Posts Tagged ‘science blogs’

Is the Institution of “Grant-Funded” Research Killing Scientific Integrity?

 :: Posted by avi_wener on 03-04-2010

Katherine Harmon of Scientific American questions whether scientific retraction can change public opinion. In her blog post, Katherine writes that recent high-profile retractions such as the Wakefield paper linking Autism to vaccination or the retraction of a South Korean claim that a lab had cloned human embryonic stem cells has resulted in what is perhaps an unfair jading of public opinion against the validity of scientific research.

The big question that looms over our heads is why are scientists finding it (increasingly) tempting to publish false data or conduct scientific experiments using questionable research practices? Is it the enticement for fame and glory that fuels their unethical behavior? One foreign post doc recently told me that many of his colleagues were eager to find post doc positions in high-profile American labs with the expectation that they would finish their post-doctoral work with a Nature paper or two under their belts. Of course, it didn’t take them long to realize that precious few people have the merit of publishing a paper in such a high-impact journal especially so early in their career.

Or perhaps the structure of grant-funded research is to blame. The old adage of “publish or perish” is stronger than ever and with the latest in “omics” technology, the amount of data needed to publish is becoming staggering.

This whole debate reminds me of an experiment that I conducted while completing my masters. I was studying the transcriptional activity of a certain gene and I found a paper in a peer reviewed journal that had published PCR results on my gene of interest. Since I needed to conduct a similar PCR experiment, I ordered the same set of primers and followed the PCR protocol as per the published methods. Unfortunately, I was disappointed when the expression levels of the gene I had expected to be upregulated under the treatment conditions did not appear in my PCR results. Perplexed, I blasted the primers in genebank and I found that the primers were actually located in the gene’s intron! (In case you’ve forgotten your central dogma, the intron is the part of the gene that is excluded from the mRNA transcript). Needless to say, I was pretty upset. I didn’t even think about Blasting the primers prior to ordering them. Positive PCR results (using mRNA) had already been published in a peer reviewed journal using the same primers. I didn’t feel the need to repeat the due diligence that another scientist had already done. I felt duped.

All this is to say that one cannot overstress the importance of using solid scientific methodology. Skipping steps in today’s world is simply not an option. With the thousands of data points to be gleamed from both proteomic and genomic studies, how can you afford to rely on someone else’s “honesty” when conducting your own research. Moreover, it becomes even more critical to engage in proper sample handling and preparation techniques. Everything that you do needs to be documented properly and followed to the letter. Protect yourself and your research. Our world simply cannot afford another retraction.

American Biotechnologist Named One of Top 50 Biotech Blogs

 :: Posted by avi_wener on 03-03-2010

A shout out to Emily Johnston and the folks at Medicareer for recognizing The American Biotechnologist as one of the top 50 biotech blogs (actually, we appear #2 in her list!). The list is broken up into categories which include: Encompassing Biotechnology, Health and Life Sciences, Agriculture, Technology, Business and Ethics, Law and Policy. Well worth checking out. Click here to see the full list of sites.