Monday, November 25, 2013

Eating dates to speed up your due date?

When you’re very pregnant, even if you’re a rational scientist-type person, you can sometimes not help but googleing “ways to induce labor”. My google even already autofilled it for me, it must know more than me about myself. And instead of reading scientifically sound pieces about what might determine when the baby comes, I find myself reading about acupuncture, castor oil and all that. But wait a minute, what does it say on the bottom of the page? Something about a recent scientific study showing that eating dates has a favorable effect on labor and delivery? I had to check that out.

The paper is from a group of scientists from Jordan, published in a journal with the astonishing impact factor of 0.55, and looks at two groups of 45 and 69 women. One group of women eats at least 6 pieces of date fruit in the four weeks prior to giving birth, whereas the other group eats none. It’s a prospective study, meaning that the women who eat dates are not assigned to that group, which I think is important to notice. The researchers find that in the date-eating group, the women arrived to the hospital more dilated than the non-date-eating group, had their membranes intact more often, had more spontaneous labor, and the use of Pitocin was lower. Also, the duration of the first stage of labor was shorter, but I wonder if that isn’t just the case because they arrived at the hospital more dilated. I don’t know about Jordan, but I could imagine that the group of women who eat 6 dates each day, is a different group of women to begin with. They might be the women who refuse induction with Pitocin, stay home longer before going to the hospital, refuse to have their membranes artificially ruptured, etc etc. We might just be looking at two different groups of women who happen to be different in their date fruit consumption. The researchers conclude: “that the consumption of date fruit in the last 4 weeks before labour significantly reduced the need for induction and augmentation of labour, and produced a more favourable, but non-significant, delivery outcome. The results warrant a randomised controlled trial.” I totally agree with that final sentence.

And for those of you wondering, I have not been eating any date fruits over the last couple of weeks.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

On delusional academics

The other day, I was talking to transitioning out of academia with a couple people in my lab. One of the grad students had just had a conversation with a senior PI (but not our PI) about that. The senior PI had said that ze didn’t understand that people would leave academia. Ze understood that times were rough now, with the economy being bad and funding being low, but if everyone would just wait it out, things would turn for the better and we could all stay in academia. Yeah right. Sadly, the grad student didn’t ask what we were all supposed to do while waiting for the economy to get better, so I don’t know the answer to that. And I wonder if said senior PI would know the answer.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Getting jobs through the back door

Warning: this post is written in an empty lab because all my colleagues left for the Society for Neuroscience meeting. Since I am too pregnant to attempt going to such a large meeting that is an uncomfortably long flight away, I am still in the lab. In the meantime, I can’t help but worry about whether I will find grant money and/or a job before we move back to the homecountry next year. So then you know why this post is kind of ranty.

Every now and then I check the websites of some of the institutes and universities in my homecountry, to see what happens there. And more often than I would like, I will see that someone who used to be a post-doc in one of the groups, then moved up to become a group leader in the same university or institute. Good for that person, you would think. But wait a minute, how did they get there? Was there a vacancy for a position that they applied for? Most of the time the answer is no. Most of the time, these people get promoted within the institute or university. Why does this happen? Because they are there and people know what they’re capable of? Because they are friends with the people who make those decisions? Because it’s easier for the institute to just hire someone than to have a search? I don’t know. Perhaps a combination of those reasons. What I do know is that it makes it hard to find a job if you don’t already have a foot in the door, because there are rarely any advertised jobs for anything higher than post-doc positions. I know this is not specific to my homecountry, but actually happens in many European countries, which explains the lack of mobility of researchers between European countries. As you might expect, I think this system kind of sucks.

Alright, I got that off my chest, now I can go back to work. Enjoy SfN and keep me updated on who filled their SfN Bingo cards first!!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Changing science, one lengthy PDF at a time

This weekend, I read an article entitled: ”Rebels rise against science gone crazy” (my translation) in one of my homecountry’s newspapers. A short version can be found here, the whole article is behind a paywall. The article was about a group of Dutch scientists, who believe that certain things in science need to change. These scientists by the way are all white males in their fifties (from looking at their pictures). Apparently increasing diversity, which is not one of their goals anyway, is not something the group strives for themselves. But exactly what do they think needs to change? I first clicked on their website, called “Science in Transition”, that is unfortunately completely in Dutch. There are a couple English articles on there, if you know that for that you have to click on “meer lezen”. (No wonder Nature Magazine recently found that there is very little mobility between European countries.) The scientists have written a manifest stating their ideas and solutions. However, this manifest is a 31 page PDF with no bullet points, highlighted sentences or a summary. It’s harder to read than the classic Fatt and Katz paper about electrophysiology, but I read it anyway (as opposed to Fatt and Katz I must admit to my shame).

In this PDF the writers define what the problem is: one part of the problem is that scientists are judged too much on basis of impact factors, and H-index, which can be influenced according to these authors by scientists promising each other authorships and citations. Another (perhaps related) problem is that the public has the wrong ideas about how science works and how scientists come to certain conclusions. The third problem is scientific fraud.

Now I wanted to summarize their ideas and solutions to change science, but the need to do science got in the way of getting through these pretty horribly written 31 pages of the manifest. In very short (copied from the newspaper article), they state:
  •         Society should be more involved with the identification of scientific problems that scientists need to work on.
  •         The value of science (and scientists?) needs to be measured not with impact factors and h-indexes but with societal relevance.
  •         The number of PhD students should decrease, and PhD students should learn better how the science world works.
  •         Scientists should be honest about insecurities about their data, conflicting results and conflicts between scientists.
  •         More research should be done on the sociology and economy of science itself.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it is great that people are thinking about how to change science and that scientists are trying to be open about the flaws in the current scientific system, but PLEASE write a manifest that is readable because throwing this manifest down from the ivory tower may not be the best way to change science. Also, please discuss their ideas and solutions.