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Review Unto Others, As You Would Have Others Review Unto You: my Golden Rule for Scientific Manuscripts

Finding—more like, eking out!—time from within a back-breaking work schedule, I recently managed to review back-to-back four manuscripts for publication in diverse journals. The topics in these papers touched my work only marginally, in that they belonged to the broad areas of microbiology, antibodies and immunodiagnostics. A chance remark by a professional friend—”Your reviews are impressively long and detailed…“—got me thinking about my overall experience reviewing scientific manuscripts. “Long and detailed” is probably why it takes me a considerable time and effort to go through the paper, occasionally check the references, and note down my thoughts in the margin, either on paper (i.e. on a print-out), or electronically (annotating the manuscript PDF, my preferred mode). Not unknown to anyone who is familiar with the process of scientific publishing and the world of biomedical journals, Peer Review is a mechanism that attracts a significant amount of controversy. So why do I keep investing the time and effort towards it? More after the fold.

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Nature Publishing Group dabbling in Homeopathy is a loss of opportunity for good pharmacognostic research

This morning, I was alerted to the latest homeopathy shenanigan via the Forbes column of Dr. Steven Salzberg. (COI statement: I don’t know Dr. Salzberg personally, but I follow his columns, and he is a faculty member at my institution—albeit in a discipline not directly related to mine.) At the heart of it is yet another bog-standard ridiculous “study” purporting to show “clinical effect” of homeopathy, despite the preponderant evidence that homeopathy does not work. What makes this instance special enough for me to take time out from my over-burdened work schedule? The fact that it was published in Scientific Reports from the—wait for it!—Nature Publishing Group. Yes, THAT Nature.

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In Which I Discover My First Homeopathic Remedy

It has been a while since I last posted on homeopathy. Frankly speaking, having written about it quite a bit, I have grown kinda tired of the utterly unscientific, nonsensical nature of homeopathy, and foolishness of its relentless proponents. However, a few days ago on Twitter, my attention was brought to a whole new level of ridiculousness in this quackery modality, and I found it concerning anew because of what it implies for the hapless, gullible and vulnerable patients desperately seeking medical care. Today’s short post touches on this.

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Spring Follows Winter Every Time Around

Hello-hello-hello and Best Wishes to my readers for a joyful and fulfilling 2018 ahead! 2017—by Toutatis!—presented its own unique set of challenges (a direct casualty of which was the frequency of my blog posts), but I hope to do better this year. To that end, I’d like to share my thoughts about something BEAUTIFUL I read yesterday: a feature by Nora Krug in the Washington Post.

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Sayonara… Fitbit. It’s Not Me. It’s You.

It was in early 2016 when, on account of my birthday, I got a Fitbit device. The model was Charge HR, which promised to track my steps, distance walked, floors climbed and so forth, as well as continuously track my heart rate throughout the day and make a note of my sleep pattern (a function I wanted because of my sleep apnea). It would also sync with my iPhone via the Fitbit app, and a neat bonus was vibrating call notifications on the device, even when my iPhone was on silent. It had a clock face option showing date and time, which meant I didn’t have to wear a watch any more.

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Making pseudoscience of homeopathy immune from criticism does not serve public weal

A physician friend alerted me the other day about a strange new official proclamation from the Government of India (GoI). With a long history of uncritical friendliness (as well as State-sponsorship) towards various alternative medicine modalities, GoI —specifically, the ministry in charge of altmed, the Ministry of AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha & Homeopathy) in this case— announced that a “high level committee” has been set up to “deal with issues” related to “false propaganda against homeopathy”.

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Evolution of Sodium Benzoate Chemophobia Promoted by Panera Bread, from ‘complex structure’ to ‘present in fireworks’

Oh the humanity of it all! Back in November I had written about the decidedly weird chemophobia around Sodium Benzoate being promoted by Panera Bread, one of my favorite bakery and soup-salad places in the US. As I wrote, my wife and I love to eat there, but its anti-science, pro-pseudoscience stance on this issue was profoundly disappointing. Well, three-quarters of a year later, it turns out they are still assiduously at it.

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Worrisome Trends in Anti-Science Push Targeting School Children in the US

This morning I came across an unsettling BuzzFeed report by Zahra Hirji (@Zhirji28 on Twitter) on how climate change denialism is being peddled to school teachers in the US.  Reports Zahra:

Teachers nationwide are being targeted in a campaign to spread bogus information about climate change…

Packages holding a cover letter, a 135-page book, and an 11-minute DVD, all falsely claiming that there is no scientific consensus on man-made climate change, started arriving in teacher mailboxes in March. The mailings were sent to more than 300,000 teachers, according to the group behind the campaign, the Heartland Institute.

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Asparagus, Odorants and SNPees; with a hat tip to SciAm’s Steve Mirsky

This morning I chanced upon, via that inexhaustible font of newsly tidbits otherwise known as Twitter, this fresh Scientific American essay by veteran science writer Steve Mirsky expounding upon a commonplace phenomenon that has been a lasting mystery as well as, interestingly, a source of conversation around science —the strong smell in urine following the consumption of Asparagus, that well-loved, delectable vegetable of Le Printemps known to mankind since 3000 BCE.

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Attrition through Intimidation, the New Immigration Policy Faced by Immigrant Professionals

This is not a space where I usually indulge in writing about politics per se, except whatever happens to impinge upon science policy, research funding and so forth. Scientists have long been accused of inhabiting a rarefied ivory tower, detached from any engagement with the general populace, but the portents are that the current political climate in the United States makes it imperative for science professionals to hang up their lab-coats and get more involved with the grand American political process in order to bring their educated, informed and expert perspectives to evidence-based, logically-consistent policy-making. Indeed, within the past couple of weeks, I can recall at least two instances of scientists feeling impelled to attempt joining the fray for this nation’s governance— NASA scientist Tracy Van Houten,  and UC Berkeley evolutionary biologist Michael Eisen —a most encouraging sign.

For me, however, the view of politics is a lot more fundamental than merely engaging in policy making. Political engagement is not ordinarily something I would have time to consider during my regular working hours as a research scientist. But as an immigrant to this land and person-of-color, I do believe that in certain situations, as the one we have reached in this nation, the whole existence of mine and people like me became inevitably political, a state in which remaining neutral for the sake of some esoteric neutrality is not possible without being a hypocrite. I simply no longer have the luxury of remaining blissfully unaware of the rapidly-changing circumstances around me, whose impact on the lives and livelihoods of my family, my friends and me is potentially grave. The most recent example of this blipped onto my radar a couple of hours ago, in form of a report in the Gothamist on the extreme immigration enforcement guidelines released today by the Department of Homeland Security, yes, the same department that is the supreme arbiter of my life and status as an immigrant/Permanent Resident in the United States.

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