Monthly Archives: December 2010

Going into ‘Michael mode’

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According to Christopher Toh, talking with producer Teddy Riley about working with Michael Jackson,

Riley first worked with Jackson on the latter’s 1991 Dangerous album, and infused the New Jack Swing style – which Riley has been credited with – into the songs. Despite already making a name for himself as a producer and a member of the group Guy, Riley said he was still intimidated.

“I was very intimidated at first, but I got through it,” said Riley, about having to work with Jackson for the first time. After all, Jackson previously had a successful run with producer Quincy Jones, who produced Off The Wall, Thriller – which bagged eight Grammy awards – and Bad; before Jackson decided he wanted to try something new with his sound and roped the likes of Bill Bottrel and Riley in.

Still, said Riley, things got better as the days went by. “It became smooth sailing after a while. And I rolled with the punches. He taught me how to be strong and hold my own. He taught me how to work with him.”

And as for artistic conflicts, Riley said that the good thing about Jackson was that he knew what he wanted. “When it came to working. I just kind of went into ‘Michael mode’, in terms of putting the songs and putting everything on it. ‘Michael mode’ is very intense. It’s no holds barred – you just reach for the sky. You do not accept nothing less than great. And you have to be strong.”

and

“My biggest lesson, as far as learning from working with Michael – and knowing him and being a friend of his – is stay strong on what you feel is right, and stay hungry and stay humble,” said producer Teddy Riley over the phone from London. “It will bring you a long way.”

The Sagan effect

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According to Scott Mandia

Dean also commented that there is no reward for speaking to the press and often scientists can become “Saganized” by appearing too mainstream. (Astronomer Carl Sagan was snubbed by the scientific community after he became famous for his television appearances and his writing. This was a central theme in Unscientific America.) In a recent survey, only 3% of scientists routinely speak to the press and 75% state that they never speak to the press. Conover mentioned that when a few of his marine scientists began publicizing their work, they were somewhat ostracized by their science peers. Unfortunately, the Sagan Effect is still alive and well.

Not much evidence for efficacy of flu vaccines

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Consider two Cochran Reviews.

The first, regarding “Vaccines for preventing influenza in healthy adults”, concludes

Influenza vaccines have a modest effect in reducing influenza symptoms and working days lost. There is no evidence that they affect complications, such as pneumonia, or transmission.

The second, regarding “Vaccines for preventing influenza in the elderly”, concludes

The available evidence is of poor quality and provides no guidance regarding the safety, efficacy or effectiveness of influenza vaccines for people aged 65 years or older. To resolve the uncertainty, an adequately powered publicly-funded randomised, placebo-controlled trial run over several seasons should be undertaken.

Confidential letters of recommendation for academic hiring and promotions

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According to Lee Smolin

Like many academics, I spend a lot of time writing and reading confidential letters of recommendation; such secret information is the core of our system of hiring and promotions. Is this really the wisest way to inform our bets on who is going to do important science? The claim is that the advice you get is more honest than it would be in a system of open assessments, but is this really the case? The information one wants is often in the confidential letters, but so is a lot of exaggeration, bias and sloppiness, that would not survive some transparency. There is also the slowdown in the rate of progress due to the power differential which arises when older academics are confidentially evaluating the work of people significantly younger.

A system of open evaluations, in which candidates are allowed to see what is written about them, would take some getting used to, but it might lead to wiser decisions at less of a cost of time. I would also guess that a system of open evaluations would be weighed more favorably towards independent thinkers who do high risk/high payoff science than the present system, which, by its emphasis on confidential evaluations by senior scientists, is weighed towards scientists who follow well established research programs.