October 12, 2002

Evolving Discussion - Does the Internet Enhance School Cheating?

In a New York Times Magazine article today by William Speed Weed entitled "Phony Science" http://www.nytimes.com/2002/10/13/magazine/13QUESTIONS.html, I find an opinion expressed about the Internet and potential fraud in scientific research that, although beyond the arena of school cheating, I think adds a useful viewpoint to the topic.

This comes in an interview of theoretical physicist Paul Ginsparg, recent winner of a MacArthur grant. He is interviewed primarily about the finding of a panel of experts that another physicist, J. Hendrik Schön, had committed fraud at Bell Labs.

In the interview, Ginsparg is asked:

Question: "You won your award for creating arXiv, which distributes scientific papers before publication. If that sort of system had been more pervasive, could it have prevented Schön from publishing his fraud? "

Answer: "Other scientists might have found him out.
The first reaction people have to a system like arXiv is the insinuation that my kind of open system makes scientific misconduct more likely by disintermediating the editorial process. But to the contrary, it makes it less likely because you have so many more people looking over it. If there were a better user interface and you could have brought up all the articles simultaneously, the discovery of the problems might have been expedited, and this poor guy might have been saved from himself. "

My own experience supports Ginsparg's opinion. In the later years of my career as a chemist and chemical engineer, starting roughly in the mid-eighties, the paradigm for publishing technical reports in my engineering group shifted towards quick publication by e-mail (a company Intranet) versus a long process of drafting, typing and supervisor review before publication.

The new e-mail publishing method did bring quick review and questions from a large reading audience that quickly rooted out weaknesses in the experimental work, weaknesses in the discussion and conclusions, etc. And in turn, I felt the need to be extra careful in "having my ducks in a row" in my experimental procedures, my data analysis, my data accuracy, etc., for the experimental work being reported - even more so than the case when my research supervisor was the main person to review my work.

In summary, publishing on the company e-mail Intranet for my case was roughly equivalent to publication using Ginsparg's arXiv on the Internet. And I concur with Ginsparg that fraud, cheating, carelessness, etc., is less likely compared to traditional formal publication with limited supervisor and/or insular peer review.

October 11, 2002

Brush Up on Your Hebrew, Arabic, or even Ancient Sumerian

I am reading Moment magazine online this morning even though I have the print copy on my shelves. That is a practice I find handy lately. Sometimes I am in the mood to read online - sometimes I am in the mood to read hard copy. Go Figure.

Anyway, this item catches my interest. If you are traveling to Israel or the Arab world, or you are just interested in some language exercise, you can brush up on your Hebrew, Arabic, or even Ancient Sumerian by going to website links found at:


For example http://foundationstone.com.au/ is a "Learn Hebrew for Free" website named Foundation Stone. "FoundationStone is a free [downloadable] application and support materials designed to allow the most efficient learning of its Hebrew vocabulary."

October 10, 2002

Evolving Discussion - Does the Internet Enhance School Cheating?

Doing Web surfing on the topic "Ahab", I came across a site for purchasing term papers, picking term paper topics, etc. http://www.fastpapers.com/

I've always felt I am roaming off my turf interpreting literary classics such as Melville's Moby Dick, so seeing the Fastpapers.com website makes me wonder if temptation would get the best of me if I had a term paper to write about Moby Dick. I don't know. But probably not. For one thing I am cheap. :-) The option I choose just for illustration costs $59.70 for a six-page term paper plus transmittal/shipping costs. And even if I shelled out the money, my sense of propriety makes me feel that putting the paper in my own words is called for. And Gee Whiz! - If I am going to rewrite the paper, isn't it simpler just to research and write my own paper? Also the thought crosses my mind - Who says the paper is any good in the first place? But I guess Fastpapers.com aims for the student that hands in the paper "as is" with no qualms.

As a closing observation, I notice the workings of the website are enticing. One enters the desired topic - [Ahab], sees a list of term paper topics. One is only a few keystrokes and a credit card number away from downloading a term paper. For example:

Herman Melville's 'Moby Dick' vs. William Shakespeare's 'Hamlet'
[ Click here to purchase this paper ]
[ Click here to see full description] -->
"A 6 page paper in which the writer argues that through mad antics toward ‘the revenge plot,' both Ahab and Hamlet serve to bring the action in the two tragedies to their inevitable conclusions. In all aspects the characters' motivations are different. Ahab's madness is more focused and not within Ahab's control--he is unable to see beyond it. Hamlet's madness is feigned. The characters' decision-making abilities are also in contrast to each other, and their view of God, the Devil and responsibility to same also come from a divergent slant on the moralistic ideals behind their given situations. Bibliography lists 7 sources."
Filename: Mobyham.wps

Same day delivery available!
[ Click here to purchase this paper ] -->

Paper Information
Paper info:
Title: "Herman Melville's 'Moby Dick' vs. William Shakespeare's 'Hamlet'"
Filename: Mobyham.wps
Pages: 6
Cost Per Page: $9.95
Subtotal: $59.70

Following this is a form for entering customer information and credit card number. The paper can be received by FAX ($3.98 per page), by E-mail ($3.98 per page) or by Federal Express ($19.98 flat rate). To those so inclined, it's just money. ;-)

October 09, 2002

Chemists from Three Continents Share
Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Deutsche Welle (German Radio News Service)
English Service News
09.10.2002, 16:00 UTC
[In daily E-mail Deutsche Welle Newsletter sent to Jack]
Nobel Prize in Chemistry awarded

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has awarded the 2002 Nobel Prize in Chemistry to John Fenn of the United States, Koichi Tanaka of Japan and Kurt Wuethrich of Switzerland. They will share the prize for work on proteins which has led to increased understanding of the processes of life, the academy said in its citation.
Musk Oxen Fossil Finds Near My Hometown, Weatherford, Oklahoma

One of my best friends, Tom Young of Granger, Wyoming, called me two days ago and we discussed many matters. A very satisfying part of the discussion for me concerned a newspaper article I sent "Young Tom" (Tom's nickname - he is 65 years young. :)). Young Tom retired from FMC Corporation in 1994 at about the same time I retired from FMC. He is two years my senior.

Now the good part. The article I sent Young Tom describes finds of musk oxen fossils in Oklahoma Pleistocene deposits. I sent the article because I know that Young Tom participates in paleontological digs in Wyoming sponsored by the University of Wyoming. On the telephone, Young Tom told me the recent Wyoming digs encounter musk oxen fossils. Remembering the article I sent, Young Tom told his professor about musk oxen fossils found in Oklahoma. Whoops! The professor said "No", there are no finds of musk oxen in Oklahoma.

So on a four-day break from the dig, Tom found the article and took it back to show the professor. Of course, the professor had to do some "back peddling." ;-) It made me feel good that I took time to send the article to Tom. My doing so now means that University of Wyoming paleontology students will receive more accurate information.

When I started writing this post, I decided to do a little Web surfing as I usually do for background information. Wow, I found a paper for a dig finding musk oxen fossils only 12 kilometers south of my hometown of Weatherford, Oklahoma. The digging was done by Southwestern Oklahoma State University students, including one student I know - Dustin Devine - who has since gone to veterinary school. The relatively short student research paper is:

Some Late Pleistocene Fossils from Washita Local Fauna
Proceedings of the Oklahoma Academy of Science Volume 77, 1997, pg. 113
by Henry Kirkland, Jr., Micheal Davis, Janet Wood, Dustin Devine, and Kyle Giblet
Department of Biology,
Southwestern Oklahoma State University, Weatherford, OK 73096

Based on radiocarbon dating, samples taken included some that "yielded an average date of 16,350±190 years before present (YBP)."
Toward a Synthesis of the Newtonian and Darwinian Worldviews
by John Harte, Physics Today.org, October 2002

I find this article by John Harte, recipient of the American Physical Society's 2001 Leo Szilard Award, stimulating and timely.If I were starting out again as the young scientist I was 40 years ago :-), I would love to be entering the fields of study described in the article.

I think the article byline speaks for itself concerning the significance of the subject matter.

"Physicists seek simplicity in universal laws. Ecologists revel in complex interdependencies. A sustainable future for our planet will probably require a look at life from both sides."

At the start of the talk are two quotes that stimulate further reading.

"Two quotes aptly frame the discussion. The first is from the 1948 book Sand County Almanac, by the ecologist and conservationist Aldo Leopold:

In terms of conventional physics, the grouse represents only a millionth of either the mass or the energy of an acre. Yet, subtract the grouse and the whole thing is dead.

The other quote is from the 1940 book Wind, Sand and Stars, by the aviator and writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry:

In anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.

Leopold speaks for ecologists and their craft, for the intellectual tradition that blossomed with Darwin's remarkable insights into evolution and natural history. Saint-Exupéry, by contrast, eloquently describes the sword that physicists from Galileo and Newton onward have sought to extricate from the stone of Nature."

To read the full article, go to:
John Harte is a professor in the energy and resources group and in the division of ecosystem sciences at the University of California, Berkeley

October 08, 2002

Periodic Table of the Elephants

Various presentations of the Periodic Table of the Elements have been a topic in previous Jack in Oklahoma blog posts. Now comes "The Periodic Table of the Elephants." This is for real, people! :-)

It seems that Washington, D.C., is promoting tourism by displaying "party animals" http://www.partyanimalsdc.org/index.html throughout the city. The American Chemical Society (ACS) headquarters is located in Washington, D.C. and the ACS is displaying a "party animal" elephant named "The Periodic Table of the Elephants." The elephant is a creation of students at the Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts and is illustrated with pictures of smaller elephants, each representing a different chemical element.

For the complete story and pictures, go to:

October 07, 2002

Cyber Tour of The Residenz Palace in Munich
The Residenz Palace was home to the Bavarian rulers between 1385 and 1918

A fine cyber tour of a European palace, the Residenz Palace for Bavarian rulers in Munich, is found at:

Some parts of the Residenz Palace were virtually destroyed during World War II, so a cyber tour of the palace is the only way left for a thoroughgoing view of the palace in all its splendor.

October 06, 2002

Oktoberfest - Almost 6 Million Litres of Beer Consumed

Being a German history buff, I am delighted to first learn the background of Oktoberfest - "... first held to celebrate the wedding in 1810 of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig and Princes Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen." - and to learn the quantity of beer consumed during Oktoberfest 2002 - a staggering number to me. 8-)
Deutsche Welle (German Radio News Service)
English Service News
October, 06th, 2002, 16:00 UTC
[Received by Jack in daily e-mail news summary from Deutsche Welle]
Beer lovers gulp last litres as Oktoberfest ends

Revellers at Munich's Oktoberfest, the world's biggest beer festival, geared up for massive hangovers on Sunday as the annual drinking event came to a close. Beer enthusiasts quaffed almost 6 million litres of strong Bavarian beer during the 16-day festival, which is 18 percent more than last year, when the atmosphere was subdued in reaction to the September 11 attacks on the United States.

More than 6 million visitors thronged the 14 tents, some as large as football fields for the festival, a rise of seven percent from last year. The Oktoberfest was first held to celebrate the wedding in 1810 of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig and Princes Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen.