Tag Archives: Video

“A boring Noble Prize” (or a lesson in mediocre science journalism)

At the end of September each year, science journalists all over the world make their forecasts for the upcoming announcement of the Nobel Prizes that take place during the first week of October in Stockholm, Sweden. The week begins with the announcement of the winners of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, awarded by the Karolinska Institute. It is followed by the Physics, Chemistry and Literature Prizes. As expected, this activity is all the more significant at Swedish newspapers and TV and radio stations, and this year of 2013 was no exception. Inger Atterstam, from the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper, is regarded as one of the most accredited science journalists in Sweden. Her 2013 forecast for the Physiology or Medicine Nobel Prize was vast and broad (to be on the safe side, presumably), and included scientists responsible for discoveries concerning the epidemiology of smoking, cochlea implants, treatments against malaria, rheumatoid arthritis, leukaemia and even Bill and Melinda Gates (!) (The nature of the discoveries made by the Gates couple which according to Ms. Atterstam deserved such a high honour was, however, not revealed).

Outside Nobel Forum, minutes after the announcement, Ms. Atterstam is visibly upset about the choice made by the Nobel Assembly for the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, and she makes no effort to hide her discontent in front of the cameras. The Prize went to James Rothman, Randy Schekman and Thomas Sudhof for their discoveries of the molecular mechanisms that control the specificity of trafficking, fusion and release of vesicles within and from cells. A long overdue award to one of the most influential and fundamental concepts in modern cell biology with direct relevance to a great number of human diseases including diabetes and neurological disorders. Incredibly important, but far away from any of the predictions made by Ms. Atterstam during the previous days. And it shows.

Microphone in hand, she confronts the unforgiving camera visibly distressed. Her eyes roll from left to right eluding the lens, her breath is heavy and agitated, her body swings back and forth. She does not pull her punches: “This was a  very traditional Nobel Prize, namely to three white, middle-class men coming from three of USA’s most prestigious and Nobel-awarded universities, Standford, Berkeley and Yale…” Wow! How about that for a bigoted statement? After a brief (and failed) attempt to explain some of the substance behind the discoveries, Ms. Atterstam revels in her own ignorance: “On the other hand, this is a very traditional and boring Nobel Prize because it is about very basic research that none really understands and that does not have any relevance, except in the realm of science.” Interesting words, coming from one of the leading science journalists in Sweden. Ms. Atterstam concluding remarks say it all: “The Nobel Committee has this time —once again— chosen not to give the Prize to applied research that concerns people [she chokes here] and which could thereby have drawn greater attention. We shall keep our hopes for the Higgs particle tomorrow.” Ms. Atterstam clearly considers the Higgs boson to be a discovery in applied science of immediate concern to people. 😉

Well, what else can be said? Here is one of the most prestigious science journalists of Sweden trying to explain basic research to the general public. As they say, with friends like Ms. Atterstam, who needs any enemies?

Strange Fruit in Singapore’s China Town

Melbourne-based performing arts company “Stange Fruit” appeared at the Chinese New Year celebration in Singapore’s China Town on January 27, 2011. Perched atop 5-metre high flexible poles, the troupe bends and sways in the air at pace with intriguing bits of new-agish music. The first half of their 25 minute performance at thet heart of Singapore’s China Town is shown here, captured with the EF 24L II lens wide open on the EOS 7D.

Making science (part V): Bad project

“I want good data, a paper in Cell
But I got a project straight from Hell”

“I wanna graduate in less than five years
But there ain’t no getting out of here”

“Oh oh oh… caught in a bad project”

Crazy mice. Smelly brain cells. Empty Western blots. It’s a bad project alright. Or… is it? There are indeed bad projects out there. Research projects begin with a question that is to be answered. If no question has been formulated, however general, and experiments are being done only because they are doable, then a bad project is on the horizon. With a question at hand, hypotheses have to be made as to the posssible answers, ideally covering all logical possibilities. Lack of hypotheses in a project is not a good sign. The question posed may not be answereable. (We’ve all heard about hypothesis-free studies. That’s okey for a group leader with 50 postdocs and lots of other projects. Not recommended  to anyone that wants to graduate and get a job in less than five years!) Hypotheses help designing the experiments that are going to distinguish between them. Experiments are typically designed to systematically disprove them one by one. A neat, key experiment to prove one of the hypothesis upfront is more difficult to come by. Some experiments may just add support to a particular hypothesis, but not prove it or disprove it outright. So far so good. But a good project should also allow for serendipitous discoveries. Paradoxically, serendipity is one of the most common ways of advancement in science. Alas, serendipity can not be planned. But it can be encouraged. In addition to concrete goals and defined questions, research projects that allow some amount of open-ended possibilites have greater chances to extend into (positively) unexpected directions. It’s a fine balance, in which informed intuition plays a vital role. (For a discussion of intuitive thinking, see Making Science Part III.) Lady Science in the video above seems to be having more problems than just a bad project. But those are topics of other discussions.

Dave Holland Quintet

It happens once in a while that top tier international jazz groups come to Fasching. The visit of the Dave Holland Quintet was one of those precious occassions. Veteran bassist Dave Holland, of Miles Davis fame (e.g. In A Silent Way & Bitches Brew), alongside Chris Potter on saxophone, Robin Eubanks on trombon, Steve Nelson on marimba and vibraphone, and Nate Smith on drums. This quintet, albeit with different drummers, has been playing for a very long time now and recorded over half a dozen disks as quintet and as many as the core of larger ensembles. Astonishing energy, incredible playing, telepatic communication. Clearly one of the most important musical events of this year in Stockholm. Watch the videos featured at the end of this post.

More photographs from the concert are available from the Fasching photo gallery.

Making science (part II): The making of a scientist

Former postdoc fellow Svend Kjaer has today published his first first-author paper after leaving the lab. It has appeared online at the Nature Structure and Molecular Biology website. He’s got the first glimpse of the three-dimensional structure of the extracellular domain of the RET receptor, giving insights into how it binds ligand and how its mutation causes disease. Something we were striving to see for several years while he was at our lab has now been achieved and it’s one of the great success stories of making science. It took a lot of perseverance, a good measure of ingenuity and the crucial guidance and support of Svend’s current mentor and common friend Neil McDonald from the CRUK institute in London. As if by coincidence, from Svend comes also this link to the one-hour film “Naturally Obsessed: The Making of a Scientist” telling the story of three graduate students in a crystallography lab at Columbia University, NYC and their road to success (or failure) through “years of trial and error and unflinching dedication”. It gives good insights into real science making in a lab, the elusive thrill of its ups and downs, and what it takes to get to the finish line. Link from the picture above.

The Days of Wine And Roses

I just have to log in this one. Recorded January 27, 2010, at House of Peranakan, Pan Pacific Orchard, Singapore, with the Canon EOS 7D and the 24L II prime lens. We could just not believe what our ears where hearing. We had a great time, mostly due to the company, since the food was so so and the music was … well, this video tells the whole truth. Saying that it was “out of tune” would be a total understatement. Here it is in all its glory for the record of generations to come. Sit down on your favorite chair, and enjoy!