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The 'Descriptive' Curse

By | May 5, 2003

Getty Images "The work is basically sound but suffers from being too descriptive." Anyone who has served on grant review panels, participated in promotion and tenure decisions, or made and received editorial decisions, has heard this refrain or its equivalent and knows full well its kiss-of-death implication. As applied above, there is the unstated but intended linkage of the term "descriptive" with a nonmechanistic, non-hypothesis-driven approach to the work under evaluation. It's a comment

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The Behaviorome Mental Map Project

By | April 21, 2003

Anthony Canamucio One of the most interesting questions that confronts a thinking being is whether people can comprehend the ideas and thoughts of one another. I believe that we can, and I also believe that we have the means to embark upon a project that would culminate in the understanding of all human ideas. If we define an idea as the mental conceptualization of something, including physical objects, an action, or sensory experience, either now or in the future, then the number of objects

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Tuxedo Park to Greenwich -- The Loomis Legacy

By | April 7, 2003

Anthony Canamucio  Alfred Lee Loomis I met tycoon and amateur scientist Alfred Lee Loomis in 1954 as a postdoctoral researcher working with his son Farnie. After a cordial introduction, Alfred peered over my shoulder, watching me plot growth rates of freshwater hydra. "Growth dynamics are pretty universal," he said. "In the investment business I noticed that around World War I; railroads had reached stationary phase, whereas automobiles were just taking off logarithmically. Around 1928,

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A New Project Could Fulfill a Promise

By | March 24, 2003

Just as cataloging the human genome provides a jumping-off point to develop genetic testing and molecular-based therapies, a similar effort is necessary on the cellular level. A detailed understanding of how human cells develop into specialized tissues will open the door to regenerative medicine, the therapeutic replacement of cells, tissues, and organs lost to disease. But a significant barrier to fulfilling the promise of regenerative medicine is the absence of a fully characterized, human

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Letters

By | March 10, 2003

If you teach introductory biology, you've probably heard this refrain at least once: 'I had to learn it, but I don't believe it.' The 'it,' of course, is evolution. The admission usually comes at the end of the semester, when grades are safely in. Invariably, when you ask why, the student cites religious belief. Somebody once said, if you're not prepared to have your basic ideas challenged, you don't belong in college. I don't expect students to accept everything they learn, but in this case

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Keep Philanthropic Funding Distinct

By | February 24, 2003

The biomedical and pharmaceutical powerhouses of North America and Europe disproportionately focus their resources on the mostly chronic diseases affecting the relatively well-to-do. Of the $70 billion (US) the international health community spends on research, only 10% goes toward diseases responsible for 90% of the international health burden; it's called the 10/90 gap1 and it's deadly for poor countries. So, when an American private foundation announces a major investment in global health

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Neither History Nor Science

By | February 10, 2003

Patricia Cornwell's nonfiction attempt1 to name serial killer Jack the Ripper reads more like fiction than fact. Cornwell has identified Walter Sickert, a well-known Victorian painter, as Jack the Ripper based almost solely on two observations: 1) that Sickert was a nighttime wanderer of London streets during the Ripper's spree, and 2) that Sickert painted spooky scenes reminiscent of Ripper locales and victims. Diehard fact-collecting Ripperologists will gasp at the editorialized renderings

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HIV Vaccine Breakthroughs: Who Pays?

By | January 27, 2003

Anthony Canamucio In and outside his territories and dominions ... and with his far off neighbors, Priyadarsi has arranged for the medical treatment of man and beast. He has caused herbs, roots and fruits to be imported, wells to be dug and trees to be planted on the roadside for the enjoyment of men and animals. --Edits of Asoka, third century BC, inscribed on a rock in Girnar, Gujarat, India On occasion, an ethical consensus may be reached only to unravel as the question of "who pays" be

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Can Rhetorical Momentum Influence Agreement in Science?

By | January 13, 2003

We have all witnessed the rhetorical impact of language in popular culture. Certain terms may serve ideological goals but mislead us about the reality they signify. How about scientific language? Does a particular terminology help shape agreement even when it is misleading or seems theoretically neutral? Let's take one example: the prion. Stanley Prusiner, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 1997, coined the term prion when he proposed in 1982 that the cause of scrapi

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Beyond Serendipity

By | November 25, 2002

We are entering the era of systems biology, where to truly understand a disease we must understand its causes from the molecular level to the organism level. The sheer number of biological molecules, and the complex nature of their interactions, has engendered a new method of biological experimentation, termed by Leroy Hood as "discovery science." Discovery science is technology-driven, and contrasted with hypothesis-driven science because it relies on making large-scale observations that are

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