Monday, November 29, 2010

Weeknote #28 (w/e 28/11/10)

We had a meeting of the Faculty Science Communication and Engagement Group last Monday, which was a good chance to take stock after a highly-successful Manchester Science Festival. I was particularly proud of my Group, as they threw themselves whole-heartedly into various activities, which are summarised here. Naomi and Zarka were invaluable event organizers, Pete and Matthew were honorary Girl Geeks during the robot building sessions, and then Pete stepped in at the last minute to give a Teawitter talk on evacuation. We all enjoyed our involvement in this year's Festival, and are already looking forward to National Science and Engineering Week next year.

Fake Biologist Alert!: I was featured in the Autumn edition of the MMU Success magazine, talking about BACTOCOM. If you want to see the full story, including me in an unnecessary labcoat, it's here.

Finally, this week was not a good week in which to be an Ipswich Town supporter. I was all for giving Roy Keane the benefit of the doubt at first, but yesterday's clueless capitulation at the hands of our fiercest rivals is giving me pause for thought.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Weeknote #27 (w/e 21/11/10)

Frank Swain's article on the New Scientist website (see last week's note) appears to have attracted quite a lot of notice, although I'm not entirely sure that the Tokyo team's preliminary results justify the media attention. The idea of distributing a computation across a population of bacteria using targetted information exchange (as opposed to a more general, untargetted chemical signal) is certainly novel, and is one we've been actively pursuing over the last year with BACTOCOM. My small appearance as a commentator has led to some interest from various parties, none of which I'll expand on now, since it's all still very tenuous. Still, it's nice that this sort of research is gaining the sort of attention that I think it needs.

Work pressures meant that I resigned today as a founder Director of ArcSpace, the Community Interest Company I joined a year-and-a-bit ago. The organisation's growing quite quickly right now, and I think it's time to stand aside and let someone else have a go. Although there'll be some tough times ahead in the sector, they have access to the best possible resource - committed, passionate individuals - and I wish them well.

Finally, some words of support to my friends Rob and Nadine, who are going through a tough time with their son, Keifer, right now. As Rob said, "Joy comes in small doses", and a sick child immediately puts into perspective the trivialities of everyday life. The Ashby-Amos clan send their love.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Weeknote #26 (w/e 14/11/10)

Bit tardy again this week. Yesterday afternoon I spoke to Frank Swain, after he tracked me down via Twitter. He wanted to chat about the recent Tokyo iGEM work on bacterial sudoku solvers, and the resulting piece appeared today. It was good to see BACTOCOM getting another plug.

Speaking of BACTOCOM, we're currently working on the definitive design document for our system, which will be submitted as a position paper shortly. It's taken a while to get going, what with delays in appointing staff, and so on, but I think the project's in good shape now. We're expecting to be able to announce further good news on the project support front any day now, so stay tuned.

In other news, Pete, Steve and I finally submitted the journal version of our paper on mutual information for crush detection. This work forms the core of Pete's Ph.D. thesis, which he's currently in the process of writing up. I think it's a solid paper, which has actually been improved due to an earlier draft being picked up by the MIT Technology Review blog. We did some extra work in response to criticisms made in the article, and I think it's much stronger as a result.

The only other thing of note to report is that I'm now officially a member of the EPSRC College. This is made up of around 4,000 individuals, whose job it is to evaluate research proposals and serve on prioritisation panels. Given the turbulent state of research funding right now, I guess it's an interesting time to become involved.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Blatant plagiarism

I've seen my work plagiarised in the past, but I get particularly irritated when I see it being done badly. Here are some pretty wretched examples, by way of illustration. This is the first page of a paper I wrote with colleagues in 1996, before I even had my Ph.D., and when I was still at Liverpool. Note the phrase "Today's supercomputers still employ the kind of sequential logic used by the mechanical dinosaurs of the 1930s." Now, see these course materials, this article, and this article. In each case, they've taken my own words (and not just the sentence highlighted above, often whole paragraphs from the paper), and presented them as their own.

This got me annoyed, so I decided to do a little random digging. By googling random phrases from my Ph.D. thesis (PDF download) from 1997, I was able to uncover wholesale theft of my material.

This example is particularly galling; G.P. Raja Sekhar of the Indian Institute of Technology is presenting whole swathes of my own work as his own. Before proceeding, I should point out that I have asked Sekhar to remove his version, but he has apparently declined to do so.

In the illustrations below, I've presented the original (thesis) version on the left, and the stolen versions on the right. As you can see, no attempt has been made to hide the plagiarism in any way, and it's extensive (click on the thumbnails for a closer look).

It's not just the reuse of the odd figure here and there; it's systematic theft of figures (some of which took me hours to draw) and large sections of text.

C. Saravanan of Vel Sri Ranga Sanku College, Bing Hu, QiKai Xu, Chenjue Wang and Xiaoyang Kuang of City College of New York, and Tankut Yalcinoz of The Fountain; you are all plagiarists. But G.P. Raja Sekhar; if you want to use my material, I'll happily share the Powerpoint with you. Just don't pretend you wrote it.

Update (12/11/10, 13:38): Dr Raja Sekhar has been in touch. He offers the following statement: "This is to state that the Lecture Notes DNA Computing - Graph Algorithms published by POSTECH, South Korea is a result of some joint work with my students listed in the preface whom I have acknowledged. Some of the material contains the work of Martyn Amos and was not cited and we deeply regret this and withdraw this article from anywhere it appears."

Monday, November 08, 2010

Weeknote #25 (w/e 7/11/10)

This week we welcomed the latest addition to the Novel Computation Group; Dr. Ing. Ángel Goñi Moreno joins us as a post-doc on the BACTOCOM project. He originally visited for three months last year, from our collaborators at UPM (Madrid), and has obviously not been put off by the Mancunian weather. His recent Ph.D. work has attracted a fair bit of attention; he'll be working on modelling and simulation aspects of the project, and we're delighted to have him. Angel's arrival brings the group numbers up to 15 (4 academics, 2 post-docs, 2 administrators and 6 Ph.D. students, plus a visitor). We've pretty much run out of space in the lab, but it makes for a vibrant atmosphere.

Top tip: When trying to impress family by lighting two adjacent fireworks, one after the other in quick succession, remember that the gas stream from the first will inevitably knock over the second, leading to an unpredictable trajectory. Shortest. Display. Ever.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Weeknote #24 (w/e 31/10/10)

Last week we held our synthetic biology event as part of the Manchester Science Festival. Over 130 people turned up for Artificial Life: Perils and Pitfalls, and we heard from Ron Weiss of MIT, Maureen O'Malley from Exeter, and Steve Yearley from Edinburgh. Gerry Kelleher, our Deputy Vice-Chancellor, also said a few words at the start. The overall feedback from the audience was excellent, and I think we can class it a success, although I might have hoped for a little more intellectual "argy bargy" (the audience members who asked questions were generally already quite sympathetic to the synbio "cause"). All in all, a great evening, and we thank the panelists, audience members (and, of course, our sponsors at the EPSRC) for making it so.

I was also booked in to talk at another event over the weekend, but found myself double-booked (my own silly fault). A fifth birthday party regretfully trumped a fourth Teawitter Party, although my Ph.D. student, Pete, came to the rescue, for which I am eternally grateful. His talk on crowds was, by all accounts, very well-received, so maybe he's one to watch in the public engagement stakes...

It was also, of course, Halloween this weekend, so no post would be complete without a picture of our very own little witch. She's been super-cute in the last few days; we're big fans of The Cube, and she solemnly informed us, while we were watching it yesterday, that if she won £25K she would give it straight to daddy, because she's "not big enough to have pounds." Awwww. Like I'm any better with money!