Kevin Hascup

While You Were At the Bench: Week 43

Seven Italian seismologists have been found guilty of manslaughter for the deaths of 29 people killed in the 2009 earthquake that decimated the city of L’Aquila when they incorrectly assessed the risks of ongoing seismic activity in the area.  This judicial ruling has completely shocked the scientific community and sets an interesting precedent for scientific accountability.

The US National Research Council released a report this week stating that CURRENT scale-up methods of algal biofuels for replacing oil and ethanol transporation fuels “would place unsustainable demands on energy, water and nutrients.”  The report goes on to state that these pitfalls are being addressed and none are a definitive barrier to large scale development.  You can read a summary of the report here.

In a follow-up to the Nobel prize in physics, Princeton researchers have used microwave photons to determine the spin states of electrons.  This might allow for quick transfer of quantum information through a computing device. Here is a  summary of the study.

South African researchers have identified two individuals who naturally developed antibodies that target the outer glycan layer on HIV.  These antibodies can kill 88% of the HIV strains found worldwide, which could lead to a completely new class of drugs for treating or even curing HIV.

Here’s one for college students.  A new study out of Rutgers has shown that rats drinking moderately high levels of alcohol daily (the human equivalent of 3-4 beverages per day) did not disrupt learning processes, however, neurogenesis was reduced by 40% in the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus.  The authors note this level of drinking is closer to binge drinking, rather than moderate levels of alcohol (1-2 beverages daily) that typically show cardiovascular and cognitive health.

Cool photo of the week.  Check out this 9 gigapixel image of the center of the Milky Way (galaxy not candy bar) containing 84 million stars.  The image is a composite of photos from the European Southern Observatory’s VISTA.

Keep this in mind if you ever need to know how to eat a Triceratops.  Paleontologists have concluded from bite marks in Triceratops skull fossils that T-Rex would grip the neck frills to pull the head off and eat the tender meat around the head.   Dinosaurs are cool.

And a big thanks to all the blog readers.  Total blog views surpassed the 5K mark this week.  Keep coming back for future blog posts and remember to check out our website.

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How Do Sexist Comments Affect Women in STEM?

The annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience brings together neuroscientists from around the world to discuss cutting edge research relevant to their fields of study.

Unfortunately, this year’s conference will be known less for advancements in neurodegenerative and neuropsychiatric disorders and more for the comments of one participant—evolutionary biologist Dr. Dario Maestripieri from the University of Chicago.  On Sunday, October 14, 2012 Dr. Maestripieri posted the following message on Facebook,

“My impressions of the Conference of the Society for Neuroscience in New Orleans.  There are thousands of people at the conference and an unusually high concentration of unattractive women.  The super model types are completely absent.  What is going on?  Are unattractive women particularly attracted to neuroscience?  Are beautiful women particularly uninterested in the brain?  No offense to anyone..”

We can argue whether or not these comments are merely an observation made by a prominent, tenured faculty member specializing in evolutionary biology.    After all, Dr. Maestripieri has openly commented on his blog  that, “Good-looking people are more appealing as potential sex partners and other people choose to interact with them (to spend time near them, talk with them, buy insurance from them, and hire them as employees) so as to increase the chances to have sex with them.”  Or, as some have suggested, a private “joke” intended for 400 Facebook friends and colleagues (personally, the phrase “No offense to anyone..” disavows any claim that this was intended to be a joke).  Regardless of his intentions, these comments provide a real world example to a recent PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy for Sciences) article examining gender biases among scientific faculty in academia.

In case you are unfamiliar with this study, Moss-Raucusin et al., determined that scientific faculty members hire fewer women, offer lower wages, and provide less mentorship to female scientists compared to their male counterparts.  In other words, female scientists, even with credentials identical to their male counterparts, are often viewed as incompetent.    Prior to this study, the misconception for a lack of tenured females in STEM fields was due to family obligations.  It was incorrectly hypothesized that women were at a disadvantage since the critical period in an associate scientist’s career typically coincides with starting a family, thus resulting in lost research year(s) necessary for tenure procurement.  Moss-Raucusin’s study has driven a rather large nail into the coffin of that theory.

Why do I bring this up?  After all, Dr. Maestripieri’s comments did not state any gender bias.  Rather, his comments have taken us further down the rabbit hole.  These comments dig directly at a rarely spoken but prevailing fear of many women in STEM.  Look unattractive and colleagues won’t pay attention to you.  Look too attractive and your research won’t be taken seriously.   There’s no better example than  Nobel laureate Dr. James Watson’s comments in The Double Helix regarding Rosalind Franklin “neglecting to emphasize her feminine qualities.”  I think we all know what happened with her X-ray crystallography data.

The most disconcerting aspect of all of this isn’t that the comments were said (obviously, one must look past the blatantly sexist remarks… made at an international convention… with 28,000 of his peers), but rather Dr. Maestripieri’s role at the University of Chicago.  Whether it be lab managers, graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, associate or tenured professors, Dr. Maestripieri has had a role in determining their career progression.  His feelings towards attractive women may or may not have influenced hiring or promotions (either consciously or subconsciously), regardless, Dr. Maestripieri has shown extreme bias towards sexualizing female colleagues while simultaneously denigrating their scientific prowess.

Dr. Maestripieri, with your Facebook post, you have single handedly trivialized every achievement made by female scientists.  Maybe it’s time to hang up your Journal of Neuroscience subscription for some other periodicals.

I think Hugh Hefner and Larry Flynt can accommodate.

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While You Were at the Bench: Week 42

Here we go again.   Hisashi Moriguchi from the University of Tokyo has admitted to lying about a breakthrough procedure for transplanting cardiac stem cells into humans.  Moriguchi sent a draft of the manuscript to a Japanese newspaper and was scheduled to give a talk in New York on the procedure when co-authors alerted media that no such experiments or procedures had ever taken place.

*** Update 10/21/12:  Hisashi Moriguchi was fired from the University of Tokyo on October 19th, 2012***

Researchers from the Karolinska Institute have completed a 40 year longitudinal study of over 1 million people and determined artists and scientists are more likely to suffer from bipolar disorder than other professions.  I wonder if the shifts in mood can be correlated to changes in government funding cycles?

Who says crowd sourcing doesn’t work?  Amateur scientists Robert Gagliano and Kian Jek discovered the first planet with four suns by using data from the Kepler telescope.  Data was made available to the public by the crowd sourcing group Planet Hunters.

University of Michigan researchers have shown that Apollo moon rock samples from the lunar regolith contain hydroxyl ions.  Varying isotope compositions of these hydroxyl ions indicate solar winds have the ability to plant water molecules on moons, planets, and asteroids that do not have an atmosphere.

By analyzing oxygen isotopes from fossils, researchers have determined that Earth’s equatorial temperature rose to 50-60 degrees Celsius at the start of the Triassic Era.  These extreme temperatures created a lengthy 5 million year dead zone where life mostly grew in higher latitudes.  Hopefully, we are not on a similar path with the record setting temperatures we have been experiencing this year.

Is your portfolio diversified?  Economists at Warwick Business School have examined daily closing prices of stocks comprising the Dow Jones Industrial Averages and determined that diversification does not protect your portfolio during market volatility.  This may lead to new portfolio management strategies to prevent future losses during financial crises similar to the events in 2008.

And congratulations to “Fearless” Felix Baumgartner who became the first person to free fall faster than the speed of sound when he jumped from a space capsule 128,097 feet above the Earth’s surface.  I am happy to see that he did not end up like ensign redshirt in the latest Star Trek Movie.

Have a great weekend everyone!

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Five Things You Might Not Know About

Did you know….

You can create a membership for free?  This allows you to search and review scientists.

You can review any researcher you have ever worked with, not just your principal investigator?  This includes labmates, committee members, and other colleagues.

You can review researchers not found in our database?  Simply go to the “Submit a Review” tab, enter the name of the researcher to be reviewed and if their name does not appear, click on “add new name”.

Your reviews are anonymous?  Your name or member profile does not show up on your submitted reviews.  

You can claim reviews written about you?  You can associate reviews with your profile by viewing the review and clicking on the “This is me” button.

So, what’s stopping you from letting other know the great researchers you’ve worked with?  Review someone today at!

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