Sunday, May 22, 2016

Do Your Own Research: The Scientific Research & Review Process

[Disclaimer: This is a personal post drawing upon my 8 years of experience in scientific research, at the graduate and post-doctoral level. None of these views reflect my employer (whoever that is), or my previous institutions. I have a Ph.D. in chemistry.]

Science literacy is one of my passions. I think that everyone should have the tools to do their own research (on beauty products, healthcare, environmental and food choices, everything), and that it's important to exercise the right to stay informed.

So, I decided to do an overview of the scientific research and review process. This is the international standard, and is followed in industry, academic, and government research. John Oliver did a really good segment on scientific studies that brings to light some of the strengths and weaknesses of the current system, and the way research is portrayed in media. I'm going to continue in that vein but also share some of the nuts and bolts of the process, and show you how science travels from bench to the public. It is lengthy, but I hope it helps you understand the restraints science is under, and how rigorous the process should be. Bookmark it, come back to it, whatever you want to do - and if you have any questions, please ask. I'm happy to talk for hours on this topic, and if I don't know the answer, I can hopefully at least point you in the right direction.

Essentially, as a scientist, I am trained to be skeptical and to evaluate problems based on evidence. When confronted with a problem or a claim, important considerations:

  • Sample size: how many people did we survey/test/examine? 5? 15? 1500? 150,000? This matters, both because it changes the actual statistics, and also, logically, what are the chances of something randomly happening in 5 people, vs. 150,000? Vs. 1.5 million people? 
  • Was the study conducted in humans?: This is more relevant for health-related issues, but to be clear, a mouse model is absolutely not the same as a human model. I'm not going to get into the ethics of animal studies in medicine, and I ask that you not leave flaming comments here about that. There are a host of issues involved: timeline, scale, human ethics, etc., but the bottom line is that humans and animal models are not the same. Showing that something worked in mice is not the same as showing it worked in humans. It is evidence that can help to support and sponsor a similar study in humans, but that study still needs to be done if you are going to draw the same conclusion in humans.
  • If the study was conducted on a sufficiently large number of humans, are those subjects representative of the population of interest?: I.e., if you are concerned about the effects in children, you don't test adults. The effects in men are not always the same in women. Age matters. Genetics matter.
  • Is there a control?: A lot of times, we are testing the effect of some stimulus or product or drug on people. Ok, so the product says that "women who used this product saw skin brightening in 2 weeks." Did they test a control - a group of people who didn't use the product, who were also evaluated for skin brightening? Unless they did, you can't be sure that the effect that was observed, was actually due to the product being tested.
  • Correlation is not causation: Along those lines, correlation (two or more things being related) is not causation. Just because people who tend to drink coffee also tend to run fast (made-up example!), does not mean that coffee makes you run fast. Maybe people who drink coffee are up earlier in the morning, and have more time to train. Or maybe they just have breakfast, as opposed to people who don't drink coffee and perhaps also don't have breakfast. 
Now that we are thinking about these things, let's go over the research pipeline. A principal investigator (boss dude/tte) has an idea - a hypothesis about why some observation is the way it is -  and has to ask the government or industry for money to fund that research. S/He does this by applying for grants, and writing out long proposals about what they want to do, and why, and here's some preliminary evidence that suggests this is a good idea, and here's a review of the current literature in the field to show that it hasn't been done before. The government or grant institution then has other scientists with expertise in that field review the grant, and make sure it's feasible and worthwhile.

If all goes well, the PI gets funded. They start up a lab, hire some peeps, and get the ball rolling. When they perform some experiments (following established safety and ethical rules), and get some results, that either support or don't (notice we're not "proving" anything) their hypothesis, they start getting ready to publish it. This is the crux of scientific research. You want to publish your results in international, well-regarded, subject-specific scientific journals, so that other people can read your results, and the science community learns something new. The journal process is something like this:
  • Pick a journal to submit to. There are "top-tier" journals that have high impact factors (a numerical index of the journal's influence) and good reputations, and these are what most people would love to shoot for. Of course, they are absolutely competitive, and your science has to be top-notch, new, and very useful. So, the majority of good work gets published in mid-range journals, that are still solid representations of well-conducted science, but not BOOM. Top journals include Nature, Science, Cell, The New England Journal of Medicine. You can google their impact factors to get a feel for the range.
  • Prepare your manuscript, include any authors who contributed meaningfully to the work, and then send it in. The first author is usually the person who did most of the work and wrote the paper. The corresponding author (usually the last one, but this is usually indicated) is the PI for the laboratory. Usually, the first author works as a post-doc or graduate student in the PI's lab.
  • The editor decides whether it should go out for review, and if yes, sends it to 3-5 other scientists in the same field of expertise. This is called the peer review process, and is the same as for grants. Reviewers read the manuscript, decide whether the science is sound, the experiments and methods are believable and reliable and well-documented (could this experiment be repeated?) and that the results are relevant and impactful. Sometimes they send it back for edits, or additional experiments. Sometimes they reject it. Sometimes they accept.
  • If you have to edit or add your paper, you do that. You send it back, it can go back and forth a few times, but finally, your paper gets published! 
  • Now it is available to the public, but really what this means, is that it is available to people or institutions with journal subscriptions. The landscape is changing and a lot of journals are becoming open access, and free to the public, but the majority of journals are still subscription only. If you want to look up a paper, I suggest going to the nearest university library.
What does this mean for you, an interested reader? Things to consider:
  • Who wrote the article? Are they well-respected, established? Do they have a webpage for their lab at their institution? What other papers have they published?
  • Is the journal reputable? What is their impact factor, how long have they been in existence, who are the editors? 
  • Do they give a detailed outline of their methods? This is generally a requirement of most scientific manuscripts, but the details can definitely range from sparse, to people including their data and codes.
  • Are there conflicts of interests? Journals require that these be declared. Who funded the project (A large soda company funded a very suspicious obesity project, for example), who do the authors work for, are they affiliated with any projects or institutions that could lead to a bias?
  • How old is the article? Have any new supporting or conflicting results been published?
Most citations that you see in science media (good science media, anyway) link back to journal articles - also called papers, manuscripts, technical literature. Going through them can be a nightmare (they are written for other scientists in the field, not the layperson), but they should contain everything: an abstract, an introduction that summarizes current literature in the field, and why this is a relevant result, the methods (how the experiment was performed, what tools and instruments and subjects/samples used, how often, etc.), and then the results and discussion. The formats differ from journal to journal, but that is the gist of it. Most research scientists publish. That's how their work is documented and shared with the world.

Edit (thanks to Amy's great comment below): This isn't to say that everything in science is perfect, not at all. This is just to give you an idea of the checks in place and the rigors of the scientific method. There are definitely problems with the current operation model, and many scientists don't agree with the current procedures. Peer review is also not infallible. Papers can be and are retracted after publication (though this is rarer and exceedingly embarrassing for all parties). But this is the model we are working with, and I just wanted to put this information out there for people who aren't familiar with it.

I apologize for the length, but I figured it was easier to get it out all at once, rather than segment it out into separate posts that would need to be cross-referenced, etc. You can tackle it in chunks, over tea. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask. Larie, out.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

50 Things That Make Me Happy

I pulled this from Tracy's blog, because I think we need to talk about happy things more often. Easy, and hopefully a launching point for happy conversations! I share a lot of Tracy's, so I'm trying to pick some different ones, but hey, the ones that I feel strongly about will be repeated! I will try not to yammer on. But I make no promises.

And let's not judge (OR COUNT, YOU BIG MEANIES) how many of them are food-related. This is a JUDGMENT FREE ZONE. Haha.
  1. My fluffies! They are so fantastic, and I'm so happy they're around again. They both have distinct personalities and they're always so happy to see us.
  2. Coffee. It's the ritual as much as the drink itself; I only drink 1-2 cups a day (usually just one, in the morning, but sometimes I'll get another during the work day if I feel myself lagging). I like mine piping hot, and dark, without sugar or milk. S and I have an espresso machine, so I usually have an Americano, although I don't mind lattes every now and again. But it's relaxing. Grinding the beans, watching the espresso drip, seeing the beautiful crema, then savoring the heat of a hot cup and the bitter, soul-warming taste. Few things better in the mornings.
  3. Almond croissants are pretty high on my list, too. This is from the comptoir section of Petit Louis in Columbia, MD.
    I'm a morning person, through and through. It's especially wonderful because Dennison is a morning dog, and as soon as he realizes that I'm awake, he runs over and thrusts his head in my face and wriggles around and pokes his cold nose under the covers until I get out of bed.
  4. Breakfast. My favorite meal. Related to #3.
  5. Brunch. Because it's breakfast on ten, baby. WITH BOOZE. Also see #39 & #46, ha.
    My favorite brunch date.
  6. Aerial arts. I got into this back into graduate school, almost 6 years ago now. Love it all. It was also one of the things (along with climbing) that really got me into training to be strong and healthy and able to do cool things upside down! 
    An aerial cube.
  7. Shoes. I have a weakness.
  8. Earrings. (I have many weaknesses).
  9. Fire Emblem. Possibly the only video game that gets me to dust my DS off. Oh, and any Ace Attorney game.
  10. Magical realism novels. My favorite kind of fantasy. It makes you think that it could all actually be real! And beyond that, it makes you reconsider mundane objects and daily happenings in a different way. Everything has value. (Find me on Goodreads). Have any recommendations?
  11. Dresses. I never used to like them much, but lately - they're so easy. I only need to pick one item of clothing in the morning? SOLD.
    One of my favorite outfits.
    Shirt dresses - so comfy!
  12. Music with a SICK BEAT. I BOOM the bass in my car. I'm that person. Sorry.
  13. Bird-watching. I put up a bird feeder in our yard, and we've already got so many! I google them like a nerd. I'm trying to entice some hummingbirds. Any tips?
  14. Cabernet Sauvignon. And Chardonnay.
  15. That moment when you first get into bed - when the sheets are perfectly cool and everything is so calm and cozy.
  16. Greenery. Driving across the country for the second time, I realized that there are a lot of places where trees and grass are a rarity, which made me really appreciate the places I've lived (and where I currently live) even more.
  17. Cozy jackets.
  18. That cozy "old sock" smell that dogs emit from their feet when they are comfortable and happy.
  19. Ice cream. And MILKSHAKES.
    Key lime pie and Blueberry Jasmine. In waffle cones, of course.
    Urban style fries from Burger-Fi (see #20), and a milkshake.
    Apple pie milkshake and a bad crop job, LOL. These photos are all from my Instagram feed, which is basically a stream of happiness for me, now that I think about it. Follow me! Button on the right -->
  20. French fries.
  21. Perfume. 
    I have since added to this. Erm.
  22. Making food and hanging out in the kitchen with S.
  23. Making lists.
  24. Crossings items off of lists.
  25. Planning travel - choosing places to eat, where to stay, sights to see! 
    Our travel maps! Prints from Paper Plane Prints on Etsy. Frames from Amazon.
  26. Hosting dinner parties.
  27. Knitting. 
    I knit a thing! Purl Soho Short Row Sweater.
  28. Watching food TV - I love Chopped, and Worst Cooks of America, and the Great Food Truck Race. I miss Man Vs. Food (mostly for the travel and highlights of different cities). And I wish more seasons of The Great British Bake-Off  would make it to our Netflix! That show is AMAZING.
    [image source]
  29. Trying out new baking recipes. Although I never attempt anything as elaborate as those in the Bake-Off! 
    Marshmallow frosting (or 7-minute frosting) is divine.
  30. Getting packages in the mail. I think this is part of why I love shopping online so much, haha. You get to pick the actual thing, which is fun, and then you kind of forget about it until boom, next week, it arrives, and you get to be excited all over again!
  31. Fairy tales, myths, legends. I have always loved these kinds of stories (see: my love for magical realism), with their blend of fantasy, thrill, and history, and on the recommendation of a friend, I've been listening to the Myths and Legends podcast during my commute. Recommended!
  32. A good workout. That achy-muscle, ass-kicked feeling makes me feel so accomplished. 
  33. Buying gifts for people.
  34. A fresh manicure (even though it's always messy, because I do it myself, HA.) 
    Cirque Stella over Dior Bar.
    L-R: Dior Porcelaine, Lippmann Flowers in Her Hair, Dior Sunwashed, Dior Sunkissed, Dior Tra-la-la.
  35. A good cocktail. Preferably with bourbon. Or rye. 
  36.  The Apple ding! from a text message. I like text messages. Don't call me. TEXT ME.
  37. Hiking. I miss the beautiful PNW, where great hiking spots are EVERYWHERE.
  38. A great winged eye. Er, well, two of them, that match. Liquid liner all the way, baby.
  39. Date night.
  40. Beautiful p√Ętisserie displays. 
    Tous Les Jours in Ellicott City.
  41. NOODLES. I can eat noodles all day erryday, man. 
    Dan dan noodles from Revel, in Seattle. Our absolute favorite brunch spot, hands down.
  42. Cookies the size of my head. This recipe is our favorite for two giant cookies. S makes it all the time. 

    See? Size of my head.
  43. Hats. I wish more people wore hats, so I wouldn't feel like a doofus. I guess I just have to OWN IT. 
    Halogen fedora, from Nordstrom. Booties are TOMS, skirt and shirt are from Ann Taylor.
  44. Art galleries and museums. DC is great for this - we went down to the Smithsonians and the National Gallery of Art during a staycation in DC. When we go up to NYC in a couple of weeks, I want to go to the Met!
  45. Board games.
  46. Getting dressed up. Sometimes you just wanna prance around in your heels and skirts, ok? 
    We clean up nice, right? AHAHA. At a friend's wedding, last October.
  47. Sushi. 
    Probably my all-time favorite food. From Nijo Sushi Bar & Grill in Seattle. I miss the Emerald City.
  48. Fruit picking. One of my favorite summer activities. We go every summer, because then there are BERRIES, which I love, and then we can make PIE, which I also love. I'll have to find a place around here soon.
  49. Windows. I like my home and workspaces to have plenty of natural light. Dennison requires this, too, ha.
  50. Trying new things. Whether's it new types of food or new ingredients, new fashion styles, new activities or sports, I'm down. I won't guarantee that I'll like everything, but life's about experiences and being the same all the time isn't stimulating. I'm happy to have a partner who shares my sense of curiosity and adventure, even if we're not the hard-core, drop all your things and go backpacking type. We have our own scale, and we're happy.
ALL RIGHT. Thanks for sticking with me. Do we share any on the list? What things make YOU happy?

Monday, May 9, 2016

Ilia Multi-Stick in All of Me: A Successful Multi-tasker

[Product was provided by PR for review. No affiliate links, and all opinions are my own.]

I was watching Man Up a couple of months ago, and while it wasn't my kind of movie (despite Simon Pegg), there was a scene where Lake Bell puts on a natural rosy lipstick, and taps her fingers against her lips and then taps them on her cheeks. It was very classic, giving her a barely there, fresh look, and I was totally struck by it. But a lot of lipsticks are too heavy on cheeks, and products touted as multi-taskers don't often deliver.

THIS ONE, though, does. This is the Ilia Beauty Multi-Stick in All of Me. It is one of those rare birds that feels comfortable on both lips and cheeks - and looks good, too. Like the lipstick crayon, the finish is really natural; it's not ultra matte or ultra glossy, just...natural. I like to apply directly to lips, and it's easier to apply than you might think, given how large it is. For cheeks, I either pick up some color on clean fingers and tap on, or apply directly, depending on if I'm wearing foundation or not. Both ways work well.
Ilia Multi-Stick in All of Me.

On cheeks, the finish is dewy and light. On lips it's more opaque, but still not in a heavy or overly creamy way. Hard to explain, but the effect is just - effortless and natural. I'm really into these. I have another one to show you later, and it's just as good.
Ilia Beauty Multi-Stick in All of Me on lips only.
Ilia Multi-Stick in All of Me on lips and cheeks. Lighting is a little different, so it's a little more coral in real life than this. The above photo is more color accurate. 
This is so, so easy to just toss in your bag and carry around for touch-ups on cheeks and lips. It's also great to travel with (I took it on the road trip), as it's nice and compact and twists up, so you don't need any tools. They're $34, and well worth it, if you ask me. One of my favorite discoveries lately. I also have Cheek-to-Cheek, and I'll show you that one next, although the color is really similar. There are six in total; I want A Fine Romance - the deep berry shade.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Current Cleansers: Laneige, First Aid Beauty, Clinique, Tatcha

[* is a GWP, and ** was provided for review by PR. All other products were purchased by me, and all opinions are my own. This is not a sponsored post, and there are no affiliate links.]

I have some great things to share with you (more Ilia, more NUXE, some Vita Liberata in time for summer), but for some reason, what I really wanted to talk about today was: cleansers.
Laneige is available at Target - that's where I get mine.
In the morning, I wash my face with a cleanser. I know everyone says water is fine, but eh, I'm just kind of used to it. I feel a little fresher, like I can start with a clean slate, and don't have residue from my hair all over my face. I typically use the same cleanser in the AM and PM, and my current favorite is Laneige's Multi-Cleanser. I had a mini trial size that I used to travel with, and I liked it enough to buy a full size. It's a bit grainy, but not rough, and doesn't leave my face feeling stripped (like Shiseido's White Lucent does) or greasy. I was using Neutrogena for a while, but I was still getting occasional breakouts, so I switched to something a little more rigorous.
At night, before I shower, I remove my makeup with Clinique's Take the Day Off Cleansing Oil. I used to use their cleansing milk, and liked it, but I just went with the oil to change it up. It's really good. One pump takes off a full face (even with foundation and eye liner); I massage my whole face with dry hands before jumping in the shower and washing it off.
Finally, the occasional ones, and I've reviewed both of these already (link on the name)- First Aid Beauty's Skin Rescue Deep Cleanser with Red Clay, and Tatcha's Polished Gentle Rice Enzyme Powder. I don't do these on a schedule or anything, just once or twice a week, in the evening (instead of Laneige), or when I feel like I had an excessively sweaty day, or wore full foundation. The FAB was a sample that lasted a long time, and it is just about to run out, so I will go ahead and purchase a full size. I think S uses it as well, ha. It's a deep cleanser that somehow feels really gentle and cushiony - I love it. And the Tatcha rice powder is still my favorite scrub - nice and exfoliating without being stripping.

What are your favorite cleansers? 

And...I know I have so many posts to catch up on, and I miss everyone! Things are finally starting to get a bit back to normal now (and S and the dogs are here with me, now!), so hopefully I have more time to blog and communicate with everyone again.