Open review

To: the editor of ???

Dear editor,

I don’t know who you are and whom you work for, but thank you for sending me this work for review. I have to say this is a rather unusual request, as I have no idea of the journal to which this work was submitted, and amount of information’s submitted was unusually low. Actually, I didn’t get any information. Only the samples. I guess you probably forget to send the paper. Since it did not wanted to delay the evaluation of the work, I proceeded as I could, since the work was clearly of interest to me.

The only thing I could evaluate were the samples, and so I did. Although the packaging was a bit rough, the appearance was fine (see picture here). I tested the samples at room temperature, which was apparently below the glass transition temperature of the coating. The texture was rather firm (although no stiffness value were provided). The adhesion between the coating and the substrate was good enough to resist the first step of mastication, and ensure a progressive release of the carbohydrates. Diffusion into the mouth appeared very appropriate, as expected. As far as I can tell, the quality of the samples is outstanding.

The absence of any additional information is rather annoying, though. I had to look up in the twitter timeline of the author to find information’s about the processing conditions (here, here, here and there), although time and temperature information’s were missing. The source of the raw materials is unknown. Digging a bit further, I managed to find the motivation for the work (“Eat them”), which seems very appropriate.

I have therefore only a few minor recommendations before this work can be accepted:
– please provide a title for the work, and list authors. it is not clear from the pics if this is a single author work.
– introduction was missing
– experimental section: tweeting pics of the authors processing the samples is not enough, in addition to be quite unusual. At least upload them to figshare. Additional informations warranted.
– results: please provide results. Submitting the samples alone, no matter how good they are, is not enough.
– no discussion section were found since no paper was written. Add a discussion.
– a few words of conclusion, with suggestions for future work and improvement, would be welcome.

Overall, the work should be of interest to the community, and I recommend tasting. I nevertheless expect the authors to address the requested minor points listed above. I am of course available to review the revised version, provided the authors send more samples.

Sincerely yours,

Should you specialize in one technique ?

Since I started doing research 10 years ago or so, this is a question that I asked myself or talked about around me many times. It also happens to be a common question for student at the end of their PhD, faced with career choices. This recent piece by Philip Ball was an excellent reminder of the unique role of the instrument in the scientific process. There are two kind of researchers out there: some who touch upon many techniques (the majority), driven by a problem to solve, while others (the minority) are specialized in one technique only.

When doing a PhD, there is a good chance that one technique in particular will be particularly useful or relevant for the topic you are investigating. In my case, I was investigating the low-temperature surface degradation of zirconia-containing ceramic materials during my PhD. Around the end of my first year, an atomic force microscope was bought and setup in the lab.

Following the advice of my supervisor, I started playing with it, since nobody else was using it, and it turned out to be a killer technique for the phenomenon we were looking at. I spent the next two years doing almost exclusively AFM, and since we were the first ones to use it to look at the surface changes induced by the degradation, we learned a lot on the phenomenon and I ended up with a dozen peer-reviewed papers by the end of my PhD. At this point, I started looking for a postdoc position and considered applying for a CNRS or university positions, and was given what I believed was a solid advice: do not specialize in one technique. Long story short: by a series of coincidences, I get interested in freezing and eventually secured a CNRS position a few years later. I have not touched or even approached an AFM since the end of my PhD.

The blog post by Philip Ball on scientific instruments brought the original question back to my mind: it is a good idea to specialize in one technique ? Does it make it easier to get grants, papers, and a stable position ? Is it rewarding ?

Since the majority of researchers are not specialized in one technique, it is easier to see the cons, first. The first and obvious constraint is that if you want to specialize in whatever you chose, you have to be the absolute best one with it. Maybe not worldwide, but at least at the local scale or preferentially larger. Once you mastered the technique and became a reference with it (congratulations), which should take you a couple of years, depending on the technique, the bad news is that you will have to upgrade your instrument, and do so sooner rather than later. Techniques are changing rapidly (think confocal microscopy, for example). Your continuous success with it usually means that you must be up-to-date. And doing so can be very costly, in particular if you are into transmission electron microscopy, for instance. Congratulations: you just entered a never-ending race. Having an out-of-date instrument can be a killer for everything you did before and you are at the risk of becoming obsolete rapidly.

The other major con I see (and I guess this is the main view) is the difficulty of developing a research line on a medium or long-term. Looking at a particular phenomenon almost always requires a range of techniques to give you a complete picture. Each technique provides a biased look, with its one strength and limitations. It’s just one part of the story you’re trying to make sense of.

There are nevertheless many advantages of being an expert with a particular instrument. Bearing in mind what I mentioned before (about the upgrades), if you have the best instrument around, you have a unique opportunity to push the limits of the knowledge rapidly, and can do so in a number of fields or topics. Microscopes with higher magnification and/or better resolution (space or time) will let you see features never seen before. There is also an intense satisfaction of pushing the limits of the instrument you have in your hand, something academics seems to really enjoy.

Once you established yourself as an expert, you won’t have to look for samples or topics anymore. People will naturally come to you will a range of problems to solve. You are certainly saving some time here, although you are at the risk of getting lost in a myriad of samples and topics. This also means that you don’t need to look for fundings anymore (except to upgrade your instrument, see previous point. It can be even worse, actually, as getting grants for equipment only can be very tough). It becomes really easy to jump in proposals, if you provide a unique and essential contribution, without being in charge.

The main advantage I see is that you get to work on many topics, which can be both intellectually satisfying and rewarding. Since you have a dispassionate look at the problem underlying the sample you’re probing, you also get a different perspective on this particular problem.

Pushing the instrument to its limits will also make you a very valuable customer to the people who sold you the piece of equipment, since you will provide a very unique and thorough feedback. If you enter into a trust relationship with them, you can also be the first one to try new upgrades (detector, column, etc.) before they come to the market. Which will again bring you in the position of being the first to unveil cool new features/phenomenon. If you’re building your own piece of equipment, which is something physicists seem to be passionate about, you are learning a lot in the process. I recently discussed this with Jim Smay, who’s been building and selling robot-casting (3D printing) machines for many years now. He’s not getting bored of it, and told me he’s always learning something new every time he’s building a new one.

At the end of the day, I guess it comes down to personal preferences. Most people will choose a problem and not a technique, but becoming an expert in one can be a very rewarding choice and the beginning of a fruitful career. I don’t have any evidences of which one is best on the long-term to secure a permanent positions and grants and keep doing cool science. I like to touch upon many topics, and freezing is certainly greatly satisfying from this point of view. I prefer the exploration of new topics and ideas to the tedious, deep investigations on well-identified problems. We need both kind of people of course, but this will probably be the topic of a different blog post.

Communicating Science – What’s wrong with you, France ?

A few days ago, I asked on twitter why there are so few french academics on twitter. I started tweeting about a year ago or so, for reasons I will discuss below, and a year later, my feeling is that the relative number of french academics on twitter is clearly less than in the US or UK. Correct me if I am wrong. Whenever I discuss twitter with colleagues, I get this social-media-is-for-teenagers kind of look and comments. I am truly amazed how underestimated twitter is as a tool and a mainstream communication platform for science today.

Twitter adoption is just the tip of the iceberg, I believe. When it comes to communicating science, french academics have long had a peculiar attitude. I have been fortunate to spend two years in one of the best place to do science in this world, in the bay area around San Francisco, and learned a lot about communicating science while I was there. US academics take communication very seriously. Ok, a bit too much, sometime. Overselling your results is not a good communication strategy. At LBL, there was an entire service dedicated to communicating the science of the lab (ok, it is a 3 000 persons lab, but still). They could design your posters and talks if you wanted to. A professional photograph was working full-time for the lab. Coaches were decorated with giant photographs of science leaders of the lab.

In France, people have the opposite attitude and (mostly) do not seem to see the point. « If the science is good, people will notice my work », seemed to be a common belief for a long time (and still is for many, unfortunately). The state of many lab websites, for instance, is a good example of the current interest (or rather, its absence) of french scientists for communication. Things are changing, for many reasons. Because taxpayers are challenging the use of their tax money and want to see the outcome of fundamental research. Because people are curious. Because funders require it. Because a new generation is coming, too. A generation that is born with internet, its tools, and its social codes.

Having shared my time between the two countries, I am balanced between both attitudes. The absolute first requirement if you want to communicate is that the science has to be good, of course. Communicating on bad science will be disastrous. I have seen too many talks at american conferences where the speaker was obviously an expert in communication skills but the science presented was absolutely ugly or completely pointless. Worse, and much more common (at least in France): some stunning science badly served by catastrophic communication skills. Slides with bullet points and 200 words, crappy figures with terrible color choice, you get the idea. I, for one, have become a bit obsessed when it comes to figures, posters, and slides design, largely inspired by my former mentors and Edward Tufte principles. My latest student can testify about it (and somehow became even more extremist than me) but he is becoming good with Illustrator. Good communication skills are difficult to acquire, it is a long journey, but the rewards can be awesome. It is definitely an interesting exercise to explain your work in accessible terms (like when you have to do it for you family during Xmas or Thanksgiving dinner) and also happens to be a good training for your next grant proposal. My ERC interview started by a 5 minutes pitch, and you can bet I practiced it before (in the train to Brussels, actually).

Twitter is in a different category. Using twitter for self-promotion might not be the best idea, at least if that is the only use you are planning with it. Many reasons brought me to twitter: I am working in a small lab (10 to 15 people, depending on the year), in a small town (no university around). Even though I travel a lot (almost every week), it does not make up for this modest size, below the critical mass where you get random interactions with others. I therefore use it more and more for the informal exchanges you can have with fellow scientists, but from all over the world in this case. Which can happen either in french or english — the language is irrelevant here. The second interesting use is to keep the generic public informed about our work and the way we do it, on a daily basis. #overlyhonestmethods was an interesting one, for instance, and brought the scientists out of their ivory tower for many people. I occasionally use it for self-promotion, when a new paper is coming out, of course, but I am not sure yet if it is the best way to reach fellows and people. And shameless self-promotion is badly perceived or at best blatantly ignored on twitter. Twitter has also become one of my main information channels for generic science news of different domains for which I have a passing interest (dinosaurs !) (I still keep track of new papers through RSS feeds). You can also get interesting behind-the-scenes peeks from the journals as many editors are on twitter (Andrea Taroni (Nature Materials), Pep Pamies (Nature Materials), Stuart Cantrill (Nature Chemistry), Robert Garisto (PRL), Joerg Heber (Nature Comunications), providing useful advices. My feeling is that for most, in France, all these aspects are not perceived yet. Twitter still appears as a distraction for youngsters and is not taken seriously.

Unexpected things can happen if you start to tweet. After exchanging with @BenjAbecassis for a few months, he came to the lab to chat and give a seminar (hint: in real life, he has a beard, do not trust his profile pic). Following the Science paper on open access journal accepting a fake article (referred to as the « Bannon sting »), there were many papers in the daily press about it, and most of them (unfortunately) missing the point. I shouted to one of them (Rue89) over twitter, and they invited me to answer to their paper, which I did here. I kept track of the comments for a few days, both on the journal website and over twitter, and had interesting exchanges with regular (non-scientist) people, who were truly interested in understanding the issues at stake. I recently discovered that @fxcoudert, with whom I exchange a lot on twitter, is going to supervise a PhD student that is shared between his lab and mine. You get the idea. Try, and see what happens next.

Things are improving faster at an institutional level. Not everything goes through press release anymore. The CNRS for instance, makes great efforts to communicate to the public, through both its journal (available both in french and english. I am a big fan of it), its redesigned website, and yes, twitter (Facebook also I think, but I am not using FB). Most (if not all ?) institutes (chemistry,  physics, nuclear physics and particles, etc.) are now tweeting news about the institutes and their activities and stories. In the « News from the lab » page (here for chemistry), papers of interest are briefly discussed in fairly generic terms. I grew to really appreciate it over the years, as it gives a different perspective than the one you get when you read directly a paper in your field. I would be really curious to know the audience of the site (150k daily visitors according to Wolfram), as well as the profile of the visitors. Public events recently organized, such as Les Fondamentales, seemed to have met a large audience, too. The public (i.e, non scientists) is clearly happy by such endeavors and very keen on getting more. Twitter is just another channels of the communication stream. And a versatile one.

France is good at picking american habits with a 10 years delay. So maybe all we have to do is wait until we reach a critical mass of younger people in the labs. In the meantime, my next move is to go to ScienceOnline. We will see what happens, I will tweet from there if I go. Oh, and you can trust my twitter profile. I have an outstanding coffee machine at home. @ajsteven130 can testify.

My Must-Have Apps for Science, 2013 Edition

2103 is the year when I finally bought a MacBook Air as my main machine. I have thus been able to shift to a Apple-only software environment, although I still have a Thinkpad in the lab (yeah, don’t ask).

Like any academic, my four main activities are reading, writing, compiling data, and preparing figures.

My main requirement is that I need to keep my machines in sync. This include 2 laptops (Apple and PC) and 1 desktop (Apple). The tricky part is that I cannot go online in the lab with the MBA, for corporate reasons (this is a Windows environment). I rely thus on a few pieces of software able to sync from behind the firewall (and no, I cannot use Dropbox on my PC at work), and exchange a few files, when needed, by bluetooth.

Here are my most-used app for 2013, with no particular order.


  • 1Password. Takes care of all my password needs and more. I have only 50 characters passwords now.
  • Keynote. I gave up with Powerpoint when moving to the MBA, and enjoy using Keynote so far. My needs are very basic, as most of my slides usually have just a title and one figure.
  • Alfred. I use it mostly as a launcher for apps. I use spotlight a lot, but Alfred appears in the center of my screen (yes, it’s silly, I know) and the text is larger.

Writing and code

  • iAwriter. For all my drafts. A perfect distraction free-environment. Love the font.
  • SublimeText. For coding. This is an outstanding piece of software. I don’t even understand how people can code without it. Also great for LaTeX writing, once you’ve set a few snippets.
  • TexPad. I wrote a few long and structures documents this year (such as my habilitation), which was a good excuse to be back to LaTeX. TexPad is real pleasure to use. The interface is uncluttered and does the job perfectly. Mendeley automatically generate a .bib file of my library, which is super convenient.
  • MS Word. alas. I only use it to prepare the final version of manuscripts and exchange with co-authors. One thing I like, though, is the revision mode.
  • F.lux. This little gem automatically adjusts the color of the screen. Warm at night and bright during the day. I cannot use a computer where it’s not installed. This is the first piece of software I actually install on a new machine.

Image Editing

  • Adobe Illustrator. For all my figure needs when preparing manuscripts. Been using it for years. Keeps getting better. Just love it.
  • Picasa. To keep track of all the images on my PC and some shared resources on the internal network, without actually organizing them. A time saver.
  • Fiji and ImageJ. Fulfill all my image analysis needs. Even better since you can use python with it.

References and Science stuff

  • Mendeley. My reference manager of choice. I use it constantly. Tends to be a bit slow when running search (>2k papers). Just perfect for preparing manuscript. I know, I know, Elsevier owns it now, but it’s just too useful for me. The competition is getting fierce, though, which is good, with the release of Paper 3 and Readcube. The automatic bib file saving is a must have for me.
  • Simplenote and Notational Velocity. I’m throwing everything here: notes, to-do list, recipes, drafts. The killer is the shortcut ((Maj+Cmd+E) to open the file in an external editor (iA Writer for me). Using Markdown for the drafts. I’m very keen on keeping everything in text file, to ensures readability on the long-term.
  • Graphclick. This little gem automatically extract the values from plots when you don’t have access to the raw data. Super useful, when compiling data from the literature, for instance. It hasn’t been updated for years, but does the job perfectly. Ridiculously cheap.
  • Gephi. I had fun with networks recently (more info coming soon, hopefully). Beware, this is a mesmerizing piece of software. Be ready to waste a lot of time.
  • Mediawiki. We finally set up a wiki for the lab last year, and have used Mediawiki. Does the job perfectly.

Online tools

  • Doodle. To find a date for meetings. Does the job simply and perfectly.
  • Instapaper. For my casual (i.e, not papers) reading needs. I sometime send full text papers, and it’s actually a pleasure in this context. Using the snippet to save the articles during the day, and read everything on my iPad.
  • Twitter. Been using it more and more, but this might be a story for another post. I tweet here @devillesylvain.

Next for 2014 ?

Who knows what 2014 will be made of ? Pretty much all my needs are fulfilled now, so I am not really looking for anything special. A few apps are under my radar nevertheless, and could be possible new additions to my workflow.

  • Scrivener. For complex documents such as review papers. I downloaded the trial version and started playing with it. Seems to be very powerful. Make sure to check out the tutorials.
  • Mindnode. For mind mapping. I’m a visual type of person.
  • WriterPro. The new version of iA Writer. I don’t care about the workflow thing, but the syntax highlighting could be a game changer for my academic writing, as I am still not a native-english speaker and am still working hard on improving my writing.

Got any advice ? Let me know if I miss anything in the comments.

To #mendelete or not to #mendelete ?

My twitter feed is on fire, since the announcement of Elsevier having bought Mendeley, after a few months of rampant rumors. “Elsevier is evil ! They will shut down Mendeley ! Mendeley lost its soul ! We should in no way contribute to Elsevier’s business and benefits”. These are a few of the reactions that quickly followed the announcement. What should I do ? Should I care ?

Elsevier has an awful track record: from fake journals to insane profits on journal bundles, to name a few. Everybody agrees on that, and for sure they realized it and are trying to make up for it, somehow. Now that they own Mendeley, they are going to do all sort of crazy things. Maybe, maybe not, time will tell. Mr Gunn seems confident at this point. Others much less, to say the least.

I have a different take on the current events. I am usually a very pragmatic guy. I used to use Endnote, like everybody else a few years ago when there were no alternatives. Their habit was to update the software every year, although I never found any significant improvement in the update. I remember that sometime the update was WORSE than the previous version, breaking my library. And I had to pay 100$, give or take, to update. Every year, although I quickly gave up on the update. No PDF organization, no way to perform full text search. No sync. Quite rough.

Then Papers came out. And it was awesome. Finally a decent PDF organizer, that quickly improved. Not having the choice of my OS (Win), I had to give up on Papers when I came back from the US. Too bad. A windows version has been developed since, but I already gave up. It’s been bought by Springer since, and I’m not sure Springer is any better than Mendeley.

And then I came across Mendeley. It more or less provides everything I need: easy import (I love the DOI look up), easy organization, full text search, cross plat-form sync. I’ve paid for a data plan for a while to have all my files synced between my laptop and desktop computer (Dropbox is not allowed where I work). Works flawlessly. Excellent to insert bibliography in papers I write. Automatic bibtex file creation when I need to use LaTeX. If only they could provide the abbreviated journal name, that would be perfect. I now trow in it every interesting paper I came across, whether it’s directly related to my interest or not. It is thus becoming my personal, curated papers database. The value I get from this software has very quickly become extremely valuable.

And now it belongs to Elsevier. Well, I try not to submit papers anymore to Elsevier journals (although Acta Materiala is a solid journal in my field), I avoid to review for them. I use Scopus less and less since Google Scholar has become extensive. I get little or no value from Elsevier’s products. But Mendeley is different. As I said, I get a lot of value from it right now, and I don’t mind paying 5$ a month for my data plan, it’s worth it. My files are synced across all on my computers. If the situation turns ugly, I don’t lose anything but the time spent migrating to another platform. So for now, I’ll stick to Mendeley, and see what happens.

Google killing Reader (I will survive)

Based on my twitter feed, there were two main news yesterday: the election of an old dude in Rome, and the not very classy decision of Google to kill Reader in a few months. As you can guess, I am much more concerned about that second one, for my daily work routine. I have expressed my love for RSS previously. As of today, my strategy hasn’t changed. RSS is still the best way, by far, to keep track of new articles.

Many people today are claiming that RSS is dead, and twitter will do the job instead. Not at all, as far as I am concerned. I have a very different usage for both. I use twitter to discover recommendations and keep track of the scientific buzz around. The constant flow of tweet is nevertheless a guarantee that I will miss some stuff. It’s ok. It’s in the very nature of twitter. When it comes to tracking new articles in journals, twitter just doesn’t do the job. I use (mostly) Google Scholar to search for article on a topic in which I have some interest. Something specific. But it’s definitely not a tool for systematic tracking of new papers. My current RSS feed currently comprises around 50 journals, 30 blogs, and roughly 40 RSS feed of Scopus search results or equivalent. Since October 2008, I have  read over 300k items in Reader. The counter is stuck at 300k for over a year, actually. My current feed provides about 3k items per month (I used to have much more). I spend about 10-15 min per day to keep track of new articles, and usually discover 2 or 3 new papers of interest for me, not directly related to my specific niche (freezing !). If I need to visit every single journal website to get the same information… well, there’s just no way. RSS is still the best choice. No question.

My second constraint is that during my day, I use 2 different computers, a phone and an iPad to check on my RSS feed, depending on where I am and what I do. Reader was providing a flawless solution for the sync. There will be another one soon, that’s ok.

The only question left now is: how long will Google Scholar survive? Reader was much more useful to me, and I guess I’m not the only one like this in the academic world. There are now ads in Scholar. I don’t see why they should even bother keep working on it, unless they have some long terms plans for it that goes beyond the simple search engine it is today. By which I mean an iTunes store-like system for academic papers, for instance.

Will I survive ? Of course, because I don’t have the choice. I will export my RSS feed to another service and keep using it. I will miss the convenience of Google Reader until a better solution comes up. Good bye, you’ve served me well.

10 writing tips for academic papers

I’m currently wrapping up a long review paper (>10k words) that should hopefully be published this September. As usual, as a non-native speaker, I ran into many common grammar and style mistakes. Luckily, I have next door a native speaker, and he’s patient enough to correct most of my mistake. He’s my first secret weapon. The second one is this little gem, called The Elements of Style (4th Edition), by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White. This book is probably the best money I’ve ever spend on a book.

So without further ado, here are my top ten mistakes, that I’ve learned to correct thanks to my two secret weapons:

  1. You should place a comma after abbreviations like i.e., e.g., etc.
  2. If you enumerate several terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term. Example: “… bla bla bla  in materials science, chemistry, and life science”. Same if you enumerate with “or”.
  3. Put statements in positive forms. It is much stronger.
  4. Omit needless words. For some reason, we french people seem to be using a lot of these. So here you go, go and mercilessly chase expressions like “the reason why is that”, “the question as to whether”, etc.
  5. “Due to” is synonym to “attributable to”. Avoid using it for “owing to” or “because of”.
  6. “Interesting”. It might be interesting to you, but not to everyone else. Remove it. Just remove it.
  7. “Type” is not a synonym for “kind of”. So get it straight.
  8. “While”. Just stick to it if you can replace it with “during the time that”.
  9. Don’t say “very unique”. “unique” is good enough.
  10. Split infinitive: when you put an adverb between “to” and the verb. I used this form a lot and thought it was cool. Apparently it’s not. Don’t say: “to thoroughly investigate”, say: “to investigate thoroughly”.

This is just the top ten. The entire book is full of stuff  like this. Go and get it. And don’t lend it to anyone, you’d never get it back. Do you have another one? Share it in the comments.

On this #overlyhonestmethods thing

The #overlyhonestmethods hashtag is crazily popular since it started two days ago. Thousands of tweets are flying around, in a beautiful pluridisciplinary ballet. Scientists from all over the planet are cranking their witty jokes as fast as they can, in an interesting mix of behind-the-scenes insights and private jokes. If you’re a scientist yourself, you can often tell whether it’s a witty joke or a scientific confession. If you’re not, it can be a different story. Reading non-scientists tweets and a few comments on non-scientific sites, like here and there, I realized many people took this hashtag as a confession for scientists. That’s not exactly the case. First hint: scientist are humans too, and as incredible as it may sound, some have a solid sense of humor.

In every place I’ve been, people are working way too much. Scientists are passionate workaholics. Working around the clock. On weekends. At night because that’s the only time where the equipment is available. Skipping lunch. So yes, sometime we need to relieve some of the pressure. We get tired. Our caffeine intake is high, but it’s not because we don’t have anything better than hanging around that coffee table the whole day.

Some of these tweets revealed the frustration we all share, in particular regarding some weird conventions of the writing style or the trending topics.

@eperlste: We used jargon instead of plain English to prove that a decade of grad school and postdoc made us smart. #overlyhonestmethods

@biochembelle: We decided to use Technique Y because it’s new and sexy, plus hot and cool. And because we could. #overlyhonestmethods

@Bashir_Course9: method isn’t described here b/c this High Impact Report is 200 words. see Supplement Appendix L for vague description #overlyhonestmethods

@ProfLikeSubst: This paper represents just the sexiest stuff we could skim from the data. The carcass paper will be dumped somewhere #overlyhonestmethods

Science is also expensive, most of the time. And we have to adapt your dream experiment to the practical and financial reality of the lab. We often have to improvise. And no, we don’t have access to each and every article ever published. Paywalls are still a major source of grief for most of us, my tweet on open-access got >230 RT and >100 faves (and counting). I guess I struck a sensitive point, here. If it helps us get the message to the public, it’s all good news. A few major outlets mentioned it (here and here).

@KayLa_D_87: Compound Q was excluded from study, because it was expensive. #overlyhonestmethods

@talesfromlabs: Compound A was preferred to B because there was leftovers from post-doc who left three years ago. (also B costs $$$) #overlyhonestmethods

@paulcoxon: The beam shutter was held stable by an in-house built support made from BluTak & the top off an old Biro #overlyhonestmethods

I have my share of stories like this. When we are working on the beamline at the ESRF, we work around the clock. If our in-house setup is breaking at 3AM, we don’t go to bed and come back in the morning after a good night’s sleep. We fix it. With whatever we have laying around. Oh, and these in situ freezing experiments we did ? The molds were actually straws from orange juice packs. Perfect diameter, ideal thickness. Why bother ordering expensive technical ones ? The orange juice was actually really bad. And BlueTack is a scientist’s best friend.

Science is hard. Often frustrating. People are moving in and out, and it’s sometime difficult to keep track. It often start from a failed experiment or a mistake, and then it takes a long time to understand what’s going on, so that superstition can be invoked at some point, until we figure out why it’s working this way.

@JacquelynGill: The microbalance was so temperamental that an undergrad named it “Larry” in order to yell at it more effectively. #overlyhonestmethods

@AnneOsterrieder: We don’t know how this method was performed because the PhD student’s lab book is written in a foreign language. #overlyhonestmethods

@aivelo: I’m ready to surrender and write “For no apparent reasons, my method works with only half of the samples.” #overlyhonestmethods

@james_gilbert: Apparatus was placed on the 2nd shelf up, approx 1 foot left of the spider plant. Results were irreproducible elsewhere #overlyhonestmethods

@researchremix: Data are available upon request because then we can tidy the spreadsheet only if absolutely necessary #overlyhonestmethods

@AkshatRathi: It took 10 years of work to write this 6-page long paper, but you wouldn’t be able to guess that from reading it. #overlyhonestmethods

A large number of tweets also revolved around the never-ending chase for grants.

‏@multisensebrain: Our results have significant implications for that we are seeking grant funding for #overlyhonestmethods

@dbmoore: Our study used string theory, global warming, and big data because that’s where the grant money is #overlyhonestmethods

@peds_id_doc: We’re submitting this half-finished experiment for publication because we ran out of grant money. #overlyhonestmethods‏

@paulcoxon: This work was made possible by @EPSRC Grant #1234 & @eBay from where we scrounged parts to repair our ancient apparatus #overlyhonestmethods

Finally, some revealed some of the privilege we have. Working in funny locations. Whenever we want. Choosing the people we work with. And considering the many sacrifices we accept otherwise, I don’t feel spoiled doing it.

@Gomblemomble: This part of the experimental work was carried out in Western Australia, because my supervisor has a friend there. #OverlyhonestMethods

So shoud we be worried about the way science is done ? Were these last two days a massive confession of scientific misconduct ? Not really. Partially maybe, at least that’s my feeling.

@Crommunist: I’m just making up a lot of these. #OverlyHonestMethods

We, as scientists, all know it’s a messy business. And guess what, science is performed by humans. Alive. That sometime go to the restroom, enjoy their weekend at home and have babies. But somehow it works and we make progress overall.

@researchremix: The data is old because in between writing the first draft and doing the revisions I had a baby #overlyhonestmethods

What I read in 2012

Here is the raw list, with no particular order. Overall, I didn’t read a lot this year. I didn’t keep track of everything either, so a few are missing. I started reading a lot of popular science book, and really enjoyed it. I am planning to do the same this year. Any advice is welcome !

Non science books

  • Le signal, Ron Carlson
  • Les corrections, Jonathan Frenzen
  • La stratégie du choc : La montée d’un capitalisme du désastre, Naomi Klein
  • La Vie mode d’emploi, George Perec
  • Dernière nuit à Twisted River, John Irving
  • La réserve, Russell Banks
  • Armadillo, William Boyd
  • Catch 22, Joseph Heller
  • L’aveuglement. José Saramago
  • La théorie des cordes, José Carlos Somoza
  • Lointains hivers. Rigoni Stern
  • Paradis conjugal, Alice Ferney
  • La conjugation des imbeciles, John Kennedy Toole
  • Le bibliothécaire, Larry Beinhart
  • Un bon jour pour mourir, Jim Harrisson
  • L’île des chasseurs d’oiseaux, Peter May. My favorite of the year. Absolutely terrific. Much better than his other books.
  • La promesse de l’aube. Romain Gary
  • Le hussard sur le toit, Jean Giono

Science books

  • Critical mass, how one thing lead to another, Philip Ball. I love Philip Ball.
  • Life’s Matrix: A Biography of Water, Philip Ball. My favorite science book of the year.
  • The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn. A classic.
  • Branches: Nature’s Patterns: A Tapestry in Three Parts, Philip Ball. I love Philip Ball. Oh, did I already said it ?
  • Théorème vivant, Cédric Vilani. The making off of a Fields medal. Awesome.
  • Reinventing Discovery: The New Era of Networked Science, Michael Nielsen. An eye-opener for me.
  • Sur les épaules de Darwin: Les battements du temps, Jean Claude Ameisen. in French. If you enjoy the radio show, you’ll love the book. I already offered it twice.