A new online resource for science… well, actually Nature

The Nature Publishing Group has a new online initiative called SCITABLE. Trying not to hold the name against them, I checked out the bells and whistles of the site. Their mission is that:

SCITABLE brings together a library of scientific overviews with a worldwide community of scientists, researchers, teachers, and students. Use SCITABLE  to:

  • Learn about a range of scientific subjects
  • Collaborate online with other students and teachers
  • Publish your activities and portfolio to the worldwide science community … continue reading this entry.

How to feel like a non-expert? Get your taxes done.


At first, tax preparation would seem to have nothing to add to skepticism, but bear with me. Anyone who knows me well knows the issue that gets me going, and I don’t get up on my editorial soap-box very often, but… the three greatest challenges to being a good skeptic are obtaining, judging and understanding information. That is why we have experts. … continue reading this entry.

Government discusses how to improve access to publicly funded research

The Office of Science & Technology Policy is a board that advises the President on the “effects of science and technology on domestic and international affairs” (is that broad or what?). Last week, they launched a blog forum to solicit public input on the issue of access to publically-funded research. This is all part of the Open Government Directive dedicated to bringing more transparency to how our government works. The discussion of open access to publically funded research has three focal points:

  • Implementation (Dec. 10 to 20): Which Federal agencies are good candidates to adopt Public Access policies? What variables (field of science, proportion of research funded by public or private entities, etc.) should affect how public access is implemented at various agencies, including the maximum length of time between publication and public release?p
  • Features and Technology (Dec. 21 to Dec 31): In what format should the data be submitted in order to make it easy to search and retrieve information, and to make it easy for others to link to it? Are there existing digital standards for archiving and interoperability to maximize public benefit? How are these anticipated to change.
  • Management (Jan. 1 to Jan. 7): What are the best mechanisms to ensure compliance? What would be the best metrics of success? What are the best examples of usability in the private sector (both domestic and international)? Should those who access papers be given the opportunity to comment or provide feedback? … continue reading this entry.

Neti pot or nutty pot?

I have a sinus infection.

And I have been thinking a lot about three conversations I have had recently about neti pots. One of them was with someone wholly un-skeptical, who assured me that he has fewer sinus infections since he started using the neti pot. I asked how he knew he was having fewer sinus infections or that it was specifically the neti pot which was preventing them. He gave me an uncertain look, and I dropped it (because I really hadn’t looked into neti pots myself and did not have much to offer by way of evidence for or against them, although my instinct was to be skeptical of their efficacy). The second conversation was with a fellow skeptic, who said she swears by them. Again, I did not have anything to offer the conversation, but moved neti pots up on my prioritized mental list of “Things that I need to research more deeply.” A few days ago, a fellow biologist who suffers from severe allergies also promoted the use of a neti pot for flushing out the sinuses.

So I set about to answer a couple of questions pertaining to neti pot usage:

What is the history of neti pot usage?

Is the use of a neti pot harmful, neutral or beneficial?

Is neti pot usage a valid therapy to prevent the occurrence of sinusitis (sinus infections)? … continue reading this entry.

Peer-review for the younger generation

A Correspondence in the most recent issue of the journal Nature called attention to an endeavor designed to allow grade-school students to participate in the scientific peer-review process. The journal Young Scientists, “a free online journal for scientists aged 12-20,” was launched in 2006 as a collaborative project among students and teachers at a historical boarding school in Kent, England. The journal is structured like an academic journal and includes original research articles authored by students from around the world. As a particularly endearing divergence from the traditional scientific journal format, there tends to be lengthy bios about the authors at the end of the articles. Overall, the journal is an uplifting glimpse into the excitement that science can foster in our youth. … continue reading this entry.

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