Field of Science

A silent healer

I have an article published in The Economist's Babbage blog.
Carbon monoxide gets a bad rap. The gas, produced by incomplete combustion of hydrocarbons, causes hundreds of deaths every year by poisoning and sends many thousands to hospital. But there is more to the “silent killer”, as CO is sometimes called. Exploiting this insight, researchers have successfully used CO to treat a number of ailments in lab animals and most recently in humans... read more.
Here is a list of main references:
  1. Romao et al., Chem Soc Rev, 2012
  2. Motterlini et al., Nat Rev Drug Discovery, 2010
  3. Montogomery et al, US Patent 7523752
  4. National Safety Council data
  5. Winslow et al, US Patent 20120094912A1

Publishing on preprint servers... do you do it?

In following up the arsenic in DNA story for The Economist, Rosie Redfield has brought some interesting issues to light. Dr Redfield, who blogs on this network, has recently published a paper in Science showing that NASA's claims about finding an organism that has arsenic instead of phosphorus in its DNA weren't true. Interestingly, her paper was available on arXiv, a preprint server, since February this year.

Before making it available on arXiv, she got in touch with Science to know if she can do this. Of course, physicists do it all the time. But Rosie figured that if Science publishes physics, then it must allow it too. To that end she asked and got this answer:
Posting of a paper on the Internet may be considered prior publication that could compromise the originality of the Science submission, although we do allow posting on not-for-profit preprint servers in many cases. Please contact the editors for advice about specific cases. We provide a free electronic reprint service to authors that allows visitors to the authors' web site free access to the published version of the Science paper on Science Online immediately after publication. 
 Interestingly, Nature says the same thing but with more clarity than Science:
Nature journals do not wish to hinder communication between scientists. For that reason, different embargo guidelines apply to work that has been discussed at a conference or displayed on a preprint server and picked up by the media as a result. (Neither conference presentations nor posting on recognized preprint servers constitute prior publication.)
Our guidelines for authors and potential authors in such circumstances are clear-cut in principle: communicate with other researchers as much as you wish, whether on a recognised community preprint server, by discussion at scientific meetings (publication of abstracts in conference proceedings is allowed), in an academic thesis, or by online collaborative sites such as wikis; but do not encourage premature publication by discussion with the press (beyond a formal presentation, if at a conference).
How many people in the biological and chemical sciences really know about this? How many actually practice it? The only example I am aware of is Rosie's. Do you know of others?

The conduct of science

I have an article published in The Economist's Babbage blog. Here's the blurb:
Most scientific research is about incremental improvements to existing theories. Every so often, though, an anomaly shakes things up, offering upstart ideas the chance to dislodge reigning ones. Sadly for NASA, who attempted to do such a thing, the glory did not last for very long. In what has come to be known as the #arseniclife controversy, researchers around the world used blogs and Twitter to highlight the flaws of the NASA study. The implications of their actions have important lessons for the conduct of science... read more.
Here is a list of main references:
  1. Wolfe-simon et al., Science, 2011
  2. Reaves et al., Science, 2012 
  3. Erb et al., Science, 2012
  4. Scientist in a strange land, Popular Science 2011
  5. Redfield on NASA's claims, RRResearch 2010
  6. Redfield's paper on arXiv, 2012

Gas-guzzling paint

I have an article published in The Economist's Babbage blog. Here's the blurb:
Armies need to be prepared for the threat of chemical weapons. Part of that preparation means being able to decontaminate people and equipment that have been subject to attack. The suits and masks worn by soldiers can, if necessary, be thrown away once used, but heavier and more expensive equipment, such as vehicles, cannot be treated in such a cavalier fashion. It needs to be cleaned. Britain’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, working in collaboration with AkzoNobel, a paints company, proposes to do the cleaning job with special paint... read more.
Here is a set of main references:
  1. Halabja gas attack in 1988 - BBC
  2. AkzoNobel and DSTL patent
  3. Christopher Landry's paper - J. Am. Chem. Soc. 
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