Principles of Genetics

A few weeks ago, renowned geneticist Mitzi Kuroda used this video to begin her lecture in Genetics 201: Principles of Genetics at Harvard Medical School:

According to Dr. Kuroda, it was a “big hit, of course.”

Outdated yet still timely for election season.

Communication Excellence

Last night, Frontiers in Ophthalmology by the Harvard Medical School Department of Ophthalmology received a 2012 U360 Award in the category Communication Excellence. I served as scientific communications consultant and review committee member for this volume. Read about the award in the U360 Winner’s Gallery and the press release by Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary.

Frontiers in Ophthalmology wins U360 2012 Award in Communication Excellence

Image source:

Harvard Medical School Department of Ophthalmology. Frontiers in Ophthalmology. Boston: Harvard Medical School/Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, 2011.


Science writing

This is old news, but here are two recaps of the Science Writing Panel organized by Harvard Graduate Women in Science and Engineering (HGWISE):

I had the privilege of sitting on the panel for this event, which took place March 8, 2012 and was co-sponsored by Harvard Graduate School of Arts & Sciences (GSAS), Harvard Integrated Life Sciences (HILS), and the Harvard GSAS Graduate Student Council (GSC).

Photo: Cherie Ramirez, PhD, for DMS Bulletin


There’s no such thing as a free article

Academic publishing is a world of subscription paywalls, high publication fees, and exorbitant subscription and/or pay-per-article charges. Combined with peer review (which is basically an academically sanctioned form of hazing), this traditional model of academic publishing can significantly delay the dissemination of knowledge.

In a recent Wired Magazine article, Dr. Michael Eisen (who co-founded the open access publisher Public Library of Science) wrote that among many factors, subscription-only publishing “retards scientific progress.” In the article comments, several readers mentioned the high publication fees charged by many journals (even the open-access ones). One reader responded:

Two words: fee-waiver.  Look it up on the PLoS website.  No-one should be unable to publish in PLoS for financial reasons, whatever their situation.

I wrote a reply—but since my comment is still “awaiting approval” after six hours (so much for open publication), I decided to paraphrase it here:

As the saying goes, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” Economist Milton Friedman famously titled his book with the old adage in 1975—one year before he won the Nobel Prize. In economics, this saying refers to hidden/distributed costs for things that are apparently free. Likewise, in academic publishing, there’s no such thing as a free article. Even if author fees are waived, publishing still isn’t free—whether or not a journal is open access. In a panel discussion titled Who Pays for Open Access? hosted by the Columbia University Scholarly Communication Program, Dr. Mike Rossner (Executive Director of the Rockefeller University Press) estimated that publishing one peer-reviewed online scientific article costs the journal $10,000.

If academic publishing needs reform, it’s not as simple as making everything free access. In a recent editorial Open Access—Pass the Buck (which is ironically behind a paywall), Dr. Maria Leptin sums things up quite nicely:

The economics of open access are crucial, but they should not dominate how we think about scientific publishing. We must protect the core principles of scientific publishing no matter what the model: the critical, independent scrutiny of scientific claims and long-term archiving of validated research.


Is my cat making me crazy?

In the March 2012 Atlantic Magazine, Kathleen McAuliffe explores the notion that Toxoplasma gondii, a microbe found in cat feces, is a mind-controlling parasite that may lead to anxiety, schizophrenia, and car accidents:

How Your Cat Is Making You Crazy By KATHLEEN MCAULIFFE

Jaroslav Flegr is no kook. And yet, for years, he suspected his mind had been taken over by parasites that had invaded his brain. So the prolific biologist took his science-fiction hunch into the lab. What he’s now discovering will startle you. Could tiny organisms carried by house cats be creeping into our brains, causing everything from car wrecks to schizophrenia? (continue reading…)

Concerned that my beloved Chairman Meow is making me crazy, I wrote a song to soothe my troubled thoughts:

A Parasite Built for Two
Sung to the tune of Daisy Bell (a.k.a Bicycle Built for Two) by Harry Dacre

There is a kitty within my house. Chairman! Chairman!
Sometimes he gives me a half-dead mouse. A present from Chairman Meow!
Whether he’s given me parasites, I cannot tell right now,
But I am willing to share my life with beautiful Chairman Meow!

Chairman, Chairman, give me your answer do.
Am I half crazy all because of you?
It won’t be a good diagnosis if I have toxoplasmosis,
But you’re so sweet, I’ll gladly sweep your cat hair and scoop your poo.