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The Last Act

By Richard Gallagher The Last Act My final editorial. Ten problems I believe could bollix biology in years to come. After seven-and-a-half years as editor, and with 130-plus editorials behind me, I’m facing the tyranny of the blank page for the final time: my last editorial. How lucky I’ve been to be editor of this publication at this time. I often think of the poor editor of a glossy golf magazine who talked at a publishing me

By | January 1, 2010

The Last Act

My final editorial.

Ten problems I believe could bollix biology in years to come.

After seven-and-a-half years as editor, and with 130-plus editorials behind me, I’m facing the tyranny of the blank page for the final time: my last editorial.

How lucky I’ve been to be editor of this publication at this time. I often think of the poor editor of a glossy golf magazine who talked at a publishing meeting a couple of years ago. His comments went something like this: “We have three types of content: Where to play golf, what to play golf with, and how to play golf. Of these, the third is of far the most interest to readers, but the advice has been essentially unchanged since the magazine started in 1959. We are in a constant search for new ways to say the same thing”.

Our quandary at The Scientist is the opposite: With so much going on in the life sciences, how do we choose what to include and what to leave out? Not such a bad problem.

I could sign off with a description of how enjoyable and fulfilling this job has been (it has). Or by praising the talented group of colleagues—friends, in fact—that I have had the pleasure of working with (they are outstanding). Or by acknowledging the daring of the two co-owners who showed so much faith in me (much appreciated). Or by wondering at the power and beauty of science, and at the talent and dedication of hundreds of thousands of people devoted to discovery and its useful application, which I’ve been able to appreciate from close quarters (it has been awe-inspiring).

Instead, being true to my Scottish roots, I thought I’d give you a list of problems, potential flies in the ointment for the life sciences in the years ahead. Ignore the following at your peril.

1. Disengaged youngsters. No classroom experiments plus no role models equals no interest in science among the people who we want to replace us in years to come.

2. Corporate stupidity/greed. Exempting the R&D level (in needed areas such as vaccine research, "Nice Shot"), Big Pharma companies often do the wrong thing, and have the wrong motivations. So do Agbio companies.

3. Misplaced opposition from consumers to “Frankenfoods”. They are being misled: GM crops can provide quality produce at high yields without the application of chemicals, and without endangering anyone.

4. Uninterested students. Many of the best graduates rebuff a research career, lured by medicine or law or business.

5. Dramatic growth in sales of homeopathic and other ineffective “medicines.” These waste money, endanger lives and can discredit the entire field of drug discovery.

6. Misbehaving scientists. Misconduct takes a toll on the public trust, in addition to directly damaging science. We need strong codes of practice, transparency and stiff penalties.

7. Unhappy postdocs. More recognition and better career plans are needed for early career scientists, otherwise they’ll leave research for good.

8. Crafty animal rights activists. They are taking more sophisticated, long-term approaches to stop essential research. For instance, just last month Oklahoma State University administrators halted an approved study of anthrax vaccines at a new BSL-3 facility because it would have sacrificed baboons.

9. Creationism. It just won’t go away. In this issue ("Should Evolutionary Theory Evolve?"), we depict an ongoing debate over whether to formally expand our codified understanding of evolutionary theory, based on new information from epigenetics and other emerging fields. Scientists should be able to acknowledge ways to improve the theory without giving fodder to those who want to discredit it altogether.

10. A lack of politeness in scientific debate. See Steve Wiley’s column ("Mind Your Manners"). It’s an epidemic.

And there will be plenty of other issues for the new editor, Sarah Greene, to sink her teeth into as she takes over the best job in science publishing.

I wish her, The Scientist, and our readers, all the best.

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Comments

January 12, 2010

\n\nThank you Mr Gallagher. You did a great job and no one is perfect.\nAll the best in your new adventure (whatever that might be).
Avatar of: JAMES TANG

JAMES TANG

Posts: 1

January 12, 2010

I have read most of your insightful and intriguing editorials and I have saved some of them to my collection. I'll just wish you the best with your new endeavors.\n\n
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 6

January 12, 2010

8. Crafty animal rights activists. They are taking more sophisticated, long-term approaches to stop essential research. For instance, just last month Oklahoma State University administrators halted an approved study of anthrax vaccines at a new BSL-3 facility because it would have sacrificed baboons. \n\nThis is good. Finally abusive and lethal experiments on creatures who are virtually human get their comeuppance. Stop hiding behind the archaic and discredited animal paradigm, and learn/apply newer and more humane methods for scientific discovery and study of human diseases. \n\nYou ain't seen nothin' yet. Progress is unstoppable, so get on board or get out of the way.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 2

January 12, 2010

Point 8 should have read, 'They are taking more sophisticated, long-term approaches to stop cruel, futile and irrelevant research and to ensure archaic animal models are kicked out of the lab.'\n\nIt is indeed more sophisticated to properly assess the human relevance of animal models, especially in light of modern molecular methods that we could barely have dreamed of a decade or two ago. This should have been done long ago - yet there is still luddite-like resistance from many scientists - clearly, yourself included. Hopefully the next editor of The Scientist will have a more 'scientific' view and encourage greater analysis, transparency and forward thinking with regard to animal experiments - and not be afraid of evidence against them.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

January 12, 2010

... good points, all ten of them. \n\nInteresting how much sand is grinding about in the interfaces between science and the public at large. Clearly, we live in a society that has a skewed sense of priorities. But be mindful that this list reflects mostly North-America's realities, and priorities elsewhere are very different. To name just two examples, creationism is much less of a problem in Europe, and the education crisis in the US is generating tremendous opportunities for China.

All the best.

Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 11

January 12, 2010

#5: growth in sales of alternative medicines\n\nThis is a very short sighted point of view. \n\nExample:\n\nMy mom suffered for years from gluten allergy. For 20 years she went to doctors and they told her that her stomach problems were in her head. That was, until one day I told her about gluten sensitivity, and out of desperation, she tried a gluten-free diet. That cured her stomach issues (the doctors had been clueless).\n\nBut the years of improper absorption of nutrients left her with other problems, including a major heart issue (nerve tissue, not blockage). She's seen specialists the world over, who've tried to prescribe statins and all sorts of drugs which have not done one thing to cure the disease. The doctors are trying to fix an entirely different problem. When she failed to respond to the treatments, they label her as a "complicated" patient and threw up their hands. \n\nTurns out it wasn't complicated at all. \n\nRecently I suggested she try more magnesium in her diet. Poof. Heart symptoms vanished! From thousands of PVC's (misfires) per day, to ZERO. \n\nThousands of dollars worth of snooty doctor's visits later, and the simple cure was in the nutrient magnesium.\n\nIt turns out many of us are deficient in this nutrient (I was!). I won't even list the ways in which my health is better once I discovered this simple thing (note, I'm a PhD who works in Biochemistry related fields - if you study your biochem, look at how many vital enzymatic reactions magnesium is involved in).\n\nSo, while homeopathy itself may be not scientifically sound, when you lump it in with all other "Alternatives" you are being unscientific. The RDA's (recommended daily allowances) themselves are unscientific! They arrived at the RDA's from figuring out what was the bare minimum that it took a small group of people to survive (not thrive). These have no bearing on the diversity of people in modern environments with current farming practices and with current stress loads. \n\nDrugs did not cure my mom, the "alternative" did.\n\nIt's very sad when something as simple as magnesium gets lumped in and branded as "junk science" just because the drug companies (which you lamented in #2) do such a good marketing job for their drugs, that doctors forget the simple cures.\n\nSo let's get straight on this: not all "alternatives" are bunk.\n\nI'd far rather have my mom taking a $0.20/day magnesium pill, than spending thousands on drugs and doctors visits that did no good for her whatsoever.

January 12, 2010

"The Last Act" editorial is my first inkling that a new editor is coming on at The Scientist. The ten problems listed are, as I have come to expect from this publication, "spot on." IMHO anyone who has had to produce over 130 editorials on science has richly earned a break (oops...I see I have greatly overrun the currently fashionable 140-character limit).\n\nSusan Lawrence Volkmar\nScience Writer and Editor
Avatar of: Cathy Yarbrough

Cathy Yarbrough

Posts: 1

January 12, 2010

As one of the many long-time readers of The Scientist, I've benefited from Richard Gallagher's "spot on" insights about the culture and business of science. I hope he is leaving to write a book, a new column for another publication...\n\nBest wishes and thanks to Richard Gallagher,\n\nCathy Yarbrough\nfan
Avatar of: Michael Kenward

Michael Kenward

Posts: 2

January 13, 2010

I look forward to seeing where you land next Richard.
Avatar of: Gregg TeHennepe

Gregg TeHennepe

Posts: 1

January 13, 2010

I think we need to be cautious re: GMO foods:\n\nA Comparison of the Effects of Three GM Corn Varieties on Mammalian Health\n\nJoël Spiroux de Vendômois1, François Roullier1, Dominique Cellier1,2, Gilles-Eric Séralini1,3 ✉\n\nWe present for the first time a comparative analysis of blood and organ system data from trials with rats fed three main commercialized genetically modified (GM) maize (NK 603, MON 810, MON 863), which are present in food and feed in the world. Approximately 60 different biochemical parameters were classified per organ and measured in serum and urine after 5 and 14 weeks of feeding. Our analysis clearly reveals for the 3 GMOs new side effects linked with GM maize consumption, which were sex- and often dose-dependent. Effects were mostly associated with the kidney and liver, the dietary detoxifying organs, although different between the 3 GMOs. Other effects were also noticed in the heart, adrenal glands, spleen and haematopoietic system. We conclude that these data highlight signs of hepatorenal toxicity, possibly due to the new pesticides specific to each GM corn. In addition, unintended direct or indirect metabolic consequences of the genetic modification cannot be excluded.\n\nhttp://www.biolsci.org/v05p0706.htm\n\n- Gregg
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 4

January 13, 2010

Thank you for your common sense editorials over the last seven years. I enjoy the Scientist for the depth it gives to my understanding of both health and disease and the lives and motivations of researchers.\n\nI agree with 9 of your 10 'wake up call' points. But like "Why are alternatives unscientific?' I question your point about about alternative medicines. AS a nurse, I see many people suffering from the combined side effects of poly pharmacy and poor nutrition. Surely the day will come when real food (with the odd exception) will be a priority from the womb to the tomb. Many drugs (old reliable drugs) were developed from herbal treatments giving some guarantee that in appropriate does they should work.\nSome newer drugs come with little explanation of how or where or why they work, so wouldn't the thinking person dealing with a chronic complaint go for something that at least won't harm them?
Avatar of: Sarvesh Kumar

Sarvesh Kumar

Posts: 5

January 13, 2010

I frankly admit before conveying my thnx to Richard that I've been a casual reader of this journal.But there were articles in the magzine which compelled a casual reader like me to go through them n even write a commentry on few n the credit for this certainly goes to Editor besides of course to the author(s).I agree to quite a few points of The Last Act but certainly differ with the views of Richards on the importance of Alternative medicines n GMplants.I know quite a good number of patients who were shown the doors by Allopaths but were magically cured by the use of Homeopathic n Ayurvedic medicines So calling those medicines as useless or just wastageof money is too harsh a comment on Alternative medicines.Similarly there is a worldwide debate on utility of GMplants n there is a clear divide on this issue.In my opinion the learned EDITOR has deliberately wrote on these two Hot issues in his The Last Act to make it as wellas him to be remembered for long
Avatar of: BETH SCHACHTER

BETH SCHACHTER

Posts: 2

January 13, 2010

Richard,\n\nYou did a superb job at the helm of The Scientist. Thanks for making TS such a dynamic publication. We - in both the science and the science journalism communities - quoted TS often, and with increasing regularity. So, it's clear that you were making a difference.\n\nBest wishes for your own personal continued success and, once again, thanks!\n\nBeth

January 14, 2010

I, too, thought that those two points are misplaced. I wrote Richard, directly, to congratulate him for his lead at TS, and told him that:\n"Granted, not everybody will agree with your list in full. I, for one, don't: my wife and a second person I know firsthand are living proofs that homeopathic medicine can do better than an orthopedist's scalpel, at least when it comes to removing bone excrescences. And GM food is too expensive for those who might need it, if someone --poor, developing countries-- actually needs it at all, and unneeded in the Western countries, where productivity is anyway in excess of the needs; moreover, most GM foods I am aware of are GM-ed to either resist a certain pesticide/herbicide (see Roundup) or produce their own (see Bt toxin), so neither falls in the category of "without chemicals", nor in "safe for everyone". But your 10-point list is not only a "to do" list for your successor, it also is food for thought for us all: we should all print this list and stick it on the wall, so that we glance over it all the time."\n\nTo which his reply was:\n"It is difficult to make strong arguments in a couple of sentences, and I do appreciate that there are other perspectives than my own. I don't mean to suggest that no homeopathic medicines can work, but do feel that they should be subjected to the same rigor as standard Western medicine. And on GM, I do hope that over the ne[x]t few years crops will be developed to meet the needs of the poor."\n\nNow, not that Richard Gallagher would really need an advocate, but, seeing how many people disagree with those points, I thought it would be worthwhile to mention my small e-mail exchange.\n\nThe most important point, though, I think is the following: it turns out that whoever will follow in his shoes should tackle those issues with the utmost care, as there seems that within the TS readers there is a sizable community thinking differently (and putting forward solid arguments, not just being vocal, to the great joy of Steven Wiley).

January 14, 2010

... how to give a standing ovation to the outgoing Editor ELECTRONICALLY? We can spare all superlatives and offer best wishes to his successor, who must raise the bar even higher. I would rather opt for a Golf Mag position!
Avatar of: Karen Smallwood

Karen Smallwood

Posts: 3

February 1, 2010

I second the notion offered by commentor Shreekant Sapatnekar. Although I could not get a sense of any bittersweet nostalgia offered in this last rendering, Richard Gallagher has put a finite,descriptive summation of the rocks and rills of all things Science. At the risk of seeming "smarmy", live long and prosper. The Scientist will continue, but this reader will miss you.
Avatar of: Joel Malard

Joel Malard

Posts: 2

September 18, 2010

I would like to add: thank you for conveying so nicely and clearly the beauty and depth of your field to your neighbor scientists.\n\nBest wishes to you and yours.

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