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Not ""Mere Technicians""

By | June 30, 2003

Scientists are in general a fair, even high-minded bunch, but if one thing brings them down, it is their superior attitude toward a particular group of coworkers, namely technicians and lab assistants. Towards technicians, scientists can often be condescending, even belittling. Let me illustrate with two examples, which would have appeared in the pages of The Scientist but for editorial intervention. The first comes from discussions on the status of postdocs. The character in question was quo


Discussion Good, Dumbocracy Bad

By | June 16, 2003

The voices of patient advocates can be electrifying. Consider the following examples: "I am one of the many millions of Americans who will benefit from biomedical research, made possible by the dollars that you appropriate. I view this invitation to testify as my opportunity to change the world. If I choose the right words, paint the right picture, I hope to give you not only a glimpse of what it's like to have a neurodegenerative disease, but also a sense of the staggering utter despair, fru


Archive That!

By | June 2, 2003

Some topics are best depicted through example, so here goes: The Jeremy Norman Molecular Biology Archive, which includes papers from Aaron Klug, Max Perutz, Rosalind Franklin, Francis Crick, and James Watson, was on the auction block at Christie's.1 Its value? Between $2.2 and $3.3 million. Now, as a responsible scientist you surely keep detailed notebooks and retain raw data from your experiments. But in addition to these, do you preserve letters (professional and personal), diaries, and s


VA--Vague and Aberrant--Funding Decisions

By | May 19, 2003

"Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power." --Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) This applies equally to women and men. On April 2, 18 basic science grants from the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) were "defunded."1 Months previously, the successful applicants were informed by telephone that funding had been approved (the peer review process took place in November 2002), and they had budgeted on that basis. But on the day after the grants


Animal Research is for Human Welfare

By | May 5, 2003

A recent survey revealed that nine out of 10 Brits do not know that beer is made from barley, and one in 10 believe that rice is grown in the United Kingdom.1 Exactly where they think the paddy fields are located was not recorded. This ignorance illustrates the growing disconnect between the city-dwelling majority and the countryside in terms of food production. A further disconnect is revealed in the changing attitude toward animals in the United States. "I think there is an urban prism thro


So, You Think You're a Scientist?

By | April 21, 2003

The recent, vigorous debate occurring in our pages regarding whether it's necessary to accept the theory of evolution1,2 (also, see Letters) as a prerequisite to studying the sciences has set me thinking: What exactly is a scientist? Albert Einstein--who better to guide us--had some forthright views. In an address to the Società Italiana per il Progresso della Scienze on occasion of its 43rd meeting in Lucca, Italy, October 1950, he implied that science must be all-consuming: "... apa


Played Like a Fiddle on Bioterrorism

By | April 7, 2003

During Pontiac's Rebellion, a pan-Native American uprising in the Great Lakes and Ohio River Valley in 1763, biological weapons were used. Two blankets from Fort Pitt's smallpox ward were purposely given to Delaware Indians who were trying to negotiate a surrender. A short time later, a vicious smallpox epidemic broke out. There has been but one subsequent incidence of bioterrorism in the United States of which I'm aware. That occurred in the fall of 2001, when five people died and as many as


Tobacco Settlement Spending Plans in Ashes

By | March 24, 2003

Why is it that smoking--so expensive, personally injurious, and detrimental to the public purse--is still an essential part of daily life for so many of us? The primary answer is craving: Smoking is more reinforcing than crack cocaine. Teasing out the factors--psychological, neurological, and genetic--that contribute to nicotine dependence is a complex process, as we report on page 21. But the potential payoffs from new treatments in terms of health benefits (and developer profits) guarantees


Will Walls Come Tumbling Down?

By | March 10, 2003

The Public Library of Science, whose editorial board reads like a Who's Who of the biology community,1 is slated to start publishing later on this year. PLoS will practice what it has preached: open-access publication, joining BioMed Central (a sister company of The Scientist), which has been publishing open-access journals for the last two years. If successful, this approach will trigger a seismic change in academic publishing. What is open-access publishing all about and who will it benefit


Postdocs: Truly, Les Miserables

By | February 24, 2003

There comes an hour when protest no longer suffices; after philosophy there must be action; the strong hand finishes what the idea has sketched. --Victor Hugo, Les Miserables, Saint Denis in book 13, ch. 3 In the Feb. 10 issue, after polling 2,800 postdocs, we highlighted the best places to work and the factors that contribute to job satisfaction. But in the box for free-text comments, quite a different set of verdicts was being delivered. Most of the 600 comments were shrieks of protest, f


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