Reblog: How do we know what we know?

“All hypotheses emerge from assumptions, whether we recognize them or not.”

Ambika Kamath, a graduate student at Harvard University working on lizards and how their habitat, behaviour, and morphology influence eachother, has written an excellent blog post in the wake of a human dimorphism debate. The post is not about human dimorphism, but instead highlights how our assumptions can shape experimental design and therefore results. It can be easy to accept oft-cited facts without critical thought, particularly if they are in line with personal opinion.

Ambika Kamath’s post is reblogged below, and I encourage you to read it.

Ambika Kamath

Over the last few months, there’s been a slow-boiling battle underway between Holly Dunsworth and Jerry Coyne about the evolution of sexual dimorphism in humans, surrounding the question of why male and female humans, on average, differ in size. The battlefield ranged from blogposts to twitter to magazine articles. In a nutshell, Coyne argued that “sexual dimorphism for body size (difference between men and women) in humans is most likely explained by sexual selection” because “males compete for females, and greater size and strength give males an advantage.” His whole argument was motivated by this notion that certain Leftists ignore facts about the biology of sex differences because of their ideological fears, and are therefore being unscientific.

Dunsworth’s response to Coyne’s position was that “it’s not that Jerry Coyne’s facts aren’t necessarily facts, or whatever. It’s that this point of view is too simple and is obviously biased toward some stories, ignoring others. And…

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Reblog: Success in academia involves a lot of failure

Eric Weiskott, an Associate Professor of English at Boston College, has written a CV of his failures here. Whilst it is not often published, I don’t know a single academic or researcher who doesn’t have a similar list. I certainly do. There are rejected applications, failed experiments, unpublished papers and unfunded grants. The list is long. Incidentally, most researchers I’ve met have all echoed the same sentiment: the key to success is try and try again. The best researchers also add that it’s important to not let rejection bog you down. A few years ago, I attended an early career talk by Russell Foster, a neuroscientist who discovered photosensitive ganglion cells in the retina and by most measures a successful scientist. Based on his own experience, he listed the approximate number of applications required to land funding. As a young researcher, it was a sobering talk. However, it was also oddly encouraging to be told that as long as you do good work, it’s probably only a numbers game.

Prof Weiskott’s post is reblogged below, and it is definitely worth a read:

Eric Weiskott

When I think about my career so far, I’m humbled by the generosity of friends and colleagues. I’m also acutely aware of the odds stacked against anyone who tries to enter this profession. My own success, such as it is, was the direct result of a lot of failure. Maybe there is someone out there who succeeds in academia without failing. I am not that person. I want to talk about my experience in the hope that it smashes a few unhelpful myths about academia, publishing, and job-seeking. This is my version of a CV of failures.

Failing to get into grad school

As a senior in college, I applied to MPhil and PhD programs. Most of them rejected me. Programs that rejected me were Brown University, Harvard University, the Marshall Scholarship, Stanford University, University of Connecticut, University of Michigan, and University of Oxford. New York University and the University of Virginia waitlisted me. The University of Cambridge accepted me…

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Brainstem? Brainstem!

Revisiting brain regions, courtesy  of Pinky and the Brain.

 

(Incidentally, I named my first neuroscience review paper “Dyspnoea and the Brain” partly in honour of this comic, fully expecting the title to be dismissed by colleagues and journal alike. It wasn’t. Nobody has spotted the connection yet, sadly.)

Approaches to COPD

When I say I work on Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), I usually get one out of two responses: sage nodding or confused smiles. Invariably, the nodders are those who know someone with COPD or work within the field. If you have ever seen anyone suffer from the disease, you’ll remember it. But if you have never encountered COPD directly, you’d be forgiven for not knowing too much about it. It has a low profile compared to diseases of similar impact. Unfairly so.

By way of background, chronic respiratory disease kills almost as many people as lung cancer in England and Wales each year, with the total annual toll being approximately 29,000. COPD makes up a large part of these numbers. The WHO estimates that COPD will be the third leading cause of death worldwide in 2030. Those numbers alone should warrant attention.

copd_deaths

In the UK, COPD is predominantly caused by smoking. The British Lung Foundation states that 80% of all cases are caused by long-term cigarette smoking, and that about 25% of all long-term smokers will develop the disease. Therein lies perhaps part of the problem with the public profile of COPD. There’s a disproportionate amount of blame to go around in ‘self-inflicted’ lung diseases, COPD included. This stigma is a barrier both to resource allocation (treatment availability, research funding) and to patients (treatment seeking behaviour), and contributes to making COPD a greater problem than it needs to be. Smoking cessation is important, but if we truly want to improve outcomes in COPD, we must let go of the moralising and focus on the medicine.

copd_cause

Furthermore, COPD is typically diagnosed late, its primary symptoms often confused for signs of aging or smoker’s cough. The treatment that many patients receive is too little too late. While it is not curable, it can be treated, and the effectiveness of treatment depends on early diagnosis. Increasing the profile of COPD, both with the public and healthcare professionals, is a way to remedy this.

I’ll let Mr Spock have the last word, as is appropriate:

nimoy(Leonard Nimoy, 1931-2015)