Andy writes:

Hi everyone,

I actually would have preferred if my aside about number of publications had not been read on air. As Kathy said, I simply had wanted to provide some actual data to back up my claim that it is not necessary to work insane hours to succeed at research — my apologies, I should have been more clear! The other factors I mentioned, like failing fast, not devoting copious time to risky projects, not putting all your eggs in one basket, and passion for science, are, in my experience, much more important!

Also Vincent was right, I meant “George Church” not “Jon Church” — I guess I had Jon on the brain from Jon Yewdell!

Perhaps these Science “Ask Me Anything” interviews would make a good listener pick! Though the best interviews can be found right here on TWiV, TWiM, and all your other wonderful podcasts!

Thanks again for inspiring me countless times throughout grad school!

Rebecca writes:

Hi TWIV team!

I’m writing because I’ve heard you all read several letters from prospective graduate students, and I have a link which they might find helpful. My sister, Beth Bowman, PhD, is the Assistant Director of the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program for Biomedical Research at Vanderbilt University. Because her job is focused on recruiting graduate students, she has developed a very helpful blog for future and current students, which is called Materials and Methods, and can be found at One of the main goals of this blog is to help prospective graduate students understand what recruiters are looking for in applications. Beth wants all interested students to understand how to successfully apply for grad school and get relevant experience in a lab as early as possible. Beth has a real passion for reaching as many future scientists as possible, and I hope your listeners find this blog helpful.

Keep up the great work on a very informative podcast!  Thanks!


Brian writes:

Dear TWiVers,

I am an Assistant Professor in the Biochemistry & Molecular Pharmacology Dept at UMass Medical School in Worcester MA. It is a lovely -2° C outside, and I just returned to my warm house from snowblowing our first 7 inches of the year.

I am writing in regards to the conversation you had with John and Teddy Yewdell (TWIV467) about the number of PhD trainees going through the pipeline. It was generally agreed by the guests and the TWiV panel that there are too many PhD trainees going through the pipeline and that this number should be reduced. While I think that we as a community should pay attention to this number, I feel that we should not be turning away students who want to become thoughtful, rigorous scientists.

Simple math tells us that there are clearly not enough faculty positions to satisfy the number of PhD trainees going through the pipeline. However, a PhD in the biomedical sciences is much more useful than just simply as a step toward getting a faculty position. As many folks have shown (Alan Dove being one of them) a PhD in biomedical sciences can be used for a myriad of important and satisfying careers, such as biotech, education, policy etc. Surely having more scientists in the world is a good thing, especially in government or policymaking. I often think that my scientific skills could benefit the world more if I were on Capitol Hill, rather than in my own lab, especially in these dark ages of Trumpish know-nothingism.

I agree with the panel that the current academic landscape builds unreasonable expectations for trainees. But I propose a different solution than limiting enrollment in PhD programs. I recommend two concrete, actionable steps that can be taken at the academic level to improve the science pipeline. My proposals will help destigmatize non-faculty positions, as many current trainees view attainment of a faculty position as ‘success’ and anything else as failure. This destigmatization would possibly be the most important thing toward addressing the career problems for biomedical PhDs.

First, undergraduates should be informed as to the rate of obtaining a faculty career in biological sciences (currently < 10%), before they enter graduate school. This should occur in undergrad classrooms. Likewise, graduate schools should publicize the rate of PhDs who enter the research faculty ranks during grad student recruitment. If students are armed with the percent probability of attaining a faculty position, then they can accurately assess whether pursuit of a faculty position is a risk worth taking.

Second, graduate schools must incorporate career skills and planning directly into their curriculum. This type of integrated curriculum can educate grad students as to the various careers that are available to them, and then help them plan for their career choices. Students should be exposed to PhD scientists in a myriad of professions, so that they can obtain knowledge, inspiration, and mentorship. These career programs need to come from the University rather than individual faculty, because faculty such as myself simply don’t have the skills or knowledge in these non-faculty careers to properly navigate trainees through this process.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that UMass Med School already has a world-class career planning program in place. (Perhaps the esteemed Alan Dove could be a career panelist?) About 5 years ago, the University began programs to integrate career and professional development skills into the curriculum. The program has been wildly successful. Students have been enthusiastic and the program receives extremely high grades in student evaluations. The program also functions as an effective tool for recruiting top students. Additionally, the program has benefited training grant and fellowship applications.

Despite the success and obvious benefits, not all faculty have bought into the program. Interestingly, the faculty who oppose the program are not senior faculty, but a small and vocal group of junior faculty. Their argument is that the training in career planning is wasting time that the students could spend at the bench, getting data for grants and papers so that these junior faculty can get tenure. While I empathize with the Sisyphean struggle for funding and publishing, I feel that this ‘eat-our-young’ attitude only perpetuates the problems plaguing the biomedical research enterprise. I can only hope that my note helps TWiV listeners value career diversification of PhD scientists, so that we can start the process of saving biomedical research.

Thanks again for the wonderful shows! My commute is not complete without a TWiX episode!

Best regards,

Brian Kelch

Assistant Professor, UMassMed School

Mark writes:

Dear DR KAV (Dickson, Richard, Kathy, Alan, Vincent),

I thought you might bring your attention to this website, maybe for a listener pick.

I haven’t watched the film yet. It’s not free. But he website speaks to what comes up in your discussions on anti-science and pseudoscience topics. Mostly it’s in defence of GMO foods. What’s your stance on that? Maybe you have discussed it on your other podcasts, I’m sorry but I only listen to TWIV at the moment.

Thanks for all you do.



PS I have a Listener pick

I recommend the Science of HIV website ( hosted by the University of Utah’s Dr. Janet Iwasa. Janet obtained her PhD in Cell Biology at UCSF, and is now working as a molecular animator and artist. She takes complex biological phenomena and renders them in 3D using similar techniques as Hollywood animation studios such as Pixar and Dreamworks. Her Science of HIV website illustrates the very complex life cycle of HIV as a teaching tool for educators, as well as a hypothesis generator for researchers.

PPS Janet would be a fantastic guest on TWiV as well; her story is awesome. TWiEVO’s Nels Elde is a colleague of Janet’s and I’m sure could vouch for her awesomeness.

Hannah writes:

Hello TWIV Team,

I’ve been listening to the ongoing discussion about work-life balance in academic research. As someone who left academia, I thought I’d share my perspective, if only to counter the survivorship bias.

I’ve loved learning about science ever since I was a little girl. I fondly remember being five years old asking my mom to read to me from ‘The Big Book of Tell Me Why’ or waking up at 6:00 in the morning to watch ‘Mr. Wizard’s World’. As I grew up, I also got into computer programming. I studied computer science in college with plenty of biology courses on the side. As much as I enjoyed learning, my focus on academics at the expense of everything else took its toll. I was exhausted.

However, I was also young and naive with no experience with failure. Don’t laugh, but I somehow convinced myself that I could pursue a PhD in computational biology and arrange my schedule to have more free time. Grad school would be a fresh start. I would focus only on my best subjects. Nobody said I COULDN’T keep my studies to a 40 hour work week. As you can imagine, that didn’t work too well. It became impossible to balance teaching, coursework and research with the free time I needed to maintain my mental health. It was a painful realization.

In the end, it all worked out for me. I now have a great job working on software for the healthcare industry. Still, I can’t help but feel a little sad and bitter over the high pressure ‘publish or perish’ culture in academia. I think it would be better if there were a non-PI job track for people who want science to be their career but not necessarily the central focus of their lives.

I hope you’ll forgive some negativity from this ‘disgruntled former PhD student’. In any case, I’m grateful to have the TWI-series podcasts to teach me about so many fascinating biological topics. It’s inspirational how all of you maintain such passion for your work and still have energy left over to educate others with these great podcasts.

Thank you for all your work,


P.S. The weather north of Boston is a cool 3 degrees F, -16 degrees C with clear skies and a wind chill advisory. Well, that’s fine with me as long as I don’t have to go out and shovel snow!


Abraham writes:

An article by Sir Timothy Gowers,


Assistant Professor

Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science

Chaim writes:

Since this has come up several times on TWiV…



Greg writes:

Dear TWIV,

As lawyer working in tech with a background in microbiology, I would like to respond to Sam (TWIV 468). Because policy is made at all levels of government, understanding  science and the scientific process is important to government workers. We often speak of the fifty states as laboratories of law and policy, but government rarely acts in ways reflecting the scientific process.

If you are interested in helping officials make better policy, please offer your assistance to local government and provide science based guidance. Perhaps more of our governmental laboratories will draft regulation that evaluates results based on a stated intent and makes recommendations for further changes.

Thank you, TWIV, for the great work!

Greg in rainy Seattle

Anthony writes:

United States bans most government scientists from travel to Cuba

By Richard Stone Nov. 28, 2017 ,


The United States’s “new hostile policy towards Cuba undermines confidence” in joint research, says Luis Montero-Cabrera, a chemist at the University of Havana. The Trump administration, adds John Van Horn, a neuroscientist at the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles, “has likely shut the door to many U.S.-Cuban interactions.”

The toxic political atmosphere injects uncertainty into several budding initiatives. One focuses on arboviruses, mosquito-borne pathogens that include the Zika, chikungunya, and dengue viruses. After a call for proposals on arbovirus research with Cuba, the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) approved in June four 1-year grants, each paying up to $50,000. Modest by U.S. standards, the grants—administered by CRDF Global, a nonprofit in Arlington, Virginia—are a bonanza for Cuban scientists, who have scarce resources for research. IPK won all four grants, including studies of dengue immunity and tests of the Wolbachia bacterium’s ability to tamp down arbovirus transmission.

Josh writes:

Vincent and company-

This was just released on Pubmed today (see below).

This seems to be speculation at best. The sample size is too low. I can’t believe a reputable journal such as “Vaccine” would publish this…there is no prior evidence of this at all. Now every anti-vaxer is going to quote this paper.

Compelling Earth-shattering claims require compelling Earth-shattering data…I just don’t see that here.

Vaccine. 2017 Sep 25;35(40):5314-5322. doi: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2017.06.069.

Association of spontaneous abortion with receipt of inactivated influenza vaccine containing H1N1pdm09 in 2010-11 and 2011-12.

Donahue JG1, Kieke BA2, King JP3, DeStefano F4, Mascola MA5, Irving SA6, Cheetham TC7, Glanz JM8, Jackson LA9, Klein NP10, Naleway AL11, Weintraub E12, Belongia EA13.


Inactivated influenza vaccine is recommended in any stage of pregnancy, but evidence of safety in early pregnancy is limited, including for vaccines containing A/H1N1pdm2009 (pH1N1) antigen. We sought to determine if receipt of vaccine containing pH1N1 was associated with spontaneous abortion (SAB).


We conducted a case-control study over two influenza seasons (2010-11, 2011-12) in the Vaccine Safety Datalink. Cases had SAB and controls had live births or stillbirths and were matched on site, date of last menstrual period, and age. Of 919 potential cases identified using diagnosis codes, 485 were eligible and confirmed by medical record review. Exposure was defined as vaccination with inactivated influenza vaccine before the SAB date; the primary exposure window was the 1-28 days before the SAB.


The overall adjusted odds ratio (aOR) was 2.0 (95% CI, 1.1-3.6) for vaccine receipt in the 28-day exposure window; there was no association in other exposure windows. In season-specific analyses, the aOR in the 1-28 days was 3.7 (95% CI 1.4-9.4) in 2010-11 and 1.4 (95% CI 0.6-3.3) in 2011-12. The association was modified by influenza vaccination in the prior season (post hoc analysis). Among women who received pH1N1-containing vaccine in the previous influenza season, the aOR in the 1-28 days was 7.7 (95% CI 2.2-27.3); the aOR was 1.3 (95% CI 0.7-2.7) among women not vaccinated in the previous season. This effect modification was observed in each season.


SAB was associated with influenza vaccination in the preceding 28 days. The association was significant only among women vaccinated in the previous influenza season with pH1N1-containing vaccine. This study does not and cannot establish a causal relationship between repeated influenza vaccination and SAB, but further research is warranted.

Joshua D. Powell, PhD

Principal Research Scientist, Biomarker Services

Life Sciences Research

Steve writes: (from October)

TWiVaa: Kree!

That’s about all I heard on this week’s TWiV, between the bit about the need to be clear and avoid jargon, and the letters and weekly tips!‎ 🙂 :/

That aside: from your pick, I didn’t know it was actually legal to make one’s own gunpowder and fireworks even in the UK!  I could understand such a nonchalant attitude to dangerous materials in the weapons-obsessed USA, but was surprised to find it here too.  It’s quite bad enough that I hear fireworks almost every night now, when they only used to be allowed on, or around, Guy Fawkes’ night.‎ I’ve often wondered how this came to be allowed.

As an ex chemist, I like to keep a basic selection of chemicals for various cleaning and other household chore and DIY purposes, and I had noticed, independently, when buying these materials, how I was often offered the opportunity to buy additional chemicals and solvents that could be mixed with them to make some pretty obvious explosives. I had kept quiet about it, through not wishing to draw attention, and, less altruistically, through not wanting to shut down sources of decent quantities of plain basic ingredients that would be hard to get in ordinary shops, at reasonable prices.

It comes as some surprise to find that it is being taken so lightly even in the UK. I was already concerned enough by the ease with which people seem to be able to obtain fireworks all year round. You’d think that at least the fire brigades and insurance cos would be complaining!   Whilst the sensationalisation that apparently took place in the media over ‘black powder’ (I did not see this), is to be regretted, I think that people are being much too casual about allowing the home production of incendiary devices: they might not have to be big to be used as effective weapons, and, if one’s ball mill were to catch fire, it would be very difficult to put out. (Incidentally, I used to work in a place that machined magnesium alloy parts, and the local fire brigade once came and asked for some swarf, so that they could learn how to handle a fire of it. They set light to some in a bucket and could not put it out. So should people–children?– be buying magnesium ribbon and making their own thermite at home?  

And one only has to look at what has been achieved so far in the Ukraine this year with the use of small drones and incendiary devices: three ammunition dumps taken out so far!

As I’m housebound, I would not want to lose the ability to buy useful chemical compounds and solvents from Amazon, but one also needs to allow for the destructive mentality of most of the postal services that deliver them. It is the norm that anything that can be damaged, will be deliberately kicked and thrown about until that has been achieved. Most of the time, the packages they are throwing about and piling up together, and then holding in their arms, are not labelled as to what is inside. I now try to make sure not to order incompatible things at the same time, as you simply never know how they are going to be packed, combined, and handled.

I have been handed battered boxes that had a bottle of concentrated sulphuric acid drain cleaner, inside, along with other items‎ that it could have set on fire if the cowboys had managed to burst it. When I have had to carry this in the past, it has been in a special carrying frame, and was held well away from my body, and I still got holes in my clothes!  I also once had both the liquid ingredients of a popular explosive (before I knew‎ about that explosive) delivered in the same cardboard box. 🙁

I have been handed a flimsy envelope containing a box of laundry powder, with the contents visibly seen on the postwoman’s hands, and on the other letters she was holding–this because the small box inside had been punctured through the external packaging. This was relatively harmless, but it could have been anything!  Imagine what a postman could do if they got conc sulphuric on their hands whilst out on their rounds, or it got onto the rest of their load and set it on fire?   The answer is: not much before they were badly burned. What if this load contained other ‘not to worry’ chemicals like potassium nitrate or chlorine bleaches? What if they got cyanide powder on their fingers while eating sweets?

Maybe I’ll regret writing this, but, the way Amazon and its affiliates (and, to be fair, all the other mail order suppliers as well) allow things to be packaged and then delivered‎ by reckless cowboys who treat every package as a harmless football, regularly has me both angry at the pointless destruction (I once received a strip light that had been broken in half to get it in the box.) and fearful for the harm that must surely have come to at least some of the hapless postpeople.

The blog is right to decry the way news is routinely sensationalised, and that ridiculous stories are taking over due to the ‘need’ to chase clicks in order to attract infernal advertisers, but the writer appears not to have much experience of buying things mail order, or he would not invite people to take things so lightly.

(I have quite a collection of pictures of routinely bashed up parcels I’ve received, but can only get at the one with the laundry powder, on this device–attached.‎)

One other thing, re those ads that take up the whole screen so you can’t get around them. There are various ‘reader’ apps and add-ons that you can get, that just show you the text and the thumbnails of the in-article pictures. I’ve used Readability‎ for years, but it is not being maintained any more–though I think it still works. On my BlackBerry, I could not seriously use the web without the Readability app that’s built in. Whenever pages take time to load, or one of those infernal log in screens, cookie requests, or other ads take up the whole screen, I just press ‘R’ to get the article I’m trying to read, neatly reformatted to minimise screening down. It’s totally brilliant! There are similar ones built in to pc versions of Firefox–I expect there must be Apple versions as well.  Another way to get around the page blocking ads or nags is to turn off javascript while you’re on the offending page (this often gets round log ins too, but don’t tell anyone!).

All the best,


In Luton, England, where it is warm, wet, and windy, but this is much appreciated compared with what the elements have been throwing the USA’s way lately. :/

Steve writes:

Brilliant and highly important and relevant paper from Karl Popper in 1983 in BMJ, that shows why the PACE and SMILE ‘researchers’ won’t admit they are wrong: it’s because they are *medical* doctors.‎

This is an important point for those considering work produced by the new trend towards MD PHDs. A pure scientist can afford to be wrong and may welcome a negative finding as much as a positive‎: but a *medical* doctor is *expected to be right* and can get into serious trouble if he’s wrong.

This explains everything.

I would suggest that this paper should be required reading for research scientists generally, but compulsory for any doctors thinking of going into medical research, and scientists going into medical practice.

It also needs to be read and understood by medical journalists and others reading scientific papers produced by medical professionals. This is a powerful subliminal and professional conflict of interest that is not currently being recognised or addressed‎.

Scientists can be wrong: Medical professionals are not allowed to be. This has serious implications for the body of research generated by medical profession‎als, and explains why they won’t give up on ideas which, in Popperian terms: they *cannot* prove right, but they may *have* proved false, many times, and refused to see it, or even covered it up as an ‘artifact’, or statistical anomaly.

Popper’s idea was that a scientific theory is one that *must be falsifiable*, and that research is the *attempt to falsify it*:   but these are *medical* doctors, and they think entirely the other way around. The CBT lot will never stop trying to prove themselves right. And that is because they are not scientists.

Happy Christmas,

Steve Hawkins



PS: Prof Racaniello: would you consider posting this paper as a science pick of the week on TWiV? It really is brilliantly presented, and is just as right now as it was in 1983, and, indeed, as Popper points out, it was as the turn of the 19th century, when Florence Nightingale brought up the same shortcomings of the profession. (Derived from its origins as a licenced ‘guild’, as I have argued myself.).