Conduct and misconduct, and to PhD or not to PhD?

Conduct and misconduct

Apart from the section on ‘climategate’, I enjoyed reading Bea Parks’ article on scientific fraud.

It is very misleading to claim that the climategate investigations found no evidence of fraud or misconduct · simply because the assessment boards did not even consider the underlying science. What was examined in both the UK and the US were sidelines, like violations of  freedom of information regulations. 

Anyone can judge the climategate material in original or digested and commented form for themselves (via Google search for ‘climategate email Costella’) and consider the subsequent whitewash of its actual significance by persons that certainly were not ‘independent’ in the context.

To make things worse, numerous instances of systematic data tampering of local and global temperature series have been discovered and revealed since the 2009 climategate email material became public.

P Stilbs FRSC
Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden

To PhD or not to PhD?

I must take Mark Peplow to task regarding his opinion that PhD courses should prepare students for a life after research (Chemistry World, April 2015, p36). PhD courses are designed to train students for a career in academic research; they have no other purpose or value, if you exclude having the title ‘Doctor’.

Peplow writes that ‘the majority will have careers outside of research. That makes it more important ... to furnish students with the skills they need to flourish in whatever career they pursue.’ On the contrary, it makes it essential that vast resources aren’t wasted training students in skills that will be of no value to them or anyone else in the selection and development of their future careers. They should be encouraged and assisted to make that decision before they commence a PhD course, not afterwards.

In most cases, the years students spent in research would be better spent in broadening their skill base by studying finance or law, for example.

As for being unprepared to face the big, wide, ugly world, they will just have to do like the rest of us did · go out and give it a try. It isn’t that difficult really.

R Leveton MRSC

Spotless record

Katrina Krñmer’s article ‘Squeaky clean’ brought back memories of 60 years ago, when I was a young assistant working in a converted wartime hut, which was Joseph Chatt’s laboratory at the Frythe, near Welwyn, UK.

Chromic acid baths were regularly used to clean large pieces of laboratory glassware contaminated with malodorous residues of organic phosphorus preparations.

The baths were prepared in 20 litre glass aquaria using concentrated sulfuric acid and potassium dichromate, covered with plate glass lids and placed adjacent to the butler ceramic sink. This domain was attended by Dot, a middle-aged lady who came in every morning to wash and dry the apparatus. 

I recall her dressed in a rubber apron, wearing elbow length rubber gloves and goggles, and standing on a small stool to reach the tanks, leaning over them to expertly fish the glassware from the murky, corrosive liquor with long-handled stainless steel tongs.

I suspect that nowadays such cleaning methods would be frowned upon and safer, more environmentally friendly alternatives are used.

A short history of the Frythe can be found at:

North Yorkshire, UK