UPFRONT News, Notes, Bits and Bytes From Here, There, Everywhere
Bit of Skullduggery in China?
The overall volume of scientific publications from China has risen from roughly 20,000 in 2000 to 130,000 in 2010, according to Thomson-Reuters. The rise of China as a scientific superpower seems assured, and President Hu Jintao has explicitly set a goal for the nation to become the world leader in research by 2020. But all is not beer and skittles. Last year the British journal The Lancet noted some 70 fraudulent papers emanating from researchers at Jinggangshan University—the latest instances of significant scientific fraud that have led the government to attempt to curb such abuses. The pressure to commit such fraud is intense, according to surveys of Chinese scientists. Research grants, career advancement and the like are often tied to the number of publications authored by a given researcher—a strong incentive to inflate, exaggerate or fabricate one's output. But China is already the workshop of the world; if it can stop fraud, soon it may also be the world's scientific laboratory.
6 Reasons Why Some Scientists Fail at Tech Transfer
With your papers published and your patent portfolio lined up, your new technology for green energy, curing cancer or vaccinating against nicotine is finally complete. Now, it is time for the world to recognize your genius and send your technology on the fast-track to market success. But not so fast, the number of superb technologies at the bottom of the biotech start-up waste basket is huge and many if not most of them, all else being equal, were probably good enough to go commercial. So why aren’t most academic scientists millionaires? Let AsianScientist magazine count the ways:
1. You may not have assembled the right team for this technology. The worth of a new company is essentially the sum of its capital minus its debt. Capital can be intellectual in the sense of licensed and patented technology, but it is also human capital.
2. Scientists often make poor CEOs. Maybe that new material you invented to finally solve the problem of oral insulin delivery would make more money as an additive to hair gel? Could you make the right decision to benefit your shareholders?
3. The market is too competitive. Working in a lab, it is easy to underestimate the competitiveness of a market. Whereas a new technology or discovery may very well be unusual enough to garner a publication, never confuse that with a de facto assumption of competitiveness in a market place.
4. You need pathological devotion. It’s those little details—if you don’t pay attention to the quality of presentations, miss important meetings, don’t think carefully enough about hires—that make the difference between a fireball and a fizzle.
5. You need to know how to raise money. Being able to spin a new technology in terms and language an investor wants to hear is a special skill.
6. You are the one-eyed king in the land of the blind. Your technology may not be as good as you think it is. Never underestimate the importance of manufacturing process and product consistency—these are the cornerstones by which technologies build value.
Finally, despite the number of hurdles to commercialization of any type of technology, this list should not put you off trying.
MAYBE PEOPLE REALLY DO MATTER
Next time you go on vacation, you may want to think twice before shooting hundreds of photos of that scenic mountain or lake. A new study from MIT neuroscientists shows that the most memorable photos are those that contain people, followed by static indoor scenes and human-scale objects. Landscapes? They may be beautiful, but they are, in most cases, utterly forgettable. “Pleasantness and memorability are not the same,” says MIT graduate student Phillip Isola. Using their findings from humans, the researchers developed a computer algorithm that can rank images based on memorability. Such an algorithm could be useful to graphic designers, photo editors or anyone trying to decide which of their vacation photos to post on Facebook.
About 13 percent of online adults in the U.S. use Twitter, according to the Pew Research Center. That's up from 8 percent about six months ago. More than half of these folks send their tweets using a cellphone. Twitter usage is also spreading quickly among older adults, between the ages of 25 and 44. (312 characters)
ABOUT THOSE, AHEM, EXIT STRATEGIES
Says Peter Ireland, the entrepreneur and venture capitalist:
“No matter how much an investor likes your deal, at some point he (or she) will start asking himself, ‘So, how will I get my money back out of this deal?’ Now here's where the deal-killer answers come into the picture. Every book I have ever read on raising money and writing business plans advises you to answer the ‘exit question’ with this standard line: ‘Eventually we will either IPO or be acquired!’
“When an investor hears these words, the natural response is to get cold feet. It's really no different from hearing your unemployed brother-in-law say, ‘I need you to give me $10,000 and I promise to pay it back as soon as I win the lottery.’ Savvy entrepreneurs structure their financing deals so that investors can begin pulling out their principal quickly. This typically involves a plan for monthly installments, which pay off the investment principal over a fixed term much like a bank loan. If you can show an investor that you treat the return of their money as one of your top two priorities, they will be more likely to invest. (The other priority, obviously, is to make the company a success.) No one wants to hear vague Wimpy-style promises about anything—especially when it comes to their money.”
Boy, Will This Day Ever End?
Do you ever feel like some days drag on longer than others? That feeling may be psychological, but actual day length really does fluctuate—by a fraction of a millisecond. The length of a day, which is measured by the time it takes Earth to rotate once on its axis, can be measured to an accuracy of about 10 microseconds, or 10 millionths of a second. Earth's rotational rate depends on the distribution of mass across its surface. When a major earthquake shifts the planet's mass, for example, it can slow or speed the day by as much as a few thousandths of a second.
In fact, the Sumatra earthquake in December 2004 that spawned a deadly tsunami moved so much water that it slightly changed our planet's shape and sped its rotation by 2.68 microseconds, or nearly three millionths of a second. Richard Gross of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory keeps a database of Earth's rotation dating back to 1962. Gross says that the most important processes affecting day length are changes in the weather, so it shouldn’t be surprising, that global warming may actually speed the day. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, Germany, estimated the mass redistribution resulting from ocean warming would shorten the day by 120 microseconds, or nearly one tenth of a millisecond, over the next two centuries.
SEA CHANGE AT BIG PHARMA
The pharmaceutical industry is “in the midst of a profound change,” says Richard Barker, who until recently ran the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry. “We're moving progressively from a model where most of the large companies did most of their research and development internally to an innovation ecosystem model,” he says. “So it becomes increasingly important for the large companies to work closely with universities, research charities and small and medium-sized enterprises in the discovery adventure.” Sounds like a bit of good news for universities and other research institutions.
OKAY, JOBS, BUT ISN’T THIS GOING A BIT TOO FAR?
A Chinese kid sold one of his kidneys to buy an iPad 2 the Global Times of China reported. The 17-year-old boy searched the internet and found a buyer who was willing to pay 22,000 yuan ($3,400) for the organ. Without telling his family of his plans, he traveled north from his home in the eastern Anhui province to a hospital in the city of Chenzhou in Hunan province, where he was operated on under the supervision of a kidney-selling agent. His mother's suspicions were aroused when her son returned home with an iPad 2 and an iPhone but also with a deep red scar above where a kidney used to be. She took him back to Chenzhou to report the crime, but the contact numbers the kidney agents the boy were not working. But, hey, the kid still has his other kidney.
WHY NOT ENERGY-EFFICIENT HOMES?
When one speaks of energy efficient builders, folks tend to conjure up skyscrapers and warehouses and the like. But plenty of energy savings can be found in your home, ranging from insulation to various forms of alternative energy to end reliance on natural gas, oil or coal. Putting it all together is a publication called—what else?—Energy Efficient Homes and it’s a thorough compendium. Available wherever nice publications are sold ($12.99) or at energyefficienthomesmag.com.
“Congress should acknowledge that we are not the experts, and that allowing partisan politics to dictate the scientific understanding of climate change is cynical, short-sighted, and, by definition, ignorant. I implore my colleagues to recognize the value of research, and resist efforts to defund and destroy the very scientific community that will give us answers.”
—Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Tex.,
member of the House Committee on Science and Technology