Archive for: March, 2013

Friday Weird Science: Losing your frog transmission? Check the toilet.

Mar 08 2013 Published by under Friday Weird Science

The body doesn't like foreign objects. For example, our skin is often able to "work out" small splinters, and we can reject many implants with nasty allergic responses to them. Some species (such as catfish), when you give them an implant, will work it into the intestine, and poop it out (there's even a report of this happening in a human with a leftover surgical sponge)! Of course, pooping something out is one thing, you've got a little room to spare. Peeing it out? That is entirely another, and brings up feeling akin to the horror of passing a kidney stone. But it doesn't stop some species, and in this case, it left some scientists scratching their heads.

Tracey et al. "Removing the rubbish: frogs eliminate foreign objects from the body cavity through the bladder" Biology Letters, 2013.

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Take me as I am, and my paper as it is?

Mar 06 2013 Published by under Academia

I rarely opine on publishing or publishing practices. This is mostly because I feel like I'm not 'good' at them. My papers don't often get in with minor revisions. Often I've got a ridiculously puffed head about my own work (apparently), and send them to places which reject them out of hand, or suggest major revisions and piles of new experiments which we just cannot do for various reasons. Then the paper ends up shuttled around. Send it in, wait 3 months, get rejected. Reformat (+2 mo or even more depending on collaborators and how much other crap you've got on your plate at the time) and send it out again. Years go by. In the meantime, suggested reviewers begin to hate me and I run out of new ones (only so many people in the field!).

I really wish there was a way to get out of this. This sort of thing contributes to the long lag times and slowness of scientific advance. Sure, it'd be great if everyone just wised up to the point of knowing EXACTLY which journal their work is perfect for and if reviewers were always kind enough not to suggest that the true mechanism needs to be found with another 5 years worth of work. But clearly, we're humans and this isn't going to happen. I know loads of people who are full PIs with many years of experience who can't make this choice "wisely". This is especially true if you're stepping slightly outside of your "home" field.

But then I had a thought. What if manuscript submission could be as good as a one-shot?

Like this: you submit a paper to a large umbrella of journals of several "tiers". It goes out for review. The reviewers make their criticisms. Then they say "this paper is fine, but it's not impactful enough for journal X unless major experiments A, B, and C are done. However, it could fit into journal Y with only experiment A, or into journal Z with only minor revisions". Or they have the option to reject it outright for all the journals in question. Where there is discrepancy (as usual) the editor makes the call.

This would help several things:
1. It would save the serial rounds of resubmission and rejection and reviewers having to see the same manuscript (I've seen this from both ends). As a reviewer, you would only have to see it once (and again on major revisions, of course).

2. It would give the authors the option: improve the manuscript for a "higher" journal, or publish basically as is and get it off the desk. Yes, yes, impact factors shouldn't matter. But they still do, and until they don't, this is a choice we have to make. Wouldn't it be nice to make it in one shot? Without the 6 month period of resubmission each time?

3. It would dramatically decrease the amount of time involved. With this kind of organization, you'd have the option to publish quickly, or to take the time to really add experiments and change the manuscript. Some people will ALWAYS take this option. Some people need the pubs for their tenure package and need it nownownow.

But what would it involve?

Journals working together. Probably with editors overseeing several journals. For many academic journals, this is not so far from reality, as high-end PIs take on the editorship of one journal and then head over to another. And many are overseen by the same publishing houses.

And unfortunately, I don't think it will ever be a reality. Journals have no desire to organize and work together this way. And many scientists will no doubt find reasons as to why this is a terrible idea (publishing science with an incomplete mechanism!!!). But the reality is, this happens all the time. People start higher and drop lower, and the years go by. Wouldn't it be nice to see it get a little better? It's probably just wishful thinking, but I kind of wish for it nonetheless.

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Did we mind-meld two rats?

Mar 04 2013 Published by under Behavioral Neuro

Sci is at SciAm Blogs today, talking about the recent study showing two rats, connected brain to brain. Did we create Borg? What is this connection exactly...and what does it mean? And is it worth the hype? Head over and check it out.

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Friday Weird Science: Why eat tongue when you can eat testes? The castrating trematode

Mar 01 2013 Published by under Friday Weird Science, Uncategorized

Carl Zimmer over at Phenomena posted another great post about the tongue-eating parasite! Don't worry, it's not coming for YOUR tongue, it prefers fish. The parasites get in the fish's mouth, one turns female (they start out all male) and eats the fish's tongue, and then takes its place! She hang outs there while the surrounding males also hang around in the fish's mouth, and mate with her. So not only does this poor fish have his tongue replaced by a parasite, he's got a freakin' orgy going on in his MOUTH that he can't do anything about.

So, pretty embarrassing for the fish.

But if you think that's a humiliating parasite, wait til you see this one! It not only takes over your body, it'll castrate you and shrink your penis in the bargain.

Good thing it only likes whelks.

Tetreault et al. "Impact of a Castrating Trematode, Neophasis sp., on the Common Whelk, Buccinum undatum, in the Northern Gulf of St. Lawrence" Biological Bulletin, 2000

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