Monday, January 24, 2011

Site Update: Nature Publishing Group Network

This website (formerly With a Grain of Salt) has been added as part of the Nature Publishing Group's network of science-themed independent websites (blogs). Entry is dependent on the opinion of Nature Publishing Group along with the results of an election where existing bloggers admitted into Nature's network are given a vote on new entries. I have since renamed this website Spotlight on Science and given it a more professional layout.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Ideal Scientific Journal

In the world of science, a journal's quality is typically measured with what's called an Impact Factor. The impact factor is really a measurement of how often any given article published in a particular journal gets cited in other scientific contributions. Journals with high impact factors tend to generate a lot of citations for each of their articles and tend to be quite prestigious.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The impact of the impact factor on the scientific publication process

The impact factor is a measure of how often articles published in a given scientific journal get cited by other research articles. Scientists tend to use the impact factor as the main method for evaluating the quality of a given journal publication. Because the impact factor is the main source of respectability for a given journal publication among scientists, journal editors are naturally biased towards achieving as high an impact factor as possible for their journal. This bias leads to a connected bias: the rejection of studies for which the journal editor qualitatively believes that the study is not likely to generate citations from other scientific research in the near future.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Challenges in estimating the increase in the death rate among the malnourished

A 10-year-old and largely ignored United Nations report estimated that malnourished people die at a rate of about 36 million people per year, accounting for about 58% of worldwide deaths. Proper statistics aren't kept in many of the world's countries, so we don't know if this estimate is correct. However, even if the true value is quite substantially lower, this problem is still of massive proportions. I previously published an article that helps to wrap your head around the scope of the problem by comparing the number of deaths of malnourished people with the number of deaths due to World War II (by these estimates there are about 3 times as many deaths among the malnourished as compared with deaths due to World War II).

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Humorous Aside: Peer-reviewed rejection

Peer reviewed rejection can be one of the most frustrating things about being a scientist. Here's some peer reviewed rejection humour with the hope that it can be cathartic for some scientists out there.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The old food crisis, the chronic food crisis and the coming food crisis?

In 2008 the price for many basic foods increased dramatically. This led to rioting in many countries such as Haiti, Bangladesh, Egypt and many African countries. This chaos and the strains that the food price increases have caused on the world's poor were dubbed a "food crisis", which it surely was. However, older reports from the United Nations claim that the death rate for malnourished people is ridiculously high - 3 times higher than the death rate due to World War II. Even if this is an exaggeration, then this is still a ridiculously large problem, large enough that it deserved the title "food crisis" long before we were using that term in 2008. As such I refer to the ongoing problem as the chronic food crisis.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

There are more benefits from breast cancer screening than simply saving a woman's life

This past year saw the eruption of a fresh controversy in breast cancer screening. The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) issued a report to the Obama administration advising against x-ray mammographic screening for women in their forties. The journal Science reported on the controversy and published a reply letter which was also published here at Spotlight-on-Science. The article pointed out that the USPSTF task force accepted a particular conservative estimate about the number of women in their forties that needed to be screened by x-ray mammography in order to save one life (1900 need to be screened by this estimate). I pointed out that when a fully developed screening program is applied to a large population such as the United States, the use of screening still adds up to many lives saved.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

P=NP and the million dollar mathematics prize

The Clay Mathematics Institute in Cambridge Massachusetts is providing a one million dollar prize for the first person who can prove or disprove the P=NP problem. A variety of descriptions of the P=NP problem are available. Simply put, computer scientists have divided computer problems into a series of categories which include P (problems that are relatively easy to solve) and NP (problems that are relatively challenging to solve). The majority of computer scientists believe that P != NP (P is not equal to NP - this expression is repeated below) indicating that many believe problems exist which are too complex to solve for them to ever be classified as P type problems. Recently Vinay Deolalikar of HP labs released a possible proof that P != NP. His work has been subject to some criticisms, however, I am inclined to agree with his goal of proving that P != NP and good luck to him in responding effectively to his critics - that million dollar prize would sure be sweet!