated by biology labs in one year weighs the same as 67-cruise ships.

Laboratory waste may not be the biggest contributor to the global garbage mountain, but many scientists are reevaluating common research practices because of climate change. As a result, a growing “green labs” movement has emerged that works to improve sustainability in research laboratories.

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On How Big Data Creates False Confidence

Another SNF-workshopped article on Facts So Romantic, the blog of Nautilus magazine:

If I claimed that Americans have gotten more self-centered lately, you might just chalk me up as a curmudgeon, prone to good-ol’-days whining. But what if I said I could back that claim up by analyzing 150 billion words of text? A few decades ago, evidence on such a scale was a pipe dream. Today, though, 150 billion data points is practically passé. A feverish push for “big data” analysis has swept through biology, linguistics, finance, and every field in between.

But there’s a problem: It’s tempting to think that with such an incredible volume of data behind them, studies relying on big data couldn’t be wrong. But the bigness of the data can imbue the results with a false sense of certainty. Many of them are probably bogus—and the reasons why should give us pause about any research that blindly trusts big data.

Read the whole article on the Nautilus website.

When Do I Start Knowing What I’m Doing?

xkcd #451: Imposter

Nah, we’re all too busy worrying about whether we’re experts in our field. (Source: xkcd)

When my advisor informed her assembled advisees that I was the group’s “machine learning expert,” I nearly choked. I thought I had a pretty good idea of what expertise looked like. An expert possesses a deep, intuitive understanding of his or her subject. An expert exudes confidence in his or her abilities and reputation. An expert fields detailed questions without batting an eyelid. What an expert most certainly does not look like, I thought, is a clueless amateur of a Ph.D. student.

My lofty image of expertise was not my own invention – our society has an unhealthy tendency to fetishize experts. We see the degree of knowledge possessed by professors and analysts and TED speakers as almost mystical. We speak in awed whispers of their brilliance and intuition. And of course, the praise is often well-deserved; I don’t mean to suggest that there is no such thing as expertise. But the way we idolize experts does great damage to experts and novices alike. Continue reading

The Science of Disappearing

Ever since ancient Greece, man has been enticed with the idea of being invisible. Our stories offer different paths to achieve this invisibility – for example, Plato’s shepherd became the King of Lydia with the help of a ring which makes the wearer invisible, and H.G. Wells’ The Invisible man becomes so by drinking a formula he invents.

The popularity of Harry Potter, however, has caused this power to take the form of a cloak in our imaginations. How simple it would be to cover ourselves with a piece of cloth that makes us invisible! Every time you are put in the spotlight against your wishes, made to answer an awkward question or want to be undisturbed, you just slip a cloak over yourself and you’re invisible!

Now our governments are apparently willing to spend money on making this crazy dream come true. Different research groups around the world have come up with different ideas to make this a reality. Though they are all in incipient stages, there seems to be a lot of potential in these ideas. Now we look at a few of these brilliantly crazy ideas. Continue reading

The Case Against Antibiotics in Soap: Part 2

Last time, we went through two reasons why antibiotics may not be necessary in hand soaps. First, there has not been very much study about how safe these antibiotics are, especially Triclosan. Because we don’t know for sure, the FDA wants antibiotic manufacturers to be certain that their soaps are safe. But the second argument went into reasons why the antibiotics may not be needed at all. Research from Columbia and the University of Michigan reviewed papers back to the 1960s and found that the best way to reduce the risk of infection is to wash your hands, but what kind of soap is used is much less important than the duration1. So the antibiotics may be unsafe, particularly to the environment, and they may not be necessary. Today, the final part of the argument will show how antibiotics in consumer hand soaps may, paradoxically, be detrimental to health. Continue reading

The Case Against Antibiotics in Soap: Part 1

Recently, I saw an article about how the FDA wants to remove antibiotics from hand soap1. To most people, this sounds silly. Antibiotics kill bacteria, and bacteria make you sick, so why should we get rid of this? In fact, reviewers from Rutgers read past papers in late 2011 and found that antibacterial soaps (soaps containing antibiotics) significantly reduce the amount of bacteria on a person’s hands2. As it turns out, the world of bacteria is a very active area of science, and we are learning more about how bacteria interact with us and each other every day. Recently, evidence has suggested a few problems with the most common antibacterial soaps. What are some of these problems, and why are they resulting in new FDA regulations?

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If you think others think you can’t, you definitely can’t

Criticism can threaten our sense of self-worth. 
 Sometimes we spend mental energy protecting ourselves 
 and block out criticism.

Criticism can threaten our sense of self-worth. 
 Sometimes we spend mental energy protecting ourselves
 and block out criticism.


Remember the last time a loved one asked you to eat a little healthier? Or the time that your manager asked you to work a little harder? If you were like me, you immediately became defensive. You concocted reasons in your head for why he or she was wrong and never really considered the possibility of the person being right. Good managers, however, know that the way to make you listen is to start off by complimenting you, and then directing any criticism. But why do we become defensive in the first place, and why does the initial complimenting work? Continue reading