- Academic excellence is not a strong predictor of career excellence. There is weak correlation between grades and job performance. Grant reviews the evidence in details in his New York Times piece.When recruiting research assistants, I look at grades as the last indicator. I find that imagination, ambition, initiative, curiosity, drive, are far better predictors of someone who will do useful work with me. Of course, these characteristics are themselves correlated with high grades, but there is something to be said about a student who decides that a given course is a waste of time and that he works on a side project instead. Breakthroughs don’t happen in regular scheduled classes, they happen in side projects. We want people who complete the work they were assigned, but we also need people who can reflect critically on what is genuinely important. I don’t have any need for a smart automaton: I already have many computers.I have applied the same principle with my two sons: I do not overly stress the importance of good grades, encouraging them instead to pursue their own interests and to go beyond their classes.
- Our hearts do not regenerate. Thus a viable strategy might to transplant brand new hearts from pigs. This is much harder than it appears, however. But progress is being made. Researchers are now able to keep baboons alive for months with transplanted pig hearts. To achieve this good result, the scientists had to use an immunosuppressant drug to prevent unwanted growth in the pig’s heart. With some luck, some of us could benefit from transplanted heart pigs in the near future.
- Cataract is the most common cause of blindness. It can be “cured” by removing your natural lens and replacing them with artificial lenses called IOL (intraocular lenses). This therapy was invented in the 1940s, but it took 40 years before it became widespread in wealthy countries. It is still out of reach in many countries. Yet the cost of intraocular lenses is less than 10$ and the procedure is inexpensive (it costs less than 25$ in total in some countries). Even today, in many rich countries, access to this therapy is restricted. Finally, in 2017, a government agency in UK recommended that we stop rationing access to cataract surgery.
- Physically fit middle-age women are much less likely to develop dementia (e.g., Alzheimer’s).
- You might expect that research results published in more prestigious venues would also be more reliable. Brembs (2018) suggests it works the other way around:
an accumulating body of evidence suggests the inverse: methodological quality and, consequently, reliability of published research works in several fields may be decreasing with increasing journal rank
My own recommendation to colleagues and students has been that if peer-reviewed publications are warranted, then it is fine to target serious well-managed venues, irrespective of their “prestige”.
It is hard enough to do solid research, if you also have to tune it so that it outcompetes other proposals in a competition for prestige, I fear that you may discourage good research practices. Scientists care too little about modesty, it is their downfall.
- Lomborg, a reknown economist, writes about climate change:
Using the best individual and collectively peer-reviewed economic models, the total cost of Paris “ through slower GDP growth from higher energy costs “ will reach $1-2 trillion every year from 2030. (…) It’s so expensive because green energy isn’t ready to replace fossil fuels at scale. Nations are using expensive subsidies and other policies to force immature green technologies on consumers and businesses. We need to change course. The smart option, backed by economic science, is to adopt a technology-led policy. This means investing far more into green energy research and development. Rather than forcing the rollout of immature energy sources, we need to ensure that green energy can out-compete fossil fuels.
I really like the term “technology-led policy”. If you want to change the world for the better, then making the good things cheap using technology and science is the golden path.
- About 60% of all scientists never lead a research project of their own which indicate that they always play a supporting role. In fields like astronomy, ecology and robotics, half of all researchers leave the field every five years, a consequence of the fact that there are many more aspiring scientists than there are good jobs. Though this sounds bad, but one must consider that the number of scientists doubles every 15 years. Thus even though the job prospects for scientists look poor in relative terms, we must consider that we never had so many gainfully employed scientists.
- The state of Louisiana is adopting digital drive licenses. Meanwhile, in Montreal, I still can’t take the subway without constantly recharging a stupid card.
- Lack of copper might lead to heart disease. Copper is found in shiitake mushrooms, oysters, dark chocolate, sesame seeds, cashew nuts, raw kale, beans and avocados.
- The diabetes drug Metformin is under study as an anti-aging drug. It is believed to be very safe yet Konopka et al. suggests that it may lower the benefits due to exercise.
- Over time, our bodies accumulate a small fraction of “senescent cells”. It is believed that these disfunctional cells contribute to the diseases of old age. For the last few years, researchers have been looking for senolytics, drugs that can kill senescent cells. It turns out that two antibiotics approved for medical use are potent senolytics.
- The first autonomous vehicule (the ancestor of the self-driving car) was built in 1961.
- Billions of dollars have been spent on clinical trials to try to cure Alzheimer’s, all in vain. Golde et al. propose that the problem might have to do with poor timing: we need to apply the therapy at the right time. Wadmam suggests that Alzheimer’s might spread like an infection.
- China is introducing far reaching penalties for researchers who commit scientific fraud:
Chinese leaders have been increasingly focused on scientific misconduct, following ongoing reports of researchers there using fraudulent data, falsifying CVs and faking peer reviews. In May, the government announced sweeping reforms to improve research integrity. One of those was the creation of a national database of misconduct cases. Inclusion on the list could disqualify researchers from future funding or research positions, and might affect their ability to get jobs outside academia. (Source: Nature)
We need to recognize that the scientific enterprise is fundamentally on an honor-based system. It is trivial to cheat in science. You can work hard to collect data, or make it up as you go. Except for the most extreme cases, the penalty for cheating is small because there is almost always plausible deniability.