Saturday 29 August 2015


Last Thursday of August was the 2015 VIBE meeting held in Dublin City U.  Last year The Institute hosted this annual meeting of the Virtual Institute for Bioinformatics and Evolution because the year before in Galway, I had loudly volunteered to make it happen. Hosting a national meeting was one of the criteria that got me promoted from Assistant Lecturer to a higher payscale; indeed I was personally congratulated on the event by our President. The organisers of VIBE 2015 did away with the poster session and substituted it with a section between coffee and lunch of flash-5 talks.  This is a five minute opportunity for a young researcher to lay out their stall of preliminary data for feedback from the community.  I was delighted that one of my final-year students presented the results of her project work supplemented by a 12 week work-placement in my old lab in TCD. She has some interesting findings that give us a hypothesis to test and it's all about marine mammals which are, if not exactly cuddly, at least recognisable by everyone in the room.  Lots of feedback, therefore: almost certainly more than if she'd been required to stand by her poster through all the coffee breaks.  I thought that flash-5 talks were a radical and positive change in the workings of the conference but it turned out that the poster-session was cancelled because a different conference elsewhere on the DCU campus had commandeered all the poster-display boards.

The first full talk of the day was a substantive piece of work by a DCU graduate student who is clearly going to go far - at least as far as Leeds because his boss is brain-draining from the country next month. But I wish someone would tell him about its vs it's because he got it wrong in the title slide of his talk and there are enough apostrophe nazis in the room and they notice these things and it makes them more critical of the work. It shouldn't matter but it does and it's better to learn the rules than annoy potential employers, grant-reviewers and paper-referees.  One of the many things I learned from Bob Tamarin, one of my mentors in graduate school, was that you wear a suit and tie to interviews . . . because it shows that you keen enough on the job to go through with such conventions.

Looking beneath the hood it's easy to find gross spelling errors which show that the authors couldn't be arsed to proof-read their manuscript. If you look for "psuedogene AND pseudogene" on Pubmed or Google Scholar you get hundreds of hits including one from Nature. If nobody on the team has picked up those errors then you should be double-plus skeptical that they've labelled the axes of their graphs correctly.  Years ago, I put together a list of these bloops as an exercise for learning how to use PubMed: lenght, developement, chromotin and chromasome are all wrong contra convention.

I've got a pal in Manchester who wrote The Book on Bioinformatics. It was almost more trouble than it was worth.  She wrote the book easily enough because she had been teaching a course on the subject for a few years and more or less transcribed her notes and illustrations.  The pain came in getting it published by an American company. She was a tiny bit on the unbending side as you probably have to be successful as a women in science: if you don't have some backbone, lesser blokes will gallop through you for a short-cut. It came down, at one point to a termination war: she wrote realise, they corrected to realize and she decorrected the proofs.  As the deadline approached, some idiot did a global-search-and-replace s/ise$/ize$/ and it went off to print; including the phrase "it is no good being wize after the event". If the bard himself couldn't be bothered to spell correctly, how come know-nothing copy editors feel they can do it better than the author?

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