Some sporadic insights into academia.
Science is Fascinating.
Scientists are slightly peculiar.
Here are the views of one of them.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Shiny, shiny, shiny beads of latex

Part of the reason I got into science blogging, was to drum up more readership for scientific papers. The main reason was to share my comedy genius with the world (193 Twitter followers can’t be wrong: that’s almost as many people as live on Tristan da Cunha!). Oh and the need to feed my ego, obviously a pretty major component.

I’m too sexy for my lab book

Sometimes, however, it is hard to think of a way to sell my research to you, the great unwashed. Some science sells itself by being cutting edge, earth shattering, game changing. This is the stuff all the scientists in the field read, the papers where the authors are known by name. It’s the science  that leads to oversold newspaper headlines promising to “Cure cancer in 3 years” and staged interviews with senior Profs in the lab for the first time in years, normally wearing someone else’s lab coat with assorted minions pipetting colourful liquids in the background.

Journeyman science

There is other work that is less headline-worthy, but equally useful. It could build upon the work of others, applying novel methodology from the big papers to different areas. Alternatively it may reproduce work performed elsewhere, increasing the validity of the original findings. Or it could be small incremental steps that adds to the overall pool of knowledge, laying the foundations for future work. 99% of the scientific literature falls into this bracket.

The premiership of publications

How do we judge the quality of scientific research? Part of the science writing process is to refer to other published studies that support our findings. Sometimes we look for papers that draw completely opposite conclusions so we can make passive aggressive comments about why their study is no good. Each mention of another study in a paper is called a citation. As a rule of thumb, papers that are cited more have made a bigger splash (good or bad). My current record is 279 for my ‘classic’ work on edible vaccines in transgenic plants, a corker if I say it myself. You might imagine that the highest cited papers would be those sexy headline grabbers as these are the ones that get the most attention. Though this is using sexy in a very loose sense, no one ever got tumescence from a western blot (deeply lame, unnecessarily crass science joke number 73).
Transgenic tobacco plants doing blue steel

Method to my madness

However, this is not the case. Of the top 10 cited papers of all time, seven are methods papers. These are very important, but somewhat dry descriptions of how to do science. Believe me, if you weren’t finding the ‘sexy’ papers sexy, methods papers will not be doing it for you. Which finally brings me around to our latest paper: ‘Development of a custom pentaplex sandwich immunoassay using Protein-G coupled beads for the Luminex® xMAP® platform’ in the Journal of Immunological methods. In this page-turner we describe a better way to do Luminex. Now you will either know what Luminex is, in which case read the paper or not, in which case may I recommend something from my back catalogue like a fruit number on early life antibody or a saucy look at mouse genetics. If neither of these whet your whistle, click the advert at the bottom – I get 5p a click, Academics got to live after all!
Are you using protein G to couple your Luminex beads? If not why not

EU Supports science

As a final piece of drum banging. This work was funded by our good friends in the European Union, for which I say Merci Beaucoups. No EU = no papers about niche analytical techniques in immunology and we can all agree that would be a shame. That and the fact that for every pro brexit vote a fairy dies. 

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