September 06, 2014

1:34 PM | Aunt Pythia gives it up for Polly
Dearest readers. Dearest, dearest readers. Aunt Pythia was just about to crack open her dog-eared google doc of questions when she happened across this Ask Polly column which blew her away (hat tip Julie Steele). It’s entitled Ask Polly: Why Don’t the Men I Date Ever Truly Love Me? and it’s just about the best advice Aunt […]

September 05, 2014

2:58 PM | Your morning longread: a court judgment on the Deepwater Horizon disaster
I know that you've always wanted to understand the physics, chemistry, engineering and operations of deepwater oil drilling and U.S. District Court Judge Carl Barbier is here to help. Here's a 153-page judgment of where exactly the Deepwater Horizon/Gulf oil spill began to go really wrong, including technical diagrams, internal e-mails and even an apportioning of blame. It's obviously too large to summarize well, but here's a couple relevant portions: On page 53, an interesting […]
11:04 AM | Friday morning reading
I’m very gratified to say that my Lede Program for data journalism at Columbia is over, or at least the summer program is (some students go on to take Computer Science classes in the Fall). My adorable and brilliant students gave final presentations on Tuesday and then we had a celebration Tuesday night at my […]
10:02 AM | A week of links
Links this week: Two pieces on diet. First, an excellent article on how the poisons in vegetables might be making you stronger. Second, a new study in the fat-carb wars. Andrew Gelman on the strength of statistical evidence. Two excellent podcasts. Gregory Clark on social mobility (and the genetics behind it) and Paul Sabin on […]

September 04, 2014

11:25 PM | Why STEM is TE: inflation-adjusted wages edition
Many of you have read Michael Teitelbaum's article about the lack of a STEM shortage. I've actually purchased and mostly read his book, "Falling Behind?" Naturally, I enjoyed it, but I found it a bit weak in spots. Here's a link to a YouTube video of an Economic Policy Institute colloquy between Dr. Teitelbaum and number of prominent scholars about the book and science/technology workforces issues in general, including a very interesting critique of the book by Jonathan Rothwell, a research […]
5:34 PM | Methanol "tornado" experiment goes awry
Courtesy of my local TV news habit, I heard about a science experiment that sent a few kids to the hospital in Reno, NV. Here's the report from the Reno Gazette-Journal:A science experiment went awry at the Terry Lee Wells Discovery Museum, creating a chemical flash that injured up to 13 Wednesday in Reno, officials said. Of those 13, eight children and an adult were transported to Renown Regional Medical Center, the city said in a statement. Primary injuries include minor burns and […]
3:29 PM | Daily Pump Trap: 9/4/14 edition
Good morning! A few of the positions posted on C&EN Jobs in the last week:Skokie, IL: It isn't often that you see corporate lab manager positions, but this appears to be one from LanzaTech. They want a B.S. in chemistry (advanced degree preferred) and 10+ years experience in the laboratory. I think this could be a great position for the right person.Cambridge, MA: I think this is the first time that I've seen the term "Data Scientist" show up for a pharmaceutical company - Novartis, in […]
11:25 AM | Student evaluations: very noisy data
I’ve been sent this recent New York Times article by a few people (thanks!). It’s called Grading Teachers, With Data From Class, and it’s about how standardized tests are showing themselves to be inadequate to evaluate teachers, so a Silicon Valley-backed education startup called Panorama is stepping into the mix with a data collection process focused […]
9:47 AM | The biology of boom and bust
John Coates’s excellent The Hour Between Dog and Wolf: Risk Taking, Gut Feelings and the Biology of Boom and Bust tells the story of the effect of hormones on decision making in finance. By the end of the book, the idea that traders are rational calculating machines driven by their brains is torn apart. As Coates shows, the divide […]

September 03, 2014

9:00 PM | Chemical Education Foundation wishes to highlight working chemists
From the inbox, a chance to get famous!: The Chemical Educational Foundation (CEF) ( is looking for chemists to use in You Be The Chemist Challenge marketing pieces and events for this year’s “careers in chemistry” theme. (The Challenge is an academic competition for grade 5-8 students that focuses on chemistry and its real-world applications.) For example, we might feature a few chemists on a periodic table poster to distribute to schools. We are looking […]
8:59 PM | A good article that makes me irritated
From the inbox, an interesting article from Nature's news section by Ewan Callaway about a Ph.D. organic chemist from the Schreiber lab who has gone onto finance: [Soroosh] Shambayati was born in Iran, attended school in Sweden, and then won a scholarship to study chemistry and mathematics at a university in Los Angeles. As an undergraduate, he was drawn to science for its pursuit of objective truth and the opportunity for discovery. A PhD was the obvious next step, and he found a perfect […]
10:54 AM | Guest Post: Bring Back The Slide Rule!
This is a guest post by Gary Cornell, a mathematician, writer, publisher, and recent founder of StemForums. I was was having a wonderful ramen lunch with the mathbabe and, as is all too common when two broad minded Ph.D.’s in math get together, we started talking about the horrible state math education is in for […]

September 02, 2014

3:54 PM | Distributional Economic Health
I am pushing an unusual way of considering economic health. I call it “distributional thinking.” It requires that you not aggregate everything into one statistic, but rather take a few samples from different parts of the distribution and consider things from those different perspectives. So instead of saying “things are great because the economy has expanded at […]
2:45 PM | Ivory Filter Flask: 9/2/14 edition
Good morning! A few of the academically-related positions posted on C&EN:Cambridge, MA: MIT is searching for a professor of chemistry, preferably at the assistant professor level. Focus for the position: "...the areas of inorganic, organic or physical chemistry, broadly defined."Bellingham, WA: Western Washington University is looking for an assistant professor of inorganic chemistry:Applicants with experimental or theoretical/computational research interests are encouraged to apply, as are […]

September 01, 2014

2:42 PM | Happy Labor Day!
This year, I dedicate this song to adjunct professors of chemistry. Your contributions are appreciated by me.To my American readers, a very happy Labor Day to you and your family. To people in the rest of the world, happy Monday! 
2:37 PM | The full 2014 ACS Salary Survey is out
A brief note on the last day of a holiday weekend, courtesy of Sophie Rovner and this week's C&EN:Unemployment is easing in the U.S. economy as a whole, and that trend is reflected in the chemical sector, according to the latest figures compiled by the American Chemical Society. “The unemployment rate of our domestic chemistry workforce is once again under 3.0%, as it was prior to the economic downturn of 2008–09,” notes Elizabeth C. McGaha, assistant director of […]

August 31, 2014

4:09 PM | Ruin is forever: When the precautionary principle is justified
If you are dead, you cannot mount a comeback. If all life on Earth were destroyed by, say, a large comet impact, there would be no revival. Ruin is forever.The destruction of all life on Earth is not 10 times worse than the destruction of one-tenth of all life on Earth. It is infinitely worse. A fall of 1 foot is not one-tenth as damaging to the human body as a fall of 10 feet, nor is it one-hundredth as damaging as a fall of 100 feet (which is very likely to be lethal). Walking down a stairway […]
9:46 AM | A week of links
Links this week: Daniel McFadden on how people make choices. Not that new but only spotted this week – Gerd Gigerenzer has a great rants on statistics. (HT: Noah Smith) Forty per cent of modern Chinese are patrilineal descendants of only three super-grandfathers from 6,000 years ago. (HT: Carl Zimmer) Anti-marijuana advocates funded by drug companies. […]

August 30, 2014

2:11 PM | Aunt Pythia’s advice: the nerdy edition
Aunt Pythia is ginormously and ridonkulously excited to be here. She just got back from a nifty bike ride to the other side of the Hudson and took this picture of this amazing city on this amazing day: OK, so full disclosure. Aunt Pythia kind of blew her load, so to speak, on the sex questions […]

August 29, 2014

5:38 PM | A dramatic reading of the Org Syn prep for Evans phenylalanine-derived oxazolidinone
As part of the Acts of Whimsy for this year's Geek Girl Con, I decided to make a recording of the synthesis of my favorite Evans chiral auxiliary. I hope you enjoy.Please, if you can, feel free to donate to the cause. Just like last year, if you donate and tell me, I will offer you a handwritten thank you note and for any donation of $20 or more, I will write a post of your choosing.Have a great Labor Day weekend! 
5:31 PM | A little podcast fun
I happened to show up at ACS San Francisco a couple of weeks back and there was a tiny little get-together at a Starbucks near the Moscone Center. This is what happens when you're having fun with an iPad:Thanks to Philip Skinner, Matt Hartings, See Arr Oh, Jess the Chemist, Rachel Pepling, Chris McCarthy and Stephen Davey for making it fun! 
5:05 PM | Hmmmm: BU law school economist says 'skills gap' is real
From my weekly dose of pain (a Google alert for "skills gap"), an article worth a close read by me, other skeptics of the 'skills gap' in the Harvard Business Review blog by economist James Bessen:"To the contrary, there is evidence that select groups of workers have been had sustained wage growth, implying persistent skill shortages. Some specific occupations such as nursing do show sustained wage growth and employment growth over a couple decades. And there is more general evidence of […]
3:30 PM | Anyone heard anything about PPG?
Courtesy of ACC Smartbrief, I see the Pittsburgh Business Times says that PPG is expanding/hiring?: ...Beyond the Allison Park facility and the company's namesake headquarters located in downtown Pittsburgh, PPG operates additional research centers in Springdale, Monroeville and Harmar, as well as the company's newly established Architectural Coatings North American Headquarters in Cranberry Township. Kahle said PPG is adding over 300 technical and non-technical jobs to Pennsylvania […]
12:18 PM | The bad teacher conspiracy
Any time I see an article about the evaluation system for teachers in New York State, I wince. People get it wrong so very often. Yesterday’s New York Times article written by Elizabeth Harris was even worse than usual. First, her wording. She mentioned a severe drop in student reading and math proficiency rates statewide and attributed […]

August 28, 2014

11:37 AM | Twin studies stand up to the critique, again
The history of twin studies is littered with attempts to discredit them – such as this bit of rubbish. Yet every challenge has been met, with a couple of newish studies knocking off another. The basic idea of twin studies is that by comparing the similarity of fraternal twins to the similarity of identical twins, you can […]
11:08 AM | A decision tree for decision trees
For a while now I’ve been thinking I should build a decision tree for deciding which algorithm to use on a given data project. And yes, I think it’s kind of cool that “decision tree” would be an outcome on my decision tree. Kind of like a nerd pun. I’m happy to say that I […]
5:30 AM | Review: Happiness by Design (Paul Dolan)
Happiness by Design: Finding Pleasure and Purpose in Everyday Life Hardcover, 256 pages, ISBN: 9780241003107, published 28 August 2014 Amazon / Google Books / Allen Lane Many economists balk at the mention of happiness research. I consider myself a sceptic. But people care about attaining happiness, and governments care about measuring it. And why not? There are behaviours […]

August 27, 2014

7:29 PM | Challenge accepted
That was wet. 
12:32 PM | Aise O’Neil at Gotham Comedy Club
I don’t usually blog about my kids, but my 14-year-old son has explicitly given me his blessing to post his recent stand-up performance at the Gotham Comedy Club: The look he gives the audience at the end is my favorite part.

August 26, 2014

7:12 PM | PSA for professors and other supervisors with access to social media
Just in case you didn't know, it's not helpful to call out your direct reports on social media, especially platforms that lend themselves to screen shots and anonymous image sharing sites.(Should a professor or other boss-type entities friend their direct reports on social media? No, says CJ.) 
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