Winnowing MMXXI

by reestheskin on 13/02/2021

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Canada pushes abundant PhD graduates towards industry needs | Times Higher Education (THE)

Canada’s universities need to adjust their doctoral degree programmes to help make their swelling surplus of PhD graduates more attractive to industry, a government-chartered assessment has concluded.

Perhaps they need fewer PhDs. And as for how to make a bad situation worse:

Universities, meanwhile, should keep adjusting the content of their doctoral degree programmes to include skills in management, teamwork and communication that are valued by companies, the experts say.

David Hubel, a Canadian by birth, and a Nobel Laureate, wrote that one of the advantages of having an MD was that — in those days, but not now — you didn’t need to do a PhD. Like many so many of his ideas about doing science, he was spot-on. I was delighted to have got through in the wonderful bad-old days, managing to avoid this credential.

Its just business

Australian universities in ‘deep trouble’ as borders stay closed | Times Higher Education (THE)

Simon Marginson, professor of higher education at the University of Oxford, said in 2018 that Australia was poised to overtake the UK as the second most popular global destination for international students in 2019. However, speaking to Times Higher Education, he said it was now “impossible to see that position being restored.…in fact, Australia may not recover market share in the longer run”.

He goes on:

My sense is that international education in Australia is in deep, deep trouble. That means higher education is in deep trouble and scientific research is in equally deep trouble because this is heavily financed from international student fees.

One commentator on this report states:

Australian Universities are at a cross-roads and along with them the huge international education market (our 3rd biggest export industry), yet our politicians are doing nothing… It is unimaginable that any other large export industry would be so conscientiously ignored. [emphasis added].

Rich DeMillo describes higher education as a multisided marketplace. It is a feature of our age that cross-subsidies within such marketplaces will come under strain. If you want to do research, you need to fund it; if you want high-quality teaching, you have to fund it on its merit. No free lunch.


Precisely what?

Precision medicine in rheumatology: are we getting closer? — The Lancet

One of the things that led me to become disenchanted with much of modern medical genetics was the hype that was necessary to secure funding. Genetics is a great way to do biology, but biology is not synonymous with medicine; advance in one does not necessarily follow from the other.

And personally speaking, the best reason for the study of modern human genetics was to tell the story of humanity — how we got here, and what is our story. It is sad that there is no Nobel for biology.

Precision medicine is another (IMHO) bullshit phrase. Read this recent Lancet article (link above):

The overarching aim of precision (also referred to as personalised) medicine is to identify the best possible management approach for an individual with a certain disease. The main prerequisite for such an approach is the identification of characteristics linked to a favourable outcome of a certain treatment. The characteristics of interests might be clinical or molecular biomarkers or identified through imaging, allowing for stratification of patients and prediction of response. The size of the strata might range from big subgroups covering a substantial proportion of patients to individual patients.

But medicine has always worked this way. You don’t give children the same dose of drugs as adults; you don’t treat all cases of psoriasis the same way. And as for biomarkers, well, over a century ago there was the H&E project (H&E standing for the two most common dyes used in diagnostic histopathology), a discovery that still predicts outcomes better than all those wonderful machines in the Sanger centre (and they are wonderful).

And then in Science I read:

A genome to celebrate | Science

The completion of the draft sequence laid the foundation for a new precision medicine paradigm that aims to use a person’s unique genetic profile to guide decisions about the treatment and prevention of disease. We have already seen some signs that precision medicine is possible, and although off to a slow start, the promise of this approach may ultimately be realized.…. Given the pace at which breakthroughs based on the human genome sequence are happening, when we next commemorate the publication of the draft human genome sequence, be it at 25, 30, or 50 years, we may look back again, realize that this accomplishment was a watershed for the biological sciences, and marvel at how far we have come in such a short period of time. [emphasis added].

We might indeed, but the phrasing reminds me of the celebrations that used to surround a grant being awarded, rather a discovery made. I, too, should confess on this point.

Please, oh please, a little modesty and perspective. We are not in sales.

That Welshman

Here is something more solid and sustaining; something where the purpose of language is to communicate and not to shill.

I have been reading Nye Bevan’s biography by Nicklaus Thomas-Symonds. Here is an excerpt from a speech Bevan made in 1959.

I have enough faith in my fellow creatures in Great Britain to believe that when they have got over the delirium of the television, when they realize that their new homes that they have been put into are mortgaged to the hilt, when they realize that the moneylender has been elevated to the highest position in the land, when they realize that the refinements for which they should look are not there, that it is a vulgar society of which no person could be proud, when they realize all those things, when the years go by and they see the challenge of modern society not being met by the Tories who can consolidate their political powers only on the basis of national mediocrity, who are unable to exploit the resources of their scientists because they are prevented by the greed of their capitalism from doing so, when they realize that the flower of our youth goes abroad today because they are not being given opportunities of using their skill and their knowledge properly at home, when they realize that all the tides of history are flowing in our direction, that we are not beaten, that we represent the future: then, when we say it and mean it, then we shall lead our people to where they deserve to be led.