The Trouble With Part II

31 03 2010

Please also see:

  • The Trouble With
  • How to Spot Spam, Scams and Shams
  • All of a sudden the blog post that I wrote over a month ago on the downfalls of freelance job site has received more hits than any other post on my blog. For an aspiring science writer, that’s a bit annoying (please read the other stuff!!) but it’s also very interesting. Most people seem to be arriving here after googling the phrase “ scam” or similar (try it! My blog comes up as the first link!). In addition, I received a comment on my post “The Trouble With” from a chap called Alaister who actually works for the site.

    I’d just like to say, right here, right now, that I think the idea of is brilliant and I’m a big fan. It’s a place where individuals, small and large businesses can outsource their projects to qualified and experienced freelancers who will invariably save them time and money. What I’m not a fan of is the abuse that the site gets. Every day my inbox is filled with job alerts from shady men and women looking to cheat the system, cheat the taxman, cheat the law and, worst of all, cheat the freelancer.

    Examples of such projects include the guy in India who has had his Paypal account closed “due to an error” and so wants to hire a freelancer to transfer money from their own account to an SBI account, with promises of a generous bonus payment when the transaction is completed. You can bet your life you won’t see that money. Or, how about the American who needs a batch of 100 unique 500 word articles, like, yesterday, at a whole $1.50 a pop, but “just to check your writing style please submit 5 samples”. You can bet your life you won’t see those articles or hear of the buyer again. Doesn’t matter if it’s copyrighted – it will probably get re-written using slave labour recruited – you guessed it – through and sold on again to another buyer.

    Even the projects that aren’t out to steal your money or time can be just as flawed. There is a growing trend for people to request freelancers, hired for a pittance, to rewrite articles that are probably taken without permission from another site. The rewritten articles, however shoddy they are, will be heavily keyworded to attract Google searchers looking for information on a niche topic. Instead of finding a credible source of information, they will find a badly written website with a dump of rewritten, stolen articles, as well as a host of adverts that will earn the site owner money if they are clicked on, which they often are.

    Having attended a webinar yesterday, hosted by Jonathan Bailey from CopyByte, I’ve become very worried about this last ripoff attempt, as I’ve even unwittingly been party to such a scam myself. I won a project through in which the buyer wanted me to proofread articles that were originally written in German and had been translated into English. Sounded credible, but it was only after I’d worked on a few articles that I realised the buyer hadn’t actually written the articles himself – he had copied articles written (and copyrighted) by other people from a German website, pasted them into Google translator, and was then asking me to “tidy them up”. If the copyright holders wanted to sue for an infringement, they could well have a case, and I would be accomplice to the copyright thief.

    Add these examples to the hoardes of students hiring freelancers to write their dissertations and theses for them, blatant hackers and spammers who ask for people to write malware, or those who simply don’t obey the rules and give out their contact details to try and secure a transaction outside the relative safety of Freelancer‘s escrow system to avoid paying fees, and you’ve got a pretty messed up website. I sympathise deeply with – as Alaister pointed out, they are the world’s number 1 freelance job site with hundreds of thousands of users and are therefore a prime target for abuse, but whatever they’re doing to overcome these problems clearly isn’t enough. I don’t claim to have the answers, but I still think that an editorial team is needed to check each posted advert before it goes online. This may not be practical at the moment with the large volume of adverts that are posted every day, but if this was implemented alongside an increase in the buyer’s fee (which is refundable upon selecting a freelancer for the job), then I’ll bet that a lot of the more unscrupulous types would be discouraged. The current fee of just $5, coupled with the fact that many scam posts are left undetected, doesn’t seem to be a tough enough deterrent.

    In addition, really needs to shake up its customer support service to start, um, supporting its customers! It’s a little bizarre that Alaister from found and commented on my month-old blog post all the way out here in cyber space before the email that I sent directly to Freelancer‘s customer support was answered. In fact, it still hasn’t been answered – care to respond?!

    Let me finish by reiterating what I said at the start – is a great idea (but I think PeoplePerHour do it better). For all those of you who arrive here looking for answers to the question, “is a scam?” I would say no, it isn’t. But many of the projects advertised are so you need to be very careful about who you do business with.

    Fearless fish forget their phobias

    25 03 2010

    A press release that I wrote has now been released – my second fish-related press release in fact. I hope I’m not being typecast…

    Researchers at the University of Hiroshima have discovered that goldfish injected with lidocaine into their cerebella seem to be able to override classical conditioning that makes their non-drugged-up friends afraid of a flash of light. This research sheds more light on why – and more importantly how – we develop fears and phobias. The EurekAlert version is here: Fearless fish forget their phobias

    A quick scout about on the interweb reveals that the story has been picked up by quite a few media sources too, including 3 national newspapers, so that’s exciting! Here’s the article (or paraphased article) at:

  • The Daily Mail
  • The Mirror
  • The Telegraph
  • Science Oxford Online
  • Lab Spaces
  • ScienceCentric
  • …and more!

    Cosmetic surgery

    11 03 2010

    I’ve been doing some work for a couple of cosmetic surgery related products – following is an article that was surplus to requirements, so here it is for your reading enjoyment.

    For one reason or another, many people are unhappy with the way they look. Whether this is caused by the media, who are often accused of misrepresenting the “ideal” image, or whether the media has responded to a seemingly innate dissatisfaction with ourselves is something of a chicken and egg situation, but the fact remains that a lucrative industry has been built around products and services – and the promotion of these products and services – that aim to make us feel better, look younger, more beautiful, more stylish and more satisfied with our appearance.

    For both men and women, make-up, clothing, jewellery, perfume and hairdressing are a part of everyday life and magazines, advertising and television programs are right there to tell us exactly which designers we should be wearing, which actress has the latest “must-have” haircut and who we ought to aspire to emulate. This obsession with looking good has now started a growing trend for turning to cosmetic surgery in order to artificially improve ourselves.

    It is no secret that many of the top Hollywood stars have had a helping hand when it comes to smoothing out wrinkles, increasing their breast size and perfecting other perceived imperfections, yet increasingly, cosmetic surgery is no longer the reserve of the rich and famous. Cosmetic surgery is becoming more and more popular amongst “ordinary” people who realise that they no longer have to live with the bodies that they were born with.

    The reasons why people may choose to undergo aesthetic surgery are many and varied. The most popular form of cosmetic surgery is breast augmentation, and for many women this is a chance to make themselves feel more feminine, to increase their confidence and attractiveness to others. Often, having small or drooping breasts can be the root of self-esteem issues, particularly when the breasts reduce in size following weight loss or become saggy after breast feeding. In addition, women may want to improve the shape or “lift” of their breasts, to have corrective surgery if one breast is larger than the other, or following mastectomy after breast cancer.

    Men too, can suffer from the same feelings of inadequacy in the chest region as women, and cosmetic breast surgery for men is also on the rise. For men, breast surgery can involve removal of excess breast tissue – those dreaded “man boobs” that can be caused by being overweight, or a medical condition called gynaecomastia that results in the growth of breast tissue in response to an imbalance of the hormones oestrogen and testosterone.

    Of course, breast surgery is not the only option for people who wish to change their looks more permanently. Another popular aesthetic surgery option is the nose job, or rhinoplasty to give its medical name. Rhinoplasty can involve correcting the shape of the nostrils, straightening a bent or broken nose, removing excess cartilage or shortening the length of the nose. Along with otoplasty (pinning or reshaping of the ears), it is a procedure popular with men and women who may have incurred a sporting injury, or with those who are unhappy with the shape and/or size of their nose or ears. The reasons why someone may undergo these procedures are often rooted in childhood teasing and bullying.

    For a younger-looking facial appearance, a surgical option is the face lift or surgery to remove excess skin from underneath the eyes. Alternatively or in addition, liposuction can be used to remove excess fat from almost any part of the body, including the thighs, stomach or arms, or smaller scale liposculpture to refine certain areas of the body.

    If considering any type of cosmetic surgery procedure, it is vital to carry out thorough research. The Internet can be a very useful tool, but be careful to use trusted and reputed sites as there is a lot of false or inaccurate information on the web. By far and away the best thing to do is to contact a qualified surgeon at a recommended cosmetic surgery clinic and have a consultation. The surgeon should be registered with the General Medical Council and also be a specialist in the area that you would like to be operated on. At your consultation, the doctor should fully explain the benefits and the risks of the procedure and discuss with you the results that you hope to achieve from the surgery, as well as what can realistically be expected.

    It is important, too, that you fully consider the reasons why you would like to undergo cosmetic surgery. It is, after all, usually a fairly major operation and is not a decision that should be made lightly. Having said that, cosmetic surgery procedures are being improved all the time and the majority of patients make a full recovery and are very satisfied with the results. Love them or hate them, media stars like Katie Price (a.k.a. Jordan), Victoria Beckham and Tom Cruise are perceived as attractive, confident and successful and though we may never be able to command their wage packets or fame, we can style ourselves in their fashion ranges, their fragrances and even their breasts, noses and other physical features.

    Press releases now on

    9 03 2010

    The webbies at BioMed Central have been a bit slow in updating the PR area of the website, but the press releases that I have written are now online at

  • Chromosomes make a rapid retreat from nuclear territories
  • Friendly bacteria love the humble apple
  • Shorebirds shape up and ship out
  • Genetics helps to crack down on chimpanzee smuggling
  • Lopsided fish show symmetry is only skin deep
  • I’ve just written another one too, so look out for this in the next few weeks!

    New Research into High Performance Biofuels

    4 03 2010

    This is another article that I have written for Our Green Earth but the web editor doesn’t seem to be checking his emails at the moment. I’ll be taking this post offline when (if) he adds it to the site so as not to have duplicate content on the web, but for the meantime, here you go…

    The petrol, diesel and jet fuel that we use in today’s vehicles is made up of hydrocarbons – long chains of hydrogen and carbon molecules that when broken in the process of combustion, release energy. Energy is stored in the bonds of these molecules, so it follows that the longer the chain of the molecule – the more bonds there are – the more energy it will store and therefore release upon burning.

    Getting biofuels such as bioethanol and biodiesel from plant-based feedstocks such as wheat, sugarcane, algae or even less conventional materials such as melons and old furniture, (see the articles “Algae As A Feedstock For Biodiesel Production” and “Watermelon Bioethanol Production”) is a relatively easy process and, indeed, biofuels of this type are becoming increasingly common and widespread.

    Biofuels burn more cleanly than petrol and diesel and so are better for the environment because they only release the carbon dioxide that the plant itself used for photosynthesis. This is in contrast to fossil-derived fuels that, when burnt, unleash millions of year’s worth of stored carbon on our ecosystems.

    A problem with bioethanol however, is that it is a very short hydrocarbon molecule. This means that, gallon for gallon, it does not release very much energy and so is unsuitable for our high energy-driven transport requirements. In fact, most of the bioethanol-powered vehicles on our streets run on a blend of ethanol and normal petrol – better for the environment, but only a little.

    New research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison could have found a solution to this problem. Using a chemical called gamma-valerolactone (GVL), a derivative of the sugars found in biomass, they have worked out how to create jet fuel – exactly the same kind of jet fuel that is normally distilled from crude oil, but using a renewal source of agricultural waste instead (1, 2).

    GVL is currently produced on a small commercial scale for its use as a component of perfumes (2). It can also act just as well as ethanol when used as a blending agent with petrol (1). This, however, does not solve the problem of creating a fuel that is man enough for our planes, trains and high-performance automobiles (3).

    The Wisconsin-Madison team have developed a system whereby GVL can be decarboxylated and oligomerized (1). In layman’s terms, this means that the GVL molecule can have its oxygen molecules removed to leave just carbon and hydrogen, then these short-chain hydrocarbons can be joined together to form long chains – remember, the longer the chain, the greater the potential energy output when combusted.

    Laboratory tests have proved highly successful and, what’s more, the conversion of GVL to jet fuel is relatively inexpensive. The equipment and catalyst materials required are nothing fancy and the yield of final product is high. Another benefit of this process is that the only waste product, carbon dioxide, is almost pure and can be harvested to feed into other chemical processes, unlike the impure emissions from fossil fuel-burning power stations that cannot be recycled (2).

    The only pitfall in this seemingly wonder-process, is that GVL is expensive to make from the original plant feedstock (1). However, fuels derived from GVL have so far only been produced on a small scale and, the researchers have claimed, with investment and further research into developing the technology on a larger scale, an affordable way to mass produce high energy fuels could soon be realistically achieved (2).


    1. Bond, JQ, Alonso, DM, Wang, D, West, RM, Dumesic, JA, Integrated catalytic conversion of gamma-valerolactone to liquid alkenes for transportation fuels, Science (327) 1110 – 1114, 26th February 2010
    2. New process yields high-energy-density, plant-based transportation fuel, press release from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, 25th February 2010
    3. Sanderson, S, From plant to power, Nature (461) 710 – 711, 8th October 2008

    New project

    3 03 2010

    Projects seem to be coming in thick and fast at the moment – I’m going to have to stop bidding for a while! The latest project I’ve been accepted for is to write articles for another environmental website, this time in America and with a focus on “green living”. I can’t say too much at the moment as I’m still in talks with the company behind the project, but this could be a long term contract for me so it’s all very exciting really!

    All change

    2 03 2010

    There are some big changes happening in my life at the moment!

    Ever since I finished my degree, my life has been conducted in one or two year blocks. In the first year after graduating, I studied for a one year PGCE. Then, I worked as a teacher for two years at a lovely boarding school in Kent. Not one to stay still for very long, I then left this cushty job in favour of homelessness for a year as I travelled the world. Upon my return, I fancied a change of direction again and stumbled into an editorial assistant’s job in central London. Having lived in London for 18 months, I’ve now got itchy feet again (not literally – that would be gross) and I’m about to make yet another big change.

    Not only am I soon to move in with my boyfriend of 18 months, but I’m going to move out of London to do it. Much to the horror of hardened city converts, having tasted and enjoyed the London life, I’ve decided that it isn’t really for me. I’m so glad I’ve done it, and it was always one of my ambitions to move to the capital, but I always knew it wouldn’t be for too long. After all, I was born and bred in Kent, the Garden of England, and so it’s back to the countryside for me. Rather than Kent however, our new pad is to be in a lovely little town in Warwickshire, very near to where Tom (said boyfriend) lives.

    Deciding to move to such an outpost had implications for my job. Having become really rather attached to the science publishing world, and discovering that I seem to be quite good at stringing two sentences of scientifically-focussed text together, I was left in a little bit of a quandary. There’s a lack of science publishing going on in the Midlands – it’s all happening in London, so what was I to do? I guess that most people would either not move, put up with long commutes or find another job, but somewhat unconventionally and perhaps a little foolishly given the state of the economy, I have decided to go freelance. Today was my last day of employment and tomrrow, I will be self-employed.

    Fortunately, I’m not quite thrown in at the deep end (more like the bit between the deep and the shallow end). Having spoken to some very supportive colleagues at BioMed Central , I have been offered full time work on a freelance contract. It’s not exactly the same as what I was doing before, that is, overseeing the editorial content of the Biology Image Library, but instead I will be working with the editorial team for journals that the company publishes. I’m quite excited to be moving into the journal side of things and look forward to the challenges that I will face in this new role. I’ll also be continuing to write press releases as and when I am needed by the press office, and without the daily commute, I will have even more time to pursue external freelance contracts with my current (and hopefully new) clients.

    One thing’s for sure, working from home isn’t going to be easy. While friends think I’m lucky that I will be able to watch daytime TV while I’m working, or that I could work from the comfort of my bed, I think I will actually be busier than I am now! I’m setting up an office in the spare room of our new house and that is where I will work – regular hours, not in my pyjamas, and certainly not in front of the TV! As I’ll be responsible for my own earnings, my own tax payments and won’t be entitled to paid holiday or sick leave, it really is up to me to make the most of my working hours. Equally, I don’t want to become a workaholic – just because I’m not going to get paid for holidays doesn’t mean I won’t take them!

    I am nervous about venturing into the world of self-employment – I feel a little unprepared, but everyone assures me that I’ll be fine. I know that I have the skills and the drive to succeed, I’m just hoping everything will go smoothly! Wish me luck!

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