When Research was Research and Business was Commerce


I carried out my tertiary education, postdoctoral research, and work life during the remarkable period described below. It is the milieu over which I performed the research program described here. Using this example (1989 to 1999) I’ll illustrate how Research Management has come to set agendas for research by becoming arbiters of the productivity of researchers. I intend this article as a warning and a call for researchers to reclaim research by rediscovering “when research was research.”

Used to be — “back in the day” — ca. 1976 when I studied chemistry at the University of NSW, there was a Faculty of Applied Science and a Faculty of Science, occupying some of the most impressive buildings. There was a Faculty of Commerce but no Faculty of Business [1]. The word entrepreneur was hardly ever heard and the richest business people were known as tycoons. The aging J. Paul Getty, an oil baron, was the richest man in the world in the mid-1970s. In Australia, some of the richest men were media and press moguls Kerry Packer and Rupert Murdoch. Another notable wealthy-figure was the iron-ore mining magnate Lang Hancock (the father of Gina Rinehart). None of this would have much interested me. It was research that was my interest. As I will show in this article.

Continue reading “When Research was Research and Business was Commerce”

Forty Years Since the Unsolved Tylenol Murders

This article is about the unsolved Tylenol and copycat poisonings with cyanide in painkiller capsules. My involvement in the case was as an analytical chemist to develop rapid methods for analyses of the potentially millions of suspect products recalled from shelves of drugstores. The hope was that such chemical testing might give clues to investigators concerning the distribution of tainted products that could lead to an arrest.

It’s been 40 years since seven people died from cyanide poisoning from adulterated extra-strength Tylenol tablets. The victims had purchased bottles of Tylenol, on store shelves, in suburban Chicago. A completely ordinary thing to do. They were tragically unaware of tampering by an unknown attacker who had replaced the contents of the pills with cyanide [1]. It was a shocking incident that completely changed sales and production of pharmaceuticals. Today, we take for granted the safety of drugs and medicines because they’re produced in tamper-evident blister packs or sealed bottles. This was not the case before 1982.

Unfortunately, this incident attracted copycat attacks in the years that followed. It was after such a copycat attack in 1984, this time on a different brand of painkillers in Westchester County, NY, that I became involved. I was at Indiana University, Department of Chemistry, Bloomington IN and I had become friends with my office-mate, now Professor Robert Lodder (at the University of Kentucky, College of Pharmacy). Rob was working on combining Near-infrared Spectroscopy with intelligent algorithms, using statistics and mathematics, for an enhanced interpretation of the data.

Continue reading “Forty Years Since the Unsolved Tylenol Murders”

My Experience with Responsive Graphics for Science Articles

In this article, I ask the question.

What if you wanted to be a modern day Don Quixote and self-publish research direct to the internet with WordPress rather than through a science journal?

I’ll attempt an answer based upon my own journey in section 2 of this article. First of all, you need some basic infrastructure for publishing suitable figures within WordPress. So I’ll spend some time addressing that issue. For publishing on the internet, you need responsive graphics. There is an overlap between interactive graphics (as discussed below)) and responsive graphics.

But the important difference, as I see it, is that responsive graphics should invite the reader to respond to and participate in the story that you’re trying to tell with the graphic element As described later in this article, the scientific literature is often author-centric. Most researchers would be blithely unaware of the importance of responsive web graphics because they publish their most important work in journals.

The charting plugin that I have been using is wpDataTables from TMS plugins provides for publishing data tables and charts from data sources including databases and Excel spreadsheets. In all 31 different types of charts are offered, though many charts have a business focus. Responsive charts for self-published science remains an immature area of focus for technology providers. This is why the review that follows is important.

Continue reading “My Experience with Responsive Graphics for Science Articles”

Covid-19 Data: Exponential Growth Confirmed

global coronavirus map with country statistics

If you’ve been following The Dossier you’ll know that I’ve been collecting data on the Covid-19 omicron outbreak that we are in the midst of. I’ve made observations that confirm that omicron causes milder symptoms than other forms of Covid-19. But the less severe nature of omicron is offset, at least in part, by omicron being highly transmissible. Even though on average omicron causes less severe symptoms, there is always a percentage of individuals that show more severe symptoms than the average.

This percentage, though small, can easily represent a large number of people presenting to hospitals and requiring treatment in ICU’s across the country.

Indeed, I’ve shown in my article: Further Steep Increases in Covid-19 Cases, observations that there are increased hospitalisations already occurring in NSW as well as a worrying uptick in hospitalisations and deaths in other States and Territories. Given these factors, quantitatively determining the transmissibility of the omicron variant is critical to the management of the current outbreak.

In this article, we’ll attempt to do just that using the Covid-19 data presented in the chart below which shows case numbers for Australian States and Territories over the month ending Friday 7th January. As you can see from this chart, case numbers are showing rapid growth but is that growth exponential?

Source: https://www.covid19data.com.au/cases-last-28-days

Continue reading “Covid-19 Data: Exponential Growth Confirmed”

Could Omicron’s “Sting in the Tail” Threaten Children?

a boy in white shirt holding green oxygen mask

Today Covid-19 cases were at record levels in all Australian States and Territories except for WA. For NSW, 11201 new cases were recorded today, demonstrating that the apparent levelling cases at around 6000, over the past few days, were an artefact of reduced collections and processing of results over the Christmas period. Indeed, there were likely more Covid-19 circulating over the holiday period than revealed by the published health data (especially in NSW).

Source: https://www.covid19data.com.au/cases-last-28-days

Ever since the omicron variant started infecting students and young adults in Gauteng Province in South Africa, it has seemed to be too good to be true: a variant that is much more transmissible (so that it replaces the more dangerous delta variant) but of itself, produces mostly mild symptoms with fewer hospitalisations. Bur omicron is still Covid-19; it hasn’t magically transformed itself into some kind of more friendly disease.

Is this the sting in the tail of omicron?

Continue reading “Could Omicron’s “Sting in the Tail” Threaten Children?”

What Happens After Omicron?

The sharp increase noted on Christmas Eve have stabilised somewhat in most States and Territories in Australia over the Christmas weekend though the increase observed increase on Boxing Day was a record for NSW since the pandemic began. The chart below shows the case numbers for Australia over the last month by State or Territory. Although most States showed modest increases these data may have been affected by long lines and more limited collections over the Christmas period. Indeed, many people have reported being turned away from getting tested at all.

The Physics of the Netflix “Dark” Series – Part 3

Representation of wormhole travel through space-time, the first path is the long way around the space-time surface, the second path is through the wormhole Source: Shutterstock by edobric

Premium Content

Subscribe to get access

This article is available exclusively on markselby.co. It is a unique review that combines factual physics with a review of the sci-fi fictional TV series “Dark“. Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of this series are available.

In the Physics of “Dark” – Part 3 the concept of closed time-like curves CTCs will be further explained by considering how physicists since Einstein have understood causality — the nature of cause and effect.

Carter-Penrose diagrams will be introduced and used to highlight how CTCs, time travel and wormholes are consistent with our current understanding of general relativity.

The work reported here contains original insights into how time travel through wormholes for can be represented in spacetime diagrams.

Time Loops in the Netflix “Dark” Series – Part 2

Roller coaster Ride. Photo by Stephen Hateley on Unsplash

I have written previously on the German Netflix production “Dark” (2017–20) in The Dossier. That earlier article considered how time travel paradoxes are fully embraced by the series Dark. This new article sets out the examine the other aspect of time travel that “Dark” deals with, namely, that of circular time. There is some Bonus Material available that discusses how the concept of circular time has been used in popular TV culture. 

Premium Content

Subscribe to get access

This article is available exclusively on markselby.co. It is a unique review that combines factual physics with a review of the sci-fi fictional TV series “Dark“. Part 1 of this series is available.

In “Dark” the concept of circular time is more advanced than is usually seen in TV and movie culture, Circlular time in Dark resembles the physics concept of closed time-like curves CTCs where the future communicates with the past and the past with the future. . CTCs are one of the weirdest concepts in all of physics .– and you thought that dark matter and dark energy were pretty weird.

Indeed, the late, great, Stephen Hawking offered the chronology protection conjecture which basically states that CTCs are just too weird. Therefore the universe must have a way of protecting itself from them.

Subscribe to find out or just scroll down to read the bonus material.

Bonus Material: Time Travel in Popular Culture

If you’re a fan of the Doctor Who TV series, you might have encountered nonlinear time before in the episode of “Blink” from the TV series Doctor Who (2007) with David Tennet as the 10th Doctor, stuck in 1969, talks to Sally Sparrow from 38 years into the future through a DVD recording, he says (video below):

People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually, from a nonlinear, non-subjective viewpoint, it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey… stuff. The 10th Doctor

Even though time is circular in this Doctor Who episode, it isn’t a causal loop. Despite the timey-wimey-ness, cause-and-effect still work the way we expect as viewers. The Doctor is able to recover his TARDIS, escape from being trapped in time, and resume his normal affairs as the beneficent Time Lord.

Fans of the Star Trek Next Generation franchise might remember the episode “Cause and Effect” from season 5, episode 18 (1992). In this episode, the USS Enterprise D of 2368 collides with the USS Bozeman, caught in a temporal anomaly, which displaces it from 2278 into a collision course with the Enterprise in a region of space known as the Typhon Expanse. The resultant explosion creates a causality loop whereupon it’s no longer possible to discern cause from effect: did the temporal anomaly cause the collision or did the collision cause the temporal anomaly? 

Furthermore, the Enterprise-D crew are apparently doomed to repeat the same time fragment, reliving over and over again the events that lead to the destruction of the Enterprise D and the crew’s deaths.

Somehow we’ve entered what seems to be a temporal causality loop. We think we’re stuck in a specific fragment in time and that we’ve been repeating that same fragment over and over. Lt Cdr Geordie La Forge (played by LeVar Burton)

Fortunately, for our Enterprise crew, their lives are constrained by the laws of movie-making, rather than the laws pf physics The causality loop in the Star Trek Next Generation universe is a plot device, serving as it does as a puzzle box that invites the audience to unravel the mystery alongside the actors on the screen. This has become a much-used device in modern film making.

The episode is resolved because Beverley Crusher, Jean Luc Picard and the crew all experience déjà vu and because android Data is able to send subatomic dekyon particles into the Expanse that his positronic brain will be able to decode on the next repeat of the time fragment. The dekyon particles provide a suitably deus ex machina ending, since they are an invention by the writer (Brannon Braga) for the sole purpose of being able to travel in time in causality loops!

Final Thoughts

Time travel in sci-fi popular culture, apart from providing a puzzle box, links the audience with a shared perception of the the most famous and beloved genius of an era: that of Albert Einstein [1]. A photo or caricature of Einstein is instantly recognisable by anyone from junior high school and above. Our shared recollection of the science revolution, initiated by Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, is one of those things distinguishes modern society from that which came before 1905. In the new post-Einstein millennium, to some small degree, we all feel a little smarter, and a little smugger, by dint of the genius of Einstein.

Media organisations, such as Netflix, unknowingly perhaps, trade on our shared consciousness of Einsteinian relativity. Though most of us wouldn’t claim to have anything but the shallowest idea of what relativity means. For instance, would you know the difference between special relativity and general relativity?


[1] John Horgan, Scientific American, “Why There Will Never Be Another Einstein,” published: Aug 23 2015, accessed 23 Aug 2020. Available online:

Kamala, the Inflection Point and the Geek vs Freak Election?

This is not an article about politics but it is about the Democratic National Convention (D20) held in the last week. Specifically, it’s about one phrase in the speech by Vice Presidential candidate, Kamala Harris (see video). The phrase is “inflection point” that was also echoed the following day in the speech by Presidential candidate Joe Biden. It seems that the Democratic Party are hoping that this phrase will be a rallying call for them come Election Day in November.

“We’re at an inflection point. The constant chaos leaves us adrift. The incompetence makes us feel afraid.  The callousness makes us feel alone. It’s a lot. And here’s the thing: We can do better and deserve so much more.[1].

Continue reading “Kamala, the Inflection Point and the Geek vs Freak Election?”

Time Travel in “Dark”: Embrace the Paradox

Promotional poster for the Netflix series “Dark” [1].

German Netflix series simply called “Dark” has been around since June 2017 (seasons 1 and 2) . The new season 3 has only recently become available. Watch out for the first scene in the first episode: a gruesome suicide by hanging which you might want to hit fast forward through. Very dark indeed. If you do fast forward don’t miss the short sequence in which the victim’s mother grabs the suicide note before anyone else can read it. The victim here is Michael Kahnwald and his mother is Ines. This whole scene, and the names of the characters, are pivotal to the whole story. We’ll return to the intrigue, setup by the first scene, after discussing some general comments about the time travel genre. Take the opportunity for a pause because “Dark” is a bumpy, head-spinning journey. (Edit: to be found in the continuation in Part 2).

Continue reading “Time Travel in “Dark”: Embrace the Paradox”