Friday, 25 June 2010

I spy with my little eye scientists acting deceitfully

In my last post I said that highly cited papers become a stronger part of the literature than less cited papers and those that are never cited. I also said that the porportion of uncited papers now is similar to that in 1973 but here are some interesting graphs created by Scopus rather than from looking at citations in Google Scholar, which had suggested this 40-50% level of uncited articles.

So this suggests that actually only a very small percentage of articles are not actually cited and that over time this approaches nearly 0% for Bioinformatics and BMC Bioinformatics. This seems a little bit odd given the previous results. So what happens if Nature and Science are added to the chart?
Nature and Science have a similar number of uncited papers as the 1973 study and the study using Google Scholar. So what is happening that the Bioinformatics journals are more highly cited than Nature and Science? There are two possibilities:

  1. Scopus is incorrectly calculating the citations for the Bioinformatics journals (but how can this be if it does it right for Science and Nature).
  2. The scientists are fiddling the results to make sure that their papers are cited at least once by citing it themselves - maybe as a conference report or in a non-peer reviewed journal. Citations make careers and an uncited and unloved paper is no use on a curriculum. 
So scientists have learned to play the system, but only those who publish in the discipline specific journals seem to be playing. The big names who get the Nature and Science articles don't care. This is a response to the way Tenure is earned in the States and many other countries and the way funding is calculated by the RAE in the UK.

Citation and confidence - Bioinformatics as an example

How do you know an article is a good article?

We know that peer review is flawed and that it can let through bad articles while blocking actually good work. So how can we be confident about a piece of research? The more an article is cited, the more this article has become important to the community. This can either be citations by those who disagree but most often with those who agree with the work. So highly cited papers even if they are shown in the future to be flawed, have become a significant part of the literature.

As a little experiment I took the articles from 2001 in Bioinformatics of which there are about 819 including editorials and comments and lookd at the number of times they have been cited using Google Scholar. Only about 300 articles have ever been cited. So 500 have never been cited. Of those articles that have been cited the most cited has over 6500 citations and there are 10 articles with more than 500 citations.

This means that in the eight and a half years since the end of 2001 less than 40% of articles have been cited. This agrees with the results reported in Ziman - Reliable Knowledge for 1973 (p 130), where less than 50% of articles were cited within the first year after they were published. This is slightly surprising with the advent of the internet and the increase in open source publication which makes access to the literature wider, but this also reflects the massive growth of the literature in the last 40 years.

An Epitaph

Sadly I do not know whose epitaph this is or who wrote it, although it has Robert Stephens with a question mark beside it in my notebook.
Who made his own amends, who travelled his own way. He failed, as we all fail and perhaps more often than some. Yet he recognised fundamental things. Not that we are evil: for we are not. But that, by whatever name - self interest, impulse, anger, lust or greee - we are inclined that way and that is our tragedy, to know this can never change. Our duty to try at every moment to overcome it; and our glory occassionally to succeed.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Liberated Women

I am currently reading James Martin's The Meaning of the 21st Century. One of the interesting ideas is about the liberation of women and the effect this has on population growth and fertility rates. He breaks liberation into four phases:
  1. Teaching women to read increases the use of birth control and lowers fertility rates.
  2. Giving women jobs lowers the fetility rates further.
  3. Women become "liberated" rates fall again.
  4. Women become ambitious for the best jobs then rates are well below the replacement rates.
There is one statement about liberated women that I found amusing.
"Liberated women can enjoy sex, as men do, without having children - and because bringing up and educating children is far more expensive than it used to be, many couples are motivated to have small families." p63.
I think that was not the best choice of words - "women can enjoy sex, as men do". Who said that women did not enjoy sex already? I think that female liberation has been taking place as an "undergound movement" for a lot longer than men appreciate -Lysistrata and the poetry of Sappho is just one early example.

I can never understand men in a society that tries to treat women as less than human. You have to sleep at night and there is plenty of time to find a knife in your back or a Bobbit like part of you missing. In the end women will always win, even if there are periods in history where culture tries to subjugate them.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

TalkTalk and customer service - why nobody should use them.

I received a letter for Mr Simon Henderson who does not live and never has lived at my address from TalkTalk introducing them to their new account and giving them their account details. I had heard of people using other peoples' addresses for fraud before and so I was quickly on the phone to sort it out as someone was going to use my address to get free calls and then leave me having to persuade the phone company that nobody of that name lives here.

So I try to call TalkTalk and to warn them that someone is trying to cheat them. They should be happy that I am stopping this before they incur any charges. So why am I now so angry with them? Well here is a list of my phone calls.

  1. 7:30 Saturday June 19th - first a long queue then when I do get through they tell me they cannot deal with it and that I need to call back at 8am the following day (yes the next day is Sunday!!!!). Call time 10 mins 29 secs.
  2. 9:30 Sunday June 20th - I get the automatd message that will not allow me to continue without giving the phone number so I use the one for Mr Henderson's account. I get through to all the options and pick I want to leave TalkTalk. It goes through the menus and then says that it is closed and that it is open 7 day a week between 8 and 8. Call time 1 min 58 secs.
  3. The same need to put in a phone number so I use Mr Henderson's again this time no menu and I get a customer service person, who cannot hear me and then the line cuts off. Call time 1 min 27 secs.
  4. I get through to another customer service agent who listens to my explanation then puts me on hold to check the account before saying she needs to transfer me to the fraud department. I am transferred to the fraud department which has an answer phone saying there is nobody there now and please leave my name and number so they can call me back. Call time 5 mins 51 secs.
So my total call time is 19 mins 45 secs to leave a message on an answering machine for their benefit in trying to prevent them losing money. All of this on a 0870 number which is costing me. To say I am angry is to put it mildly. They have the worst possible customer service, their policies are shoddy and they show a level of business incompetence that beggars belief. The least they should have done is to suspend the account.

The bad news for Mr Henderson is that my house does not have a BT line. We only have Virgin as the BT line was cut when the ivy was cleared from the house. So it is impossible for anyone at this address to have TalkTalk.

My next call will be to Ofcom and will be a complaint about TalkTalk.


Friday, 18 June 2010


Diary entry from 2/10/1990
Today in chemistry we began Thermodynamics in which we were told that the statistical implicationsare not going to be taken into account as we were using the macroscopic analysis. This is an obnoxious proposition, it is like spaghetti without Bolognaise. The second law is purely statistical. It is done this way to keep it simple and prevent confusion as the statistical fluctuations only become significant at the microscopic level (below 100000000000000000 particles)