Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Dear Frontiers Editorial staff

Thank you for the recent invitation to review the manuscript [XXXXXXX]. I have regretfully declined it on the grounds of my total ignorance of the field of cultural psychology, just as I have regretfully declined your eight previous invitations to review manuscripts in the field of cultural psychology.
Choosing a Reviewer
I am compelled to wonder, when researchers in cultural psychology send you a manuscript, do they know that you are going to send it out for a vision scientist to decide whether it merits publication? More to the point, if I send you a manuscript on cross-cultural colour linguistics or facial-expression perception or form-and-hue interactions in V1 processing, are you going to solicit feedback from a cultural psychologist?
So many choices!
The Frontiers Open-Access publishing company makes much of its distributed decision-making process, which (for instance) reduces the centralised role of the Editor-in-Chief of each journal. Thus the assignment of reviewers to manuscripts devolves to the pullulating hordes of Associate Editors, and from there to the intuition of authors that particular experts might be appropriate to judge their work (and the self-report of reviewers that they might be appropriate to judge specific authors), all made impersonal and impartial by concealing the process beneath Markram's Algorithmic Sauce.

This certainly has the advantage that papers such as Bradstreet et al. (2014) which might never have passed the strait gateway of more conventionally-controlled journals, have found their way into the public domain to enhance the gaiety of nations. It also allows the publishers to bypass Editors completely through the guest-editored "Special Issue" system (which to a jaundiced onlooker might closely resemble a form of multi-level marketing), resulting in the recent loss of editors en masse. However, from my perspective it has the disadvantage that I am repeatedly spammed with these spurious invitations. Perhaps Henry Markram could be called away from his day job of pissing away EU neuroscience research funds and alienating EU neuroscientists, and invest some time in adjusting his special distributed-reviewing algorithms so that they work in a halfway competent fashion?

I am given to understand that when I first agreed to look at a manuscript for the Frontiers stable, you created an entry in your reviewer database for me... which evidently lists my specialty as "cultural psychologist". I am now expected to grapple with a counter-intuitive morass of fugliness masquerading as an "interface" and edit this entry to reflect my actual areas of expertise -- without payment for my time -- rather than the editorial staff performing this task on the basis of my previous reviewing assignments and my published CV, as part of the job they are paid for.

I have a better idea, or at least one which involves less effort for me, which is that you stop asking me to review manuscripts.
Love, Smut
UPDATE: Thanks, fish

Monday, May 25, 2015

In vitro, in vivo
The revolution's begun

A 2006 paper in Cancer, let me show you it:
See Fig 2 below. Each column contains cultures of a different line of human prostate cell -- normal (PrEC), and three less-to-more invasive lines of prostate cancer. Each row shows different samples that have been fixed and stained with monoclonal antibodies to depict the level of expression of three separate components in a novel cytokine pathway.

Clearly the plan was that Sheldrake's Morphogenetic Field would guide the proliferation of the cells as they teem and pullulate in their petri dishes, inducing the same clusters to recur until a repeating pattern formed that could be used as wallpaper. Of course you could obtain the same effect with Photoshop but that would lack the challenge.
There is a recurrent spot where the pattern lolls like a broken neck and two bulbous eyes stare at you upside down
This came to the notice of Retraction Watch readers thanks to a sharp-eyed pseudonymous commenter. The fourth author of the paper, Anil Potti, enjoys a kind of celebrity status at Retraction Watch on account of his aggressively lawyered-up response to questions of research probity and requests for original data.
The degree of recurrence from one cell-culture to the next is most easily dramatised by turning one panel into a photographic negative, rotating it through 180° if necessary, and superimposing it on the other with 50% transparency, so that corresponding pixels will cancel out if they are identical.

And then things escalated at RW and at PubPeer until we wound up with a colour-coded tequila hangover:
Petrie dishes (UCL Museums, London)
In each combination of panels there are sections which do not match, and do not cancel, as if the separate panels were themselves photomosaics. Thus the experiment can only be considered a partial success and the jobs of wallcovering designers remain secure! Chen &c should have borrowed the Morphogenic Field Flux Intensifier!
I get positively angry with the impertinence of it and the everlastingness. Up and down and sideways they crawl, and those absurd, unblinking eyes are everywhere. There is one place where two breadths didn't match, and the eyes go all up and down the line, one a little higher than the other.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Yeast is Read

So were the editors of Nature interested in publishing an opinion piece about the legal ramifications of splicing the genes for psilocybin synthesis into Tinea pedis fungi, to produce a hallucinogenic variety of athletes' foot? WERE THEY BOGROLL. The suggestion met with the editorial cold shoulder. Followed in quick succession by the editorial tepid ankle, and then the editorial knee to the groin.

This is despite Nature's recent decision to grant space for a couple of Political Science lecturers to chin-stroke about using yeasts to synthesise opiates, which is going to happen Real Soon Now. Different researchers have engineered yeasts which perform separate stages of the metabolic pathway of banging together a molecule of morphine, which means that combining all the stages in a single home-brew-kit is only a matter of detail, right?
Such are the awesome Political Science powers of extrapolation and hypothesisation that questions of 'concentration' and 'purity' evaporate in a subjunctive cloud of "Let's Pretend", with the simple word "feasible" exfolatiating into such predictions as
users would need to drink only 1–2 millilitres of the liquid to obtain a standard prescribed dose
It is not clear whether the Nature editors couldn't be arsed contacting anyone with actual expertise in biosynthesis to opine on the practicalities, or whether they reached out but failed to receive sufficiently hair-on-fire responses. How could they possibly have predicted that lazy churnalists would skip over hedging qualifiers like "feasible" and "in principle", and pebble-dash the story with an extra layer of hysteria stucco? -- coming up with headlines like
Home-brewed heroin? Scientists create yeast that can make sugar into opiates
The rules of the Let's Pretend game allowed the authors to hypothesise that this in-principle opiate production will be undetectable and the pressure cookers bioreactors will be untraceable, meanwhile stipulating that criminal syndicates and the Government Revenue Men will lack any advances in their own capacity for detecting and tracing, and what then of your drug regulations? Then they realised that it was 2.30 a.m. and they had the munchies, so they sent the intern out to the all-night takeaway for burgers.

I am concerned by their lack of faith in my hypothetical dowsing-based detection technology.

The Law of Nominal Determinism is a Harsh Mistress

Some lessons I have learned from reading about the Institute in Basic Life Principles:

1. Avoid any organisation offering counselling for sexual abusers and sexual-abuse victims founded by someone called "Gothard".

2. Avoid organisations where the main advice to sexual-abuse victims is "It was your fault for tempting him. Feel repentance and allow Christ into you."

3. Avoid sexual-morality-enforcement organisations which are essentially job-creation schemes for the founder's family, especially if the founder's brother was eventually sacked for treating its secretaries as his personal harem.

4. Avoid counselling / sexual-morality-enforcement organisations if the founder's name frequently occurs in connection with words like "sexually grooming".

5. "Gothard". Ha.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Must be your eyes up on Mars
But it seems like the headlights from the cars

Mars, ancient Mars. Planet of mystery. Planet of MBA degrees, cuff-links, 360° reviews and 6-Sigma consultancies.
We are disappoint. This is not the Mars we were promised, all red and purple like Bruce Pennington cover art, where the corners of the ruins are rounded by millennia of sand-storms, and the weak light from a distant sun sinks without trace in the black water that runs low in the immemorial canals.
Carse walked beside the still black waters in their ancient channel, cut in the dead sea-bottom. He watched the dry wind shake the torches that never went out and listened to the broken music of the harps that were never stilled. Lean lithe men and women passed him in the shadowy streets, silent as cats except for the chime and whisper of the tiny bells the women wear, a sound as delicate as rain, distillate of all the sweet wickedness of the world.
Nevertheless the Business Secrets of Martians are an incontestable fact, and here are Manuel Arulmani and Victor Ranjitham Hema Latha to explain them:
The human population lived in MARS planet in prehistoric time shall be called as SUPER MANAGERS with super wisdom. They were considered as great astronomers and experts in management of various planets and in the space in overcoming the prehistoric severe climate conditions occurred due to misalignment of plan-ets. They had only three fundamental principles of management called AKKIE PRINCIPLES or AKKIE CODE.
[Emphases not mine, possibly those of Akkie Managers]. But wait, there's more!
The main reason for failure of objective shall be considered as “deviation to prehistoric standard Akkie principles”. Hence “TRANSFORMATION” is required in all types of business in all organizations. Transformation shall mean reset to Akkie principles. Authors focuse that Akkie principles shall be considered as the most fundamental principles (Ref. [2]). It is hypothesized that the prehistorical population has already lived in MARS planet. They shall be considered as Akkie population. The Akkie population shall also be considered as black population. The principles of modern management shall be transformed from the fundamental principles of prehistoric Akkie population called as Akkie principles, Akkie management (Ref. [2-4]).
Arulmani and Hema Latha are an industrious couple, having recently published no fewer than 74 papers, where "published" is a term of art which here takes the meaning "paid some academic jizz-mop of a journal to turn into a PDF". Another eleventy-dozen papers were squeezed out through various imprints of the egregious Marsland Press, sometimes sustaining entire issues of "Cancer Biology", but these do not appear in Arulmani's own list; it may be that they chose the publisher on the basis of its name.

The authors' industry is not matched by originality, for all the papers are permutations of a small number of claims (self-plagiarism is not an issue when one's preferred publishing outlets define "peer review" as "close inspection of the cheque"). It is invidious to pick out specific entries from the list but nevertheless I call your attention to
Great Obelisks [before sand]
#24 PYRAMIDS ARE PREHISTORIC RF ANTENNA?! and
#25 HUMAN IS A ROAM FREE CELL PHONE?! and
#18 Barack Obama is Tamil Based Indian? and
#50 “E-LANKA” THE TAMIL CONTINENT?

The Prehistoric Tamil Mars Code features regularly... the primordial form of writing, far more efficient than all the later writing systems into which it degenerated, in that it requires only a single glyph, conveying millions of different meanings.

Also the Primal Winged Human form, and what appears to be an early Underground map. Albeit one which cannot be found in the pages of the Metronomicon, Abdul al-Hazmat's blasphemous Book of Binding of the Timetables.

"What happens when Dravidian racial-supremacy theories merge with business administration and Steiner's Anthroposophy and barking insanity?" asked absolutely no-one, but now we are looking at the answer. The Arulmani-Hema Latha oeuvre belongs to the literature of Dravidian / Tamil racial superiority. There is quite a lot of it out there, identifying the Harappan / Indus Valley Culture as Proto-Dravidian and crediting it as the source of all civilisation everywhere in the world. Money to fund racial-superiority publications sloshes over from the Tamil Nadu state budget (where Tamil-ascendant mythic archeology was official textbook doctrine) and from private supremacist benefactors. Since the funders could not give two tugs on a dead dingo's dick for the quality of publications, author / fantasists enjoy the kind of job security that right-wing pundits would envy, while the income stream for mockademic bottom feeders is equally reliable.
This genre usually invokes the lost continent of Lemuria / Mu -- the heart of the Dravidian Empire, destroyed by floods or vulcanism -- to explain why Tamils, despite their superiority, are not in fact masters of the world (although “Barack Obama is Tamil Based Indian“). Riddled readers have previously encountered another pair of similarly-themed and vanity-published ‘scientists’, Ravikumar Kurup A. and Parameswara Achutha Kurup.
Arulmani and Hema Latha take the geometric logic one step further by identifying the lost continent as Mars. The reason why Mars is off in space now, rather than still part of Earth’s crust, is the expanding universe. Also Red Shift.


We were promised Clark Ashton
Smith's Mars, where intelligent plants from another dimension conscript local minions to extend their vegetable empire to Earth, where tentacled abominations dwell within abyssal depths and enslave new arrivals by sucking out their eyeballs, where brain-digesting zombifying pancakes infest the Vaults of Yoh-Vombis.

All those activities come under the heading of "fundamental Akkie principles of management".

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Competition

Oh noes! There is mayoral competition for mah porcini patch!

Mrs Spat, why are you not out there guarding them?

Friday, May 15, 2015