Archive for the ‘Site Maintenance’ Category

Road Trip

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

Oh. Hello there.

Once again, apologies for the dearth of posting. I’d promise it’ll never happen again, but it’ll probably happen again…

Anyway, after a nine-day road trip through seven states in one car with a fiancée and a confused dog, I am happy to report:

1) I am still engaged
2) I’ve arrived in St. Louis


We took our move as an opportunity to explore some of the country’s national parks, and it was grand. It was also impossible to escape chemistry along our journey. One of the early exits on Interstate 70 in western Colorado was labeled simply “Sulphur”. Unfortunately, I was driving and could not snap a picture, but the sign looked almost exactly like this one in Oklahoma. The town made me think of Stuart Cantrill, the chief editor of Nature Chemistry, who penned a whole editorial about why the journal uses “sulfur” instead of (the typical British spelling of) “sulphur”. I guess the reach of IUPAC’s iron fist does not extend to the American West?

Despite dropping the ball on Sulphur, we did get a picture of the exit for Leadville and Copper Mountain:

Leadville and Copper Mountain Exit


Leadville is a mining town named after the lead-silver deposits that impeded extraction of gold in local mines. There was also an exit near the city for Silver Plume. The periodic table is quite popular in Colorado.

Finally, here are some non-chemical photos of our journey. I highly recommend visiting our national parks; they are amazing.

Joshua Tree National Park, California:

Joshua Tree National Park


Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona:

Grand Canyon National Park 1

Grand Canyon National Park 2

Canyonlands National Park, Utah:

Canyonlands National Park

Arches National Park, Utah:

Arches National Park 1

Colorado (Along Interstate 25):

Colorado Interstate 25

Dodge City, Kansas:

Boot Hill at Dodge City

ChemBark Headquarters Moving to St. Louis

Sunday, July 21st, 2013

My apologies for the lack of posting over the past week—ChemBark’s international headquarters is in the midst of a move from the Los Angeles area to Midtown St. Louis, Missouri.

ChemBark Moving to St. Louis

Stay tuned; regular posting will resume soon.

Anonymous, Negative, and Personal Comments

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

ChemBark Logo with Ed the DogA big “thank you” to everyone who leaves comments on the site. They add so much value to the blog, and they make writing posts much more fun for me. I love a good debate, and I know there are a lot of quiet lurkers out there who appreciate the comments, too.

When leaving comments, you don’t have to enter anything in the name, e-mail, or website fields if you don’t want to. I have also avoided making commenters log in with a profile of some sort, because I find this practice annoying and it often doesn’t work on mobile devices. As a consequence, I have to use a spam blocker to filter out comments that look like they might be spam. It does a good job—blocking about 200 or so bad comments per day—but occasionally some slip through, which I delete later by hand. The filter also occasionally blocks comments that are legitimate. So, if you post a comment and you don’t see it pop up immediately when you refresh your browser, send an e-mail to paul -at- and I will fish it out of the garbage. There is no need to re-write your comment.

Speaking of comments, I have some housekeeping to take care of in the form of two new ground rules.

Ground Rule 14: “Unspecific or similarly vacuous negative comments by unidentifiable users may be deleted or censored.”

I have discussed before why I allow anonymous commenting on this site, and as I said above, your comment will still post even if you leave the name, e-mail, and website fields blank. While I don’t plan to make it a habit of censoring comments, I am going to add a ground rule that unsubstantiated negative comments from anonymous or unknown pseudonymous users will be deleted. Comments along these lines could be:

“John Public is a crappy teacher.” — Ben Zene

“I went to grad school with Professor Public and he sucks.” — Anonymous

“If I were a postdoc for Public, I would kill myself.” — Mo Ron

Basically, these sorts of comments are worthless. They provide little to no useful information, they’re not funny, and they make people upset. I feel little compunction about deleting them.

With that said, I would allow similar comments to remain if they were substantiated. For instance:

“John Public is a crappy teacher. I had him for Chem 157 at Harvard, and he basically did nothing. His teaching assistant made us pick dates out of a hat on the first day of class, then we had to prepare and deliver the lecture for whatever date we picked. What’s worse was that he graded our lecture while dropping in and out of consciousness, and it was our only grade for the class. Ugh.” — Ben Zene

While the above comment is negative, the user has provided a decent explanation for his negative assessment and the discussion is relevant to chemistry.

Ground Rule 15: “Comments containing personal information with little or no relevance to chemistry will be deleted.”

Comments that stray recklessly into personal areas that have little or no relevance to chemistry will be deleted. For example:

“John Public’s boyfriend is butt ugly. His teeth look like he’s got a mouthful of Chiclets.”

“John Public is an alcoholic.”

“John Public has a house on Martha’s Vineyard.”

As written, these comments contribute nothing meaningful to a discussion about chemistry. With that said, personal information may be discussed if it is of significant relevance to a matter regarding chemistry or chemical research, and this relevance is manifest or explained. For instance,

“John Public is an alcoholic, and his lab is really suffering because of it. He shows up to group meetings reeking of booze and babbling to himself, then he usually falls asleep. The other day, he stumbled into lab and knocked over a 4L bottle of ethyl acetate. I know a senior grad student there is definitely thinking of switching labs.”

I’m not encouraging comments like this at all—they can make my life hell—but I’m not going to censor them unless I know the information to be false. With that said, you should know that leaving false, defamatory information in a blog comment (or anywhere else, for that matter) exposes the commenter to lawsuits for libel. While I will never volunteer information regarding anonymous commenters on the blog, I will comply with lawful court orders to provide information like IP addresses, etc.

Basically, play nicely, everyone. Treat others as you would wish to be treated. Deciding what stays and goes is not a science, but I will do my best to apply the rules fairly. In cases where a distinction is not clear, I will favor letting a comment stand.

And, as always, I welcome your feedback.

It’s Probably a Good Time to Move On

Monday, April 1st, 2013

Over the weekend, I had some time to think about the last post and the purpose of this blog. Readers who have been following the comments will note that the kind of irresponsible discussion I was hoping to curtail has continued, but they will not know that I also received two rather long e-mails from chemists whom I respect that are less than pleased about the poaching gossip and a few of the other posts on ChemBark.

Of course, attracting the disdain of respected chemists is nothing new for this blog, but I think that I am growing less willing to fight the establishment as time goes on. A while ago, I discussed how running ChemBark might harm my chances of getting a job, and I am very fortunate to have been given such a great opportunity in St. Louis. Soon, the stakes will be even higher, as I’ll have to fight tooth and nail to win grants in a horrible environment for funding. It’s probably not wise for me to keep picking battles unrelated to my research. As a grad student and a postdoc, I had nothing to lose. Now, I think the situation is much different.

Also, as you have probably noticed, my frequency of posting has diminished. It’s less a function of not having interesting stuff to write about than the fact that I’ve got a lot of other things on my plate. All too often, blogging is what falls through the cracks. Frankly, I don’t know how Derek and Chemjobber manage to write multiple posts every single day. What they do is amazing.

Unfortunately, I think the situation for me is only going to get worse. For the rest of this year, I’ve got to wrap things up in California, move to St. Louis, start a new job, design two chemistry courses, start an entire research lab from scratch, plan a wedding, and get married. There’s a ton of stuff to get done, and only nine months to do it. Given my growing uneasiness about blogging, it’s probably best not to even pretend I can continue to maintain this site with any reasonable degree of quality.

So, I have made the difficult decision to discontinue blogging and shut down the site. I’m going to follow the precedents of the closures of The Chem Blog and Tenderbutton, by closing the blog to comments and archiving the old posts (so they are accessible for eternity). I’m not going to have the time to moderate comment spam, and the discussion usually trickles down to nothing after a post has been up for a week, anyway.

Thanks for reading and participating in the discussion for all of these years. I can’t believe I’ve been blogging about chemistry since 2005; it’s been a blast and the time has flown by. I will still follow all of the great chemistry discussion on Twitter and the blogosphere, so I’ll see you in the comments threads there. And if you ever find yourself visiting St. Louis, please drop me a note!

All the best,

On Accuracy

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

ChemBark Logo with Ed the DogOne of the things I take pride in is the accuracy of the information posted to this blog. ChemBark has done a significant amount of original reporting on some pretty massive stories in the world of chemistry. We’ve publicly exposed scientific fraud, identified cases of ethical misconduct, shone light on peculiar hiring practices, and even reported the results of an ACS election before the ACS/C&EN.

The main purpose of this blog is to bring attention to interesting news in the world of chemical research such that, collectively, we as chemists can analyze the facts and improve ourselves. I try to pay special attention to the types of stories that—for whatever reason—C&EN chooses not to cover. There are people who consider some of these stories to be “negative” or even “gossipy”, but I will adamantly maintain that they are also interesting and important.

When stories may cast a member of our field in a negative light, I work especially hard to be fair and get the facts right. I work hard to maintain your trust, and ChemBark has a sterling—if not pristine—record of accuracy. The information posted here over the years rests on a foundation of hundreds of sources. These sources are the heroes of the blog, and we (as a community) owe them an immense debt of gratitude. It takes a great deal of guts to approach an outspoken blogger and share sensitive information, but the result is wonderfully democratic: thanks to the Internet, anybody in our field—not just those privy to private conversations—can participate in the discussion.

So, thanks again to all of you who have passed along or verified information for the blog. Your contribution is greatly valued.

The academic hires thread from yesterday was a good example of the importance of having a variety of sources. I was able to start from a decent base of knowledge, but the bulk of information arrived later, pouring in via hallway chats, e-mails, tweets, and blog comments. Having personally applied to many of the positions on the list, I am fascinated by all of these data. Whom did each school end up hiring? Was each successful candidate more organic/inorganic/biological? What research do they work on? Are there any trends/patterns? How many schools advertised openings but elected not to hire?

There is a wealth of information in that thread, but I am also a little disturbed by some of the comments. I really don’t like when people write about something as if they are certain when they are not. The statement:

“Professor A was granted/denied tenure.”

is very different from:

“I think/heard Professor A was granted/denied tenure, but I’m not sure.”

Please try to avoid playing fast and loose with the facts, because it sidetracks and erodes the validity of the discussion. Also keep in mind that we are talking about real people’s lives. If you are going to talk about whether someone was denied tenure or is leaving a school, you had better be right, because this info has the potential to do things like scare away prospective students.

I sign my name to all of the information I post to the blog. If I am uncertain about the validity of a piece of information, I will say so (but, usually, I’ll just avoid writing it). And you can probably tell that I am not too shy of a person, but whenever I am uncomfortable sharing my opinions about a subject, I will keep the opinion to myself. While I don’t comment or post anonymously, maintaining the ability for readers to comment anonymously is important because it represents a completely open system for keeping me in check (i.e., anyone is free to attack what I post). It also helps foster discussion (because I know some of you fear that your opinions may be held against you). Please do not abuse the system by asserting uncertain information as hard fact. Also, I encourage all readers to treat the facts reported in anonymous comments with a healthy amount of skepticism.

The same goes for all of the comments regarding Stoltz. I have heard all sorts of rumors and have attempted to figure out what, if anything, is going on. I don’t have anything useful to report, other than to say that most of what people are saying is pure speculation or incomplete fact. I suppose anyone is free to speculate, but as I said above, you should remember that real people are involved. When I write stuff, I sign my name to it. If you are not so confident of your facts as to be comfortable enough to do the same, perhaps you should hold off on grinding someone through the rumor mill? Just a thought.

I have immense respect for journalists and all the effort it takes to do a solid job of reporting. It pains me greatly to see the dissemination of crappy information, especially in a comments thread here.