General Science


I’ve been following the Open Researcher & Contributor ID (ORCID) initiative since its announcement late last year, but the collaborators have been quietly hammering out the details behind the scenes. As of this week, they’ve just released a PDF with a lot more information, including some ideas on how the implementation will work, such as potential manuscript submission interfaces, metadata importation, and mock-ups of interfaces for authors to input publications, affiliations, and contact information.

It appears that ORCID has come a long way since their initial announcement. They now have over 90 participating organizations (is your organization involved yet?), up from an initial 23, including big name publishers like Elsevier, Wiley-Blackwell, PLoS, Springer, Taylor & Francis, and many large research universities, including Harvard and Cornell. Now that the Digital Object Identifier (DOI) has firmly taken root in scientific publishing, a clear-cut author identification program like ORCID should be widely implemented easily, especially with substantial backing from Nature Publishing Group. A 2009 Nature editorial discusses some of the potential applications of ORCID, such as allowing researchers to create an ongoing digital curriculum vitae, or to receive credit for work which isn’t part of a high-profile publication but still has a major contribution to a body of scientific knowledge.

There are still many kinks to be ironed out—the latest announcement notes that “privacy and access rights as well as funding issues are being tackled.” They also indicate that “ORCID may be linked to other registries, such as the International Standard Name Identifier (ISNI) a draft international standard for tracking creators, actors, artists and performers,” but it bodes well that they’re taking all of these factors into account. With all of the Professor Zhangs and Dr. Wilsons floating around publishing prolifically, a standard name identification scheme like ORCID is overdue and poised for success.

I’m leaving for a few weeks on vacation tomorrow night. I couldn’t be happier about this, and I’ll post all about my trip when I get back (at least, the science-y and library-related parts of it), but for now, I need to prepare. I anticipate being very busy playing catch-up when I return, and I’ve been posting here less than I’d like to. Therefore, I present to you a huge list of things I’ve been meaning to post about but never got around to. I might post in more detail on some of these topics later as I get a chance, but I encourage you to check out these links in my absence. In no particular order:

  • HOME is a stunningly beautiful 90-minute film from director Yann Arthus-Bertrand. It was released on June 5th simultaneously in over 50 different countries, and is freely available to watch on YouTube in HD. It covers the history of life on Earth, focusing heavily on human changes to the environment that have resulted in ecological collapses across the planet and global warming. The last 20 minutes or so provide a summary, but I highly recommend setting aside some time to watch the whole thing.
  • Another possibly global-warming related news item: The New York Times reports on the PNAS study about disappearing ice caps atop Mt. Kilimanjaro.
  • Toxic waste from a shipwreck off the coast of Madagascar is wreaking ecological havoc, according to the WWF.
  • Two female spectacled bears at the Leipzig Zoo are suffering from hair-loss. The Telegraph article isn’t very informative, but spectacled bears have a history of this problem in captivity. It’s limited to female bears and is thought to be stress-related. Incidentally, cross your fingers that I see a fully-furred spectacled bear while on vacation… they’re native to the Andean forests!
  • This collection of photographs of pollution in China has been heavily making the internet rounds. You’ve probably already seen it, but if not, you’ll be shocked. The photographs are so well-done they’re almost beautiful, but the content will make you cry.
  • Here’s some happy news, albeit a bit old: decades-long efforts by the French to clean up pollution in the Seine is finally paying off! After high levels of pollution in the middle of last century killed off all but four fish species in the river, France instituted large-scale efforts to clean up the waters, including a purification plant. Now, Atlantic salmon have returned to their historic breeding grounds up-river without any human interference. One of these was caught by an angler outside of Paris. There are now 32 species present in the river!
  • Have you heard about the Genome 10K project? “The Genome 10K project aims to assemble a genomic zoo—a collection of DNA sequences representing the genomes of 10,000 vertebrate species, approximately one for every vertebrate genus.” Thanks to the drastic reduction over the years of the cost to sequence a genome, this project is finally feasible, and collaborators are coming from all corners of the globe.
  • DNA is also going to ensure that we have delicious heritage apples for years to come, I hope.
  • The Bronx Zoo’s Wildlife Conservation Society recently opened a new LEED gold-certified Center for Global Conservation that looks to be very impressive.
  • Attention parents: Black bears in Yosemite prefer minivans.
  • The winners of the British Wildlife Photography Awards were announced last month. Here’s the Coast & Marine winner:
  • New York is seeing “coywolves”, coyote-wolf hybrids that are smaller than wolves and larger than coyotes. These are fertile hybrids, stronger than coyotes, but appearing in areas where wolves can’t cope with the human development.

  • There are more article I have bookmarked, but I’ll save those for another vacation. See you next month!

Via The Great Beyond blog, today is the First Annual National Postdoc Appreciation Day. We have several postdocs in my building working on various conservation research projects, and others on far-flung fieldwork projects. In my brief experience, they all tend to be heavy library users – the type of library patron who bribes their librarian with brownies in exchange for numerous ILL requests (FYI, this is a good practice that I strongly encourage). So, as a librarian and someone who appreciates post-docs, here’s a cake, just like one I would have baked if I had any time:

A new study from Duke University, presented at the American Chemical Society conference last week, describes the process by which mercury emissions get converted into more harmful toxic forms of methylmercury through organic reactions in the environment. According to the press release, “Mercury is extremely toxic and can lead to kidney dysfunctions, neurological disorders and even death. In particular, fetuses exposed to methylmercury can suffer from these same disorders as well as impaired learning abilities.” The researchers also note that the most common sources of mercury ingestion are fish and shellfish, due to their “natural tendency to store methylmercury in their organs”.

Coincidentally, the US Geological Survey recently released a detailed report, titled “Mercury in Fish, Bed Sediment, and Water from Streams Across the United States, 1998–2005“. The USGS conducted tests of mercury levels in fish over a period of seven years across 291 rivers and streams in the United States, including agricultural, urbanized, mined, and undeveloped (forested, grassland, shrubland, and wetland land cover) stream basins.

Mongabay.com reports, “Not one fish had escaped mercury contamination. One-quarter of the fish tested contained levels of mercury higher than those deemed safe for humans, and over two-thirds of the fish tested had mercury levels that exceeding those that safe for fish-eating mammals according the Environmental Protection Agency.” The Department of the Interior issued a press release of the findings, noting that the EPA regulates mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Emissions as a result of coal mining and burning enter the air, are precipitated into water systems, then converted to methylmercury and absorbed by fish, who are then ingested by larger fish, and so on. Through this process, high levels of mercury were found in fish even in pristine, protected ecological areas. Coal is the source of more than half of the nation’s electricity. I don’t eat fish, but maybe you do. More importantly, high environmental pollution and elevated levels of mercury affect the wildlife who share our ecosystems, and that’s hardly fair.

How Mercury Becomes Toxic In The Environment.

The Great Beyond: America’s quicksilver fish.

If you were planning to head out to the beaches this sunny July weekend, you might want to reconsider. The Telegraph reports that Humboldt squid, also known as jumbo flying squid, have uncharacteristically invaded the waters off of San Diego.

Mike Bear, a local diver, said: “I wouldn’t go into the water with them for the same reason I wouldn’t walk into a pride of lions on the Serengeti, For all I know, I’m missing the experience of a lifetime.”
Shanda Magill was surprised by a large squid which hit her from behind and grabbed at her with its arms, pulling her sideways in the water. It ripped her buoyancy hose away from her chest and knocked away her light.
“I just kicked like crazy. The first thing you think of is, ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t know if I’m going to survive this’. If that squid wanted to hurt me, it would have,” she said.

Humboldt squid can grow up to 6 feet long and weigh near 100 pounds. They’re known to be aggressive and travel in large groups of hundreds or thousands at a time. The cephalopods are known as diablos rojos (“red devils”) to the Mexican fisherman who catch them. They’re carnivorous, using sharp, barbed suckers on their tentacles to “pierce the flesh of prey and drag it to their mouths where a fierce, baseball-sized beak tears it to shreds.”

Mike Libby crafts amazing art pieces from an unlikely partnership: dead insects and antique watches. His work explores the intersections between science and science fiction (although they look more steampunk to me), and the whimsical pieces are far less creepy than you’d think, with more than a hint of childlike fantasy.

longhorn beetle

I’d much rather have this grasshopper displayed on my wall than find him in my garden.

Have you seen the Map of Science? This study, published a few months ago in PLoS One, analyzes the relationships between scientific disciplines based on clickstream data from over a billion user interactions with online databases and publications. Data spanned a period from 2006-2008, making the analysis almost real-time, and much more timely than citation analyses. Participating data providers were: Thomson Scientific (Web of Science), Elsevier (Scopus), JSTOR, Ingenta, University of Texas (9 campuses, 6 health institutions), and California State University (23 campuses).

The resulting map is remarkable, both as a striking visual representation of data, and for the subsequent connections it illustrates. By illustrating the links between the different areas of interest for information consumers, the researchers hope to eventually produce models that “explain the online behavior of scientists and how it relates to the emergence of scientific innovation”. These innovations can be revealed in the “unexpected relations between scientific domains that point to emerging relationships that are capturing the collective interest of the scientific community—for instance a connection between ecology and architecture,” according to the Los Alamos National Laboratory release on the paper.

Bollen and colleagues were surprised by the map’s scope and detail. Whereas maps based on citations favor the natural sciences, the team’s maps of science showed a prominent and central position for the humanities and social sciences, which, in many places, acted like interdisciplinary bridges connecting various other scientific domains. Sections of the maps were shaped by the activities of practitioners who read the scientific literature but do not frequently publish in its journals.

Hmm… practitioners like librarians, perhaps?

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