Monday, November 24, 2014

Molecular Biology Graduate Student Internally Debates Ethics Of Image Manipulation

Westwood, CA

University sources indicate that Michael McPherson, a second-year graduate student in the Phillips lab at the University of California, Los Angeles, has been internally debating the level of image manipulation which is acceptable from an ethical standpoint.  McPherson's internal dialogue, which has reportedly been running since approximately 3:17 pm Sunday afternoon, and continues to do so, is still deeply consumed with the implications of altering the coloring, saturation, and brightness of a series of electrophoresis gels intended to correlate the use of a natural product with increased expression of pro-apoptotic proteins in several cancer cell lines.

Gene Maloney, an older colleague of McPherson, stated that he observed the student staring, seemingly blankly, at several images open in Photoshop on his computer screen.

"He [McPherson] was just looking at the screen with this thousand-yard-stare.  Occasionally, he'd move the slider on the gamma channel back and forth a little, then mumble some disjointed comment about 'scientific integrity.'  I don't get what he's so hung up about; if we didn't adjust color and contrast a little here and there, literally nothing would ever get published in molecular biology."

Sources inside McPherson's conscience gave further insight into the internal struggle facing the graduate student.  "Obviously there are some tough choices here.  The culture existent in the scientific community imposes a need for graduate students to publish frequently in high-impact journals in order to be viewed as productive and relevant.  Therefore there is intense pressure on students to come up with data that is viewed as 'groundbreaking,' a natural consequence of which is the need to make subtle falsifications and fabrications in datasets" stated a horned, miniature version of McPherson clad in a dark cloak and grasping a flaming trident.

An equally small copy of the student, seemingly emanating intense light, clothed in a brilliant white robe and holding a scepter, added "But he's a student at an elite research university!  As scientists we must maintain an impeccable standard of ethics, lest the public lose trust in our work.  After all, it's a slippery slope from slight image 'touch-ups' to completely fabricating data."

As of press time, a visibly shaken McPherson had decided that "muting the controls a little" and "maybe increasing the saturation on the knockout models" was acceptable.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Graduate Student “Completely Prepared” for Oral Exams

Contributed by SeeArrOh, who blogs at Just Like Cooking

Phoenix, AZ

Melissa Sitterson, 24, recently proclaimed to her entire lab group “Orals just aren’t that hard.”

Third-years snickered audibly, while postdocs and fifth-years simply shook their heads in disbelief. Defensively, Sitterson continued: “I mean, I have all the older students’ exams to look at, and I’ve read the textbook forward and backward. I have a whole year of bench work under my belt. I’ve also hung out with my whole committee, and they’re such nice people if you just get to know them outside of our building.”

“I’m about 90% sure that Xia will ask about mechanisms, Jonas obviously phosphorescence, Zimt will handle biochemistry, and Sanchez will rattle on about tin chemistry like he does every year. Piece of cake.”

As this article went to press, Ms. Sitterson was seen running down the hallway, sobbing, screaming “That’s it, I’m taking my Master’s and going to business school!”

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Chemist Synthesizes Organoarsenic Heterocycle, Gets Black Eye


Contributed by Correspondent Matthew Hall (@cispt2)

Iowa City, IA

A scuffle broke out in an organic chemistry department last week resulting in a graduate student receiving a black eye.  Tommy Schuetz, a fourth-year graduate student, had spent four fruitless years attempting to prepare a series of aromatic five-membered rings containing arsenic.  Unfortunately for Tommy, this class of molecules are known as "arsoles" (similar to pyrroles). 

Following synthesis and work-up, it is reported that Schuetz handed the sample to first-year graduate student John Madigan, to collect an NMR spectrum in order to characterize the compound.  The spectrum was "perfection itself", indicating that Schuetz had finally succeeded, but on rushing into the lab to congratulate Shuetz, Madigan announced "look at this arsole!"  Schuetz, whose back was to Madigan, turned and clobbered his junior colleague for his "outrageous insubordination."

Following a brief scuffle, Schuetz was made to realize his error.  Madigan is reportedly in a delicate frame of mind, and has decided abandon his own project, searching for fused arsole systems, termed "huge arsoles."  "I actually wanted to study biochemistry" said Madigan, "but after the whole debacle with whether or not arsenic is actually incorporated into bacteria, I just figured I'd stick with chemistry."

The department itself has been aroused by the affair, and it is said that this is the most scandalous event to occur there since the notorious nude calendar produced after the annual Chemistry dinner in 1996.  "I'm still trying to get over what I saw that night," stated an anonymous faculty member.  Schuetz has not formally apologized for his part in the fracas.  

A physical chemist, speaking on condition of anonymity, described the atmosphere in the organic labs as "toxic."  "It's not organic chemistry anyway," stated Mary Waller, an inorganic chemist from one floor down. "Those hypocrites whack arsenic into their molecule – at that point it's inorganic as far as I'm concerned.  They should stick to their own kind.  Then this sort of trouble wouldn't take place."  Waller then excused himself to get back to the synthesis of a new ligand.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Microorganism Unimpressed By Recent "Elegant" Total Synthesis

A Special Report to C&EN Onion by Correspondent SeeArrOh, who blogs at Just Like Cooking

La Jolla, CA

Chemists celebrated after publication of a landmark total synthesis - "an efficient 23-step protocol" - in last month's Nature. However, this week's Letters to the Editor brought together variety of single-celled creatures expressing their disappointment. 

"I've been making that for thousands of years," remarked a dinoflagellate from the coast of Mexico, "and I only use sugars, sunlight, and water as my reagents. What the heck is a boronate ester, anyway?"

Soil microbes from a remote Pacific island chimed in: "We live our entire lives underfoot, with less than a grade-school education, but when we're pressured? We toss some polyketides past a few enzymes, and boom! Cancer cures, biofilms, antibiotics, anything you want, easy as pie."

A fungus from a tree in the author's backyard added: "If only he'd taken more walks outside, he could have cultured my buddies and found the next great pain reliever. Too bad he loves washing glassware and moving protecting groups so much."