Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Scientific Integrity Relies on Transparency and Open Communication

Sign seen at #WomensMarchOnWashington
The National Park Service Won't be Silenced and Rogue Scientists Race to Save Climate Data... are just two of recent headlines that indicate a growing unease and distrust between the new administration and the scientific community.  Another indication of strained relations is this list of recommendations for protecting yourself as a whistleblower, from Inside Climate News (no. 6 is especially chilling: "Consider buying a burner phone. Use cash.").

The second story was, in part, about researchers, computer scientists, librarians (yeah!), archivists and students at Van Pelt Library, University of Pennsylvania.  Listen to this story, which aired today, beautifully crafted by Susan Phillips of Here and Now.  It is reassuring to hear professional colleagues explaining the need for metadata and archiving.  Find the "bagged data" at  This sort of vigilance will be needed to keep scientific data and reports accessible - especially those funded by the government, at taxpayer expense.

The following comes from the "Rogue Scientists" story in Wired:
"But data, no matter how expertly it is harvested, isn’t useful divorced from its meaning. “It no longer has the beautiful context of being a website, it’s just a data set,” Allen says. [Laurie Allen, the assistant director for digital scholarship in the Penn libraries and the technical lead on the data rescuing event]
"That’s where the librarians came in. In order to be used by future researchers—or possibly used to repopulate the data libraries of a future, more science-friendly administration—the data would have to be untainted by suspicions of meddling. So the data must be meticulously kept under a “secure chain of provenance.” In one corner of the room, volunteers were busy matching data to descriptors like which agency the data came from, when it was retrieved, and who was handling it. Later, they hope, scientists can properly input a finer explanation of what the data actually describes."

Thank you, librarians and archivists.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Physics major Stella Ocker publishes in Astrophysical Journal

Congratulations to Stella Ocker, junior, for her publication in Astrophysical Journal, co-authored with Gordon Petrie of the National Solar Observatory (NSO).  Ocker's research took place in Boulder, Colorado as part of the NSO Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

Spatial maps of solar active region NOAA 11158
Ocker, Stella Koch and Gordon Petrie. 2016. The effects of spatial smoothing on solar magnetic helicity parameters and the hemispheric helicity sign rule. Astrophysical Journal 832, no. 2: 162.

Partial abstract:
"The hemispheric preference for negative/positive helicity to occur in the northern/southern solar hemisphere provides clues to the causes of twisted, flaring magnetic fields. Previous studies on the hemisphere rule may have been affected by seeing from atmospheric turbulence. Using Hinode/SOT-SP data spanning 2006–2013, we studied the effects of two spatial smoothing tests that imitate atmospheric seeing: noise reduction by ignoring pixel values weaker than the estimated noise threshold, and Gaussian spatial smoothing."

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Sociability and GABA receptor: implications for schizophrenia and autism

A new publication from Tracie Paine, Associate Professor of Neuroscience, and former students Nathan Swedlow '15 and Lucien Swetschinski '15, concludes that "changes in GABA signaling observed in conditions such as autism or schizophrenia may mediate the social withdrawal characteristic of these conditions. Moreover, they suggest that social withdrawal may be treated by drugs that potentiate GABA transmission." (C) 2016 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Paine, TA, Swedlow, N and Swetschinski, L. "Decreasing GABA Function within the Medial Prefrontal Cortex Or Basolateral Amygdala Decreases Sociability." Behavioural Brain Research 317, (JAN 15, 2017): 542-552.

View the full article on ScienceDirect (subscriber access only).