Thursday, 15 November 2018

Julika Griem against story telling, heroic adventures and simplifying in science communication

The German eleventh Forum on Science Communication came to my home town, which was a good occasion to spread the word on Climate Feedback. I could write several blog posts inspired by this meeting, which is good and I might, but this post is just about the opening speech by Prof. Dr. Julika Griem, the vice president of the German Science Foundation (DFG) and the Director of the Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities. Julika Griem slaughtered a few holy cows in front of the vegan science communication folks who were talking about this until the last session.

The conference offered a wide range of backgrounds. Well-dress communications people with slick rehearsed talks, natural scientists like myself in t-shirts freely speaking inspired by power point bullet points, journalists in the middle and Griem gave the opening lecture in humanities style by reading a written out text. I would have preferred to read myself, to be able to stop and think, so I was happy when they posted the text (in German). People who survive a humanities eduction deserve a medal.

Prof. Griem asked several controversial questions. Is it really such a good idea to focus so much on story telling, adventures, heroes/personalisation and simplifying? Isn't describing, explaining and argumentation better suited for science? Especially modern science is about working together in large groups with many specialised scientists in which management, administration and technical infrastructure are important. Documents, data and instruments are harder to turn into heroes than individuals.

Prof. Dr. Julika Griem speaking at the Forum on Science Communication.

Later at the form, the group The Debate, which organises science debates all over Germany, noted that their audience missed talking about the process, how we do science, why we are confident about certain results? While in science journalism it is common to focus on the results themselves and on people.

This fits to my blogging experience: posts on methodological and organisation matters are read surprisingly well, especially as they are not spread on social media that much. Maybe everyone thinks they are the only ones interested such details, i.e. in how science works. Such a meta science topic is something that does not fit that well in a story telling framework. My explanation how a scientific conference is organised will never get a Pulitzer price, but was read well. (Alternative hypothesis the title sounded nice, but the post was not what was expected, which would fit the linked example.)

Related, but not from the conference, is that I discovered Street Epistemology on YouTube. With this method it is possible to reasonably consistently have friendly conversations about hard topics, even about religion, which you are normally not supposed to talk about because it so easily escalates.

The Street Epistemology strategy is: 1) do not attack the person, 2) do not question the conclusion (closely tied to identity), but 3) do talk about methodology. In that respect it fits well into the above suggesting to communicate better how we do science and why we know what we know.

As scientists we talk about methodology all the time and we are normally able to have productive conversations at scientific conferences even though scientists come from a wide range of culture and backgrounds. However, outside of science we hardly talk about methods. Especially the media is very focused on people & conclusions.

Maybe we should do this more and see if Street Epistemology (SE) also works to get a friendlier chats on climate change. The first video below give an example of an SE conversation, while the second explains the idea in more detail.

We should not forget in this debate that scientists and journalists have different interests. For a scientist quality is much more important than quantity (number of readers). When I give a talk it is not important whether 10 or 1000 people are in the audience, if there is one expert in the audience who will build on my work it was a success.

A former journalist once did a short media training here in Bonn. He wanted us to do exactly what ever journalists want us to do. He was utterly disappointed when I told him scientists have their own interests, he complained I had not been listening. I did, and it is good to know what your counterpart wants to try to find the best compromise for both, but I do have my own interests.

Griem also did not like hero stories as the lone warrior recalls the same anti-institutional feelings of anti-science critics. Stories where technocrats and bureaucrats at universities, in Bonn (where her DFG is) and in Berlin (politics), hold back intrinsically motivated people to do ground breaking work. I would see that as a reason to like hero stories, trying to make institutions better is the opposite of being anti-institutional and there really is enough to complain about, from publish and perish, to funding science based on short-term projects rather than on long-term relationships with people and institutions. Project-funded science stifles innovation and waste enormous amounts of work in writing proposals, in managing them, and in each time building a new group. Time and energy that could have been spend on doing ground-breaking research.

Prof. Dr. Julika Griem proposed that science communication should tenderly overstrain the public. That does not sound like a good general strategy. It would lead to misunderstanding and would limit the audience interested in science even more. However, it is good to have a range of strategies and publishing a tenderly overstraining book like [[Gödel, Escher, Bach]] also belongs to science communication.

Related reading

Opening speech by Prof. Dr. Julika Griem (in German): Impositions: Science communication and
its contradictions. Zumutungen. Wissenschaftskommunikation und
ihre Widersprüche

Interview with me on Climate Feedback (in German): When researchers look the press over the shoulder. Wenn Forschende der Presse auf die Finger schauen.

Climate Feedback, a group a climate scientists who review media articles on climate change.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

America, it is Tuesday the 6th of November: VOTE

Opinion polling is hard because one needs to sample all groups evenly.

Election polling is even harder because you need to predict turnout as well. With the low turnout in the US (2014: 37% of eligible voters; 2012+2016: 61%): TURNOUT IS EVERYTHING.

If all young people would vote Republicans would have nearly no seat in the House. That is how important turnout is. (Take your friends with you when you vote.)

One advantage election polling normally has is being able to correct for biases based on past data. With turnout being this unprecedented, this will not help this time. Normally polling errors are about 3%. This midterm election my guesstimate is 7% nationally, 15% locally.

In other words: polling is nearly useless this time.

Historical results are also useless. In a West Virginia district Trump won by over 40 points, Justice Democrat Richard Ojeda has a 50/50 chance.

A large confidence interval may not sound like much of a prediction, but it does matter: If you think you live in a save state or district: you are wrong, go out & vote. You may otherwise regret it on the day after the elections.

Let's talk about the issues

Trump wants to kill a bunch of poor people in the South of Mexico. Similar historical that only a few will arrive at the border in several weeks. The so-called left wing press does his bidding by spending hours on this non-issue. Wednesday this topic will again have the prominence it deserves: none.

What we should be talking about, what should determine our votes:
  1. Climate change denial and lack of action
  2. America global pariah by refusing to do its part
  3. Incompetent management of climate disasters leading to thousands additional Americans dying #TrumpsKatrina
  4. The Republican Death Panel on Capitol Hill, mostly stopped by McCain, but far from fully
  5. Trump is in court to take away protections for pre-existing conditions #barbaric 
  6. Medical bankruptcies #OnlyInAmerica
  7. The biggest funder of global terrorism bribing Trump #bonesaw
  8. An upcoming war with Iran to help Saudi Arabia 
  9. Help with the famine, cholera epidemic and genocide in Yemen to help Saudi Arabia
  10. Nearly a devastating war with North Korea
  11. Intensified existing wars after promising to get out
  12. Still no infrastructure spending that could be paid from money waster on those wars
  13. Declining wages 
  14. Less decline in unemployment as the previous government
  15. Steady increase on the stock marker for a decade stopped
  16. 83% of the tax cuts going to the 1% rather than to you
  17. Corporations paying less taxes, no loopholes fixed, you pay their share 
  18. Otherwise the stock market (sign of how well the rich are doing) would be even worse
  19. Huge deficits and debt
  20. Obstruction of justice on national TV
  21. Putin's puppy in Helsinki
  22. Systemic corruption
  23. Basically ignoring the opioid epidemic running rampant, especially in Trump districts
  24. More Goldman Sachs employees in the White House than ever before
  25. More indictments, convictions and forced resignations than ever before
  26. Republicans who are unwilling to limit Trump trampling the Constitution
  27. Trump using a telephone that is not secure with Chinese listening #ButHerEmails
  28. An unconstitutional Muslim ban
  29. Ripping children away from their parents
  30. No plan to ever reunite the children with their parents
  31. Attacks on the press and thus Constitution #FirstAmendment 
  32. Rampant right-wing terrorism
  33. 71% of terror victims over the last decade died at the hand of right-wing terrorists
  34. Four attacks of them in the last two weeks
  35. Mr affluenza watches TV all day, clearly hates presidenting and is incompetent
  36. The only part of the job Trump likes is calling for violence at campaign rallies #VeryFinePeople
  37. Abusing presidential power in return for money is not part of the job
I am sure you can get this list to 100.

Friday, 27 July 2018

German investigative reporter team uncovers large peer review scandal

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists that also uncovered the Paradise Paper and Panama Papers investigated the world of predatory scientific journals and conferences. Most of the investigation was done by German journalists, where it has become a major news story that made the evening news.

The problem is much larger than I thought. In Germany it involves about five thousand scientists, about one percent sometimes use these predatory services. That is embarrassing and a waste of money.

While the investigators seem to understand scientific publishing well, it seems they do not understand science and the role of peer review in it. One piece of evidence is the preview picture of the documentary at the top of this article. It shows how the two reporters dressed up to present some nonsense at a fake conference. Presumably dressed up how they think scientists look like. Never seen such weird people at a real conference.

They may naturally claim they dressed like that to make it even more fake. But they also claim that no one in the audience noticed their presentation was fake, I guess they think so because they got a polite applause. That is not a good argument, everyone gets an applause, no matter how bad a presentation was.

A figure from the article that was published in the proceeding of the above fake conference with the title "Highly-Available, Collaborative, Trainable Communication - A Policy-Neutral approach". Clearly no one had a look at it before publishing. It got a "Best Presentation Award".

The stronger evidence that the reporters do not understand the way science works are the highly exaggerated conclusions they draw, which may lead to bad solutions. At the end of the above documentary (in German) the reporter asks: "Was wenn man keinen mehr glauben kann?", "What if you can no longer believe anyone?". Maybe the journalists forgot the ask the interviewed scientists to assess the bigger picture, which is what I will do in this post. There is no reason to doubt our scientific understand of the world because of this.

As an aside, the journalists of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists are the good guys, but (Anglo-American) journalism that rejects objectivity is the bigger problem for the question what we can believe in than science.

Fortunately most of the reporting makes clear that the main driving force behind the problem is the publish-or-perish system that politicians and the scientific establishment have set up to micro-manage scientists. If you reward scientists for writing papers rather than doing science, they will write more papers, in the worst case in predatory journals.

Those in power will likely prefer to make the micromanagement more invasive and prescribe where scientists are allowed to publish. The near monopolistic legacy publishers, who are the only ones really benefiting from this dysfunctional system, will likely lobby in this direction.

Peer review

Many outside of science have unrealistic expectations of peer review and of peer reviewed studies. Peer review is just a filter that improves the average quality of the articles. Science does not deal in certainty (that is religion) and peer reviewed studies certainly do not offer certainty. The claims of single studies (and single scientists) may be better than a random blog post, but reliable scientific understanding should be based on all studies, preferably a few years old, and interpreted by many scientists.

This goes much against the mores of the news business, who focus on single studies that are just out, may add some personal interest by portraying single heroic scientists. The news likes spectacular studies that challenge our current understand and are thus the most likely studies to be wrong. If this mess the public sees were science we would not have much scientific progress.

As a consumer of science reporting I would much prefer to read overviews of how the understanding in a certain scientific community is and possibly how it has changed over the last years. It does not have to be recent to be new to me. There is so much I do not know.

the biggest threat to the proper public understanding of science is ... the lie we tell the public (and ourselves) that journal peer review works to separate valid and invalid science
Michael Eisen

Peer review is nothing more than that (typically) two independent scientists read the study, give their feedback on things that could be improved and advice the editor on whether the study is sufficiently interesting for the journal in question. Review is not there to detect fraud. Reviewers do not redo all experiments, do not repeat all calculations, do not know every related study that could shine a different light on the results. They just think that other scientists would be interested in reading the article. The main part of the checking, processing of the new information and weaving it into the scientific literature is performed after publication when scientists (try to) build on the work.

The documentary starts with someone with cancer who is conned into a treatment by a scrupulous producer pointing to their peer reviewed studies, partially published in predatory journals. They also criticize that articles from predatory journals were available in a database of a regulatory agency.

However, the treatment in question was not approved and the agency pointed out that they had not used these articles in their assessments. For these assessments scientists come together and discuss the entire literature and how convincing the evidence is in various aspects. These scientists know which journals are reliable, they read the studies and try to understand the situation. One of the interviewed scientists looked at one of the studies on this cancer treatment in a predatory journal and found several reasons why the journal should not have accepted it in the present form.

Also politicians would often like every scientific study to be so perfect that you do not need any expertise to interpret it and can directly use it for regulation. That is not how science works and also not what science was designed for. Science is not an enormous heap of solid facts. Science is a process where scientists gradually understand reality a little better.

Trying to get to the "ideal" of flawless and final studies would make do science much harder. Every scientists would have to be as smart and knowledgeable as the entire community working on something for years. Writing and reviewing scientific article would be so hard that scientific progress would come to a screeching halt. Especially new ideas would have no chance any more.

Conned scientists

Like most scientists I get multiple spam mails a day for fake scientific journals and conferences. Most of them have the quality of Nigerian Prince Spam. People say this kind of spam still exists because the spammers only want really stupid people to respond as they are the easiest to con.

Thus I had expected that people who take up such offers know what they are doing. Part of becoming a scientist is learning the publishing landscape of your field. But Open Access publishing reporter Richard Poynder mentioned several cases of scientists being honestly deceived, who tried to reverse their error when they noticed what happened.
The first researcher who contacted me realised something had gone wrong when the manuscript that he and his co-authors had submitted was returned to them with no peer review reports attached and no suggested changes. There was, however, a note to say that it had been accepted, and could they please pay the attached invoice. They later learned that the paper had already been published.

Quickly realising what had happened, and desperate to recover the situation, the authors agreed to pay the publisher the journal’s full [Author Processing Charges] (over $2,000) – not for publishing their paper, but for taking it down.
Apparently there are also predatory journals with names that are very similar to legitimate ones and a 1% error rate easily happens. I guess assessing the quality of journals can be harder in large fields and in case of interdisciplinary fields. If the first author selects a predatory journal, the co-authors may not have the overview of the journals in the other field to notice the problem.

We need to find a way help scientists who were honestly fooled and make it possible that the authors can retract their articles themselves. Otherwise they can be held hostage by the predatory publishers, which also funds the organised deception.

If the title of the real article is the same as the one of the predatory article it would be hard to put both on your CV or article list. Real publishers could be a bit more lenient there. A retraction notice of the predatory version in the acknowledgements of the real version should be "shameful" enough that people do not game the system, first publish predatory and then look for a real publisher.


If there is evidence that scientists purposefully publish in predatory journals or visit fake conferences that should naturally have consequences. That is wasting public money. One institute had 29 publications over a time span of ten years. There is likely a problem there.

It should also have consequences when scientists are in the editorial boards of such predatory journals. It may look nice on their CV to be editor, but editors should notice that they are not involved in the peer review or that it is done badly. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that they are aware that they are helping these shady companies. Sometimes these companies put scientists on their editorial boards without asking them. In that case you can expect a scientist to at least state on their homepage that they did not consent.

It is good to see that prosecutors are trying to take down some of these fake publishers. I wish them luck, although I expect this to be hard because it will be difficult to define how good peer review should work. Someone managed to get a paper published with the title "Get me off Your Fucking Mailing List". That would be a clear example of a fail and probably a case of one strike and you are out. At least scientifically, no idea about juridically. With more subtle cases you probably need to demonstrate that this happens more often. Climate "sceptics" occasionally manage to publish enormously bad articles in real scientific journals. That does not immediately make them predatory journals.

Changing publishing

In the past scientific articles were mostly published in paper journals to which academic libraries had subscriptions. This made it hard for the public and many scientists to read scientific articles, especially for scientists from the global South, but I also cannot read articles in one of the journals I publish in regularly myself.

Nowadays this system is no longer necessary as journals can be published online. Furthermore, the legacy system is made for monopolies: a reader needs a specific article and an author needs a journal that most scientists subscribe to. As society replaces morality with money and as the publishing industry is concentrating and clearly prioritizes profits over being a good member of the scientific community subscription prices have gone up and service has gone down. As an example of the former, Elsevier has a profit margin of 30 to 50 percent. As an example of the latter, in one journal I unfortunately publish in the manuscript submission system is so complicated that you have to reserve almost a full working day to submit a manuscript.

The hope of the last decade was that a new publishing model would break open the monopoly: open access publishing. In this model articles are free to read and in most cases the authors fund the journals. This reduces the monopoly power of the journals. Readers can read the articles they need and authors can be sure their colleagues can read the article. However, scientists want to publish in journals with a good reputation, which takes years if not decades to build up and still produces a quite strong monopoly situation.

This has resulted in publishing fees of several thousands of Euro for the most prestigious open access journals. In this way these journals are open to read, but no longer open to publish for many researchers. These journals drain a lot of resources that could have been used for research; likely more than the predatory publishers ever will. My guess would be that the current publishing system is 50 to 90 percent too expensive; the predatory journals have less than 1 percent of the market.

The legacy publishers defend their profits and bad service with horror stories about predatory open access journals. They prefer to ignore all the high quality open access journals. This investigative story unfortunately feeds this narrative.

Bad solutions

The Austrian national science foundation (FWF) has found a way to make the situation worse. They want make sure that the scientists they fund will only publish in a list of known good quality open access journals, for example in the Directory of Open Access Journals. That sounds good, but if all science foundations would adopt this policy it would become nearly impossible to start new scientific journals and the monopolies would get stronger again.

[UPDATE The German Alliance of Scientific Organizations fortunately states that journal selection is part of the freedom of science. They furthermore state that the quality of a study does not depend on where it is published and want to help scientists with training and information persons. They see a key role for the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ).]

I just send a nice manuscript to a new journal, which has no real reputation yet. Its topics fits very well to my work, so I am happy my colleagues started this journal. I did my due diligence, know several people on the editorial board as excellent researchers and even looked through a few published articles. The same publisher has many good journals and journal is by now also listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). The DOAJ was actually very quick and already listed this journal after only publishing 11 articles. But getting those first 11 would be hard if the FWF policy wins out.

The opposite model is to create a black list. This has less problems, but it is quite hard to determine which journals are predatory. There used to be a list of predatory journals by Jeffrey Beall, but he had to stop because of legal threads to his university by the predatory publishers. There were complaints that this list discriminated against journals from developing countries. True or not, this illustrates how hard it is to maintain such a list. There is now, oh irony, a pay-walled version of such a list with predatory journals. The subscriptions should probably pay for the legal risks.

Changing publishing

A good solution would be to review the articles after publication. This would allow researchers to update their assessments when evidence from newer studies come in and we understand the older studies better. PubPeer is a system to do this post-publication peer review, but it mostly has reviews for flawed papers and thus does not give a good overview over the scientific literature.

F1000 Prime is an open access journal with post publication review. I know of two more complete post-publication review systems: The Self-Journals of Science and recently Peeriodicals. Here every scientist can start a journal, collect the articles that are worthwhile and write something about them. The more scientists endorse an article, the more influential it is. In these systems I miss reviews of article are not that important, but are valid and they may still be informative for some. Furthermore, I would expect that the review would need to be organized more formally to be seen as worthy successors of the current quality control system.

That is what I am trying to build up at the moment and I have started a first such "grassroots journal" for my own field to show how the system would work. I expect that the system will be superior because these "grassroots journals" do not publish the articles themselves, only review them, and thus can assess all articles in one field at one place, while traditionally articles are spread over many journals. The quality of the reviews will be better because it uses a post-publication review model. The reviews are more helpful to the readers because they are published themselves and quantify in more detail what is good about an article. As such it performs the role of a supervisor in finding one's way in the scientific literature.

You get a similar effect from the always up-to-date review paper on sea surface temperature proposed and executed by my colleagues John Kennedy. This makes it easy for others to contribute, while having versioning and attribution. There is naturally less detail per article that is reviewed.

Changing the system

But also a better reviewing system cannot undo the damage of the fake competitive system currently used to fund scientific research.

Volker Epping, president of the University of Hannover, stated: "The pressure to publish is enormous. Problems are inherent to the system." I would even argue: Given the way the system is designed, it is a testament of the dedication of the scientists that it still works so well.

It is called "competitive", but researchers are competing to get their colleagues to approve the funding their research. There is no real competition because there is no real market. If you did a good job, there are no customers that reward you for this. In the best case the rewards come as new funding decided by people who have no skin in the game. People who have no incentive to make good funding decisions. Given that situation, it is amazing that scientists still spend time in making good peer reviews of research proposals and show dedication comparing them with each other to decide what to fund.

My proposal would be to return to the good old days. Give the funding to the universities, which give it to the professors, which allocate it to what they, as the most informed experts, think is interesting research, which furthers their reputation. Professors have skin in the game, their reputation is on the line, and they will invest the limited funds where they expect to get most benefits. In the current system there is no incentive to set priorities, submitting more research proposals has no downsides for them beyond the time it takes to write them. One of the downsides of this model for science is that the best researchers are not doing research, but are writing research proposals.

A compromise could be to limit the number of projects a science foundation funds per laboratory. The Swiss Science Foundation uses this model.

The old and hopefully future system also allows for awarding permanent positions to good researchers. Now most researchers are on short-term contracts because the project funding does not provide stable funding. With these better labour conditions one could attract much better researchers for the same salary.

Because project science requires so many peer reviews (of research proposals and of a bloated number of articles) a lot of time is wasted. (This waste is again much bigger than that of the predatory publishers.) This invites the reviewers to use short-cuts and not assess how good a scientist is and instead assess how many articles they write and how high the prestige is of the journals the articles appear in (bibliometric measures). Officially this system is illegal in Germany, the ethics rules of the German Science Foundation forbid judging researchers and small groups on their bibliometric measures, but it still happens.

My expectation is that without the publish-or-perish system scientific progress would go much faster and we certainly would not have the German public being shocked to learn about predatory publishers.

I hope the affair will inspire journalists to inform the public better on how science works and what peer review is and is not.

Related reading

Investigation of predatory publishing

English summary by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ): New international investigation tackles ‘fake science’ and its poisonous effects.

A critical comment in English on the affair: Beyond #FakeScience: How to Overcome Shallow Certainty in Scholarly Communication. With many (mostly German) links to news sources.

The newspaper Indian Express (the Indian partner of the ICIJ): Inside India’s fake research paper shops: pay, publish, profit. Despite UGC blacklist, hundreds of ‘predatory journals’ thrive, cast shadow on quality of faculty and research nationwide.

Comment on the investigation: Predatory Open Access Journals: Is Open Peer Review Any Help? I think it would help, but there are also commercial firms where you can buy peer reviews (next to copy editing, statistical analysis and writing complete articles and theses).

The Bern university library feels criteria for black lists are not transparent and making them puts much power into the hands of a commercial company: On the topic of #predatoryjournals - are there black lists and how reliable are they? In German: Zum Thema #predatoryjournals – gibt es schwarze Listen und wie verlässlich sind sie?

Investigation of scientists of the City University of New York publishing in predatory journals.

Overview of the investigation by the ICIJ in German: Overview of the investigative project in German.

Q&A of ICIJ in German: #FakeScience - Fragen und Antworten.

Why so many researchers use dubious ways to publish (in German). Warum so viele Forscher auf unseriösem Weg publizieren. Volker Epping, president of the University of Hannover: "The pressure to publish is enormous. Problems are inherent to the system." I would even argue: Given the way the system is designed, it is a testament of the dedication of the scientists that it still works so well.

Video of a comment on the affair by Svea-Eckert in German. Like other jouralists, I think she is wrong about the implications.

Peer review

The first grassroots scientific journal, which I hope will inspire the post-publication review system of the future.

An always up-to-date review paper by John Kennedy, Elizabeth Kent on GitHub: A review of uncertainty in in situ measurements and data sets of sea-surface temperature. You can use bug reports and pull requests to add to the text.

Separation of feedback, publishing and assessment of scientific studies.

Separation of review powers into feedback and importance assessment could radically improve peer review. Grassroots scientific journals.

Publish or perish is illegal in Germany, for good reason. German science has another tradition, trusting scientists more and focusing on quality. This is expressed in the safeguards for good scientific practice of the German Science Foundation (DFG). It explicitly forbids the use of quantitative assessments of articles.

The value of peer review for science and the press. Is it okay to seek publicity for a work that is not peer reviewed? Should a journalist only write about peer-reviewed studies? Is peer review gate keeping? Is peer review necessary?

Peer review helps fringe ideas gain credibility.

Three cheers for gatekeeping.

Did Isaac Newton Need Peer Review? Scholarly Journals Swear By This Practice of Expert Evaluation. But It’s a New Phenomenon That Isn’t the Only Way To Establish the Facts.

Think. Check. Submit. How to recognise predatory publishers before you submit your work.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Separation of review powers into feedback and importance assessment could radically improve peer review

After some blog posts about grassroots journals, it looks as if no one else will pick up the idea and I have started creating a first grassroots journal.

(It is interesting how often fear of being scooped is mentioned as reason against Open Science. Typically good ideas are not recognised before they are presented in detail and even then it takes time. At least that is my impression with the small paradigm changes I was responsible for: surrogate clouds and adaptive parameterisations.)

"It was the pits," said [economist Brian Arthur]. "Nobody there believes in increasing returns."

Susan Arthur had seen her husband returning from the academic wars before. "Well," she said, trying to find something comforting to say, "I guess it wouldn't be a revolution, would it, if everybody believed in it at the start?"

The first grassroots journal is naturally on homogenisation of climate observations. That was a good way for me to check whether the idea would work in practise. I think it does. And a concrete example is a good way for everyone to see how such a journal would work.

Using a WordPress blog works, but I am learning how to code a WordPress site to make it more user friendly and to make it easy for everyone to start such a grassroots journal, just as easy as starting a blog. (Which is really easy. Hint.)

With that it also became time to spread the idea and I have written a short guest post for the blog of the OpenUp project, an EU project on Open Publishing. After all these years of blogging that was my first guest post.

I was supposed to write about how wonderful openness is. So I wrote about how wonderful the right mix of privacy and openness are. Scientists are natural contrarians.

The main message, however, was already presented in my last blog post that if we separate the two roles of peer review — 1) feedback for the authors and 2) advising the journal whether the article is important enough for them — we will get a much more healthy quality assurance system.

In the feedback round I see no real reason to publish the content, all the (little) mistakes that were corrected. However, as it is just feedback, a friendly helping role, it would be easy publish the name of the reviewer.

In the assessment round the review itself is very interesting for others as well and is best published. Because this is judging a colleague and anonymous makes it easier to be honest. I would give the choice whether to be named to the reviewer.

Enjoy: Separation of review powers into feedback and importance assessment could radically improve peer review.

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Separation of feedback, publishing and assessment of scientific studies

I once asked a friend and colleague about a wrong sentence in one of his scientific articles. He is a smart cookie and should have known better than that. His answer was that he knew it was wrong, but the peer reviewer requested that claim. The error was small and completely inconsequential for the results; no real harm was done. I wondered what I would have done.

Peer review has two roles: it provides detailed feedback on your work and it advises the editor on whether the article is good enough for the journal. This feedback normally makes the article better, but it is somewhat uncomfortable to discuss with reviewers who have a lot of power because of their second role.

Your Manuscript On Peer Review by redpen/blackpen.
My experience is that normally you can argue your case with a reviewer. Still to reach a common understanding can take an additional round of review, which means that the paper is published a few months later. In the worst case, not agreeing with a reviewer can mean that the paper is rejected and you have to submit to another journal.

It is quite common for reviewers to abuse their power by requesting their work to be cited (more). Mostly this is somewhat subtle and the citation more or less relevant. However, an anonymous reviewer once requested that I'd cite four article by one author, one of which was somewhat relevant. That does not hurt the article, but is disgusting power abuse and rewards bad behavior. My impression is that these are not all head fakes; when I write a critical review I make sure not to ask for citations to my work, but recommend some articles of colleagues instead. Multiple colleagues, not to get them into trouble.

Grassroots journals

I have started a grassroots journal on homogenization of climate data and only recently started to realize that this also produces a valuable separation of feedback, publishing and assessment of scientific studies. That by itself can lead to a much more healthy and productive quality control system.

A grassroots journal assesses published articles and manuscripts in a field of study. One could also see it as a continually up-to-date review article. At least two reviewers write a review on the strengths and weaknesses of an article, everyone can comments on parts of the article and the editors write a synthesis of the reviews. A grassroots journal does not publish the articles themselves, but collects articles published everywhere.

Every article also gets a quantitative assessment. This is similar to the current estimate of how important an article is by the journal it was able to get into. However, it does not reward people submitting the articles to a too big journal, hoping to get lucky, making unnecessary work for double reviews. For example, the publisher Frontiers reviews 2.4 million manuscripts and has to bounce about 1 million valid papers.

In case of traditional journals your manuscript only has to pass the threshold at the time of publishing. With an up-to-date rolling review of grassroots journals articles are rewarded that are of lasting value.

I would not have minded making a system without a quantitative assessment, but there are real differences between articles, the reader needs to prioritize their reading and funding agencies would likely not accept grassroots journals as replacement of the current system without it.

That is the final aim: getting rid of the current publishing system that holds science back. That grassroots journals immediately provide value is hopefully what makes the transition easier.

The more assessments made by grassroots journals are accepted the less it matters where you publish. Currently there is typically one journal, sometimes two, that have the right topic and prestige to publish in. The situation for the reader is even more terrible: you often need a specific paper and not just some paper on the topic. For this one specific paper there is one (legal) supplier. This near-monopolistic market leads to Elsevier making profits of 30 to 50% and it suppresses innovation.

Another symbol of the monopolistic market are the manuscript submission systems, which combine the worst of pre-internet paper submissions (every figure a separate file, captions in a separate file) with the internet age adage "save labor costs by letting your customers do the work" (adding the captions a second time when uploading a figure with a neat pop-up for special characters).

Separation of powers

Publishing is easy nowadays. ArXiv does this for about one dollar per manuscript. Once scientists can freely chose where to publish, the publishers will have to provide good services at reasonable costs. The most important service would be to provide a broad readership by publishing Open Access.

Maybe it will even go one step further and scientists will simply publish their manuscript on a pre-print server and tell the relevant grassroots journals where to find it. Such scientists likely still would like get some feedback from their colleagues on the manuscript. Several initiatives are currently springing up to review manuscripts before they are submitted to journals, for example, Peer Community In (PCI). Currently PCI makes several rounds until the reviewers "endorse" a manuscript so that in principle a journal could publish such a manuscript without further peer review.

With a separate independent assessment of the published article there would no longer be any need for the "feedback peer reviewers" to give their endorsement. (It doesn't hurt.) The authors would have much more freedom to decide whether the changes peer reviewers suggest are actually improvements. The authors, and not the reviewers, would decide when the manuscript is finished and can be published. If they make the wrong decisions that would naturally be reflected in the assessment. If they do not not add four citations to a peer reviewer that would not be any problem.

There is a similar initiative in the life sciences called APPRAISE, but this will only review manuscripts published on pre-print servers. Once the journals are gone, this will be the same, but I feel that grassroots journals add more immediate value by reviewing all articles on one topic. Just like a review article should review the entire literature and not a random part.

A vigorously debated topic is whether peer reviews should be open or closed. Recently ASAPbio had this discussion and comprehensively summarized the advantages and disadvantages (well worth reading). Both systems have their strengths and I do not see one of them winning.

This discussion may change when we separate feedback and assessment. Giving feedback is mostly doing the authors a favor and could more easily be done in the open. Rather than cumbersome month-long rounds of review, it would be possible to simply write an email and pick up the phone and clarify contentious points. On the other hand anonymity makes it easier to give an honest assessment and I expect this part to be mostly performed anonymously. The editors of a grassroots journal determine what is published and can thus ensure that no one abuses their anonymity.

The future

Concluding, in a decade a researcher writes an article and asks their colleagues for feedback. Once the manuscript no longer changes that much it is send to an independent proof reading service. Another firm or person takes care of the lay-out and ensures that the article can still be read in a century by making versions using open standards.

The authors decide when their manuscript is ready to be published and can be uploaded to the article repository. They send a notice to the journals that cover the topic. Journal A makes an assessment. Journals B and C copy this assessment, while journal D also uses it, but requests an additional review for a part that is important to them and they write another synthesis.

Readers add comments to the article using web annotations and the authors reply to them with clarifications. Also authors can add comments to share new insights on what was good and bad about the article.

Two years later a new study shows that one of the choices of the article was not optimal. This part was important for journal C and D and they update their assessment. The authors decide that it is relatively easy to redo their article with a better choice and that the article is sufficiently important to put in some work, they upload the updated study to the repository and the journals update their assessment.

Related reading

APPRAISE (A Post-Publication Review and Assessment In Science Experiment). A similar idea to grassroots journals, but they only want to to review pre-prints and will thus only review part of the literature. See also NPR on this initiative.

A related proposal by Gavin Schmidt: Someone C.A.R.E.S. Commentary And Replication in Earth Science (C.A.R.E.S.). Do we need a new venue for post-publication comments and replications?

Psychologist Henry L. Roediger, III on Anonymity in Scientific Publishing. A well written article that lays out all arguments, which are whether we talk about the authors, reviewers or editors. The author likes signed reviews. I feel that editors should prevent reviewers taking advantage of their anonymity.

* Photo of scientific journals by Tobias von der Haar used under a Attribution 2.0 Generic ( license.
* Graph of publishing costs by Dave Gray used under a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

I did not start the war

As I work in Bonn, I sometimes represent Germany, for example in the World Meteorological Organisation or in EU science projects. A colleague once noted that I am fond of making clear that while I represent Germany, I am actually Dutch.

Could be, at least I like the slogan "I did not start the war". The Second World War. It is a truism, but Germans are not allowed to say so. So, I say it on their behalf.

In addition Germans are still treated as if they are personally responsible. So, it is more pleasant if people know that I am not German.

My father traveled from The Netherlands to Austria on his motorbike. Admittedly long ago, not too long after the war, when he was young. At the border between France and Germany the customs were not willing to speak German, until they saw his Dutch passport, then they were suddenly able to speak German fluently.

Before I moved to Germany in 2000 I told a few friends that it was nice that the hostile feelings against Germans were over. They each time looked at me like I was from another planet. They were right. I must have had a sheltered life with nice friends.

More recently I went to Dublin for a week of fun at the European Meteorological Society meeting and stayed at a bed and breakfast. As far as I can see I got the worst room. The landlord asked a few times whether I was German. Maybe because the answer, "No, I am Dutch", was too much of a shock to process in one step. The toilet was next to my pillow, a naked light bulb, the backside of the water basin was unfinished lumber. The other rooms looked better and were not all occupied during the week. When reserving a room a normally ask for a firm mattress, maybe I should add: "I did not start the war".

Fascism: I sometimes fear... (by Michael Rosen)

I sometimes fear that
people think that fascism arrives in fancy dress
worn by grotesques and monsters
as played out in endless re-runs of the Nazis.

Fascism arrives as your friend.
It will restore your honour,
make you feel proud,
protect your house,
give you a job,
clean up the neighbourhood,
remind you of how great you once were,
clear out the venal and the corrupt,
remove anything you feel is unlike you...

It doesn't walk in saying,
"Our programme means militias, mass imprisonments, transportations, war and persecution."

It made no sense to me when my first German language teacher said she felt personally responsible for the war. She was born well after the war. But if people treat you like you are guilty, it is easy to start feeling guilty. We are social animals after all. In a survey published today one in ten Germans agreed with the thesis: "Even if I did not do anything bad myself, I feel guilty for the Holocaust".

This shows the power of social contagion, when the way Germans are treated by others can make 10% believe something that is impossible. How much larger will this effect be in cases were it is hard to judge who is right, the person or many others. If people treat you badly because of the way you look, it is too easy to say you should just ignore that. It will leave its trace.

Ironically racists often call for an end to the shame and blame culture, while their counterparts in other countries produce it. While they are technically right that it is not logical to feel guilty, what they actually want is that people do not know what the consequences of their ideology of hate and conflict are.

Fortunately in the same survey 79% say it is important to teach history in school. The two main reasons for this are to learn about the damages caused by racism (79%) and to prevent a return of national socialism (84%). More than half reported to have victims of the Second World War in their families.

Not mentioned in the survey, but the independent public media are also very important. They feature German history regularly and show emotional interviews of victims of the Nazi regime. The most important lesson of such interviews may be that the Nazis did not start with the Holocaust, they started with parades, denigration, discrimination and deportation. It ended with the Holocaust.

Free public transport

In complete different German news today: The federal government is thinking about free public transport, starting with experiments in Bonn & four other cities, to reduce private transport & fight air pollution. They revealed these plans in a letter to the EU on how they will keep air pollution below the limits they themselves agreed to.

* Top photo Cochem with Reichsburg shot by Roger W, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

GCOS Newletter on designing a GCOS Surface Reference Network

Outcomes of AOPC Task Team, 1-3 November 2017, Maynooth, Ireland
Article in the GCOS Newsletter of January 2018

While not perfect, the in-situ component of the global climate observing system has been broadly successful in contributing to the detection, attribution, and monitoring of climate change. Measurements of surface meteorological parameters have been made for more than a century in many parts of the world and, together with satellites and other in-situ systems, have provided the evidence for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to conclude in its last two assessment reports that the evidence for a warming world is unequivocal (IPCC, 2013).

However, the demands on the climate observing systems are ever increasing and a more rigorous assessment of future climate change and variability is needed. This can most plausibly be delivered by a coordinated metrological reference-measurement approach to such monitoring at a sufficient subset of global sites. The principles for such a reference network are traceability, comparability, representativeness, long-term operational viability, full data and metadata retention and open data provision. Reference networks currently exist that have proven value, like the US Climate Reference Network (USCRN), the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) Reference Upper Air Network (GRUAN), and Cryonet stations from WMO’s Global Cryosphere Watch.

At the request of GCOS Atmospheric Observation Panel for Climate (AOPC) and the WMO Commission for Climatology, a paper outlining the steps toward establishing a GCOS Surface Reference Network (GSRN) was developed and has now been accepted for publication in the International Journal of Climatology. In 2017, the AOPC agreed to the creation of a 2 year task team whose main objective is to assess the feasibility of a global surface reference network by identifying the major stakeholders, the benefits, the practicality of doing this, and the costs.

The task team, chaired by Howard Diamond (US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Oceanic and Atmospheric Research NOAA/OAR, Air Resources Laboratory) includes experts from the metrology community, WMO’s CIMO, Numerical Weather Prediction, the climate community, other GCOS networks, and met for the first time from 1 to 3 November 2017 at Maynooth University, Ireland. The meeting agreed that the primary benefits of a GCOS Surface Reference Network would be:

  • A key step in improving the long-term accuracy, stability and comparability of the observations and result in an improved confidence in detecting the global increase in temperature, as well as the link to historical records.
  • Rigorously characterized time series from these sites will lead to the development of a better understanding of important climate related processes, including extreme events, and key to assessing mitigation effectiveness.
  • Observations from a GSRN can be used to improve measurements made at other, non-reference site, and co-located reference quality measurements will provide a valuable data set for the calibration and validation of satellite data.
  • New techniques and equipment can be tested at the reference sites which will also provide good locations to base future field campaigns. In addition to WMO Members contributing measurement sites, a key catalyst for the success of the GSRN would be the establishment of a global lead center structure to help ensure the adequate coordination of all GSRN activities.
The task team will produce a concept note that will be used to get feedback from the Members on whether there is interest from their country in participating, and it will include a proposed list of steps to follow in the GSRN implementation.

Related post

A stable global climate reference network. Some first thoughts on how to design and organise such a global reference network.

* Top photo: US Climate Reference Network.
* Last photo of automatic weather station at Cape Morris Jesup, the northernmost point of mainland Greenland, taken by the technicians of the Danish weather service and kindly offered by Ruth Mottram.

Sunday, 21 January 2018

The variability diet

'Tis the time for dieting. Let me jump on the band wagon with a completely new diet that fits to this blog: the variability diet.

Antipodes can skip this post or stay for some interesting science ideas; countries in the Southern Hemisphere apparently do not have a seasonal cycle in dieting.

The National Weight Control Registry is proud they found ten thousand people who managed to keep the weight off for a longer time. Ten thousand people world wide sounds to me more as if most diets hopelessly fail on the long term.

It could naturally be that the obesity epidemic in the West is an epidemic of sloth, a failure to count calories as well as lions do.

Oh, wait.

I would venture: we need fresh ideas.

Most diets are defined by averages. The right amount of calories, the right macro-nutrients (carbs, fats and proteins), in the right number of portions per day. In observational studies, scientists compute the average number of calories eaten and calories burned, they compute the average fractions of every macro-nutrient, maybe even the average amount of vegetables and animal foods eaten, the average number of hours of sleep, the averages of this and the average of that. And even if they do not explicitly average, their analysis methods (for example, multiple regressions) will only notice differences in the average.

The main exception from prescribing the averages of a diet is the advice to eat a diverse diet or to eat many different colours of fruits and vegetables. For example in the USA one recommendation is: "A healthy eating pattern includes: A variety of vegetables from all of the subgroups—dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy, and other."

To be honest, "a variety of" is a somewhat unsophisticated way to describe variability. First of all it is rather unspecific. Other formulations often ask for more variability, but just like for the average, you can have too much or too little variability and an optimal amount in the middle. But lets be generous and assume the typical variability is way below optimal.

The biggest problem is that for variability you always need to define an averaging (time) scale. The red and the blue symbols in the figure below have the same total variability (a standard deviation of one). However, as the thick line shows, the blue line has much more variability on longer averaging time scales, while the blue values vary less from day to day.

Daily eating a wide variety of vegetables of vegetables from all over the world is nowadays possible and produces a lot of variability on short time scales, like the red symbols. But on long time scales it lacks variability ($). My father complained that in his youth he had to eat beans for weeks on end when the beans in the garden were ready for harvest. That was a diet with not much variability on short time scales, but a lot on longer time scales, like the blue symbols.

There is a diet that mimics this, the seasonal diet. For out of touch city folks like me, there is even a seasonal food calendar; I have one on the inside of a kitchen cabinet. This diet is mostly promoted as a diet that saves you money and it good for the environment. Sometimes it is advised for ensuring the food is healthier and tastier because fresher, but maybe the variability is also helpful.

What is the right time scale? I do not know. One reason to write this post is the hope that a nutritional scientist is inspired to take variability into account. When it comes to carbohydrates (bread, pasta, rice) it may be good to once in a while empty the (glycogen; animal starch) stores and train your body to also use fat for fuel. The liver has about 10 to 12 hours of glycogen in store. I wonder whether this is related to the German advice not to eat after 6pm or the Italians who eat a lot in the evening, but hardly eat any breakfast. These two national recommendations seem to conflict, but have a fasting period of over 12 hours in common.

Intermittent fasting seems to be an effective way to lose weight, at least for people able to do so. There are many varieties. Some people only eat during a few hours a day, every day. Others once in a while do not eat for 24 hours (breakfast to breakfast; skip lunch and diner) or 36 hours (diner to breakfast). I like this method, at least in summer because I get cold after some time when my metabolism goes down. Women often do not like it.

"Ancient humans ate a large variety of foods, which is why we are adapted to so many. Human variation is high though, since our lineage has become so populous and geographically wide-ranging."
Melissa McEwen

Many diets have a honeymoon period of one or two months in which they work like a charm (raw food diet; low carb diet). A blog called 180 Degree Health claims to have success by breaking all the healthy eating rules. Apparently diametrically opposed diets work in the beginning. If you are lucky your diet works for about half a year, but typically the weight and the health problems come back.

From the variability point of view a new diet is initially a change, variability, in the long-term a diet often makes your food more monotonous.

This honeymoon period suggests that another interesting time scale is a month to half a year. This honeymoon period was what provoked my to start thinking about a variability diet. Why stick with a diet for a year, why not try 12 diets for a month and benefit from the honeymoon period 12 times?

The honeymoon period is also why diet studies without a control group are a problem.

Randomized Control Trials, difference in success after 6 months, similar and less success after 12 months.

Variability in sports

What is the right time scale? Maybe all of them!? Nature is characterized by variability on all time (and spatial) scales.

The importance of variability is broadly acknowledged in sports and sports training uses several time scales, from hours to years. Sports training is based on periodization. A simple [[periodization scheme]] for a beginning runner could be: one has microcycles of one week (one hard run a week), mesocycles of about one month (one more relaxed week a month) and macrocycles of a year (preparation, competition and transition (rest) phase). If you add to this a 4-year cycle for Olympic athletes and a career plan for a professional athlete you start to think in variability on all time scales.

In weight training a similar concept is to include a deloading period/week once in a while in which you take it easy, which helps to keep getting stronger in the long run. Weight training fans can talk for hours about how fast exercises should be performed, how many repetitions, how many sets and how often per week one should go to the gym. There we have four more time scales. Five if you make one exercise a week extra hard.

Intermittent fasting could be seem as weight training. A fruitarian diet may be the equivalent of lying in bed all day; if you can handle the sugar load, fruits normally eaten hardly contain any anti-nutrients you body needs to defend itself against. On the other side, a very low carb may for some be the equivalent of running a marathon every day. If you think in terms of exercise, you would set a stressor by eating very low carb for a short period and then recover and become stronger while eating a mixed diet including fruits. No idea whether this specific example works, but I wonder why people do not think in these terms when in comes to nutrition.

Reasons why variability may be healthy

A healthy gut microbiome, that is the ecosystem in your intestines, is important for health and weight loss. A human has more mass (and stores) than a microbe. Missing nutrients thus hurt microbes more than us and fasting gives our immune system the possibility to fight bad germs more easily. This is a reason why we often do not feel like eating when ill. This also suggests that the microbiome may be the most sensitive to variability and the main target of a variability diet.

The biodiversity of the microbiome is linked to being overweight. The causal relationship may go both ways. Transferring the microbiome of a fat mouse to a skinny mouse makes it fatter, but losing weight also changes the microbiome. The obesity epidemic and other metabolic deceases in the West may be related to a reduced intestinal biodiversity in the West. This biodiversity has a seasonal cycle and the diversity increases on a calorie restricted diet, which gives hope this may be reversible.

Microbes are an ecosystem and their composition will as such highly likely be determined by variability (pioneer populations, tidal plain versus salt marsh; cactuses need to be dry regularly to fight root decease; palm trees grow where the minimum temperature is above zero degrees, fire keeps the savanna open, ...).

Variability also makes it easier for the body to learn which food does what to your body, especially when the short-period diets are relatively simple to get more long-term variability. Without paleo blogs, I would never have noticed that I do not handle grains well because I never went without grains for a long enough time to notice the difference.

My experiment

How could such a variability diet look like? Except for mimicking the seasonal diet your grandma ate, I have no idea. But this is the experiment I tried myself. I picked a period of 4 days and relatively large changes in diet. The 4 days nicely fit to my 2 times a week grocery shopping rhythm. These are some of the short-term diets I tried. The diets probably look funny to most because I do not eat grains.
  • 4 Days low protein: Fried potatoes, fruit meals and a large vegetable stew without meat, but with butter.
  • 4 Days low fat: I was at a conference and thought that low fat would be the easiest diet variety. Luckily they had lots of fish. Otherwise, vegetable omelets, meat, greens, yogurt with fruits.
  • 2 Days low carb: Brisket, fried eggs with cream, too much cashews, pork chops with red cabbage.
  • 7 Days deloading: Whatever my body wanted.
  • I started this 4 day period planning to eat yogurt and fruit. But after four meals, I just could not eat it any more and put in a low carb day. Repeat not to waste the fruits.
  • 6 Days a diet which was intended to be (almost) all animal products, but without dairy, so I used olive oil. That turned out to be too low carb, so I have added one fruit to most of my meals. This period was a bit longer than the others. It felt good and I made a delicious soup from whole 2-kg chicken, which takes some days to finish, if you would like to eat more than just soup.
  • 2 Transition days.
  • Started with a potato diet, with some vegetables and nut butter for taste. I mainly baked the potatoes in a little butter or olive oil. Plus about 2 fruits a day.
  • 5 Days low carb, mainly animal products, meat, eggs, heavy cream, butter, bacon, and one or two fruits a day. I had planned to do this one week, but my temperature started to drop (cold hands, feet and ears).
  • 3 Days my normal diet.
  • A low protein week: backed potatoes with butter and cream and fruits.
  • 2 Weeks of meetings and a conference in sugar and flour capital Vienna, These weeks I planned to eat whatever is available. To my surprise you can also get very good food in Vienna, lots of offal and grass-fed beef was available in the restaurants (Universitätsbräuhaus (University brewery, Unibräu) & Servitenwirt) I visited.
  • 1 Week my normal paleo-ish diet to recover from the meeting.
  • 3 Starch days, a lot of rice pudding (rice cooked in hay milk and butter, served with a little sugar and cinnamon or backed apples) and one normal meal.
There are many more things one could try. Also trying longer periods would make sense.
  • High Acid (vinegar)
  • Low Acid (My mum used to have chalk for cooking, no idea how she used it.)
  • No dairy
  • Salty or salt free
  • Pig out
  • Salad, raw vegetables
  • Drink a lot, or little
  • A lot of vegetables or just empty carbs.
  • Avoid nightshades, citrus fruits or [[FODMAPs]]
The good news is that I lost weight and felt good. The bad news is that I was not able to continue the diet. Inventing one or two new diets a week is exhausting. Thinking so much about what to eat is not my thing. So I went on with just occasional intermittent fasting (which requires no planning) and stopped doing that in winter.

It would be great if there were a traditional fasting celebration in spring to remind you to start with intermittent fasting again.

So you could say my n=1 experiment failed, because the main thing of a working diet is being able to stick to it. But maybe that is fixable (is there an app for that?) and people are different.

It is some time ago I tried this. I think I will try again. 'Tis the time of the year.

Related reading

Is obesity bias evolutionary?

Davenport and colleagues: Seasonal Variation in Human Gut Microbiome Composition.  PLoS ONE, 2014.

Mark's daily apple: The Pitfalls and Limitations of Self-Experimentation.

Are Diets Just Placebos?

Dietary intervention impact on gut microbial gene richness. This study suggest that a low fat diet good for microbiome diversity. I could imagine it was just the change.

Richness of human gut microbiome correlates with metabolic markers.

Photos: Pumpkin recipes by zsoolt used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license; yellow snap beans photo taken at Farmers Market by Alice Henneman used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license; Pepper Medley by Jitze Couperus used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license; Grande Ronde Wild and Scenic River by the Bureau of Land Management Oregon and Washington used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license; Fennel by Alice Henneman used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license; seasonal by Lisa Ouellette used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license; Sampler tray of Starbucks new Mocha Toffee Latte by urbanbohemian used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license.