“This is quite possibly the worst paper I’ve read all year”

April 19th, 2014

This is quite possibly the worst paper I’ve read all year,” writes Lior Pachter in his blog, Bits of DNA, proceeding to perform a detailed, methodical autopsy. He’s talking about this paper, which has been the subject of many scare-inducing news reports:

J.M. Gilman et al.Cannabis Use Is Quantitatively Associated with Nucleus Accumbens and Amygdala Abnormalities in Young Adult Recreational Users, Neurobiology of Disease, 34 (2014), 5529–5538.

Professor Pachter, after dissecting the study, ends his essay with a tidy thought:

…I believe that scientists should be sanctioned for making public statements that directly contradict the content of their papers, as appears to be the case here. There is precedent for this.

(Thanks to investigator Ivan Oransky for bringing this to our attention.)

Here are:

  • The official press release about the study.
  • breiterThe study’s authors, and the institutions with which they are affiliated (as listed in the study):  Jodi M. Gilman1,4,5, John K. Kuster1,2,*, Sang Lee1,6,*, Myung Joo Lee1,6,*, Byoung Woo Kim1,6, Nikos Makris3,5, Andre van der Kouwe4,5, Anne J. Blood1,2,4,5,†, and Hans C. Breiter [pictured here]1,2,4,6,†
  • Those institutions  (as listed in the study): 1 Laboratory of Neuroimaging and Genetics, Department of Psychiatry, 2 Mood and Motor Control Laboratory, 3 Center for Morphometric Analysis, Department of Psychiatry, and 4 Athinoula A. Martinos Center in Biomedical Imaging, Department of Radiology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Charlestown, Massachusetts 02129, 5 Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, and 6 Warren Wright Adolescent Center, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois 06011

Here, also as listed in the study, are the “author contributions” to the study:

  • J.M.G., M.J.L., B.K., N.M., A.J.v.d.K., A.B., and H.C.B. designed research; J.M.G., J.K.K., S.L., and A.J.v.d.K. performed research; M.J.L., B.K., A.B., and H.C.B. contributed unpublished reagents/analytic tools; J.M.G., J.K.K., S.L., M.J.L., N.M., A.B., and H.C.B. analyzed data; J.M.G., A.B., and H.C.B. wrote the paper.
  •  *J.K.K., S.L., and M.J.L. contributed equally to this work.
  •  †A.J.B. and H.C.B. contributed equally to this work.

BONUS: Description of a talk by Dr. Breiter1,2,4,6,† (the anchor editor of the cannabis study), with a modestly extensive biography of Dr. Breiter, highlighting a few of Dr. Breiter’s many accomplishments.


The tomatoic under-arm odour of J.C.M. Stewart

April 19th, 2014

J.C.M. Stewart conveys an unusual kind of information in this medical paper:

Tomatoes cause under-arm odour,” J.C.M. Stewart, Medical Hypotheses, vol. 82 (2014) pp. 518–521. (Thanks to Jean-François Sauvé for bringing this to our attention.) The author, in Downpatrick, Co Down, Northern Ireland, explains:

“I was more than usually aware of my AO [armpit odor] one hot summer seven years ago when colleagues became restless and routinely opened windows in my presence. Nothing was ever said of course but this happened so regularly that there was no doubt about it, I eventually realised: I was the centre of a perfect pong. This is embarrassing and totally unacceptable to anyone working in a professional capacity. Yet a scrupulously cleansing shower each morning did not eliminate the problem. It happened I did not use deodorants or anti antiperspirants so the AO was not artificially suppressed.”

Virtual hand shadow theatrics

April 18th, 2014

If you, like Raymond Crowe shown above, are a professional hand-shadow artist (viz. a shadowgrapher according to Wikpedia) then you might think that your job is one of the relatively few that is unlikely to be replicated by a computer any time soon. Think again. Work underway at the IMAGINE (Intuitive Modeling and Animation for Interactive Graphics & Narrative Environments) Laboratory, Grenoble, France, is attempting just that. Here, they announce an M.Sc. / Ph.D. internship opportunity :

“The goal of the internship will be to design and implement generative methods for automatically animating virtual hands and generating shadow plays driven by objective goals, such as reproducing a given shape or motion; or visualizing a given story.”

 BONUS Shadowgraph of an exploding balloon filled with hydrogen/air (is there a mystery face at around 11 seconds, or is it an illusion?)

The drop dropped in the Ig Nobel-winning pitch drop experiment

April 17th, 2014

Big little news from Queensland, as reported by Celeste Biever and Lisa Grossman for New Scientist magazine:

Longest experiment sees pitch drop after 84-year wait

The pitch has dropped – again. This time, the glimpse of a falling blob of tar, also called pitch, represents the first result for the world’s longest-running experiment…. Up-and-running since 1930, the experiment is based at the University of Queensland in Australia and seeks to capture blobs of pitch as they drip down, agonisingly slowly, from their parent bulk.

The Queensland experiment already features in the Guinness World Records and won an IgNobel prize in 2005. It was set up by physicist Thomas Parnell to illustrate that although pitch appears solid, shattering when hit with a hammer at room temperature, it is actually a very viscous liquid.

The eventual result follows several near misses, according to the University of Queensland. John Mainstone, who oversaw the experiment for more than 50 years until his death last August, missed observing the drops fall three times – by a day in 1977, by just five minutes in 1988 and, perhaps most annoying, in 2000, when the webcam that was recording it was hit by a 20-minute power outage….

The university issued an official announcement of the drop’s dropping. The experiment was begun by “the University of Queensland’s first physics professor, Thomas Parnell, in 1927.”

Three decades later, more or less, Professor John Mainstone took over from Professor Parnell. Professor Mainstone oversaw the experiment at the time the Ig Nobel Prize was awarded, and attended the ceremony at Harvard.  Alas, he did not live to see the ninth drop drop.

Professor Andrew White, youthful, now oversees the experiment.

BONUS: The live webcam view of the experiment, which now is hurtling at extremely low speed towards the day or night when the tenth drop will drop.

The curses of being a rat: Landmine-detection reinforcement

April 17th, 2014

Bit by bit, people work to devise improvements in procedures related to explosions. This study tells of one such effort:

Landmine-detection rats: An evaluation of reinforcement procedures under simulated operational conditions,” Amanda Mahoney, Kate Lalonde, Timothy Edwards, Christophe Cox, Bart Weetjens and Alan Poling [pictured here], Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, epub March 27, 2014. The authors, at APOPO in Santa Clara, California, and Western Michigan University, explain:

Alan_poling“The results of this translational research study suggest that the TNT-contamination procedure is a viable option for arranging reinforcement opportunities for rats engaged in actual landmine-detection activities and the viability of this procedure is currently being evaluated on minefields in Angola and Mozambique.”