Friday Foolery #42 So You Think You Can Dance Your PhD Thesis?

5 11 2011

It’s hard to explain your research to non-scientists. My PhD defense was preceded by a slide show (yes, that was once-upon-a-time that we didn’t use Powerpoint). It was the only part the public could follow a bit. But it is too long, static and detailed.

That cannot be said of these videos, where PhD’s from all over the world interpret their graduate research in dance form.

The videos below are the winners of the 2011 edition of the Dance your PhD contest. For the 4th year, this contest is organized by Gonzolabs & Science. See

There are 4 categories—chemistry, physics, biology, and social sciences

The overall winner of 2011 was Joel Miller (category physics), a biomedical engineer at the University of Western Australia in Perth. Miller apparently compensated his poor dancing skills and the lack of a video by applying stop-motion animation (stringing together about 2,200 photos to make it look as though his “actors” were dancing). His video shows the creation of titanium  alloys that are both strong and flexible enough for long-lasting hip replacements.
I love the song by the way. It fits perfectly to the dance scene.

You can see all winning videos here and all 2011 (this years) PhD videos here. You can also check out the 2010 and the 2009 PhD dances.

The other winners of 2011 were  FoSheng Hsu (chemistry category) who guides viewers through the entire sequence of steps required for x-ray crystallography,  Emma Ware (social science) who studies the traditional ‘stimulus-release’ model of social interaction using pigeon courtship (a beautiful pas a deux) and Edric Kai Wei Tan (biology) with the funny dance about Smell mediated response to relatedness of potential mates, simply put “fruit fly sex”.

Being Dutch, I would like to close with the Dutch winner of the biology category in 2010, Maartje Cathelijne de Jong who dances her PhD, “The influence of previous experiences on visual awareness.”


I Got the Wrong Request from the Wrong Journal to Review the Wrong Piece. The Wrong kind of Open Access Apparently, Something Wrong with this Inherently…

27 08 2011

Meanwhile you might want to listen to “Wrong” (Depeche Mode)

Yesterday I screened my spam-folder. Between all male enhancement and lottery winner announcements, and phishing mails for my bank account, there was an invitation to peer review a paper in “SCIENCE JOURNAL OF PATHOLOGY”.

Such an invitation doesn’t belong in the spam folder, doesn’t it? Thus I had a closer look and quickly screened the letter.

I don’t know what alarmed me first. The odd hard returns, the journal using a Gmail address, an invitation for a topic (autism) I knew nothing about, an abstract that didn’t make sense and has nothing to do with Pathology, the odd style of the letter: the informal, but impersonal introduction (How are you? I am sure you are busy with many activities right now) combined with a turgid style (the paper addresses issues of value to our broad-based audience, and that it cuts through the thick layers of theory and verbosity for them and makes sense of it all in a clean, cohesive manner) and some misspellings. And then I never had an invitation from an editor, starting with the impersonal “Colleagues”… 

But still it was odd. Why would someone take the trouble of writing such an invitation letter? For what purpose? And apparently the person did know that I was a scientist, who does -or is able to- peer review medical scientific papers. Since the mail was send to my Laika Gmail account, the most likely source for my contact info must have been my pseudonymous blog. I seldom use this mail account for scientific purposes.

What triggered my caution flag the most, was the topic: autism. I immediately linked this to the anti-vaccination quackery movement, that’s trying to give skeptic bloggers a hard time and fights a personal, not a scientific battle. I also linked it to #epigate, that was exposed at Liz Ditz I Speak of Dreams, a blog with autism as a niche topic.

#Epigate is the story of René Najeraby aka @EpiRen, a popular epidemiologist blogger who was asked to stop engaging in social media by his employers, after a series of complaints by a Mr X, who also threatened other pseudonymous commenters/bloggers criticizing his actions. According to Mr. X no one will be safe, because all i have to do is file a john doe – or hire a cyber investigator. these courses of action cost less than $10,000 each; which means every person who is afraid of the light can be exposed”  In another comment at Liz Ditz’ he actually says he will go after a specific individual: “Anarchic Teapot”.

Ok, I admit that the two issues might be totally coincidental, and they probably are, but I’m hypersensitive for people trying to silence me via my employers (because that did happen to me in the past). Anyway,asking a pseudonymous blogger to peer-review might be a way to hack the real identity of such a blogger. Perhaps far-fetched, I know.

But what would the “editor” do if I replied and said “yes”?

I became curious. Does The Science Journal of Pathology even exist?

Not in PubMed!!

But the Journal “Science Journal of Pathology” does exist on the Internet…. and John Morrison is the editor. But he is the only one. As a matter of fact he is the entire staff…. There are “search”, “current” and “archives” tabs, but the latter two are EMPTY.

So I would have the dubious honor of reviewing the first paper for this journal?…. 😉

  1. (First assumption – David) – High school kids are looking for someone to peer review (and thus improve) their essays to get better grades.
    (me: school kids could also be replaced by “non-successful or starting scientists”)
  2. (Second assumption – David) Perhaps they are only looking to fill out their sucker lists. If you’ve done a bad review, they may blackmail you in other to keep it quiet.
  3. (me) – The journal site might be a cover up for anything (still no clue what).
  4. (me) – The site might get a touch of credibility if the (upcoming) articles are stamped with : “peer-reviewed by…”
  5. (David & me) the scammers target PhD’s or people who the “editors” think have little experience in peer reviewing and/or consider it a honor to do so.
  6. (David & me) It is phishing scam.You have to register on the journal’s website in order to be able to review or submit. So they get your credentials. My intuition was that they might just try to track down the real name, address and department of a pseudonymous blogger, but I think that David’s assumption is more plausible. David thinks that a couple of people in Nigeria is just after your password for your mail, amazon, PayPal etc for “the vast majority of people uses the same password for all logins, which is terribly bad practice, but they don’t want to forget it.”

With David, I would like to warn you for this “very interesting phishing scheme”, which aims at academics and especially PhD’s. We have no clue as to their real intentions, but it looks scammy.

Besides that the scam may affect you personally, such non-existing and/or low quality open access journals do a bad service to the existing, high quality open access journals.

There should be ways to remove such scam websites from the net.


“Academic scams – my wife just received a version of this for an Autism article, PhD/DPhil/Masters students beware that mentions a receipt of a similar autism”
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An Introduction to the Library for Graduate Students

6 11 2010

Below is a presentation I gave at the “World of Science”. This is a 3-day course for graduate students that aims to provide them the fundamental knowledge and skills needed for scientific research, and to prepare them for their thesis at our hospital, the AMC.

The 3-day program comprises a series of presentations on aspects of medical and biomedical research. These include the position of the pharmaceutical industry, the role of scientific journals, the ethical and legal framework of medical research, and the organization and funding of scientific research in the Netherlands. There is also an introduction to the scientific strategy of the AMC, presented by the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine.

Furthermore there are group discussions, workshops, and individual assignments.

The course is held outside the AMC. It provides a unique opportunity for a closer and more personal meeting with each other and with leading AMC scientists, to discuss such matters as the choices they made in their careers.

I had 15 minutes (actually 20 minutes) to tell something about the library. (It used to be 30 min. but wasn’t received so well). That is too short to explain searching to them. Furthermore that is dealt with in our courses, so why give it all away?

I choose to show them how the library could serve them, in an interactive and loose way.

First I asked them how they saw the library. Many, if not all, used our website. Pfff, that was a relieve!

I spend most time talking about searching, showing  examples of searches that failed. Which is the best way to show them they might need some extra education in this respect.

The atmosphere was very good & informal, there were many questions and it was sometimes quite hilarious, not only because of the presentation itself, but because I almost managed to ruin the screen (fell against it) and because I walked away with the microphone.

I had the opportunity to listen to the next speaker too, a young scientist who recently finished his thesis. His talk was great to listen to. He talked about his experience (which was not really representative imho, because it was quite a success story) and he gave the would-be PhD’s 10 handy tips. All in a very entertaining way.

But for now, here is my presentation.