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Stem Cell Fraud

   The David Shaywitz Op-Ed today takes a shot at our most esteemed science journals: "[I]t is common knowledge that the bar for publication in this field often has appeared remarkably low, with even well-respected research journals seeming to fall over one another for the privilege of publishing the next hot paper. The result of this frenzy has been an entire body of literature that is viewed with extreme skepticism by most serious stem cell investigators."

    There's a rule in Washington politics: Tell them what they want to hear. Apparently that works in the scientific world sometimes, too. People wanted to hear that there were tremendous breakthroughs in stem cell research. Shaywitz breaks it down into market dynamics: There was a seller's market for anyone who could report great strides in a field that promised to let people rise from their wheelchairs and walk again.

    Anyone who covers any controversial field in science knows that there's always someone out there with an impressive credential who is spectacularly wrong. Rarely, though, are scientists actively engaged in scientific fraud. It's too easy to get caught, because science is an enterprise in which people actually check what you're saying. A number of young South Korean scientists exposed Hwang, a national hero.

    Not looking so good is the excellent journal Science, which published two bogus studies by Hwang. Donald Kennedy, the editor-in-chief, has issued a statement saying the journal will re-examine its publication policies, though the take-home message seems (to my unscientific ear) to be that the journal has no way to stop a hoax like this. Some excerpts:

    "I have pointed out in the past that even unusually rigorous peer review of the kind we undertook in this case may fail to detect cases of well-constructed fraud....

   "We are implementing improved methods of detecting image alteration, although it appears improbable that they would have detected problems in this particular case....

   "Fraud is unlikely to be eliminated completely through the process of scientific publishing, and truth in science ultimately depends upon confirmation...."

    So you probably wouldn't call it a contrite statement.

    A second and third reading of the statement fails to unearth anything that would indicate that Science is embarrassed by its role in the Hwang fiasco, but on a fourth reading, I guess the final sentence has a slight "We could have done better" sound to it:

    "[A]t Science, we are determined to do everything in our power to evaluate our own procedures for detecting research misconduct, and we will communicate the results of this effort to the scientific community when it is complete."

By Joel Achenbach  |  January 12, 2006; 9:36 AM ET
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"We are implementing improved methods of detecting image alteration, although it appears improbable that they would have detected problems in this particular case....

May I recomend to the journal Science Edwin Newman's classic 1974 book, "Strictly Speaking"--two chapters in particular: "Hopefully, Fit to Print" and "Capacity to Generate Language Viability Destruction."

Science journal: "We goofed."

Posted by: Loomis | January 12, 2006 10:00 AM | Report abuse

I found Hwang's fraud strangely comforting.

It looks an awful lot like the business fraud we've seen in the West over the past 10 years, when the stock markets started heating up (Adelphia, Enron, etc.).

If there's any question about the Westernization of the Far East, I think this answers it.

Money and power go to people's heads everywhere.


Posted by: bc | January 12, 2006 10:23 AM | Report abuse

In the last boodle, Linda Loomis asked me some questions. I figured I would just take the conversation over to here, now.

What got me inspired to science? Star Trek and Apollo. I was never much interested in astronomy as a field, perhaps because it took some time before we realized that I was myopic. My father (also a scientist) all the time was trying to show me satellite glints overhead, a new and wonderful thing at the time, and I never saw squat. I never could perceive the colors of astronomical objects, so I could never find my way when he said "Look near that red one over there." Glasses have helped a whole lot.

And, of course, my Dad is a scientist. It never seriously occcurred to me that I wouldn't be, also, because that was the work environment that I knew. I meandered a little, as my early passion in paleontology waned and I discovered I had no great talent or interest in biology (Dad's field). I picked physics as a college major, because of the things that I was good at, physics was the hardest.

As to poetry and astrophysics: well, I wouldn't dignify what I have written as "poetry." Doggerel, maybe. I am a moderately rare creature -- I did substantially better on my verbal and linguistic SATs than the math portion, but I went into a highly mathematical field, anyway. Like I said, I picked the hardest of the things that I'm good at.

Posted by: ScienceTim | January 12, 2006 10:29 AM | Report abuse

I should mention that I love the journal Science. I get their press releases (for some reason I can't seem to jump through Nature's hoops) and find them to be the premier resource for breaking science news. But in this case I thought Kennedy sounded bureaucratic. To say the least.

Posted by: Achenbach | January 12, 2006 10:38 AM | Report abuse

ScienceTim, I left you a question on the last boodle - why does rock salt kill tree roots?

Posted by: Nani | January 12, 2006 10:50 AM | Report abuse

Rock salt doesn't just kill tree roots. Rock salt is an environmental contaminant. It will also kill your grass and nearby shrubs.

Posted by: omnigood | January 12, 2006 11:00 AM | Report abuse

What I want to know is, is what do we think of green pigs?

Posted by: LP | January 12, 2006 11:01 AM | Report abuse

As a researcher, I am not surprised this happened. But since science is about reproducibility of results, it amazes me that Dr. Hwang thought he would get away with such blatant fraud. I guess he thought he could publish first and obtain the results later. The journals Science and Nature are constantly trying to scoop one another and every now and then the result is that they publish something they shouldn't. This has happened before and will, no doubt, happen again. I know firsthand that Science has rigorous standards for publication. I can't speak to Nature as I have never published there. But certain "hot" papers are fast-tracked for publication at many journals and I have often wondered if this doesn't compromise the review process.

Much of research relies on the honor system. I take for granted that other scientists are honest about their results and my job is to judge the validity of the results based on the experiments themselves. I believe the majority of scientists are honest and that peer review does work, although it is not perfect. The fact that this fraud was exposed does support that idea.

Posted by: dr k | January 12, 2006 11:02 AM | Report abuse

Wow! Not just green pigs, but flourescent green pigs. I can see the ads now-"When the grid crashes and the lights go out, you'll be glad you brought home our bacon!"

OT, but Richard Cohen's piece on Joe Biden today has this gem-

"He has been in the Senate since 1973 and suffers, as nearly all senators do sooner or later, from the conviction that he and his colleagues are the center of the world. After all, no one -- with the possible exception of family members -- ever tells a senator to shut up. They are surrounded by fawning staff and generally treated as minor deities. They lose perspective, which is why, now that you've asked, they talk and talk at these hearings. They are convinced the world is watching. Actually, it's only a half a dozen shut-ins on C-SPAN -- and, of course, the nearly catatonic press corps. Everyone else is playing computer solitaire."

Well, almost. Some few of us are on the Achenblog.

Posted by: kurosawaguy | January 12, 2006 11:12 AM | Report abuse

I have to say "good news" on stem cells doesn't always get a free pass, but the source is the key.

When the Bush administration did its "we'll fund only work on THESE stem cell colonies" dance way back when, they said there were plenty of colonies to go around (which passed for good news). Lots of reporters (me included) took them to task for, ahem, "loosely defining" a usable colony.

If someone's got existing cred in a particular field, as Hwang did, it's unfortunately easy to lower the "prove it" bar. And notice that Hwang is still saying, "I didn't do it, but I'll take the blame" --

Posted by: Scottynuke | January 12, 2006 11:16 AM | Report abuse

Kennedy's statement sounds like typical scientific speech. He has made an effort to speak dispassionately and to adhere to strictly defensible commentary. Let me tell you, as a regular consumer of scientific articles, I'd appreciate it if my colleagues were willing to learn to write with a little more flair. *yawn* I would accept the risk of being offended by passionate writing if I could just stay awake through an entire journal article in one go.

I don't think that Science has much to apologize for. Scientists are ultimate pragmatists: we go with what works. In this case, our methods didn't prevent a fraud, but the enterprise of science has worked to detect the fraud and to remedy it. Science has published for over 125 years. When a defect is demonstrated, it is corrected to the extent that it is reasonable to do so, and you get on with business. Science will have to apologize if it fails, now, to implement reasonable procedures to prevent fraudulent publishing, but it does not have to apologize for not having those procedures prior to being shown that the problem is real.

There has to be some level at which we simply accept that some false information will get published. A journal that prevents the publishing of surprising and possibly bogus results is a journal that also will never publish a new idea. Science and Nature are prestigious journals in which to publish because they are willing to publish forefront work that is likely to fall by the wayside, but which stimulates the field.

We treat scientific publishing just like scientific experiments -- we make predictions about the correctness and plausibility of a paper, then we do the experiment. Papers are refereed to ensure that they actually communicate their ideas, that they are not obviously fraudulent, that they are not old news. Ultimately, however, a paper is treated as an hypothesis, which undergoes testing by the experimentation of the entire community.

Posted by: ScienceTim | January 12, 2006 11:27 AM | Report abuse

As a former researcher I can attest to the difficulty of correcting errors in published papers. The simplest solution is to lower the bar or at least make the bar the same for articles and letters critical of a published article, even if the criticism is online to save valuable paper. This will encourage quick dissection of published data that peer review with its backscratching dynamics misses routinely.

Many journals do not even entertain any debate on the internal consistency of a published paper. You have to carry out separate experiments to challenge a paper (read spend significant amount of time and money) to correct even a logically addressable mistake (such as copied data being passed as being from more than one experiment). This need not be a limitation in this electronic age.

Posted by: Rattan Nath | January 12, 2006 11:29 AM | Report abuse

A (little?) more from me:

It's an everyday occurrence in science to discover falsehood and error. When it turns out that a falsehood was consciously perpetrated for gain, rather than being an honest mistake, science reacts as it does with all disproven hypotheses -- merciless rejection. This is the end of Dr. Hwang's life as a scientist. In fact, a scientist proven to have committed fraud is so thoroughly, and publicly, stigmatized, that it's hard to imagine what he could possibly do with the rest of his life. Maybe drive a cab.

Cases of scientific fraud become known preceisely because science works. The falsehood is detected, the chicanery is discovered. The hypothesis that each scientist is an honest contributor is disproven in the case of that particular scientist. There are institutional and funding-agency actions taken against those persons who are shown to be frauds. It's largely a case of unnecessary me-tooism, however. Scientific fields are relatively small and highly specialized. Once a scientist has been shown to have committed scientific fraud (we don't care about financial fraud), the entire community knows, and that person will never work as a scientist again.

Posted by: ScienceTim | January 12, 2006 11:38 AM | Report abuse

This is *completely* off-topic, but it is stunning news. Nikon is going to stop making film cameras!! My dad's old Nikon is going to become a collector's item. (Along with about 6 gazillion others, of course.)

Posted by: pj | January 12, 2006 11:44 AM | Report abuse

Another digression. On lobbying and lobbyists ...

Posted by: Bayou Self | January 12, 2006 11:57 AM | Report abuse

This is even more completely off-topic, but I'm just curious (because I'm working on a column and could use inspiration) how many people out there are obsessed with their heating bills. There's a question mark implicit in the previous sentence. Where do you set your thermostat? Or do you just burn the furniture in the fireplace?

ScienceTim, thanks as always for your contributions on this item and on Tom's Dumb Question. I saw Tom in the hallway and he looks a little smarter now.

Posted by: Achenbach | January 12, 2006 11:59 AM | Report abuse

yeah he looks smarter, but I bet if anyone asks he'll use my answer and not ScienceTim's.

ScienceTim answer: 8 sentences, 174 words.
My answer: 1 sentence, 14 words

Posted by: omnigood | January 12, 2006 12:05 PM | Report abuse

Nani, I was going to answer your tree-root question by referencing the one-and-only biology class I ever took, in 9th grade. Then it occurred to me that the answer I received at the time is a tad simplistic, given that we now know about organisms that live in hyper-saline environments very happily.

The answer, as I understood it 28 years ago, is that a water-saline mixture is strongly thermodynamically favored compared to separated salt and water. Water osmoses through the cell walls, dessicating the organism in order to hydrate the salt. Most organisms die if they dry (ra rhyme!), unless they have special adaptations.

There has to be more to it. If cells were filled with highly saline water solution, then the osmosis would happen in the other direction, osmosing into cells against their "will." Presumably, then, organisms adapt their natural internal saline level to be roughly equal to their environment, so that biological processes are in control of transferring molecules through the cell membrane, rather than being at the mercy of inexorable lifeless chemistry.

Posted by: ScienceTim | January 12, 2006 12:06 PM | Report abuse

JA, I'm no help in the heating bill department, since I grew up on skis. My cats use ME as a heat source.

Posted by: Scottynuke | January 12, 2006 12:10 PM | Report abuse

ScienceTim your doing it again.

Six sentences 123 words to my one sentence 6 words.

Posted by: omnigood | January 12, 2006 12:11 PM | Report abuse

For the record (and I will link to this from a new microkit), here's Biden on Tuesday going into his big wind-up to throw a fastball at Alito. I am putting this here in the boodle because putting it in a kit would take up too much room, and I haven't figured out how to turn a kit into a two-page thing (somehow Fisher has already figured that out, and he's been blogging for, what, a week):

SEN. JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR. (D-DE): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I understand, Judge, I am the only one standing between you and lunch. So I'll try to make this painless.

Judge, I'd like to say a few very brief things at the outset. I'm puzzled, and I suspect you may be puzzled, by some of the questions. I don't think anybody thinks you are a man lacking in integrity. I don't think anybody thinks that you are a person who's not independent. I think that what people are wondering about and puzzled about is not whether you are -- lack independence; whether you independently conclude that the executive is the -- trumps the other two branches. They wonder, when you back -- granted, it's back in '85, or '84, when you wrote, "I do not question the attorney general should have this immunity, has absolute immunity, but, for tactical reasons," et cetera. So it's -- people are puzzled. And -- at least some are puzzled. And so, I don't want you to read any of this as -- at least from my perspective, as I've read it so far, that people think that this is a bad guy.

I mean, what people are puzzled about with the recusal issue was under oath you said, "I will recuse myself on anything relating to --" and then the case comes up. So they're looking for an explanation. So it's not about whether you are profiting or whether you are -- you know, all this malarkey about whether you broke judicial ethics. It's, you know, a simple kind of thing. You know, you under oath said, "I promise if any of this -- if this ever comes up, I'll recuse myself," and then you gave an explanation. You just -- you know, it slipped, you forgot, it had been years earlier, et cetera. So don't -- don't read it as, you know, this is one of these things where we know you are -- the people I've spoken to on your court -- and it's my circuit -- have a very high regard for you. And I think you're a man of integrity. The question is, sometimes some of the things you've said and done puzzle, at least puzzle me. And I'd like to --

And one of the things -- this is not part of a line of questioning I wanted to ask, but I did ask you when you were kind enough to come to my office about the concerned alumni of Princeton. Were you aware of some of the other things they were saying that had nothing to do with ROTC? Because there was a great deal of controversy.

I mean, I can remember -- I can remember this. My son was -- well, anyway, he ended up going to that other university, the University of Pennsylvania.

But I remember, you know, Princeton -- I had spoken on campus in the early '70s -- this was a big thing -- up at Princeton at the Woodrow Wilson School. And I remember -- I didn't remember Bill Frist, but I remember that there was this disavowing; that Bill Bradley, this great basketball star and now United States senator, was, you know, disassociating himself with this outfit; that there was a magazine called Prospect. I remember the magazine. And all I want to ask is, were you aware of the other things that this outfit was talking about? Were you aware of this controversy going on in 19 --

JUDGE ALITO: Senator, I don't believe that I was. And when it was mentioned that Senator Bradley had withdrawn from the magazine, that didn't ring any bells for me. I did not recall anything like that.

SEN. BIDEN: Well, it was a pretty outrageous group. I mean, I believe you that you were unaware of it. But here I was, a University of Delaware graduate, a sitting United States senator, I was aware of it because I was up there on the campus. I mean, it was a big deal. It was a big deal, at least in our area, the Delaware Valley, if, you know Princeton, Penn, the schools around there, had this kind of -- because the big thing was going on at Brown at the time, as well.

And by the way, for the record, I know you know when you stated in your application that you are a member -- you said (in '85 ?) "I am a member" -- they had restored ROTC. I mean, ROTC was back on the campus.

But again, this is just by way of, you know, why some of us are puzzled, because if I was aware of it and I didn't even like Princeton -- (laughter) -- no, I mean I really didn't like Princeton -- (laughs). Yeah, I was an Irish Catholic kid who thought it hadn't changed like you concluded it had. I mean, you know, I admit I have a little -- you know, one of my real dilemmas is I have two kids who went to Ivy League schools. I'm not sure my grandfather Finnegan (sp) where ever forgive me for allowing that to happen. But all kidding aside, I wasn't a big Princeton fan, and so maybe that's why I focused on it and no one else did. But I remember at the time.

The other thing is, Judge, you know, the other thing you should be aware of is -- and kind of don't take this personally what's going on here -- every nominee who comes before us is viewed by all the senators -- left, right, center, Democrat, Republican -- at least on two levels, at least in my experience here. One is, the first one, is individual qualifications and what their constitutional methodology, their views are, their philosophy. But the other is, and it always occurs, whose spot they're taking and what impact that would have on the court.

Everybody wrote, with Roberts, after the fact -- and a lot of people voted for Roberts that were doubtful; I was doubtful, I voted no -- but it was he was replacing Rehnquist. So Roberts for Rehnquist, you know, "what's the worst that can happen," quote- unquote, or the best that can happen? (Laughter.) No, I'm not being facetious. What's the best or worst? if you're a conservative, the best that can happen is he's as good as Rehnquist. From the standpoint of someone who's a liberal, the worst that can happen (is) he's as good as Rehnquist.

So I mean -- but you're replacing -- I mean, we can't lose this, and so people understand this -- you are replacing someone who has been THE fulcrum on an evenly -- otherwise evenly divided court, and a woman who -- most scholars who write about her and in a retrospective about her say this is a woman who viewed things from -- the phrase you've used -- a real-world perspective. This was a former legislator, this was a former practitioner, this was someone who came to the bench and applied -- to her critics, she applied too much common sense.

Critics would say that she was too sensitive to the impact on individuals, you know, that what would happen to an individual. So her focus on the impact on individuals was sometimes criticized and praised.

It's just important you understand -- at least for my questioning -- that this goes beyond you. It goes to whether or not your taking her seat will alter the constitutional framework of this country by shifting the balance, 5 to 4, 4 to 5, one way or another. And that's the context in which at least I want to ask you my questions, after trying to get some clarification -- or getting some clarification from you on Concerned (Alumni of) Princeton, because again, a lot of this just is puzzling -- not able to be answered, just puzzling.

Judge, you and I both know, and clearly one of the hallmarks, at least in my view, of Justice O'Connor's position was she fully understood the real world of discrimination. I mean, she felt it. Graduated number two in her class from Stanford, couldn't get a job. Was offered a job by law firms -- granted, she's a little older than you are -- but couldn't get a job because she was a woman. They'd offer her a job as a secretary. And so she understood what I think everybody here from both ends of the spectrum here understand, that discrimination has become very sophisticated; it's become very, very sophisticated, very much more subtle than it was when I got here 34 years ago, or 50 years ago. And employees don't say anymore, you know, we don't like blacks in this company, or we don't want women here. They say things like, well, they wouldn't fit in, or you know, they tend to be too emotional or, you know, a little high strung. I mean, there's all different ways in which now it's become so much more subtle.

And that's why we all -- Democrat and Republican -- wrote Title VII, we wrote these laws to try get at what we observed in the real world. What we observed in the real word is it's real subtle. And so it's harder to make a case of discrimination, even though there's no doubt that it still exists.

And so I'd like to talk to you about a couple of anti- discrimination cases. One is the Bray case. In that case a black woman said she was denied a promotion for a job that she was clearly qualified for -- there was no doubt she was qualified. And she said I was denied that job because I'm a black woman. And it was, as I said, indisputable she was qualified. It was indisputable that the corporation failed to follow their usual internal hiring procedures, and the corporation gave conflicting explanations as to why they reached the decision to hire another woman who they asserted was more qualified than Ms. Bray.

Now, the District Court judge said, you know, Ms. Bray hadn't even made a prima facie case here -- or she made a prima facie, but she hadn't made a sufficient showing to get to a jury. I'm finding for the corporation here.

And Ms. Bray's attorney appealed, and it went up to the 3rd Circuit.

And you and your colleagues disagreed. Two of your colleagues said, "You know, Ms. Bray should have a jury trial here," and you said, "No, I don't think she should." And you set out a standard, as best I can understand it, and I want to talk to you about it.

And your colleagues said that if they applied your standard in Title VII cases, that are discrimination cases, that it would effectively -- their words -- "eviscerate" -- "eviscerate" Title VII because they want to say it ignores the realities of racial animus. They went on to say that racial animus runs so deep in some people that they're incapable of acknowledging that a black woman is qualified for a job.

And -- but, judge, you dismissed that assertion. You said that the conflicting statements that the employer made were just loose language, and you expressed your concern about allowing disgruntled employees to impose cost of a trial on a -- on employers. And so your colleagues thought you set the bar, I think it's fair to say, pretty high in order to make the case that it should go to a jury.

Can you tell me what the difference is between a business judgment as to who's most qualified, because that, you said, you said this comes down to subjective business judgment and discrimination. You said subjective business judgment should prevail unless the qualifications of the candidate are extremely disproportionate. What's the difference between that in today's world and discrimination? I know you want to eliminate discrimination. Explain to me how that test is distinguishable from just plain old discrimination.

Posted by: Achenbach | January 12, 2006 12:13 PM | Report abuse

heating bill, what heating bill? in my apartment the all the neighbors crank their heat to the max so I don't even turn the heat on in my apartment. In fact I sometimes have to open a window and even turn on the AC it gets so hot. Which may have you thinking I'm lucky, but then heat is free (part of the rent) in my building. So since I never turn mine on, but I do pay for it in rent, I'm essentially subsidizing my neighbors.

Posted by: omnigood | January 12, 2006 12:15 PM | Report abuse

I might add that I do pay for electricity so when it is so hot I have to turn the AC it's like getting slapped with a fine.

Posted by: omnigood | January 12, 2006 12:17 PM | Report abuse

RE: JA's Biden posting


Station a qualified animal researcher, outfitted with an Anaesti-dart gun, in all Senate hearing rooms. Set strict guidelines to shoot if the Senator has not paused for a breath in more than 45 seconds, or if more than half the audience has already gouged their eyes out.

Posted by: Scottynuke | January 12, 2006 12:23 PM | Report abuse

ScienceTim, thank you very much. I had tried a couple of commercial root killer products that did not do the trick. Next tried driving 3 inch copper nails into the trunk (read about that on a gardening chat)to no avail. Then a neighbor recommended rock salt in boiling water method which worked like a charm. The solution didn't destroy the weeds growing around the base of the trunk, so maybe those particular weeds have special adaptations you spoke of.

Joel, I no longer heat with gas or electricity and use my Franklin wood burning stove almost exclusively, (use the gas heater when grandkids are visiting and set the stat at 73 or so). The price of wood is rising too, but still cheaper. I gather the kindling myself from all kinds of surprising places.

Posted by: Nani | January 12, 2006 12:40 PM | Report abuse

JA, as far as heating bills go up here everyone is most certainly obsessed with theirs. I live in house where we actually just went thru enormous trouble to install a woodstove so as to save on heat, and now the thermostat never goes above 65. Almost everyone here has plastic on their windows and those few friends who live in heat-included apartments always have a crowd of guests, and the heat pumped up to 75. As far as oil goes, my roommates and I are constantly checking the gauge and trying to guesstimate how long the tank will last.

Posted by: LP | January 12, 2006 1:03 PM | Report abuse

Eh, I'm not too obsessed with heating bills.

In the old house we had a nice cast iron stove, which heated the upper two floors nicely when we wanted to save a little money. It required that I spend a couple of days the previous summer removing trees so that we could have a couple of cords of wood, but that worked out fine.

We went with a regular fireplace in the new house, and it does not heat nearly as well (less surface area, thermal capacity, and valves to manage the combustion, obviously).

Sure, I grouse at the kids just like any other parent when they leave doors open during the heat of the summer or the cold of the winter.

As far as how I became interested in cosmology/space/science (to Linda's question in the last Kit): I had a pretty good seat as a kid during the Space Age of the 60's and early 70s. My grandfather worked for NASA during that time on the Lunar and Martian programs, so I got to see things and meet people that most other folks read about or watched on TV.

He also was a avid reader of fantasy and SF, and got me started on what is now referred to as the ABC's of literature: Asimov, Bradbury, and Clarke.

I was also an incurable tinkerer, taking things apart to see how they worked and trying to put them back together.


Posted by: bc | January 12, 2006 1:04 PM | Report abuse

We have an electric heat pump. It works fine until things get actually chilly, in which case the electric furnace kicks in. Although our bill is not nearly as bad as those who use heating oil, it still gets my attention. The furnace evidently uses special electricity produced by the burning of high denomination currency.
We deal with this in three ways. We have a programmable thermostat which we set to 67 at night and 71 in the day. We burn a fire in our fireplace on especially cold days, assuming I can get one started. (The Post burns nicely. Incendiary ink?) We use lumber from a recently felled tree. Unfortunately, it's still a little green. We are staving off hypothermia at the risk of smoke inhalation.
Finally, we have a warm dog.

Posted by: RD Padouk | January 12, 2006 1:15 PM | Report abuse

Got just a minute:

1. Green Pigs: I will not eat them, Sam-I-am!

2. Boss, my wife and I have worked out a good scheme for handling our heating bills, which have doubled over last year's even though Winter so far in Flyover Land has been relatively mild: We heat the house to 64 deg. F when people are home. When no one's home, or between 11 pm and 5 am, it's 59 degrees. We wear sweaters. Our kids hate it, our in-laws complain when they visit (oh, we turn it up when Mom & Dad show up). We have managed to adapt to the cooler temperatures and find ourselves very comfortable.

My two minutes are up. Later.

Posted by: CowTown | January 12, 2006 1:35 PM | Report abuse

Jeez, you people keep your thermostats high. We have a gas pack, and the thermostat is set to 68 when we're there, 62 during the weekdays when we're not, and 64 at night...My husband would have it cooler, but I'm sensitive to cold as it is...

Posted by: slyness | January 12, 2006 1:44 PM | Report abuse

You could say that my life has been profoundly affected by the price of heating oil. I lived in Boston for four years, a long time ago--during the "Energy Crisis" of the late 70's. Three years I lived in dorms and ignorance was bliss. Then I moved to an apartment. The deal with the heating oil was, you had to fill the tank and you had to pay cash. Scraping up that much cash in one pile was a major undertaking for my two roommates and me. We kept the apartment cold, and I really don't like to be cold. When graduation day arrived, I walked up to the podium, got the diploma, and within three hours I was on a Greyhound bus to Key West. I never bought heating oil again.

Posted by: Reader | January 12, 2006 1:57 PM | Report abuse

I ask my children to solve a small part of the problem of global warming problem by CLOSING THE DOOR WHEN YOU COME INSIDE!

Sorry to shout. Gas bill was $350 last month, and it wasn't all that cold for most of the month in Chicago. It was, owever, a month where kids were running in and out a lot.

When we built the house a few years ago, we paid extra for additional insulation (the only "blue" house in the neighborhood) and were the only people who had windows installed that made low-e glass look wasteful. We forgot about the kids and the incredible effort it takes to close the door.

Posted by: Dave R The Heat Bill Payer | January 12, 2006 2:05 PM | Report abuse

Dave R.;

Four words for you: Spring-loaded door closers. Go for the dump-truck suspension, industrial-strength springs if they like to stand in the open doorway conversing with those outside.

Posted by: Scottynuke | January 12, 2006 2:24 PM | Report abuse

I keep my thermostat set on the temperature that keeps my wife from complaining that it is too cold in the far upstairs bedroom. That is currently 72-74, which is a an arbitrary scale since the temperature at the thermostat has no precise relationship to the temperature upstairs. The poor central furnace is incapable of heating the ground floor family room to her tolerences. I keep an electric oil-filled space heater on all the time downstairs to just try to keep beverages from freezing in the container.

I do keep most of the upstairs vents nearly closed during the winter and then fully open in the summer to capture as much of the natural draft effect as possible in a three level townhouse.

And reader, I lived in West Palm Beach for two winters and never once flipped the switch from cooling to heating. I still wouldn't go back.

Posted by: yellojkt | January 12, 2006 2:25 PM | Report abuse

Another alternative to the door closer is the Advanced Taser M-18 with laser pointer. After rebate, it costs the same as a month's heating bill.

Without the laser, I suspect I would need to reload it more often.

I'll let the kids choose which one we purchase...

Posted by: Dave R | January 12, 2006 2:48 PM | Report abuse

RD, thanks for the dog tip. That's going straight into the column I'm working on. Might have to toss in a hamster joke. And mention a ferret, somehow.

Posted by: Achenbach | January 12, 2006 2:49 PM | Report abuse

ROCK SALT and living things.

Put salt on your skin and it will dessicate your skin- it absorbs moisture from it. Your skin doesn't shrivel up and your arm fall off because you do have a barrier to slow down water loss. Ditto for plants, although roots are designed to absorb water rather than resist water.

Your cells also can pump out excess chloride and other ions. But it is costly to "swim against the tide" and can only do so much. Unlike a tree, you can also remove the rock salt or wash it off with high volume of water.

Pity the plants. Rock salt around the roots will make the most stubborn tree or grass root croak within days.

Posted by: Wilbrod | January 12, 2006 2:49 PM | Report abuse

Remember, Achenbach - the bigger the dog, the more the (flammable) methane.

I have a 6-month old yellow lab pup, and I'm pretty sure I could heat an entire floor of the house just with the emissions.


Posted by: bc | January 12, 2006 3:10 PM | Report abuse

I should add here that when I want to crank the heat up, I just give the dog apples.


Posted by: bc | January 12, 2006 3:13 PM | Report abuse

I should further add that I offhandedly refer to it as a "Canine Miasma Convection" heating system.


Posted by: bc | January 12, 2006 3:16 PM | Report abuse

Shaywitz has kindly pointed us to the following story, which indicates that fraud may not be quite as rare as we think:

Posted by: Achenbach | January 12, 2006 3:39 PM | Report abuse

Strategically placed cats provide warmth and comforting sound effects (purring). It takes them awhile to settle down though. Puma turns around in circles at least 37 times before he finally plops down in the crook of my elbow. If I move before he dozes off, up he gets to repeat the cycle. Panda stands on my chest, stares for a moment or two, then licks my eyelids before taking his place at my feet. THen and only then am I allowed to turn over on my tummy and fall asleep.

mo would understand.

Posted by: Nani | January 12, 2006 3:42 PM | Report abuse

Joel- I clicked on your link and got this:


Your search session has expired.

Please make sure that cookies are enabled on your browser, then return to the search page and try again.
Please note that bookmarking of pages within the archive is not supported."

That's the way the cookie crumbles, I guess.


Posted by: bc | January 12, 2006 4:27 PM | Report abuse

I work for a public utility in the Southeast US and this is what we recommend:

Thermostat at 68 degrees and no higher. Off if you're gone from the house for 2 hrs or more. Extra blankets, socks, sweaters, etc, as needed.

You will pay an extra 4 % per degree over 68 for your heating costs; i.e., Thermostat at 70 is approximately a 10% higher bill, etc.

Additionally, natural gas prices have spiked here due to the Hurricanes; about triple, I'd say. And we're public, not private. The cost of fuel is passed on to the customer per the City Commission. It is costing the average residence 3 times the amount it did last year to heat their homes this winter, and gas prices are not expected to go down in the near future.

We are encouraging conservation to mitigate the charges, but for the elderly or those with children, such measures may not be entirely feasible.

Of course, being in the Southeast we have the blessing of reasonable weather. I do, however, worry about those who are on the lower end of the socio-economic scale.

Some of the bills I talk to customers about daily are truly frightening to behold.

Posted by: amo | January 12, 2006 4:34 PM | Report abuse

This link should work better; it's to a fascinating article that was in front page of Wed 1/11 Boston Globe.

Posted by: Shaywitz | January 12, 2006 5:38 PM | Report abuse

So much in the first two kits and boodles that I will never catch up. After scanning Biden's remarks I concluded they were worse than I had thought. Complete gibberish (personal opinion.) Whoever described the rarified atmosphere that US congresspeople exist in, was right on the money. You would think they could learn to speak/write in plain english.

You may be all responding to the next Kit but I thought I would answer the thermostat question. I have a cat who warms me up at night and is home during the day. Cats are not as big warmers as dogs but require less maintenance and the purring is an added bonus - you are right Nani. I keep the thermostat at 68 all the time because it is a "happy medium."

I live in the middle west where the winter in December was very cold but January has seemed like spring. It was 50 degrees today but snow is expected tomorrow. My personal heating bill has been $150 to $250 but some of that is based on "estimated billing." (They estimate usuage every other month and bill accordingly.) My home is a single family ranch type.

I work in an office where the landlord pays the heating bill and we keep the thermostat at 70-72. Since the building is surrounded by others on three sides the heat is contained.

I will pass on the science questions for the present. (I was a botany major in college -long ago - but never learned about rock salt and tree roots.)


Posted by: boondocklurker | January 13, 2006 4:46 AM | Report abuse

I concur that the Democrats did not present themselves well. The real story however should've been Alito's evasiveness. Typically, the media coverage was a disgrace. Focusing on Biden, Alito's wife crying in response to a REPUBLICAN Senator, not the questioning of Democrats as was implied by the press.

Finally, why so much coverage on Biden and hardly a peep about Senator Lindsey Graham assisting in Alito's preparation while simultaneously serving as one of his inquisitors on the Judiciary Committee? Where is the outrage? He should have recused himself. Vintage Republican arrogance and hypocrissy.

Posted by: Intrepid Liberal | January 13, 2006 8:10 AM | Report abuse

Joel -

I am an economist, and I don't know the price of anything. I go to the store and buy what looks tasty at that moment. I don't know the price, and don't even follow the carefully written list that my wife sent along. She usually writes it on a sticky pad, which I place on the cart's handle, which the 2-year old invariably plays with and drops while I'm searching for the freshest ice cream ... or checking to see what new candy bars have been invented.

I usually notice the heating bill once or twice a year when I review family finances. It's outrageous, of course, but hardly compares with all other things. Like this one: "Mortgage payment" ... who authorized that monster??? I'm still trying to make the case that piano lessons are too expensive, but my bi-weekly grocery shenanigans and hundreds of dollars of unused Home Depot repair stuff stacked on the workbench isn't helping.

I had a buddy in the Air Force who was terible with money, and didn't care. He was from the South, and absolutely hated the winter, so would keep his thermostat at 90. He hung out in his apartment, sweating & in boxers all through February. Ha.

Posted by: Kane | January 13, 2006 11:24 AM | Report abuse

As a scientist, I agree that editor-in-chief Kennedy does not sound contrite. But he's not being arrogant either. He's being honest. It is not the job of journals to verify that what they are publishing is not fraudulent. In fact, there is no real way that they could prevent that. The only way to detect fraud is by doing experiments. If you can replicate the experiment, then it is not fraud. Journals don't have labs on hand to do this sort of thing.

I think it is a popular misconception that scientific journals publish only things that have been judged to be true. This is incorrect. Scientific journals publish things that have been judged to be interesting. They are an invitation to the scientific world to read their observations and test them to see if they are true. A single paper does not create a field of research. It may stimulate the thoughts of others to create a field of research.

This example of Hwang fraudulently claiming the creation of stem cells from patient-derived cells is not merely a story about fraud. It is also a success story. Seldom is such high-profile fraud detected and brought to light so quickly. In the past, this sort of thing has taken several years to come to light. This fraud was caught in months.

Posted by: Greg | January 13, 2006 3:23 PM | Report abuse

JK wrote:
"Not looking so good is the excellent journal Science, which published two bogus studies by Hwang. Donald Kennedy, the editor-in-chief, has issued a statement saying the journal will re-examine its publication policies, though the take-home message seems (to my unscientific ear) to be that the journal has no way to stop a hoax like this."


Maybe, just maybe the world will finally not bite into this "Science is only about Facts" rhetoric.

Then, maybe just maybe, folks will start questioning things like the "Big Bang" and "Evolution" as well (like how they're doing classifications -- ain't scientific; nor how they fudged on the "Big Bang" to make it work (got to have dark matter/dark energy to explain it, though we have no ability to even know it exists!).

Too many don't know they're classifying humanoid remains by guesswork. Nor that the Big Bang was refuted long ago, and astro-physicists that haven't bitten the apple, have/are questioning the "science" in a theory that keeps changing -- not on sound evidence, but to keep some egos high and dry instead. The pressure to confirm in the scientific community is so high now, if you have an alternate theory that is based on sound observation and testing, you'll still get literal eggs thrown at you -- since you angered the Establishment (the same one that doesn't police their manuscripts for fakes, but just assumes by credituals and academic ties the data is sound, instead).

So often folks are brainwashed to believe someone with a Ph.D or MD is right 100% of the time, and those who question their methods to quantify their claims are "ignorant". One must be a same colleague to question their theories (even though it takes nothing to run through the data and find the fraud -- anyone could do it if they knew what to look for). But the world only let the foxes guard the hen house, we're are only going to get more Piltdown Man style hoaxes.

Always question, don't take everything that's said as "the truth" at face value. Investigate, and check the pros and cons and make up your own mind -- despite the pressure to confirm to obey the scientific "Establishment" wholesale.

Oh, this is so much a pet peeve of mine!


Posted by: SandyK | January 21, 2006 10:34 AM | Report abuse

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