A Better Mouse

Let's take a dynamic, adaptive ecology (cancer) and while paying lip service to its complexity actually study it like a static system.1 Let's take a chronic, degenerative disease of aging (Parkinson's) and study it in healthy young rodents given an acute injury. Let's ignore that we know that health and disease are processes with complicated interdependencies and then wonder why our models fail to be predictive. And let's keep doing what we do even when failure is readily predicted because we are not willing to ask ourselves tough questions and challenge our assumptions. And once the failures become too numerous and too public to ignore, let's acknowledge our shortcomings and propose a new 40-year research agenda based on what we've known all along. Something has gone terribly awry.

Susan Fitzpatrick
James S. McDonnell Foundation
St. Louis, Mo.

1. E. Zielinska, "A Better Mouse," The...

Down with Reviews

Steven Wiley bemoans the fact that many authors cite a pertinent review article rather than several original works where the new work is actually presented.1 When I do this, it is a direct response to page or word limits of the journals I am submitting my own work to. One three-line review citation stands for perhaps fifteen or more lines and hundreds of words that would be required to cite separate articles, where I struggle to find space in order to clearly state a complex argument or present more data in support of a point I am trying to make. If more journals accepted articles of whatever length was required to properly present a piece of work, then there would be much more incentive to cite several primary articles in a subdiscipline rather than the single authoritative review.

William Hall
Fellow, University of Melbourne
Victoria, Australia

Reviews are clearly useful. They not only help scientists bring their knowledge up to speed in an area and make one aware of the research and researchers in the area, they can also give interpretation of a wide range of data to help focus further research. Unfortunately or fortunately, they are also used to condense our referencing processes. Perhaps we should consider excluding all reviews from being considered in citation indexes. This might make the indexes more accurate.

David Ballou
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Mich.

1. H.S. Wiley, "Down with Reviews," The Scientist, 24(4):31, April 2010.

But for the Grace of Genes

The article "But for the Grace of Genes"1 doesn't really seem to tell us anything that we don't already know: Professional scientists are less likely to be religious than the general public, but many researchers nonetheless manage to maintain spiritual/ religious views while doing good science. I suppose good scientists should collect some data before making their conclusions, but these conclusions seem to be self-evident.

The bigger question is what to do with the information. I teach in a high school and I see one of my primary objectives to be educating future scientists (and citizens) about what science is and is not.

I let my students know that religious education is a job I will leave to their parents and religious leaders. For some, any scientific finding that contradicts their fundamentalist views makes all of science suspect (which can then create problems for all of us in the science business). The good news is that when I show respect for their religious views, nearly all of my students and their families will reciprocate.

"I believe that few starting assistant professors have any business training postdocs in the first place."

I think that getting a greater number of people to understand and accept science is a more constructive approach than trying to get them to let go of religion. Folks like Richard Dawkins may be right, but by being so militantly anti-religion, I think that they can end up doing more harm than good.

Tom Wanamaker
Appleton East High School
Appleton, Wis.

I find this kind of article fairly sad. The biggest problem is, what do you mean by spiritual? For a frank informed debate, we require adequate definitions. Spiritual could mean anything from believing that fairies created the universe to the belief in ghosts. At any level, it is not compatible with science. Furthermore, atheist scientists do not feel threatened by fundamentalists per se—it is the fundamentalists who feel threatened by science as it does so much to undermine their belief systems.

Gary Brooke
University of Queensland
Brisbane, Australia

1. E.H. Ecklund, "But for the Grace of Genes," The Scientist, 24(4):29, April 2010.

More money, fewer postdocs

Regarding discussions on whether to raise the wages for postdocs and its consequence,1 the profession has too many postdocs, anyway, and probably too many graduate students. With paylines in the range of 10–15 percent, the system has more "trainees" in it than can be reasonably accommodated with real jobs. I believe that few starting assistant professors have any business training postdocs in the first place.

Robert Hurst
University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center
Oklahoma City, Okla.

Odd that there is so much discussion about why to raise the rates, and how maybe a career plan should be substituted. Until you have gotten to a pay level that allows people to have a roof over their head (that doesn't leak), and buy food and gas to get to work without them worrying every night about paying for another day, you should not worry about giving them a pay raise in this or any economic climate. I was a fellow at Stanford for 3 years, made about 5K more a year than the PhDs (as an MD doing some clinical work), and barely made it—I earned less money than when I was a resident. I lived in a termite-infested hole in the wall and borrowed money from my parents, so I know of what I speak.

Suzanne Coberly
South San Francisco, Calif.

In the mid-1990s, with nearly 45 publications to my name and over 8 years of experience after my doctorate, I took a Senior National Research Council fellowship at the NIH in Bethesda, MD. The pay was far from ideal for a family of four with a single wage earner ($45,000), but we made it work. The experience I gained was worth its weight in gold. In the end, we don't go into science to make a killing, otherwise we should take our talents and intellect to another sector of the economy. Rather, we do it because we love science and feel that it is absolutely outrageous that someone pays us to have this much fun. This is a passion, not a job.

Eric J Murphy
University of North Dakota
Grand Forks, ND

1. M. Scudellari, "More money, fewer postdocs," The Scientist News, April 26, 2010.

Retracted: Highly Cited Paper

A pathologist like me may well take photographs of a rat's lungs. If the molecular biologist first author studying multiple genetic changes faked the results, there is no reason on earth for me to know this.1 Also, if you work with people in other laboratories and, nowadays, on other continents, you cannot be responsible for their work unless again you are the senior author. One reason to carefully explain the culpability is to encourage coauthors who have suspicions about someone on the team to report them to the senior author or to an ethics committee.

Mitchell Wachtel
Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center
Lubbock, Texas

1. J. Akst, "Retracted: highly cited paper," The Scientist News, April 26, 2010.

The original version of "A Better Mouse" stated that the results of AVEO's Phase III clinical trial are due later this year. In fact, enrollment for the trial has just started. Also, "Against the Element" misattributed the historic sources of mercury poisoning in the 1960s and 1970s. The corrections have been made online, and The Scientist regrets the errors.

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