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The Organic Food Placebo

By | October 11, 2004

Last month my parents threw a party to mark their 50th wedding anniversary. After dinner, dad gave a speech recalling their honeymoon, for which they traveled from Scotland to Port Bou, a village on the France-Spain border squeezed between the Mediterranean Sea and the Pyrenees. While he was discretely sketchy about certain aspects of the adventure, he vividly described meals as though he'd just eaten them.Food rationing was just ending in the Britain of 1954. After years of compulsory restricti


(Some of) the News That's Fit to (Post)

By | September 27, 2004

What is the role of the daily news operation of a magazine such as The Scientist? It's an important question that bears considering periodically. If we start with the magazine's motto, "The News Journal for the Life Scientist," we have somewhat of a guide as to what the editors think: The daily news service is dedicated to informing life scientists of the news of the day in policy and research, which leaves the print magazine you're reading now to reflect on larger trends.But some of the readers


Touching Every Person on the Planet

By | September 13, 2004

"There are no such things as applied sciences, only applications of science."- Louis Pasteur (1822–1895)It was said of the human genome project that it has the potential to influence the life of every person on the planet. That is a heroic aspiration, and one that can be achieved only through a business-science fusion unlike anything previously experienced.The process has already begun. Researchers are enthusiastically seeking opportunities to commercialize their work, with the full suppor


Time for a Research! Europe

By | August 30, 2004

Scientists and scientific institutions in the United States have undergone a quiet revolution during the last 15 years: Whereas politics and advocacy were previously shunned, they are now embraced. Particularly in the medical research arena, but increasingly also in other areas of science, a dense interactive network of organizations, individual contacts, and campaigns exerts influence on public life. Key issues include, naturally, the levels of funding for science, but also the moral and ethica


Conveying Ideas or Chattering Idly?

By | August 2, 2004

In his latest article (February 1892), Prof. Garner says that the chatter of monkeys is not meaningless, but that they are conveying ideas to one another. This seems to me hazardous. The monkeys might with equal justice conclude that in our magazine articles ... we are not chattering idly but are conveying ideas to one another.- Samuel Butler, 1835–1902Butler hit the nail on the head, at least as far as these editorials are concerned: It is happily admitted that they are idle chatter. Whic


Death to Biologists

By | July 19, 2004

"In the last analysis it is our conception of death which decides our answers to all the questions life puts to us."- Dag HammarskjoldDeath and dying are of fundamental importance to biologists and medical doctors. Yet, their study is a backwater of research that deserves far more attention. In a PubMed search, "aging" papers outnumber "dying" papers by 10 to 1, and "sex" outnumbers "dying" by 20 to 1.Death and dying are not being taught, either. Of the three top-selling human biology textbooks,



By | July 5, 2004

Have you ever risked disapproval? Have you ever risked a belief? ... real courage is risking something that might force you to rethink your thoughts and suffer change and stretch consciousness. Real courage is risking one's clichés.- From Another Roadside Attraction by Tom RobbinsI recently attended BIO 2004, the annual jamboree of the biotech indus try. The optimism and energy of the place invigorated me as industry pioneers shared their visions of the future and I learned about new techno


Genetics is not Politically Correct

By | June 21, 2004

"A good marriage would be between a blind wife and a deaf husband"1Actually, it seems that good marriages occur between a deaf husband and a deaf wife: Such is the attraction that, in the United States, 85% of individuals with profound deafness marry another deaf person. One consequence of this, according to a potentially explosive article in the American Journal of Human Genetics, is that the incidence of nonsyndromic deafness may have increased two-fold over the past 200 years.2The article is


Will Life Sciences Follow Suit?

By | June 7, 2004

Arash of globalization is transferring upscale jobs offshore. This is the politically charged business practice of sending high-paying jobs out of the United States and Western Europe to Eastern Europe and developing countries, where salaries are considerably lower.For us, there are two questions: Will life sciences research, industrial or academic, follow this offshore trend? And if so, who will be the winners and the losers?The life sciences have so far been pretty deaf to the siren song of ou


Choices on Biosecurity

By | May 24, 2004

This issue of The Scientist focuses on biosecurity. More specifically, it deals with the handling and detection of select agents, a catalog of about 80 bacteria, viruses, fungi, and toxins that US authorities have identified as particularly high-risk. See page 12 for a primer.Select agents divide the US research community like few other topics. Regulations for their transport and handling are considered either prudent or draconian, a minor inconvenience or a grave impediment, depending on who yo


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