Posts Tagged ‘technology’

Computer Breach

Monday, April 25th, 2011

For the past 15 years, epidemiologist Bonnie Yankaskas has received federal funding to maintain and analyze a database of mammography results from North Carolina women. Two years ago, her employer, the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, discovered that her server’s security had been compromised.

Although Dr. Yankaskas had hired a computer expert to oversee the database, the medical school ultimately found her responsible for the breach as project PI. The school first tried to fire the professor. Then they tried to demote her. In a settlement, Dr. Yankasas will retain her title and salary, but retire at the end of the year.

Even without evidence of harm to the subjects in the database, it is clear that the PI is responsible for training and overseeing the personnel who manage the data. Along with the prestige of conducting important research comes the responsibility for maintaining ethical standards.

E-Mail Overload

Monday, February 28th, 2011

Alexandra Samuel, a social media maven, has written about her attempt to reach an empty inbox. She did it by using a combination of technology (filters) and prioritizing. Her advice echoes some of the tips delivered in our faculty development seminar series.

Now Samuel is recommending another tactic altogether. She wants to upend the expectation that every e-mail message deserves a reply. It used to be that the burden fell on the letter writer to gather the materials and stamp needed to communicate. With e-mail, she says, the burden shifts to the receiver. So, she is starting a new experiment that will automatically reply to every unsolicited message with a variant of this text:

Due to the volume of email I receive, I no longer personally review every message. If you do not receive a further reply within 72 hours, please assume that I have had to focus on other professional or personal priorities at this time. Thank you in advance for your understanding.

I admit that I like to receive responses to all the messages I sent, particularly when it involves scheduling an event. With that in mind, I think carefully before I send a message to consider if I can answer my question in some other way. The automatic reply may work for someone in high demand, but if you're the person looking for help, it goes against protocol so drastically that it risks offending.


Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

I began my training in the last days of the card catalog and the first wave of the Internet. It was still a novelty to own a computer, but I brought a word processing machine--essentially a souped-up typewriter--to my freshman dorm.

Like many of my generation, the grammar of computers has influenced how I approach writing. I look at a paragraph and wonder what I can cut and paste. I scroll down the page and add notes to myself for future sections of the paper. Of course, I also spend time changing fonts and backing up files.

Several studies have now demonstrated the benefits of writing by hand. People who wrote down their goals were more likely to achieve them. Students who wrote down vocabulary words were more likely to learn a foreign language. The physical act of writing seems to trigger the part of the brain that focuses attention.

When it comes to long manuscripts, I'm still more likely to use a computer, which allows for more easy editing and sharing. But for to do lists, goal setting, and memorization, writing it out has the upper hand.

Online Journals

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

Advocates of open access scholarship have been persuasive in their call for making materials freely available online. Harvard faculty now can deposit all their publications in a web-based repository, bypassing journal restrictions. One advantage of such databases, the theory went, was that online articles are more likely to be read and cited than those behind a subscription wall.

Now, a report from two economics researchers casts doubt on that assumption. They surveyed 260,000 articles published in 100 economics and business journals from 1956 to 2005 and found no evidence of a citation boost for articles appearing in open access journals. The one significant advantage came from articles available in JSTOR, an online, subscription-based service.

Commentators told that the study did not distinguish between free online journals and online articles behind pay walls. So, the debate is not settled. Even without the jump in citations, though, it seems good practice to make scholarship as widely available as possible. Particularly for faculty and trainees at underresourced institutions or in developing countries, having access to research is valuable. They may not cite the articles, but they will use the knowledge.

Tweeting Peer Review

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

NASA called a press conference in December to announce a major new discovery. Researchers had documented a new strain of bacteria that uses arsenic rather than phosphorus as one of its biological building blocks. The press speculated on what this find could mean for extraterrestrial life and interviewed the paper's authors. At the same time, scientists were scrutinizing the paper on-line.

According to an article in Nature, the place of peer review is migrating from the safe sanctums of journal editors' meetings to the unregulated world of the Internet. Through blogging, Twitter, and on-line comments, the review of science continues even after a study is published. And the pace is much faster.

The change heralds some potential positives for scientists. A website called Faculty of 1000 organizes post-publication peer review along a kind of Amazon rating system for articles. These scores may help faculty demonstrate excellence when going up for promotion. The next step seems to be a more open process of pre-publication peer review. Editors and authors, however, will resist that change in hopes of preserving at least one place where review is rigorous and controlled.

Going Paperless

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

One of my perennial new year's resolutions is to be kinder to the environment. Often, choosing sustainability is no more burdensome. I can put my newspaper in the recycling box just as easily as putting it in the trash. Shutting off my computer overnight costs me little in time to reboot it. But for as much as I try to be green, I still haven't found a way to get rid of paper entirely.

Kerim Friedman, an academic in Taiwan, blogged about his attempt to go paperless this year. He uses a scanner to turn documents digital and then an iPad to read and annotate them. Still, there always seems to be bits of paper floating around: business cards, boarding passes, passing thoughts jotted on a Post-it.

For those, Friedman recommends Evernote. This free software can store photos, sound recordings, text, and web pages in an easy to search format. All this syncs between your computer and mobile device and is safely stored in the cloud. I'm a little skeptical of setting up yet another account with another password and migrating my notes from Word documents to Evernote, but I'm willing to give it a try.

Of course, what these advances save on paper they probably expend on energy for computer servers, so fulfilling my resolution might have to wait until next year.

Tables of Contents

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

Put this in the category of technology that saves time rather than consumes it. There's a new website out of England called the Journal Table of Contents Service that helps scholars stay current with relevant publications. Best of all, it centralizes what has been a very scattered process.

Step 1: Enter the name of the journal you'd like to follow.

Step 2: Browse the titles and abstracts.

Step 3: Create custom alerts

Over 14,000 journals are in the database, and the program will send the list of contents to your e-mail, RSS feed, Google page, or blog. Once you set it up, you don't have to make further adjustments. Just scan the new contents for articles of interest.

Electronic Error

Friday, October 29th, 2010

Electronic medical records hold the promise of managing the flow of data more efficiently. When a doctor orders a test, the computerized system will automatically flag any abnormal results for follow-up.

Yet, a study at the Houston VA Medical Center showed that one-third of over 1,000 electronic alerts over a three-month period went unacknowledged. Of those cases, 45 (or 4% of all abnormal results) did not receive any follow-up at all.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, the study's author suggested that physicians may be suffering from information overload. Electronic medical records can send physicians up to 50 alerts and reminders each day, making it difficult to distinguish the crucial data from the less urgent.

This electronic bombardment may be exacerbated in an academic medical center, where faculty also receive regular e-mail blasts about university events and research opportunities. Some past faculty development seminars have offered tips for managing the flow of information. Based on recent response to a seminar about conducting an efficient clinical visit, we will revisit how to maximize use of electronic medical records in the spring.

Version Control

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

With documents like CVs that get regularly updated, it can be a challenge to locate the most recent version. This became apparent after a round of grant reviews when some applicants submitted CVs that left off publications. It's also apparent in my hard drive's folders, where I have a dozen copies of certain drafts each labeled with a different date at the end.

For tech geeks, there are several options using specialized software that helps tame the proliferation of versions. But for folks who want a simple, elegant solution, I suggest Dropbox.

Once you install this free download on your different computers, it creates a kind of shared drive where you can store files. When you make changes in your CV on one computer and sync in to Dropbox, it automatically overwrites the previous draft and makes the latest version available on all your computers.

Another neat feature is it assigns a URL to your documents, so you can send them easily to collaborators for commenting. It comes with 2GB free storage, then charges for more space. The free amount is more than enough to detangle the mess of CV versions. No matter whether you remember to add that talk or paper on your home or work computer, it's all harmonized and updated.

E-mail Etiquette

Friday, October 15th, 2010

A dean at the University of Missouri has apologized for accidentally broadcasting his response to a student's e-mail to the entire graduate student listserv. It seems that the student's original message to the dean was copied to the graduate student distribution list, but because the sender did not have permission, only the dean received the e-mail. When the dean went to respond, however, he hit "Reply All." The dean does have permission to distribute messages to the listserv, and a private message became public.

The gaffe recalls another e-mail mishap where a history department sent a message to all the candidates who had applied for a job opening there. Rather than hide the recipients' names in the BCC line, the chair made visible all the applicants--including some who did not want their current employers to know they were looking for new jobs.

It's easy to see how slip-ups happen. We use e-mail so freely and fleetly that we neglect to edit our messages before we send them out. One solution is to schedule when messages go out.  For instance, in Outlook, after composing a message, click the button that says "Options." It will show a box of choices. Under "Delivery Options," you can select the time you want the message to go out. By choosing a time later in the day, you buy yourself a chance to reflect on the e-mail and make changes. You can also use this method to send messages at odd hours, making your colleagues think you're working when they're sleeping.