blog archive

communicating science: values vs. data

I was recently reading a PNAS paper entitled “Bringing values and deliberation to science communication” by Thomas Dietz from Michigan State [thanks to Ashley for sending this along]. The basic premise of the article is that robust and useful communication of science is required for that information to be used correctly in making personal decisions as well as formation of policy. I could write a summary of the article, but that has already been done in other places. You should go and read the article yourself rather than relying on summaries that don’t really permit you to gather the entire weight of Dietz’ arguments. In lieu of a true synopsis, I thought it might be interesting to simply provide some key quotes from the article, since it is perhaps one of the most quotable pieces from the peer-reviewed literature  I have read in quite some time. The quotes are presented below without commentary, and in the order in which they appear in the article. Some may seem mind-numbingly obvious outside the context of the article, while others may seem incomprehensible. Whatever the case, my hope is that they will pique your interest enough to go and read the article yourself. I should note that there are many threads in the article that hearken to the content of Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow, which is fantastic and perhaps should be required reading of all scientists, journalists, and policy makers alike.

Continue reading “communicating science: values vs. data”

pathological science

I was recently re-reading the transcript of Irving Langmuir‘s classic Pathological Science lecture from 1953 (download the PDF) and thought I might drop a post on here about it.  For most physical scientists, I imagine that the talk is well known.  There are extensive websites on the subject, as well as the obligatory Wikipedia page, so there is no need to rehash all of that here.  However, it did strike me that maybe a restating of the lecture’s main points would be of some use, since the talk is apparently not as well known amongst many of my colleagues in the biosciences.  So, Langmuir defined pathological science as having the following properties (Langmuir’s words in quotes): Continue reading “pathological science”

some thoughts on the ECM

Just a quick post to note that a new review article from the group, “Colloid-matrix assemblies in regenerative medicine”, appeared online today in Current Opinion in Colloid and Interface Science.  The paper is essentially a short discussion of the extracellular matrix, its properties, and how one might recapitulate its function by using colloidal particles as modifiers.  The vision for this and the writing efforts were split between Kim Clarke from our group, and Alison Douglas from the Barker lab, with Dr. Ashley Brown offering additional insight and ideas in the paper’s construction.  Check it out – any comments/thoughts on the subject are certainly welcome.

congrats to Grant!

When it rains, it pours – another group member is moving on.  Yesterday saw Grant Hendrickson give an outstanding presentation of a small slice of his research on the occasion of his Ph.D. defense.  During his time in the group, Grant worked on an incredible array of topics, including microlenses, emulsions (Pickering and traditional), resistive pulse analysis, and nanopore translocation.  His breadth of experience and tremendous leadership qualities suggest that he will continue to be very successful, wherever he ends up next.  Stay tuned for news of his next stop, as he considers his options over the next few months.

Congratulations, Grant!

congrats to Jeff!

Last month, Jeff Gaulding successfully (and brilliantly) defended his dissertation. His talk was an outstanding tour through the different synthetic approaches he has taken in order to increase the versatility and functionality of hydrogel microparticles. With today being his last day at GT, we all wish him luck as he moves on to greener pastures.

Luckily for us, we will still be able to call on him for his wisdom if we are ever in a bind. He isn’t straying too far from us, as he is moving on to 4P Therapeutics in Norcross where he will be working on technologies for transdermal drug delivery. They are getting a talented scientist who knows how to navigate research in an interdisciplinary, team-based environment. They are fortunate to have attracted him there.

From everyone in the group – best of luck, Dr. Gaulding!

violating the “codex of science”?

I just finished reading this editorial from Thomas Lüscher, published in European Heart Journal, for which he serves as Editor-In-Chief.  For most folks who happen upon my website, the main details of this article may not be of particular interest, as the apparent driver for writing it comes from two recent notable cases of fraud and/or misconduct in cardiovascular medicine (see these links for additional info on Polderman and Matsubara, the two main topics of discussion).  Larry Husten over at Forbes has also written about the editorial from the cardiology point of view. Continue reading “violating the “codex of science”?”

makin’ raspberries

A new paper from the group came out today in ACS Macro Letters entitled “Packed Colloidal Phases Mediate the Synthesis of Raspberry-Structured Microgel Heteroaggregates“. The paper basically describes how you can take advantage of the “self-healing” properties of packed microgel assemblies to decorate other colloidal particles with microgels. Basically, a “hard” particle like a poly(styrene) or silica sphere can be dispersed into a viscous microgel fluid, or a packed glassy phase, and then the microgels that are in intimate contact with that “defect” can be coupled to its surface. The resultant raspberry structured particles then have the hybrid properties of a dense core and a hydrophilic hydrogel shell. Whereas similar structures have bee made by other approaches, we find this method very scalable and easy to use. The approach allows for a variety of different materials to be made without worrying about the somewhat finicky colloid chemistry associated with heteroaggregation from dilute media, which is another approach to making such materials.

Jeff and Shalini led this work and a former REU student, Danielle Montanari (currently at Utah) helped tremendously during her time here. These particles are now being used in a collaboration with the McDevitt lab – we hope to tell you about that work soon – stay tuned.

whither higher “ed”?

I am a graduate of Rutgers University (B.A., RC ’92). Like many Rutgers alumni, I am beset by a range of emotions in light of the recent events surrounding the basketball program. To be blunt, President Barchi and AD Pernetti should follow Mike Rice out the door. They have no business leading young men and women and clearly do not treat RU as an institution of higher education. Continue reading “whither higher “ed”?”

two new papers from opposite ends of the group

This is just a quick post describing some new work that is now available online.  First up, we have Development of Self-Assembling Mixed Protein Micelles with Temperature-Modulated Avidities that is online at Advanced Healthcare Materials. This is another collaborative effort between my group and Tom Barker’s, with his former student Allyson Soon being the lead author. In this work, Allyson developed block copolymer micelles composed of elastin-like polypeptides with fibrinogen-binding peptides (GPRP) tethered to the outer micelle surface. By switching the micelle structure (and hence the GPRP binding availability) she was able to thermally switch micelle-fibrinogen binding. We supported this very nice work with some light scattering studies (Mike Smith) and some AFM (Emily Herman). Allyson is currently a postdoc at UCLA with Tatiana Segura and seems to be doing quite well. Since I am also at UCLA right now on sabbatical, and have been infiltrating the Segura group meetings, Allyson has unfortunately not rid herself of me yet – I am still bugging her…

The second new paper is Plastic Deformation, Wrinkling, and Recovery in Microgel Multilayers, which is online at Polymer Chemistry (RSC). Jeff Gaulding and Mark Spears teamed up on this work, which was invited as part of a special issue on Self-Healing Polymers. This is an extension of our previous work on microgel-based, LbL-fabricated, thin films that can be damaged by deformation, but then re-heal upon immersion in water. Perhaps the two key results from this work involved the use of AFM to image the films during deformation and damage, and the use of humid environments to induce slow healing. The AFM studies conclusively show that the damage induced during linear stress is plastic deformation or stretching of the film, with wrinkling occurring after release of the stress. Before these studies, it was not at all clear whether the damage patterns observed were wrinkles or cracks, making determination of the damage and healing pathways difficult. Secondly, we did not have a clear sense of what drove healing. Whereas hydration was important, it was not known whether surface tension or film swelling was driving healing. By precisely controlling the humidity around the film, we were able to show that film swelling is sufficient to induce healing, suggesting that the polymer mobility in the film during swelling is sufficient to restore the film to a state approximating the as-prepared structure.

If you have the time and interest, go check out both papers, and feel free to provide any feedback you feel is warranted.

designer blood clots

Just thought I would put up a short post linking to a new press release on our work.  Tom Barker’s group has taken the lead on our rapidly growing hemostasis/artificial platelet project, and he spent the day today presenting and talking to the press about the work at the AAAS meeting. While Tom’s group has brought their deep understanding of ECM biology and engineering to the project, we have contributed new microgels that utilize molecular evolution work out of Tom’s lab to create artificial platelets. The ability of these artificial platelets to speed up clotting has been investigated in endothelialized microfluidic devices developed by Wilbur Lam’s group, making for a very exciting and dynamic collaboration. Driving this project forward, from the polymer synthesis to the ongoing (and very promising) animal studies, has been Dr. Ashley Brown, who is working with new Lyon Group grad students Caroline and Kenny, along with undergrad extraordinaire Kabir. Stay tuned – hopefully more of the great stuff going on in this project will be revealed soon.

this is science. get it together, people

One week ago, the website Science Fraud ceased operations under mounting legal pressure. The folks over at Retraction Watch have done a nice job of documenting these events here and here. I was also pointed in the direction of this OP/ED by Bill Frezza in Forbes that was published today that makes the case for more operations like Science Fraud, which seems kind of like a no-brainer position to me. To quote from Frezza’s article:

Given the tens of millions of dollars in misappropriated research funds that financed this small sample of what is surely a larger problem and the cascading pollution of the scientific literature whenever fraudulent publications get cited, it’s a shame that this tip-of-of-the-iceberg effort at cleansing the muck is being shut down rather than expanded.

That argument is a fiscal one, and it is accurate. But in reality, isn’t this all about scientific discourse? Science Fraud was crowdsourced (it wasn’t just a one-person show) and was largely anonymous, but that doesn’t mean the site was dismissive of having a discussion about the results in question. To quote from Frezza again:

Fraud, plagiarism, cherry-picked results, poor or non-existent controls, confirmation bias, opaque, missing, or unavailable data, and stonewalling when questioned have gone from being rare to being everyday occurrences.

If Science Fraud or any other anonymous website alleges such transgressions, it is certainly appropriate for the accused to enter into a scientific dialogue/defense with the accuser – this plays out millions of times a day in countless blogs across the web. If the accuser is being disingenuous, this will become clear in due course. However, the fact that some have resorted to the litigious path seems distinctly non-scientific to me. If the alleged transgressions were really so innocent, why haven’t we seen a well-constructed counter-argument? The answer to that question seems obvious to me – you can draw your own conclusions.

***UPDATE – January 11, 2013***

Science Magazine has chimed in with this article from Jennifer Couzin-Frankel. It is more of a simple recounting of events as opposed to an opinion piece, but it provides useful insight into how all of this is playing out.


a little bragging

Sorry for using this space for off-topic stuff again, but I wanted to take this opportunity to brag about two of my nieces, who are seeing some of their work published. First, a paper from Erica Prochaska’s work at UPenn has appeared in The Journal of Pediatrics. The paper, “Using the Androgen Excess–PCOS Society Criteria to Diagnose Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and the Risk of Metabolic Syndrome in Adolescents” looks at how one can use a variety of criteria to enable early diagnosis of PCOS in adolescents (yes, the title is pretty self-explanatory). If this interests you, I encourage you to check it out.

In a completely different domain, Stephanie Lyon will soon see her paper “Psychotherapy and the Mormon Faith” published in the Journal of Religion and Health. This is a bit far afield for me, and I haven’t seen the pre-print yet, so we will have to wait for it to come out before entering into a deep discussion of the work. Congrats to Steff and Erica!


Add one more niece to the list. Rebecca’s work was recently published in the First Amendment Law Review.  Again, pretty far afield for me, so I won’t profess to understand the details of “Faith Healing Exceptions Versus Parens Patriae: Something’s Gotta Give”.  Regardless of my limited knowledge of First Amendment Law, congrats to Rebecca are in order!

new issue of Colloid and Polymer Science

A new issue of Colloid and Polymer Science (volume 291, issue 1) hit the newsstands this week, and this issue is noteworthy for its focus on Functional Polymeric Microspheres. The issue was guest-edited by Haruma Kawaguchi and Masayoshi Okubo, and they did a great job of getting people from a wide span of areas to contribute. I will also note that our group contributed, with Jeff and group alumnus Toni co-authoring “Hydrolytically degradable shells on thermoresponsive microgels”.  In this paper, we describe how core swelling restriction/compression can be modulated by controlled degradation of cross-links in the polymer shell. A variety of tools were employed to better understand these particles, including dynamic light scattering, asymmetrical flow field-flow fractionation–multiangle light scattering, and atomic force microscopy. Congrats to Jeff and Toni for some very nice work.  Happy reading…

cancer – prevention vs. treatment

I thought I would share an interesting presentation by Craig Thompson, President and CEO of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.  If you have 30 minutes to spare, it is worth a look. For some time now, we have known that tumors have a much higher glucose demand than healthy tissues. However, this fact rarely translates into dietary advice. The hypothesis is that if tumor needs glucose, then consuming a diet that is low in carbohydrate will effectively starve the tumor and result in necrosis. A diet that contains a higher proportion of calories from fat would in principle be less oncogenic.  Thompson acknowledges in the Q&A that current dietary advice would argue against a high fat diet due to the focus on “heart-healthy” diets, but that we need to balance that against the desire to prevent cancer – waiting to treat the disease is clearly not good enough. It is unfortunate that he doesn’t discuss the fact that the demonization of cholesterol and fat is probably misguided. Nonetheless, there are also some interesting ideas out there on using a low carbohydrate dietary strategy to treat advanced cancer, including the work of Eugene Fine and Richard Feinman. You can download a recent paper on the subject here, in which a small (10 patient) sample was studied.  You can read Eugene’s discussion of the work on Richard’s blog – it is encouraging to note that even in this very small study, there was a statistically meaningful correlation between disease stabilization (with one case of remission) and dietary ketosis.  Getting back to the original point of this post, have a look at Thompson’s presentation (below).  Hopefully in the future we can move in a the direction of funding for dietary cancer prevention – there is good reason to believe in this “tumor starvation” approach.  Continue reading “cancer – prevention vs. treatment”