Saturday, February 23, 2013

Open Science Petition Response

The White House has finally responded to the open science petition that I wrote about back in May.  In their words, "The Obama Administration agrees that citizens deserve easy access to the results of research their tax dollars have paid for."

So, we're on the same page here.  What are they doing to make sure that taxpayer-funded research is indeed made public?  The short answer is, they have definitely taken the soft approach:  the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has issued an order that applies to every Federal agency with over $100 million in annual conduct of research and development must submit a plan to to the OSTP within six months outlining their plans for achieving the following major goals, among others:

  • Facilitation of easy public search, analysis of, and access to peer-reviewed scholarly publications directly arising from research funded by the Federal Government.
  • Maximize access, by the general public and without charge, to digitally formatted scientific data created with Federal funds.
  • Optimize search, archival, and dissemination features that encourage innovation in accessibility and interoperability, while ensuring long-term stewardship of the results of federally funded research.

The plan submitted to the OSTP must also include a timeline for implementation, and then each agency is expected to report on their progress twice yearly.  This is encouraging, but is not a lasting piece of legislation and lacks any clear repercussions for failing to comply.  As such, this commitment may last only as long as this administration does.  Also frustrating is that there is a provision for at least a 12-month embargo period during which research needs not be publicly available.   

It remains to be seen whether this leads, in practice, to all Federal funding agencies adopting an open-access plan like the NIH has, or whether the agencies' plans fall short of the goal of easy access to the results of taxpayer-funded research.  I appreciate that you took the time to sign the petition, and I hope that you will continue to push for free and open science in the future!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Red Rock Canyon

While we were in Las Vegas, Simiao and I decided to go hiking at Red Rock Canyon.  I've always found deserts quite beautiful, and the scrambling at the Calico Hills was some of the best I've ever experienced.  There was one thing we found, however, that I thought was super-interesting!

As we were scrambling down through the canyon at the Calico Hills, we were climbing past some Sonoran Scrub Oak.  As I glanced over, I noticed an odd, round, red and yellow berry growing on the oak next to me.  It was very pretty, so reached over and plucked it.  I said to Simiao, "Hey, look at this weird seed!"  I handed it to her.  She mentioned that it felt hollow, and I speculated that it might be designed to break off and float when the rains fill the canyon.  I carefully set it down on a rock and split it in half with my heel, and this is what we found:

A gall from a Sonoran Scrub Oak
Satisfied that it was the seed of a scrub oak, I resolved to look it up when I got home and determine what the evolutionary purpose of this egg-like seed containing what appeared to be a dandelion-like puffball to be carried by the wind was.

Little did I know that it would take quite a few hours of research to determine the truth of this "berry".  This is not the seed of a scrub oak.  Scrub oaks produce acorns, but there was no question that this strange ball was connected to the oak itself--a small stem was visible.  In fact, this is called a "gall", and it can be formed when a gall wasp larva reprograms the cells in the oak itself so that the oak forms this tumor-like growth which in turn acts as a food source and habitat for the developing wasp.

There are hundreds of species of gall wasp, and I cannot say which might have produced this wonderful structure.  It is, however, a marvel of evolution that these wasps have come to manipulate the development of a plant into a completely different manner of growth!

With the right person, adventure is always closer than it appears!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Viva Lost Wages

Lost Wages is what Simiao's airline pilot called Las Vegas on the way in, and I think that's a hilarious name so I'll go with it.  We decided to spend 5 days here for Valentine's Day, and I was really pumped to explore!  Everyone calls the city tacky, but I think it's beautiful in a very surreal way--like Dubai, but less sad because you have freedom and the buildings aren't just sitting there unoccupied.  Even though gambling's not really my thing, we found the biggest, most ostentatious slot machine we could and bet a single dollar just so that we could say we did.  My favorite part of the visit (aside from hiking in Red Rock Canyon, which I will document in a later post) was the Cirque du Soleil.  If you haven't heard of this science-fiction interpretive dance show, you need to find one and go to it.  It's positively jaw-dropping.

Actually, if there was one thing I'd change about our stay, it would be the venue.  We stayed at the Bellagio which in spite of its ratings was a disappointment in many regards.  The "heated" pool was only open until 4 and was barely tolerable temperature-wise in the 50-degree Nevada winter, the shower hardware in our room was falling off the wall and nearly unusable, the drain didn't work and overflowed into our bathroom and bedroom, and the casino which you had to walk through to get to your room guaranteed that you would smell like smoke after any trip to or from your room.  The service was quite good and the location was very good--it just didn't seem quite right that such a fancy hotel should have a room that feels like it's falling apart.

We have some cool pictures from the city, though, which you should check out below!

Adding to my collection of statues of famous historical figures with their arms around me.
At the Wynn to check out the in-hotel Ferrari dealership.
We loved this mural in the Cosmopolitan.

The view from our hotel room.