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Is the Lemur getting fat?

I’ve been having trouble sleeping for the last two and a half weeks, this is the longest for a while I have had problems sleeping. It’s actually 2:30 am as I am writing this. I’ve been waking up between 1:30 and 5am every morning, and only manage to snooze intermittently after that. I did that thing that pretty much everyone does when they realise that something is a little off – I googled “waking up in the middle of the night”. I’ve not seen anyone link it to cancer yet, but then I did stop in disgust when a page explained that it was all down to my Chinese horoscope.

One thing that did recur is that it might be the result of crashing blood glucose levels overnight. So one feels hungry in the middle of the night as well. My body is totally rubbish at maintaining blood glucose – not like actually diabetic or anything, but I can feel a crash after I eat more than a couple of bits of cake or around 3-4pm, and by the time I get home from work I have a headache and I can barely function. This doesn’t seem to be affected by what I have a for lunch, I need to eat something as soon as I get home. And don’t even talk to me about breakfast. It doesn’t seem to matter what I eat, I’m almost always hungry by 10:30. I gave up on normal cereal; breakfast is either porridge – made with milk, no syrup or jam – or plain full fat Greekstyle yogurt and granola. 

I’m toying with the idea that I just don’t eat enough protein. But I’m pretty sure I’m putting on weight too. I’ve been intermittently active for quite a long time, but as a non-believer in gyms – YOU HAVE TO PAY FOR THE PRIVELEGE OF BEING FIT – my exercise of choice is running. Because it’s cheap. But because of knee injuries – which also limits my ability to do team sports – I’m limited as to how much I can do. Earlier in the year, I aggravated my knee by trying to get a respectable time on a Parkrun. So 5km 3 times a week is too much. I’ve lost all enthusiasm to run, I’m struggling to find the time although I clearly have tonnes of time.

But I may have found my motivation – I’m putting on weight. I’ve never been “TV skinny”, but generally, no one would call me fat. I have fat legs, I’ve always had fat legs, there’s nothing I’ll ever be able to do about it, it’s definitely genetic. My mum has always had body image issues and is permanently on some kind of weird diet: low carb, no wheat, eat all the chocolate, fruit and dessert you can in 1 hour – I don’t even know. She tried 5:2, but along with her fat legs, I seem to have inherited her inability to regulate blood sugar from her. She’d basically starve for 2 days, and be grouchy about it.

So I’ve eaten some hummus and a krisproll along with some warm milk (that being protein and supposedly sleep-inducing tryptophan), and I don’t feel hungry or grouchy or headachy anymore.

I am rethinking my eating – I can’t always fit a snack in between 8:30 and lunch because of the nature of work, but I can plan for a couple of proteiny snacks. I plan to gently build up my running. I’m still frustrated at my last attempt at running where I tripped over my own feet and scraped skin off my hand making me as useful as a T. Rex scratching it’s butt for five days.

Let’s see how this goes…

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Replacing Animals in Research

I’m writing this post as a response to the Stop Vivisection European Citizens Initiative (ECI).

What is a European Citizens’ Initiative?

Easy questions first – The ECI

The European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) was introduced with the Treaty of Lisbon, aimed at increasing direct democracy in the European Union. The initiative enables one million EU citizens, who are nationals of at least one quarter of the Member States, to call directly on the European Commission to propose a legal act in an area where the Member States have conferred powers onto the EU level.

-Wikipedia

It’s basically a petition. There’s a great piece over here at Speaking of Research. To summarise, the ECI was started in Italy, which is currently struggling with anti-science and anti-vivisectionist sentiments and has been picked up in a couple of other countries. It now has the required 1 million signatures it needs to be discussed by the EU parliament.

Here is an interesting graph on the breakdown of which EU countries the Stop Vivisection supporters come from:

aamna-breakdown

European Animal Research Association, originally posted http://eara.eu/activists-turn-to-eu-to-ban-animal-research/

What is vivisection?

The Stop Vivisection website declaration says:

We urge the European Commission to abrogate directive 2010/63/EU on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes and to present a new proposal that does away with animal experimentation and instead makes compulsory the use – in biomedical and toxicological research – of data directly relevant for the human species.

-Stop Vivisection

So what is animal experimentation? Even experiments that are not on live animals may involve things derived from animals – some antibodies for example are derived from animal blood; cell culture utilises animal products (serum). So while it is an alternative to using live (or dead) animals, these techniques may require products derived from animals.

Various animal species are used for experimentation. Fruit flies, worms (C. elegans is a nematode), mosquitoes, Plasmodium (the amoeba that causes malaria), zebrafish, octopus, mice, rats, marmosets, ferrets, dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, frogs… this is by no means an exhaustive list.

What is the current legislation?

The ECI calls “to abrogate directive 2010/63/EU” which is the EU which regulates animal experimentation in the UK (and indeed the rest of the EU). The directive is described on the European Commission website it legislates for the protection of animals used for scientific purposes. It aims to limit animal testing and it dictates minimum standards of housing and care. It is based on the “Three R’s” of animal research with the eventual aim of ending all animal experiments. It applies to all vertebrates and invertebrates likely to feel pain (octopus). It also prohibits experimental work on great apes. All animal procedures have to be approved before they are performed. Procedures must only be performed by approved personel.

Fundamentally, the legislation is based on the Three R’s:

  • it allows animal use only where no alternative methods exists – Replacement.
  • the number of animals used must be minimised, but without compromising the objectives of the project – Reduction.
  • methods must be refined in order to minimise suffering and numbers of animals used, it includes housing methods as well as procedural ones – Refinement.

Animal research facilities have to conform to this legislation. In the  UK this is enforced by the Home Office.

In the EU it is currently illegal to test cosmetics or their ingredients on animals.

Why use animal models?

Animals are used in basic research and for developing medical treatments. Understanding how biological systems, pathways, organs, genes, or proteins work normally helps scientists understand what happens when these go wrong and how they can be fixed. Some of these can be modelled without having to use animals. Many of these cannot be modelled because the systems are not understood. Contrary to what the Stop Vivisection campaign state, the alternatives are not currently sufficient to replace all animal research. The myths of the Stop Vivisection campaign are addressed point by point here.

Take the brain as an example. There are an average of 86 billion brain cells in the human brain. These have various functions such as light detection, scent detection, they can form circuits that have a single function such as balance, and some act like wires transmitting information from one area to another. These neurons form 100 – 1000 trillion connections. The closest attempt at modelling the human brain used a super-computer to model 1 second of activity and took 40 minutes to run. We are a long way from fully understanding conditions such as schizophrenia, depression and Alzheimer’s.

The issues with doing basic research in humans is that an observer needs to see what is happening in milliseconds with micrometre resolution. These techniques do not exist. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) uses blood flow as an index for neuronal activity, but it has limitations. Real time MRI has a temporal resolution of 20 – 30 milliseconds and a spatial resolution of 1.5 – 2 mm (Wikipedia), this is not good enough to look at the activity of a single neuron.

The brain is just one organ. The organ systems vary in the way they work. To further complicate matters, they also interact with each other.

Medicinal research also utilises animals. It is possible to observe the effects of a drug on cells in a test tube, indeed many chemicals are screened with techniques that don’t use animals and use human cells instead. There is a huge difference between the effects of a drug on a single cell compared to the body as a whole. Take alcohol, for example. On some neurons it inhibits activity, but these neurons are in different parts of the brain with different functions. The actions of alcohol on a single cell don’t explain why, for example, you need to pee more when you’ve been drinking (a process which involves the brain and the kidneys). That is only one of the things that alcohol does to the body.

Lab mice by Rama. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 France

Lab mice by Rama. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 France

Actually, scientists would rather not use animals

The current legislation stipulates that if there is an alternative to using animals, the alternative methods must be used. Keeping animals housed and fed is pretty expensive – the cell-based drug screening methods mentioned above save the pharmaceuticals industry a lot of money. The right alternatives would provide more accurate data than that generated using animals. And researchers working on animals would just rather not use animals if it was possible. The sooner the alternatives are developed the better for everyone. But until then, animal experiments are a necessary evil.

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On being agnostic about breakfast cereal

I’m having trouble with breakfast cereal. I have about half an hour between waking up and leaving the in the morning. In that time I have to wash, get dressed, make lunch and eat breakfast. Because it has to be eaten quickly, breakfast has to be quick to prepare and quick to eat – bacon and scrambled eggs is a no. Cereal seems like the best option: i.e. it’s quick to eat. The selection of cereals is ridiculous. And for some reason, manufacturers seem to think they can stick any old sugary crap into one of those cuboidal cardboard boxes with the caveat “eat as part of a healthy diet” and it becomes a healthy breakfast cereal.  A according to the NHS, a report from 2012 stated that ‘sweet breakfast cereals are still too sugary for kids’

It found that overall, 32 out of the 50 were high in sugar, and that 12 out of the 14 cereals (86%) aimed at children had excessive levels of added sugar.

It goes on to point out that a lot of breakfast cereals are little better than sugary crap – 35 of the 50 cereals tested were high in sugar – something as a nation we eat way too much of. Weetabix was the only cereal aimed at children that had low levels of sugar – Frosties (37% sugar) had the highest, and Crunchie Nut Cornflakes were 35% sugar.  Even supposedly healthy cereals have high amounts of sugar: Bran Flakes – 22% sugar, Special K – 17%. Let me reiterate – Special K, whose entire remit seems to be make women think they look fat, and the only way to solve this is to eat two meal of Special K a day – has levels of sugar considered too high. Mueslies are also somewhat dubious, Alpen has a fucktonne of sugar in it. At least all the sugar in the Dorset Cereals muesli is from the dried fruit it contains. Basically, the only cereals that are actually healthy are Shredded Wheat, Oat So Simple porridge and Weetabix and presumably their supermarket own brand equivalents. This essentially means that your choices for breakfast cereal boil down to “cardboard” or “sugar flakes”.

I have chosen cardboard. However, I find that I’m almost always hungry at 10:30. Thus breakfast cereal has failed in its promise to “keep me going to lunch”. I have to ask why I even bother. Despite the fact that  everyone (I have no idea who specifically told us) knows that breakfast is “the most important meal of the day”. Curiously, science has no fucking clue – studies show that people who skip breakfast eat more calories, studies show that people who skip breakfast eat fewer calories, lose weight/don’t lose weight. It’s all over the place

A behavior that is often targeted in weight management programs and that may contribute to long-term success in weight maintenance is breakfast eating.

Wyatt et al 2002

A link between skipping (breakfast) and obesity is constantly being challenged and in many studies, a lack of this link was repeatedly demonstrated.

Zilberter and Zilberter 2014

Well, I have chosen to eat breakfast – but why am I hungry TWO HOUS BEFORE lunch? I had a look at the serving size. The serving size of 2 Tesco branded Wheat Biscuits (cheap Weetabix) is 37.5g, this contains 135 calories. I would add about 130g semi-skimmed milk, which google tells me is 65 calories. That’s a breakfast of 200 calories. That doesn’t seem like a lot. should I be eating a larger breakfast?

Another study the NHS reports on published in the Nutrition Journal suggests that people who eat larger breakfasts have a higher energy intake across the whole day, whereas people who eat fewer calories don’t tend eat more food to compensate. This sounds a lot like what may be happening when people skip breakfast altogether. Though there are a great big fat pile of caveats. It’s a cross sectional study observing people’s habits – i.e. people who tend to eat more at breakfast eat more during the day. People are different.

low energy intake at breakfast can be helpful to lower daily intake and improve the energy balance during treatment of obesity Whether or not this approach really favours weight loss has to be examined in further interventional studies. At present prevailing data are rather equivocal.

Schusdziarra et al 2011

No one hedges like scientist.

Bust should I really only be eating a tenth of my daily caloric intake at breakfast. Seems small… A fifth would make more sense. According to the NHS Change 4 Life page  one should aim for 400 kCal for breakfast, 600 kCal for lunch and 600kCal for dinner (the remainder of your daily intake to consist of drinks and healthy snacks). So, maybe the cereals are wrong. And it’s not just my cereal either: Kelloggs – Fruit ‘n’ Fibre, one 40g serving is 152 calories without milk, Special K 30g serving plus 125 ml semi-skimmed milk provides 172 calories, a 30g portion of Cornflakes without milk is 113 calories. Nestlé – Cheerios suggests a 30g serving plus 125 ml semi-skimmed for a grand total of 174 calories, 40g of Shreddies plus 125 ml milk provides 208 calories. So most cereals are based on small portion sizes. Maybe this enables them to get away with higher sugar levels when giving percentages of your RDA… The reason portions are so small was described by Kellogg’s spokesman Paul Wheeler to Bee Williams at the Telegraph

apparently lots of studies have shown that 30g is about what most children can manage.

The principle consumers of breakfast cereal being children. This is confirmed by Kellogg’s

Knowing this, we provide our serving size recommendations based on what the cereal looks like in the bowl, the level of vitamins and minerals we add and the average amount eaten by a child.

Kellogg’s website

This is starting to make sense; the portion sizes are supposed to be for me, unlike the 75g for rice or pasta posited by the Food Standards Agency. It’s based on what children eat. Therefore, I don’t have to feel like a guilty fat pig when I eat more than the piddling small handful of cereal at the bottom of my breakfast bowl. And neither should any other adult. Nestle even suggest that maybe a small bowl of cereal isn’t really enough for breakfast.:

Nutritionists recommend consuming around 20-25% of your daily calorie intake at breakfast (for a woman eating 2000 calories this is about 400-500 calories). Like any other meal, a good breakfast is one that is balanced and includes foods from a few of the food groups, for example fruits & veg, milk & dairy and bread and/or cereals. A great way to start the day is a bowl of Nestlé cereal with whole grain, milk, a glass of fruit juice and/or piece of fruit.

Nestle website

And with that, I’m going to tuck in 295 kilo calories of malted breakfast cereal, to which I may or may not add additional fruit/crackers/doughnuts…

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Metabolomics for Noobs

They say you learn something new every day. This is especially true for me a few weeks ago; I went on a course for something about which I knew almost nothing: a subject called metabolomics.

OK, first thing: -omics. We have genomics, proteomics, microbiomics, transcriptomics, biomics…and at this point I start making them up. -Omics refers to ALL OF IT. ALL OF THE THINGS IN AN ORGANISM. COLLECTIVELY. Or something. Genome refers to all of the genes in an organism. Therefore, metabolome is all of the metabolites in a organism – it includes amino acids (the building blocks of proteins), fatty acids, lipids, alcohols and sugars. Pretty much any smallish molecule involved in the biological reactions that keep living things alive. Larger molecules, such as proteins are not included.

omics

Metabolomics can be broken down into a number of stages. So you’ve got your thing that you want to measure – what’s the difference between me before eating and me after eating? Let’s say we collect some of my blood before I eat and then some more after I eat. We want to compare them; see what chemicals increase and what goes down. Collection methods are important – we don’t want any of the chemicals to degrade or go through further biological reactions between collecting the samples and testing the samples to see what’s in them. Probably the best way to do this is to freeze the samples in liquid nitrogen. It’s not just for mucking about freezing carrots.

The second stage is identifying all the metabolites in there. This can be done in two ways; if you want to see everything that changes – you can do a quantitative, focussed method targeting a group of compounds using gas chromatography – mass spectrometry (GCMS – complicated chemistry thing I’d forgotten since 1st year undergrad) or a more broad, less quantitative method of seeing everything at a basic level.

Identifying chemicals from this involves looking at a series of wibbly lines to see how much there is, how much it weighs (molecular weight), and what kind of chemical bonds it has. Generally – you compare the wibbly lines to wibbly lines of known chemicals.massspec

The next stage is comparing a bunch of these metatbolites that you have identified in you two different samples, be they from me before and after food, or patients with and without a metabolic disorder to improve treatment. This can be done with statistics – one such test being principal component analysis. It looks like a cluster****, but it is very good at finding the things in the two samples that are most different from each other.

PCA

The final stage is looking at your metabolites that are the most different between your two different samples, and figure out what biological processes it is involved. Look at the enzymes involved in its generation and its break down, and identified the genes associated with it.

Why is this important?

This information could be useful in deciding which genes to target in  genetic modification of plants, looking at disease markers in plants, evolutionary differences between plants and animals, biomarkers for disease, markers resulting from medicinal drug intervention and environmental stress. And potentially in the growing field of personalised medicine.

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Transit of Venus

For those of you in the wrong part of the world, those without the appropriate equipment, and those plagued by weather – last night’s transit of Venus across the sun (courtesy of NASA Solar Dynamics observatory).

Watch it as big as you can, preferably with the Sunshine soundtrack.

Nice composite pic over here

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Writing fail

Outrageously expensive boat-bound Wi-fi and an accidental water bottle spillage mean that both my electronic and paper attempts to document my holiday have failed. Rest assured, I had a great time, got stuffed with food, was surrounded by fat americans, went snorkelling with stingrays, and got strangely hooked on art auctions.

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In Lester B’s Shadow

Flying’s a bit of a pain. I think of myself as a good flier, I’ve flown between the UK and Canada a fair few times. I cope reasonably well with airports, despite my loathing of crowds. Heathrow 123 is the exception to this. It’s too small for the number of people there. And at 10am there are a lot of people. Why is acceptable to drink in airports at 9am? Why are the shops so rubbish at T3? It’s fine if you want chocolate, but if you actually want anything useful, forget it, I think Boots might be the one exception…

Surviving the flight is a whole different matter. Confined to a seat for 8 hours, I’m prepared. I realised that graphic novels were the way to cope if your film selection consists of rom-coms starring Gerard Butler. However, new technology means that I have a rather large selection of stuff to watch. Morning Glory I had already picked out, just as fun trash. I was overjoyed to spot some of my favourite films of the year. Namely, The Social Network. Jesse Eisenberg still rocking the socks-with sandals look. It’s not all classy films: Clash of the Titans and Sex and the City 2 are also in there…. I’m being weirded by Andrew Garfield’s massive hair in Never Let Me Go.

And the dude next to me has been drinking red wine and coke. Together. Luckily he’s Austrian and hasn’t tried to start a conversation, he did borrow a pen. Most of the time I fly, I’m on my own. I don’t think I’m a sociable flyer.

Met by Yasmin’s family at the airport after immigration fun (took 30mins, but at least I didn’t have to wait ling for my bag. Have now repacked, leaving all the winter stuff in the hotel and while re-packing, Yas was saying that Prince George (where she’s just come from) really dull, so dull in fact that her most exciting new discovery is eyeshadow on a stick. tomorrow we Fly from Toronto Pearson International to a life on the ocean waves. I’m so proud of long-lost cousin, Lester B Pearson, ex-prime minister and Nobel laureate….

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Confessions of a Music Luddite – 2010 in music

I’m the first to admit that I am rubbish at new music; my preferred listening consists of Radiohead, Muse and Simon & Garfunkel. I don’t listen to music radio: radio 1 plays music fit only for trendy teens, BBC6 is peopled by music snobs too cool for the mainstream and radio 2 is senile. Pleasant, but senile. I don’t do edgy, but I loathe the mundane and shun the popular (ok, maybe I’m not that bad). I don’t avoid music, not actively, you understand. It just does nothing for me.

This time of the year, people are putting together their top lists of the year. Of what are considered the top albums of the year, I’ve only heard of 2 artists and only have one album. So I thought I’d put together my own list. A list of songs released this year. Not necessarily the best. But the only songs that I really like from this year. If you think you’ve got something better, by all means share it. As I’ve pointed out, I have a very small frame of reference.

  1. Buttercups – Fran Healy. This is currently the most played song on my iPod. First track released off Healy’s solo album. And I loves it.
  2. Down by the Water – The Decemberists. It’s a bit REM, a bit Bruce Springsteen and sounds really cool. Having listened to the rest of their stuff, this is a lot less folky (this doesn’t have quite as much accordion).
  3. Kaiser Cartel – Ready to Go. I heard this song, thought it was awesome and thought I’d try the rest of their stuff. I was unimpressed. Still, Ready to Go is wedged on my iPod. (Incidentally this is available as a free download 🙂 here)
  4. The National – Conversation 16. It’s a great song. And even if it weren’t, it deserves its place here simply because it has one of the best song lyrics I’ve heard in ages. All together now “I was afraid/I’d eat your brains”
  5. Beck (as Sex Bob-Omb) – Garbage Truck. Technically it’s from a soundtrack. It’s still going in my damn list!

Honourable Mentions: Jonsi – Go: an album made of pure happy.

And OK Go – This Too Shall Pass: they so win at Rube Goldberg Machine

If you have any better 2010 songs, do post them. And I’ll tell you why you’re wrong.

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Bloggers unite – Libel Reform!

The Mass Libel Reform Blog – Fight for Free Speech! As I’m just starting to blog, I’m shying away from certain subjects and biting my tongue. Blogging should be about critiquing what’s out there, but this could cause trouble for bloggers.

This week is the first anniversary of the report Free Speech is Not for Sale, which highlighted the oppressive nature of English libel law. In short, the law is extremely hostile to writers, while being unreasonably friendly towards powerful corporations and individuals who want to silence critics.

The English libel law is particularly dangerous for bloggers, who are generally not backed by publishers, and who can end up being sued in London regardless of where the blog was posted. The internet allows bloggers to reach a global audience, but it also allows the High Court in London to have a global reach.

You can read more about the peculiar and grossly unfair nature of English libel law at the website of the Libel Reform Campaign. You will see that the campaign is not calling for the removal of libel law, but for a libel law that is fair and which would allow writers a reasonable opportunity to express their opinion and then defend it.

The good news is that the British Government has made a commitment to draft a bill that will reform libel, but it is essential that bloggers and their readers send a strong signal to politicians so that they follow through on this promise. You can do this by joining me and over 50,000others who have signed the libel reform petition at http://www.libelreform.org/sign

Remember, you can sign the petition whatever your nationality and wherever you live. Indeed, signatories from overseas remind British politicians that the English libel law is out of step with the rest of the free world.

If you have already signed the petition, then please encourage friends, family and colleagues to sign up. Moreover, if you have your own blog, you can join hundreds of other bloggers by posting this blog on your own site. There is a real chance that bloggers could help change the most censorious libel law in the democratic world.

We must speak out to defend free speech. Please sign the petition for libel reform at http://www.libelreform.org/sign

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Musings on Wikipedia

You may have noticed, I have referred to Wikipedia a lot in my posts so far. It’s a useful tool, but one must always be wary of believing everything you read on the internet.

Wikipedia makes an excellent starting point if you are new to any subject. Its broad scope can provide the global overview necessary to start getting engrossed in a subject. A good article can provide a solid foundation and quality references can provide comprehensive background information.

Anyone can edit Wikipedia. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. In theory, it’s a brilliant idea, invite people to edit pages and constantly add knowledge; when new discoveries are made anywhere, Wikipedia can be updated. Potentially, this means Wikipedia will never be out of date; unlike static pages updated by a few people with what may only be a limited scope of expertise, the global pool of knowledge can add and correct it.

On the other hand, it means that  erroneous information can be added to articles. Having said that, the constant revision means that most mistakes will be picked out and corrected. Wikipedia will warn you if it doesn’t believe there is evidence provided to support points made on page, so have a look to see what sort of references it uses. So obviously you need to be wary of pages that say:

This article does not cite any references or sources.
Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.

Other problems occur with controversial subjects. Constant editing by two or more parties with opposing view points can lead to circular arguments that Wikipedia refers to “edit warring“, to prevent this, Wikipedia asks that disputes are discussed in the article’s discussion page. I can’t see this working in particularly emotive topics. Some pages are semi-protected to prevent vandalism; those editing anonymously cannot edit these pages. Other pages are permanently locked; these are protected by MediaWiki software so that only administrators and accounts associated with those pages may edit them. Wikipedia are currently running a trial on “pending changes protection”, where edits can be made by anyone but must be approved by established editors. Repeat offenders can be blocked or not allowed to edit pages on particular subjects.

My favourite term that I’ve found is “weasel words” – sentences in which something is stated to be believed by many people, possibly hiding (badly) behind opinions purportedly held by “some people”.

Myself, I have only felt competent to edit one Wikipedia page, the subject of my PhD thesis, the carotid body. Before I tinkered with it, the page had a woeful amount of information. Only one theory of the way it functions was noted and only one publication had been referenced – a comprehensive review from 1994. A lot can happen in 12 years of scientific research. It’s been edited since then, my academic writing style is not the easiest thing to read. A reference from 2010 has also been added, illustrating how it has been kept up to date. But the continued inclusion of 5 of the references I originally added (including a paper I co-authored) gives me a little pang of pride.

Anyone who has ever written a thesis knows that, whilst writing it, you are reading and absorbing so much information and you are so up to date with recent advances, that there is probably no one else at that point in time who knows, or cares, as much as you do about your topic. So while writing my thesis, I started procrastinating by taking the fledgling Wiki entry, and expanding it based on what I was reading. I added a number of theories and added 5 references that are still there. I should point out that there are only a handful of people researching the carotid body, so in more competitive areas of research – like learning and memory – there is likely to be a lot more interest in a page, the entry will be longer, there are more references and a lot more edits.

Pages are constantly being edited and updated, details will be corrected, grammar and flow improved. The Wikipedia platform allows recent advances in science to be added – presuming of course that those that are most informed are editing. It’s perfect for science – the method by which small details are added to the canon of knowledge reflects the way that research makes tiny incremental steps. Big leaps are rare.

I was encouraged to edit Wikipedia by my PhD supervisor; it is important that experts can edit the pages that overlap with their own research interests. better many experts in their fields edit than those with a broad but shallow range.

They have a helpful guide and some useful advice aimed at people wanting to edit pages including a “talk” section where changes can be proposed, if you are feeling a little tentative about your edit. The changes can then be reviewed by other editors.

I shall leave you with some curiously appropriate words from one of my favourite writers on the subject of encyclopaedias

“In many of the more relaxed civilizations on the Outer Eastern Rim of the Galaxy, the Hitchhiker’s Guide has already supplanted the great Encyclopaedia Galactica as the standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom, for though it has many omissions and contains much that is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate, it scores over the older, more pedestrian work in two important respects.

First, it is slightly cheaper; and second, it has the words “DON’T PANIC” inscribed in large friendly letters on its cover.”

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