Sunday, June 18, 2006


Please note that Terra Sigillata has moved to (as of 9 June 2006) to Wordpress (as of 21 July 2010) to CENtral Science (as of 24 August 2010). Kindly update your bookmarks to the following URL:


This site will remain live for archival purposes but some classic posts will migrate over to the new site.

Thank you for your support of our mission to provide objective information on herbal dietary supplements and other therapeutic natural products.

Please continue to read us at:

Friday, June 09, 2006

The move to is live!

Well, dear readers, the time has come to close up this shop and move over to The new site went live today at noon EDT (1700 GMT) along with a snazzy new homepage and, count 'em, 25 new bloggers!

I am deeply indebted to all of your who have supported me here over the last six months and I'll close sometime over the weekend with a (hopefully) thoughtful thank-you post. So many of you have been instrumental in the success of our little blog that I want to give this last post some serious thought.

Until then, saunter over to the new and improved Terra Sigillata.

For those of you on your PDAs, the new URL is:

For those of you getting our RSS feed, the new feed is at: http://scienceblogs.terrasig/index.xml

This site will remain up indefinitely although I will slowly transfer some of the more classic and timeless posts over to the new blog at Sb. C'mon over, grab a beer or glass of wine, and kick the tires. I launched with an essay entitled, "A Sort of Homecoming."

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The 36th Skeptics' Circle is up

Mosey on over to The Examining Room of Dr Charles for The 36th Skeptics' Circle, the biweekly compendium of the best of debunking and deboning of the critical thinking-challenged.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The loss of Dr Anita Roberts

Cancer research and the cause of women in science and medicine lost a true leader and shining example last week with the passing of Dr. Anita Roberts to gastric cancer. She was only 64.

From her Washington Post obituary:
Dr. Roberts, the 49th most-cited scientist in the world and the third most-cited female scientist, was chief of the Laboratory of Cell Regulation and Carcinogenesis at the National Cancer Institute, where she created a nurturing culture, a colleague said.

She and her research partner, Dr Michael Sporn of Dartmouth Medical School, won the 2005 Komen Foundation Brinker Award for Scientific Distinction for their work on molecules that can turn a healthy cell cancerous. She also won the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology's 2005 Award for Excellence in Science.

I did not have the pleasure of knowing Dr Roberts, but the following passage makes me wish I had been privy to her wisdom:
Dr Roberts was described as a warm, enthusiastic and consistently upbeat supervisor who figured out how to balance work and family not just for herself, but for her colleagues as well, said Dr Lalage Wakefield, who worked with her for 25 years. She kept the 17 people in her lab happy "through the force of her personality," Wakefield said, describing a clear-eyed and supportive scientist.

Her work on TGF-beta with Dr Sporn shed considerable light on how cancer develops and wounds heal. She left us with this reflection on the complex nature of trying to "cure" cancer:
"Research takes a long, long time," she said. "I know the public is always looking for a magic bullet. They want you to say, 'This does that.' But our own biology is incredibly complex, so 'this' doesn't always do 'that.' As basic scientists, we're all driven by our excitement in finding answers. We hope it ends up as something that becomes therapy. But that doesn't happen unless you have a basic understanding of the process. And that's what my work is all about."

Moreover, I only learned this morning in the NCI Cancer Bulletin that Dr. Roberts had kept a blog diary of her struggle with cancer.

Her son and daughter-in-law wrote a beautiful on-line children's book, BellaDonna: A Story of Hope, to explain to their own children what was happening to their grandmother. The love and creativity illustrated in this work is touching and it works for me as a father of a 4-year-old. The book tells me that Dr. Roberts was an overwhelming success as a parent to her son, Greg, the book's co-author.

I highly recommend the book to anyone trying to explain cancer and cancer treatment to young children.

NOTE ADDED IN PROOF: Dr Bill Hooker over at Open Reading Frame wrote a small personal tribute to Dr Roberts and his personal experience with her selflessness and kindness.

(Hat tip to Ms.PhD at YoungFemaleScientist for reminding me of Dr Roberts' passing.)

Monday, June 05, 2006

On becoming friends with other author-functions

More later on this beautiful post by Bitch Ph.D....

Okay, so I've only been around for six months after commenting on the blogs of others for about another six. Yet I am amazed at how many truly good friends I have made via these online discussions and conversations. I've only met a couple of you in real-life and look forward to meeting more, especially with the pending move to

Today, the much-revered Bitch Ph.D. posts on how deeply we often develop relationships with other "author-functions" and share in their joys and pains.

Go there and if after reading you are so inclined, pray for her dear friend:
"I'm thirty-three.

They told me I had cancer.

Then they told me I had another cancer.

That's when I knew I needed a new blog."

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Exclusive Michael Pollan interview with Ewen Callaway at Complex Medium

Here a belated plug to my Colorado compatriot, hard-working microbiologist, and real-life journalist, Ewen, at his microbiology/infectious diseases blog, Complex Medium.

If you're a fan of Michael Pollan from reading The Botany of Desire or have been thinking about buying his new book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, take 28 minutes and listen to Ewen's interview with Pollan on one of nation's best public radio stations, KGNU of Boulder, Colorado. (Go to Ewen's post to access the interview from the KNGU archives.)

Michael Pollan has a tremendously engaging talent for examining the relationships between science, particularly food science and agriculture, and everything from anthropology to big business. The guy can make watching paint dry seem like a life-changing experience. I had read some of the content of the interview from a Pollan excerpt in Mother Jones and it's interesting to hear him discuss in his own voice his working and living on a true organic farm in Virginia.

In The Botany of Desire, Pollan explores four plants (apple trees, tulips, potatoes, and marijuana) to discuss whether we have manipulated the plants or vice versa. In The Omnivore's Dilemma, he takes the same approach to four meals and interrogates the big business of industrial agriculture and the dichotomy of "industrial organic" commerce.

I have yet to read the complete new book, but listening to Ewen's interview with Pollan gives one a good flavor for the stories and the author's approach. Ewen takes the approach of letting Pollan tell the stories, rather than jump in evey minute as does Terry Gross. (Addendum: Ewen notes below in the comments that his reserve had more to do with using a single field mic.)

This coming Fall, Ewen is hanging up his pipetmen and heading to UC-Santa Cruz to enter their science writing program. But we all hope that he keeps Complex Medium rolling along. We launched our blogs within two weeks of one another and I really appreciate the perspective he brings to the sci/medblogging world.

When you're reading the Wall Street Journal Health Journal section or listening to a national NPR program in a couple of years, remember the name: Ewen Callaway.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) frenzy on tap

Before I turned in for the evening, I got my feed from Derek Lowe's In the Pipeline for his take on the media frenzy that will accompany the kickoff of the ASCO meeting in Atlanta this weekend.

Dr Lowe is a great chemist and fabulous source for all sorts of pharmaceutical news and information. In fact, coverage of his blog in the 1 August 2005 edition of The Scientist is what originally got me a-thinking about launching a blog of my own.

Derek makes a great point of not reading too much into the ASCO frenzy for cancer drug development trends since what we'll be reading about the next few days are things conceived by Pharma six to ten years ago.

I did, however, comment on his blog that I just saw on this afternoon a report from Jennifer Corbett Dooren that BMS's potent but non-selective Src/Abl kinase inhibitor, dasatinib (formerly BMS-354825), will be recommended by the FDA Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee (ODAC) tomorrow for approval in Gleevec-refractory CML. A recent study is suggestive that dasatinib will also share imatinib's activity against c-kit in gastrointestinal stromal tumors. Truly a great win for my esteemed BMS chemistry and pharmacology colleagues - congratulations to all involved in the development of this new agent.

Anyway, this approval recommendation makes interesting news for those of us that get killed on NIH grant applications for being cancer phenotype-directed instead of molecular target-directed. Dasatinib was an almost thrown-away kinase inhibitor that had just enough promiscuity to have potent inhibitory activity on imatinib-resistant Bcr-Abl kinase. But, never fear, we pharmacologists have already generated dasatinib-resistant mutations to make way for the next, even less-targeted inhibitor.

We've already gotten the ASCO abstract book at home but I'll be staying tuned to In the Pipeline and the Wall Street Journal for the real stories!

Justification of public science funding and update

Thank you readers and blog-lleagues for the best wishes and congrats - my promised thank you posts have gotten tied up in communications online and off, as well as the June 1 NIH grant deadline. Again, the move to wouldn't have been possible without your support, links, and advice.

However, the news from SEED Media Group is that the launch of the second waves of their stable of science bloggers and new homepage will be delayed. My e-mail from the Mother Ship indicates that the launch date, scheduled for tomorrow, is indefinite. However, Bora has posted at Science & Politics that the launch is likely for Monday, June 5. (Addendum: Well, uh, maybe Monday, June 12.).

As Bora points out astutely,
"...the new blogs (including mine) will have a debut some time later, hopefully on Monday, which is good as traffic drops precipitously between Friday noon and Monday morning - thus Friday is not a good time to make an impressive start of a new blog."
Incidentally, this is the exact reason that the Bush administration likes to drop controversial bombshells on Friday afternoons: the European and Asian press is already into the weekend and most of the White House reporters are closing up shop, so there's minimal risk of counterspin being put on things until Monday.

No surprise to any of us that Bora is the best informed of us newbie SBers as he has been setting the standard for science blogging since the early days. Add to that his recent trip to SEED's offices in NYC. He notes that meeting the SEED staff, editors, writers, and IT people should improve his online communications with them since the human interactions, or "skin" as I've heard it called by the hipsters, serve to reinforce online interactions.

I noted in his comment thread that I feel this is the reason that virtual meetings, especially in science and medicine, will never completely replace conventional scientific conferences and annual society meetings. So many other interactions occur over beer and wine or dinners that serve to complement and reinforce interactions that scientists have from just reading each others' names in author lines. Real conferences, especially the small ones like Gordon Conferences, Keystone Symposia, and Cold Spring Harbor Symposia also provide great networking opportunities for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, the mechanism by which most of my lab folks have made contacts for their next positions.

I mention the value of scientific conferences in light of this week's 'Ask a ScienceBlogger' question:

"Since they're funded by taxpayer dollars (through the NIH, NSF, and so on), should scientists have to justify their research agendas to the public, rather than just grant-making bodies?"

The responses from bloggers and their commentors make for great reading.

However, I wanted to draw your attention to two superb articles that appeared in yesterday's (31 May 2006) issue of The Scientist (subscription req'd but available at most academic institutions) on the future of scientific conferences.

In the first article. Keith O'Brien speaks of the partnership that is growing amongst the three aforementioned small meeting purveyors in light of meeting saturation and their own problems getting conferences underwritten by grants, such as the NIH R13 mechanism. This article also has a useful sidebar of "Six Tips for Getting the Most from Your Next Conference" that includes my favorite recommendation to my trainees:
"4. Break away: People tend to attend conferences with colleagues, co-workers, and friends - people they already know. But during talks and at meal times, try and sit with people you don't know. You are bound to learn something new, whether it is about work in your field, how other institutions function, or how different people approach questions relevant to your work."

The second article, written by Keystone Symposia CEO James W. Aiken, details the results of a survey of just over 1,000 meeting attendees on the quantifying the monetary value of the meetings in response to a "return on investment" query in his application for funds form the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
"I had to propose a method for quantitative assessment of the impact of our conferences. Our stated goals are to connect the scientific community for the benefit of society as well as catalyze scientific progress by having the highest quality programs - all well and good, but how to measure this?"
A free version of the survey results and quantitative methodology is available at the Keystone Symposia website.

The amazing, but not surprising, conclusion drawn by Aiken was that each annual series of Keystone meetings saves $20-30 million (US) in terms of making connections for collaborations and the sharing of time-saving reagents and protocols.

Scientists generally despise being pushed to make these calculations for the beancounters. But I think we are all being asked to justify ourselves and our activities more and more, regardless of our research setting or position in the scientific hierarchy.