On the Media

Re: “Why Trust a Reporter?”1 Good journalists are after a story that fits the facts they can garner through their investigations. And they don’t think that everyone out there owes them information or a living. If you don’t want to reveal information, you say so, and the journalist who knows his/her place in the scheme of the things will take that for what it is. Plus, in most cases, there are other places to get that information from.

Journalists are the interface between the scientist and the broader public. That’s the reader they write for. I guess, in the end, it depends on for what [and whom] scientists think they are working which influences whether they believe the information should get out there.

Journalists are the interface between the scientist and the broader public.

Brian Robinson
Freelance journalist
Portland, OR

There is a multiplicity...

A. Stephen Dahms
San Diego State University
Valencia, CA

One tip I’d add is: follow up after the interview. Asking a reporter politely if you can provide more information or images is (1) helpful for reporters who are often writing several stories under 1- or 2-day deadlines and (2) can help improve the article’s accuracy. Working as a team with the reporter brings the most accurate information to print—a win for you, the reporter, and the public.

Ryan Ferrell
Chempetitive Group
San Diego, CA

A point to consider is that, when facing a negative story, it is very important to respond in full and on the record as soon as possible. Failing to do so leaves the field to the other side (often anti-science cranks) during the crucial first few hours when a story is in the news and the tone is being set. At worst “no comment” can look like an admission of guilt.

Paul Browne
European Bioinformatics Institute
Cambridge, United Kingdom

Rethinking Drug Discovery

I am no more convinced that massive data and crowd sourcing2 will solve the problem [of new drug development] any more than high-throughput screening of compound libraries did over the last 2 decades.

In some sense, Big Pharma has already tried crowd sourcing by buying up small companies that have chanced on a promising compound for a disease. That doesn’t seem to have worked well either.

Perhaps better models will make a difference, but it may be that most of the fruit of this particular chemical tree has been picked. In which case, we may need a new paradigm.

Alex Tolley
Los Gatos, CA

There is a missing link—no methodology is available to systematically describe the molecule that you would want to use to modulate a given target. Even worse, the only two methodologies in widespread use today—rational drug design and high-throughput screening—have such inherent limitations that it is amazing they ever work. Therefore, the vicious cycle: even if a target is validated, the likelihood of finding a modulator is so difficult, and few would be foolish enough to spend the time and money to find a modulator for an unvalidated target. Thus most of the new biological findings remain on the shelf.

I find it astonishing that in this well-recognized situation, no one is interested in seriously considering new methodologies that might solve this roadblock, which will only get more serious as time goes by. It is actually the only missing link hampering the discovery of new drugs.

Martin Gerstel
Compugen Ltd.
Tel Aviv, Israel

The more intellectual property (IP) is free, the more efficient the system will be, and I agree that the basic science needs to be done, but without funding, it won’t happen.

If you have money, and want to give it away and have the maximum potential impact, this is what you do: decide on an issue that you care passionately about, whether it is AIDS, malaria, climate change, etc. Find patented solutions, buy the patent, and make it public domain. Then you let all the people who could benefit from it know about it. Releasing critical IP would unleash a “firestorm” of progress within that particular field. It would be beneficial if the government effectively seized and released IP, but it would discourage investment.

Steven Pace
The Colours of Life
Melbourne, Australia

For the last 50 years, randomized controlled trials have been the unquestioned “gold standard.” But now? They take too long, cost too much, are fraught with unsolvable ethical problems that patients and many physicians dislike, and forbid asking the patient specific molecular questions. If we can’t reach agreement that clinical methodologies must adapt (at this point meaning dramatic, disruptive change) to new knowledge of the biologic basis of disease, then our ability to accelerate advances in medicine will remain stagnant. A key point in this article is that the new system should be patient-centric. It has to be a system that makes sense to them personally. If real patients are left out of the process of change, we will likely end up in the wrong place—again.

Steven Walker
Abigail Alliance for Better Access to Development Drugs
Saint Petersburg, FL

Credit Where Credit Is Due

The article3 [on the discovery of penicillin] skims over the fact that Fleming did not go on to do anything with his finding. In fact, it was left to Howard Florey and Ernst Chain (non-British) many years later to realize what it meant and to develop the chance finding into a true discovery. This was not supported by the British Government, and funding was so poor that the project nearly folded several times, were it not for Florey’s unyielding tenacity, and finally a $200 donation from an American philanthropic group that permitted development to proceed to the point where it could prosper. The war effort finally brought funds that moved this on further, and the rest is history.

Brendon Coventry
The University of Adelaide
Adelaide, South Australia

This article overly simplifies the origins of the discovery of penicillin. Some think that the first systematic discoverer of penicillin was a Frenchman, Eric Duchesne. He submitted a thesis in 1896 about the effects of a green mold on bacterial growth. J.W. Henderson has written an article in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings (72:683-87, 1997) on the history of the discovery of penicillin that puts Fleming’s role into perspective. However, it’s possible that the real discoverers of the effect of penicillin mold on bacterial growth are much more ancient than even Duchesne. Many non-Western societies have long been aware of the value of plants and microorganisms for use as medicines.

Stephen Barnes
The University of Alabama at Birmingham
Birmingham, AL

We want to hear from you. Please e-mail your comments, criticisms, or differing viewpoints to

1. E. Zielinska, “Why Trust a Reporter?” The Scientist, 24:40-46, August 2010.
2. S. Friend, “Crowdsourcing Drug Discovery” The Scientist, 24:32, August 2010.
3. C. Luiggi, “The Discovery of Penicillin, circa 1928,” The Scientist, 24:84, August 2010.

The original version ofin the September issue gave the wrong institutional affiliation for Sean Carroll. He is at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.stated that trehalose was a protein, when it is in fact a carbohydrate. Andmistakenly stated that more than 5 million people are cell phone subscribers. That figure is closer to 5 billion.regrets these errors.

Interested in reading more?

Magaizne Cover

Become a Member of

Receive full access to digital editions of The Scientist, as well as TS Digest, feature stories, more than 35 years of archives, and much more!
Already a member?