So begins National Public Radio science journalist Richard Harris in his chapter, “Broken Culture," in his newly published book, Rigor Mortis: How Sloppy Science Creates Worthless Cures, Crushes Hope and Wastes Billions.
Darwin was driven by curiosity; he didn't start out with a “coherent hypothesis,” Harris says. Plus, Darwin "had no need to hustle for money,” and "he was in no hurry to publish his discoveries.”
Today the “high pressure of competition can tempt even the best scientists into dangerous territory,” Harris warns in his 278-page book.
You can hear what Harris says about sloppy science/faulty research when he travels from his home in Washington, D.C. to the University of California, Davis, campus to deliver a Storer Lecture.
Harris will speak on “Common Errors that Bedevil Biomedical Research and How to Fix Them,” from 4:10 to 5 p.m., on Wednesday, Oct. 25 in the UC Davis Student Community Center. The event is free and open to the public. A book signing will follow the lecture.
The lectureship, established in 1960, is funded through a gift from Professor Tracy I. Storer and Dr. Ruth Risdon Storer to bring eminent biologists to the UC Davis campus. Speakers have included Nobel laureates, members of the National Academy of Science and acclaimed authors in the life sciences and medicine.
“Richard Harris has written a very important and unsettling book based on his careful investigation of the biomedical research enterprise,” said Mark Winey, distinguished professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology and dean of the College of Biological Sciences, UC Davis, who is hosting the journalist. “We can expect an intriguing and thought provoking lecture.”
In his book, Harris relates that American taxpayers spend $30 billion annually funding biomedical research. “We all rely on biomedical research for new treatments and cures,” Harris points out. “But this critical enterprise is not in the best of health itself. Most experimental treatments fail. One reason is that the underlying research does not hold up to scrutiny. Scientists find that far too often that they are unable to repeat experiments that other researchers have carried out.”
By some estimates, half of the results from these studies can't be replicated elsewhere—the science is simply wrong, Harris asserts.
The national award-winning science journalist, who grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, has covered science, medicine and the environment for NPR Radio since 1986. A graduate of UC Santa Cruz with a bachelor's degree in biology, he began his journalism career as a reporter for the Livermore (Calif.) Tri-Valley Herald. He later joined the San Francisco Examiner as a science writer. He is a past president of the National Association of Science Writers and the Northern California Science Writers' Association.
We just finished reading Rigor Mortis today. It's not only an eye opener, but a call to action. It's as easy to read as a well-documented and detailed newspaper investigative piece, complete with patient and researcher interviews and anecdotes. It zeroes in on “the constant scramble for research dollars” and the fact that scientists' “promotions and tenure depend on their making splashy discoveries.” Sadly, it's often quantity over quality in the "publish-or-perish" world of academia.
Harris writes about egregious research, targeting cancer, heart disease, Lou Gehrig's disease, diabetes, and other diseases--diseases that can and do affect us all, either through taxpayer funding or personal/family/friend experiences.
Charles Darwin was in no hurry to publish his discoveries. Neither should today's researchers. We can and must do better.
(Editor's Note: The presentation will be recorded for later viewing. Joanna Chiu, associate professor and vice chair, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, is coordinating the Storer Lectureships in Life Sciences for the academic year. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
The National Geographic just ran a piece titled "Without Bugs, We Might All Be Dead."
"There are 1.4 billion insects for each one of us," wrote Simon Worrall in reviewing the book, Bugged: The Insects Who Rule and the World and the People Obsessed with Them by journalist David MacNeal.
Some you need a microscope to see, but insects are the 'lever pullers of the world,'" MacNeal insists.
And many are extinct, and many more will be. For example, the butterfly, the Xerces blue (Glaucopsyche xerces) is no more. But you can see it at the Bohart Museum of Entomology at the University of California, Davis.
"Bug extinction is one of the most extensive extinctions on the planet," MacNeal told her in the interview published Aug. 6. "It's scary because you don't notice it until it's too late. Migration patterns are shifting due to climate, and insects offer a great way of looking at that. A collector went to the Antioch Dunes in California, in the 1960s, and caught a range of bugs. When scientists returned decades later, they found many species were gone, and the host plants with them. These creatures rely on plants and certain weather patterns and temperatures, an adaptive power they've gained over the past 400 million years."
"Twenty years ago you could have seen one billion monarch butterflies migrate to Mexico. The latest count is 56.5 million. To combat the decline, the Obama Administration, working with Fish & Wildlife, enacted this migration highway running from Texas to Minnesota. They planted milkweed along the way, which is the host plant for monarch butterflies, hoping to quadruple that 56.5 million by 2020. I am an optimistic cynic, so I feel that insects will outlive us, if we haven't totally screwed the planet."
When's the last time you saw a monarch flutter through your yard? Are you planting their host plant, milkweed? Are you providing nectar by growing such monarch favorites as the butterfly bush (genus Buddleja), Mexican sunflower (genus Tithonia) and lantana (genus Lantana)?
Think about it: "There are 1.4 billion insects for each one of us."
Make mine the monarch. Well, I like the Western tiger swallowtails and anise swallowtails, too. And the honey bees, sweat bees, longhorn bees, bumble bees, European wool carder bees, dragonflies, and yes, praying mantids...and...wait, there's not enough room to list them all!
Hamilton will be at the 142nd annual Dixon May Fair on Friday, May 12.
Not the crowd-pleasing Broadway musical, but a crowd-pleasing scorpion named Hamilton, a resident of the UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology. He's owned by Bohart Museum associate Wade Spencer, a UC Davis student majoring in entomology.
Spencer will be bringing Hamilton, as well as his scorpion named Celeste, to the Dixon May Fair's Floriculture Building on Friday afternoon for fairgoers to see and photograph (but not to hold; they're venomous).
Throughout the four-day fair, May 11-14, the Bohart Museum will be showcasing 17 drawers of "Oh My" insect specimens in the Floriculture Building. Scientists will be showing live critters and chatting with fairgoers on two days: Friday, May 12 (1 to 6 p.m.) and on Saturday, May 13 (noon to 5 p.m.)
The live critters? They're part of the Bohart Museum's popular "petting zoo," which includes Madagascar hissing cockroaches and walking sticks. Fairgoers can hold and photograph them.
On Saturday, May 13, entomologist and educator Jeff Smith, curator of the butterfly and moth specimens at the Bohart, will be bringing part of his global insect collection of specimens. He and other scientists also will staff the live petting zoo of Madagascar hissing cockroaches and walking sticks on Saturday.
Tabatha Yang, the Bohart Museum's education and outreach coordinator, said the 17 drawers of insect specimens spotlight bees, aquatic insects, camouflaged insects, phasmids/mantids, predators/parasitoids, sexual dimorphism, fly-fishing, entomophagy (consumption of insects and arachnids), common California insect pests, leg diversity (Harlequin beetle as center), wing diversity (moth-based), mimicry, orchid pollinators, Hemiptera/Odonata (think dragonflies), cockroaches, and butterflies.
The Bohart display is just one part of the scores of exhibits in the Floriculture Building, organized by superintendent Dave Hutson of Vacaville, a 10-year UC Master Gardener. Exhibits include colorful bee and butterfly motifs.
Elsewhere on the fairgrounds, exhibitors are showing other insect-themed work, such as the scorpion sculpture crafted by Roberto Ortiz of the Dixon FFA. It's displayed in the Youth Building.
Over in the Livestock Barn, you can see Buggy, owned by Sophia DeTomasi, 10, of the Vaca Valley 4-H Club, Vacaville. Buggy, however, is not an insect--it's a fine-looking 275-pound Berkshire hog that Sophia raised. The origin of the name? Sophia's family fondly calls her "Buggy" and she's passed the moniker on to her 4-H project. Buggy shares a pen with a hog named Bea, raised by Sophia's sister, Toni.
Theme of the 142nd annual Dixon May Fair is "Farm to Fair." It's also known as the 36th Agricultural District, the oldest district fair and fairgrounds in the state of California. The fair supports the communities of Dixon, Vacaville, Fairfield, Rio Vista, Elmira, Woodland and Davis, according to chief executive officer Patricia Conklin. The grounds are located at 655 S. First St., Dixon. (For the schedule of events, access thewebsite.)
The Bohart Museum, founded in 1946 and directed by Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis professor of entomology, is located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus. It houses a global collection of nearly eight million insect specimens, plus the live petting zoo and a year-around gift shop. The Bohart Museum is open to the public Mondays through Thursdays.
The theme of the 142nd annual Dixon May Fair set Thursday, May 11 through Sunday, May 14, is "Farm to Fair."
But you could also say: "Bugs to Fair!"
That's because the Bohart Museum of Entomology at the University of California, Davis, will have a presence there, all in the Floriculture Building.
Specimen boxes--the "Oh, My" drawers--will showcase butterflies, dragonflies, beetle and bees. Bohart Museum associate and entomologist Jeff Smith, butterfly and moth curator, will be at the fair all day Saturday to meet with fairgoers, talk about insects, and show his insect specimens, collected from many parts of the world, including Belize.
Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator, and graduate and undergraduate students will be there with live insects, including Madgascar hissing cockroaches and walking sticks "and an arachnid (spider) or two," part of the Bohart's live "petting zoo."
Plans call for the Bohart scientists to be at the fair from 1 to 6 p.m. on Friday, and from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday.
The Bohart Museum, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus, is directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology. It houses a global collection of nearly eight million insect specimens. It's open to the public Mondays through Thursdays.
The Dixon May Fair (the 36th Agricultural District) is located at 655 S. First St., Dixon. It's the oldest district fair and fairgrounds in the state of California, and supports the communities of Dixon, Vacaville, Fairfield, Rio Vista, Elmira, Woodland and Davis, noted chief executive officer Pat Conklin. More information, including a schedule of events, is on its website.
The family friendly, science-based event takes place Saturday, Feb. 18 when 12 museums or collections will be open to the public. It's all free: free admission, free parking, and, of course, free encounters with the scientists.
The event, open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., will "showcase natural history, biodiversity and the cultural-ecological interface," said Biodiversity Museum Day coordinator Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator for the Bohart Museum of Entomology. All collections are within walking distance on campus except for the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven on Bee Biology Road for the Raptor Center on Old Davis Road.
Someone asked: "Are there any special activities for youths ages 6 to 10?"
Yes, lots of activities will interest this age group, as well as other age groups.
For example, you can "pet" walking sticks, Madagascar hissing cockroaches and tarantulas at the live "petting zoo" at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane.
You can marvel at the huge dinosaur bones in the Paleontology Collection in the Earth and Physical Sciences Building on Crocker Lane.
You can see carnivorous plants "swallow" flies and other unsuspecting insects in the Botanical Conservatory, off Kleiber Hall Drive.
You can get up close to hawks and other birds of prey and watch demonstrations at the California Raptor Center on Old Davis Road. You can also check out the Raptor Center museum and even pick apart owl pellets to look for bones.
You can see prehistoric tools and watch demonstrations of flint knapping and atlati throwing at the Anthropology Museum display, Young Hall, central campus.
You can catch bees and other insects in a vacuum device for a catch-and-release activity at the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven on Bee Biology Road, and get a close-up view of the queen bee, workers and drones in the bee observation hive.
You can engage in leaf rubbing activities, olive wreath crown making and some interactive activities dealing with erosion control and composting at the Arboretum and Public Garden, headquartered on LaRue Road.
You can also look through the portable Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM), borrowed from Hitachi. It will be located in the Academic Surge Building, either in the Bohart Museum or in the Wildlife Room, said Yang.
The UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day is also a good time for prospective students to learn about possible majors.
The following will be open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.:
- Arboretum and Public Garden, headquartered on LaRue Road
- Bohart Museum of Entomology, Academic Surge Building
- California Raptor Center, Old Davis Road
- Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology, Academic Surge Building
- Paleontology Collection, Earth and Physical Sciences Building
- Phaff Yeast Culture Collection, Earth and Physical Sciences Building
- Viticulture and Enology Culture Collection, Earth and Physical Sciences Building
The following will be open from noon to 4 p.m.:
- Anthropology Museum, Young Hall
- Botanical Conservatory, greenhouses along Kleiber Hall Drive
- Center for Plant Diversity, Sciences Lab Building
- Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, Bee Biology Road
- Nematode Collection, Sciences Lab Building
All participating museums and collections have active education and outreach programs, Yang said, but the collections are not always accessible to the public, Yang said. In the event of rain, alternative locations are planned for the outdoor sites. Maps, signs and guides will be available at all the collections, online, and on social media, including Facebook and Twitter, @BioDivDay.
For further information about the event, access the UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day website.