Midnight repost: A scientist’s ten commandments

The tenth anniversary retrospective of Behind the Black continues: The post below, from September 27, 2010, reports on one of the simplest but most profound scientific papers I have ever read. Its advice is doubly needed today, especially commandment #3.

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A scientist’s ten commandments

Published today on the astro-ph website, this preprint by Ignacio Ferrín of the Center for Fundamental Physics at the University of the Andes, Merida, Venezuala, is probably the shortest paper I have ever seen. I think that Dr. Ferrin will forgive me if I reprint it here in its entirety:

1. Go to your laboratory or your instrument without any pre-conceived ideas. Just register what you saw faithfully.

2. Report promptly and scientifically. Check your numbers twice before submitting.

3. Forget about predictions. They are maybe wrong.

4. Do not try to conform or find agreement with others. You may be the first to be observing a new phenomenon and you may risk missing credit for the discovery.

5. Criticism must be scientific, respectful, constructive, positive, and unbiased. Otherwise it must be done privately.

6. If you want to be respected, respect others first. Do not use insulting or humiliating words when referring to others. It is not in accord with scientific ethics.

7. Do not cheat. Cheating in science is silly. When others repeat your experiment or observation, they will find that you were wrong.

8. If you do not know or have made a mistake, admit it immediately. You may say, “I do not know but I will find out.” or “I will correct it immediately.” No scientist knows the answer to everything. By admitting it you are being honest about your knowledge and your abilities.

9. Do not appropriate or ignore other people’s work or results. Always give credit to others, however small their contribution may have been. Do not do unto others what you would not like to be done unto you.

10. Do not stray from scientific ethics.

It seems that some scientists in the climate field (Phil Jones of East Anglia University and Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University are two that come to mind immediately) would benefit by reading and following these rules.

Scientists discover that bigger is not better

Why am I not surprised? An comparison of the size of research labs and the number of impact papers the lab published found that increasing the number of students to the staff above a certain point does little to increase research success.

To publish the most papers, labs should ideally have 10 to 15 members, according to a much-discussed study in PeerJ PrePrints. Adding more and more graduate students and postdocs beyond that number does not guarantee a continued rise in high-impact papers, the study found, partly because the extra workers tend to be much less productive than the principal investigator (PI). Mark Pallen, who heads a microbiology lab at the University of Warwick, UK, tweeted “Nice that PIs matter!”

Not surprisingly, there is much skepticism of this result in the scientific community, as having more workers in their lab tends to give them a justification for requiring more grant funds.

The Russians are once again pushing for a one year long mission on ISS, while NASA once again appears unenthusiastic.

The Russians are once again pushing for a year long mission on ISS, while NASA once again appears unenthusiastic.

Though from this article it appears that this time NASA officials are at least considering the idea.

Data now suggests that the bats are showing signs of recovery in the first caves hit by white nose syndrome in New York.

Good news: Data now suggests that the bats are showing signs of recovery in the first caves hit by white nose syndrome in New York. More here. Plus here’s a link describing some of the research being done on this subject.

Note that the death toll listed in these stories is nothing more than an arbitrary exaggeration by government officials. The National Speleological Society estimates that the numbers are probably far less, and based on my own caving experience, I agree.

More budget battles in Europe over $16 billion fusion reactor project

The budget battles continue in Europe over funding a $16 billion fusion reactor project.

Now the three statutory bodies of the European Union have agreed to cobble together €360 million from anticipated unspent funds in the still-to-be-decided 2013 budget. Another €840 million will be found by shifting money from 2012 and 2013 budget lines for farm and fishing subsidies, rural development, and environment, into the ones covering research. The remaining €100 million had already been allocated to ITER in the 2012 budget.

Sounds to me as if this whole thing has feet of clay, and is going to fall apart long before completion.

Whistle-blower claims his accusations cost him his job

A whistle-blower from a Wisconsin research lab claims his accusations cost him his job.

After months of friction that culminated in his openly questioning the reproducibility of data published by his supervisor, a postdoc at the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s zoology department was presented with three options. The department’s chairman said he could wait to be fired, resign voluntarily or accept a “gracious exit strategy” that would give him time to prepare a paper for publication, if he dropped his “scientific misconduct issues”.

When geneticist Aaron Taylor objected that the third option sounded like a “plea bargain” meant to discourage him from pressing his concerns about the lab’s data, the chairman, Jeffrey Hardin disagreed. But Hardin also said: “I think you’d have to decide which is more important to you.” He later added: “You have to decide whether you want to kind of engage in whistle-blowing.” [emphasis mine]