Tag Archives: science

Tis the season to forget your friends’ birthdays

There are hundreds of interesting scientific studies linking winter birthdays to depression and other illnesses, and all of these studies propose cool mechanisms like womb effects and seasonal disease agents. Although I’m sure most of these proposed mechanisms are totally reasonable, I’ve always wondered about the cumulative effect of simply having your birthday ignored. Instead of thinking about you, your friends and family are thinking about Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanuka, Kwanza, New Year’s resolutions, and weight gain. And you’re saying, every year, “That’s OK, I’m fine, don’t worry about me,” … suppressing your disappointment year after year, silently throwing dagger eyes at your friends who have exciting birthday parties on the beach during the summer.

So after decades of wondering, I finally did the Google Trends search to see if interest in buying birthday presents dips. The result will surprise nobody with a winter birthday, I suspect:

Winter birthdays depression

So this holiday season, show your December and January friends some love.

By the way: season-of-birth (SOB) studies SHOULD include people who don’t actually know their true birthday (but for some reason the scientists know). I know that’s going to be a small data set, but that would allow the effects of womb and birthing time to be separated from the cumulative (social) effects of having birthdays in different months. There are a lot of factors in addition to just Christmas. Kids who have birthdays during the school year have a much, much easier time getting all their friends to the party (summertime takes people away on family vacations), and often their birthdays are announced on the school intercom — the cumulative effects of that cannot be zero, I claim.

And when people don’t know their birthday, which month do they choose? I’d love to know that.

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Donate to the Charles Darwin Foundation

If you’re in the sciency mood on Giving Tuesday, here’s a good cause: The Charles Darwin Foundation. I suspect they’d be glad to hear from you any day, though. The center may close down due to lack of funds (details). Please spread the word, especially to evolved millionaires.

Charles Darwin in a Santa hat

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Happy “Get Confused about Antibiotics Week”

The CDC designated this week as “Get Smart About Antibiotics Week.” I know, pretty exciting.

Although I’m all on board with awareness, and its goal (reducing resistance evolution in bacteria), I think the people at the CDC are actively ignoring an insanely easy way to educate the public: simply stop using the word “antibiotic,” and instead say “antibacterial”. E.g., people at the CDC should open up all their Word documents and web pages and do a global search/replace. Would take a week to fix the formatting changes caused by the extra characters. The cost of doing this would probably be much less than what they spend getting all those cartoons for their posters on antibiotics.

The reason I suggest this is that most people assume antibiotics work against viruses. And who can blame them? It’s what the word use to mean. Below is a sample definition from 1910:

Definition of antibioticand here’s what a Google search displays:

Definition of antibioticOf course, the CDC loves the word “antibiotics.” And thus it would take an Executive Order to get them to do what I suggest. But if you agree with me and eventually become President, could you please consider sending them that memo?? You’d make me happy, and save a lot of lives.

More details at “Curbing the misuse of antibiotics.”

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Fabric conference posters

I was invited to talk about poster design in Berkeley (DOE NNSA SSGF) and DC (DOE CSGF) this past summer, and used the opportunity to test out fabric as a medium for large-format conference posters. Below are some photographs if you’re curious how logos, illustrations, and photographs look when viewed close up on fabric. By the way, I ordered the posters from PhD Posters (they mailed to my house in a tube, inside a box). And if you’re interested, my poster design tips are here (rather long-winded because I’ve maintained page since 1997).


The rolled up poster above is also fabric. I didn’t have the nerve to fold it into luggage-sized square, but I’ve heard that it can be done … though crease lines an issue. Might be able to iron them out, I’ve also read.


The photograph above isn’t as crisp as a glossy poster, but was totally fine for my purposes. If it really mattered, I’d just print a copy on my photo printer at 1200 dpi (or whatever) and then use double sided tape to attach. Even paper posters have fairly low photo quality, so attaching a high-resolution version is always an option when you need it.


Yes, you can see the fabric if you get close enough. People standing 6 feet away wouldn’t notice and probably wouldn’t care if you told them.





This logo is actually from the poster that is rolled up. It’s at http://colinpurrington.com/2012/example-of-bad-scientific-poster/ if you want to see the whole poster (you can download and print for your class, if you’d like; yeah, students would just love that).

fabric-poster-edge-detailThis photograph shows how the edges can get a little frayed. Holes from pushpins are also visible. Much less annoying than the rips and gaping holes that paper gets.

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This post is for people tracking the bizarre ethical slide of The Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research, Inc. (CPBR).

As you probably know from my earlier posts, CPBR sends out a yearly invitation to plant biotechnology researchers to submit grant proposals.  Part of the emailed PDF has instructions on how to make a scientific poster, and a big part of that section was created by copying/pasting text from my page on the topic (but with no quotation marks and no attribution).

Because I happen to have an official copyright registration on my poster design page, the PDF is in violation of U.S. copyright law.  So, in addition to being able to sue CPBR rather easily, I can can also use the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to send Notifications of Copyright Infringement (NOCIs) to have the CPBR document (PDF and any paper copies) destroyed.

So here’s what I’ve done.

  1. I’ve asked every member university to delete the PDF when received from CPBR.  In other words, the grants administration office will no longer forward that PDF to faculty on campus.  Because CPBR forbids member institutions from posting the PDF online (don’t ask me why), this means CPBR will not receive grant applications in the future.  Note that asking universities to help protect my copyright is a friendly request — I was not accusing the universities of anything.  It’s just like asking them to help protect copyrighted movies that might be illegally shared by students.  With one exception (University of Minnesota), they are happy to help. The University of Minnesota’s lawyers insist email forwarding of PDFs is exempt from copyright law (lingering effect of cold temperature?).
  2. I’ve asked every member company to do the same.
  3. I’ve informed the Fraud Alert representatives of the Department of Energy, the Department of Agriculture, and the Environmental Protection Agencies that CPBR is violating U.S. Copyright Law and should stop receiving Federal funds (DOE has given them almost $23 million, for example).
  4. I’ve informed CPBR’s internet provider that CPBR is using email to send content that infringes on my copyright.

All of the above could have been avoided if CPBR simply linked to my Designing Conference Posters page.  I love it when people link to my page.  Alternatively, if CPBR wanted to quote a sentence or two, that would be totally fine.  Here are two examples (book, website) of how to use quotation marks and attribution.

“Yet the politics of shipwreck can be avoided, I think, if we can construct a theory of feminist criticism within the framework of a general theory of the critical process that is neither purely objective nor purely intuitive; in that way, its processes can be examined beside, compared with, and contrasted to other branches of criticism with some degree of dispassionate distance.” [translate]

— Schumacher, D. 1989.  Subjectivities: a theory of the critical process.  Pages 29-36 in Feminist Literary Criticism: Explorations in Theory, edited by Josephine Donovan. University Press of Kentucky.

“CPBR speeds the transfer of plant-related biotechnologies from the research laboratory to the marketplace, expanding economic opportunities through university research and global networking. Its highly competitive project selection process includes … industrial evaluation of research concepts to insure [sic] industrial relevance … ”

— The Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research, Inc. Retrieved 22 March 2014, from http://www.cpbr.org/content.html.

It’s really odd that CPBR didn’t just use quotations and attribution.  The CEO has a PhD in literature, and CPBR’s website has images and quotes that are all nicely attributed. Plus the core mission of the company is to foster commercialization of the intellectual property of participating scientists — and CPBR has IP lawyers on retainer for that very purpose.  There are, in short, so many reasons why this is not a company you’d expect to plagiarize or to infringe on copyrights.

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