Online education (i.e. MOOCs)
- At the Chronicle of Higher Education, George Washington University Dean Doug Guthrie criticizes Coursera, a for-profit company that partners with universities to offer massive online open courses (MOOCs). Guthrie insists that Coursera is a fad; "thoughtful interactions" do not occur; and educators are frequently creating a crowd, not a community. It's a valid point; online education has promise but very often falls short, even with the best of intentions. See also this other criticism/analysis of MOOCs. While we're at it, if you really want to read more about MOOCs check out this year-in-review about MOOCs.
- In the midst of the recent surge in MOOC popularity, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is running an online Intermediate Organic Chemistry course, taught by educational specialist Michael Evans and Dr. Jeff Moore.
- Dayna Catropa and Margaret Andrews compare MOOCs to MOCCs (midsized online closed courses), predicting that MOCCs will replace MOOCs, as they provide an opportunity to monetize the online experience and deliver it to smaller groups.
- Antibiotic resistance is a serious public health concern, but a potential new class of antibiotics that take advantage of the dependence of certain pathogens on the thioredoxin system is displaying promise against MRSA, drug-resistant TB, etc. Malaria is also notoriously drug-resistant, and this press release details a surprisingly simple whole-plant antimalarial strategy that may be effective and cost-effecient. This stands in contrast to the widespread practice of synthetic, pure drugs.
- While we're on the subject of antibiotics, Katherine Harmon at ScientificAmerican writes on recent findings that amoxicillin is not only overprescribed but is ineffective compared to a placebo for most of its common applications. Add another one to the "no, seriously, stop giving out antibiotics like candy" file.
- Antibiotic use in agriculture is controversial, and Maryn McKenna at WiredScience writes on the FDA's reluctance to compel companies to disclose farm antibiotic use. On a related note, The Pump Handle criticizes a recent USDA decision to "modernize" poultry inspection; the author says that the new guidelines, which aim to speed up the inspection process, would threaten food safety.
- Personalized medicine has gotten a lot of recent attention as a strategy for fighting disease (particularly cancer). The general strategy is to target therapeutics based on a patient's genome. However, personalized medicine has its skeptics, and a commentary by Sharon Begley examines recent evidence that this approach may never be effective.
- Terminology and jargon is integral to scientific communication and has traditionally been an obstacle to deaf and hearing-impaired people. Douglas Quenqua writes about crowdsourcing-oriented efforts at creating a sign language scientific lexicon.
- Both Chemjobber and Derek Lowe comment on a perplexing press release about Parabon's drug delivery technology that sounds more like a Michael Crichton novel. The press release's author has responded, as well, with a degree of consternation at the press release's negative reception. I think this exchange really highlights some concerning issues about scientific communication to a broad audience.
- University librarian Barbara Fister comments on how undergraduates struggle to learn how to do literature-based research. She posits that how we frame/present the task influences a student's perception of their own ability to complete it (just call it Finding Stuff Out). It's an interesting read; the philosophy is familiar to me from when I tutored writing. I think we can draw some parallels to how we teach scientific thinking and how the public perceives scientific writing.
- At ScientificAmerican, Khalil Cassimally lists some good practical guides for developing science journalists. There's about 11 of them listed; read and bookmark them! On a related note, see this post by Khalil about how science writers keep their notes organized.
- Chemist Phil Davis has listed his 17-years-deceased PhD adviser as a co-author on a paper. While it's good to give credit where it's due, don't all authors have to consent to publish? This just generally seems weird given the elapsed time.
The F word (funding)
- At the Chronicle of Higher Education, Indiana University president Michael A. McRobbie warns that the fiscal cliff may spell out serious damage to research universities. He makes the case that this would be perilous to the economy, as research drives innovation in engineering/manufacturing.
- The United States is not the only place where scientists are feeling the squeeze of a scant funding environment. Nature gives an account of Spanish scientists who protested their government's reductions in science funding (39% drop since 2009).
- On HuffingtonPost, Dr. Rupert Sheldrake writes a commentary on the arrogance of modern science, criticizing materialism and insisting that dogmatic thinking is "crippling" modern science. I disagree with most of what he says; it's overly dramatic, simplistic, and feels like it's pandering to the pseudoscientist crowd (as well as an advertisement for the author's new book). But it's worth reading; is this a pervasive viewpoint?
- For the philosophically inclined, read this. (tl;dr = is science tool-driven or idea-driven??).
- B.R.S.M. has a good post examining a recent essay by Kappe in Angewandte regarding "non-thermal microwave effects" (spoiler: they probably don't exist). See also a simultaneous piece by Tom W. Phillips over at A Chemical Education.
- A criticism on reaction norm about feeble efforts by departments to insist they're preparing students for "alternative careers". The author states that departments and faculty are not in touch with or interested in actually preparing students for non-traditional careers.
- P.Z. Myers gives an account of a saddening (and infuriating) case of a biologist illegally baiting and killing an aging jaguar, then covering it up.
- Really cool guest post at Scicurious about the basics and history of X-ray crystallography.
- STEM education has gotten a lot of attention and advocacy recently, but Gwenn Schurgin O'Keeffe touts the arts as essential to fueling creativity and cross-fertilizing other skillsets.
- Deirde Lockwood, a chemical oceanography graduate student discusses the increasing time-to-degree for chemists at CENtral Science. She thinks four years is too short, and limiting programs to shorter periods of time would breed easier projects and softer chemists.
- Ronald Breslow dancing to Gangnam Style? Yes, please.