The Next New Thing

Excellent idea to try to promote interactive behavior among life scientists.1 There is far too little interaction between scientists who are, understandably, frightened of divulging their work. There should be nothing wrong with talking about technical issues, though; that’s why so many forums have sprung up.

I won’t be tempted by a t-shirt, though, which runs the risk of making your idea look a bit gimmicky and not serious. A hat would be better.

Nigel Appleford
NHS Blood and Transport
Bristol, United Kingdom

1. S. Greene, “The Next New Thing,” The Scientist, 24(2):13, February 2010.

The Counterfeiter
“If everyone always did the ‘right’ thing, such burdensome regulations might not be needed. But we don’t and so they are.”

The US Food and Drug Administration is under pressure to protect the American population from the ill effects of bad products, yet at the...

The real problem as pointed out in this well-written article1 is not the products sold online (buyer beware), but rather those purchased at the consumers’ well-known, well-trusted local pharmacy where the pharmacist may be completely unaware that they are selling harmful, untested, non-GMP products.

No one really cares if your new knockoff purse falls apart or the knockoff clothing comes undone at the seams, but a drug that fails to have the active ingredient or has dangerous levels of heavy metals or other toxic materials just may kill you.

Eric J. Murphy
University of North Dakota
Grand Forks, ND

1. B. Borrell, “The Counterfeiter,” The Scientist, 24(2):36–41, February 2010.

Hidden Costs to Stimulus Funds

At a time when all funding is tight—not just from the federal government—is it really surprising that following the money has suddenly become a higher priority?1 The emphasis here is on the stimulus, of course, but I’d wager every other source of funding is paying a lot more attention these days.

There are several casual assertions in comments that this is all about bragging rights for free-spending politicians. And let’s be fair; any politician who has managed to get a project funded is going to want some credit for it.

Plus, there’s the concern about thousands of dollars in extra costs out of billions of dollars of new funding. While it may vary from project to project, that’s roughly a fraction of a penny for every new dollar of funding. And that’s a problem?

Larry Roth
New York State Department of Health
Albany, NY

These extra requirements are even more onerous for small businesses who work on limited personnel resources all of the time. I agree that an annual or at best a semiannual report should be adequate. However, I suspect that part of the additional requirements are to provide information on how and where the money is being spent, how many jobs it has saved or created, and the fact that we are in a leadership position in scientific research for the benefit of the public and media.

And, yes, haven’t you had to hire more people to push all of that extra paperwork around? Buy more equipment from small businesses, who in turn have to hire more people to provide that equipment? So when you report you can also add that each grant is creating more jobs.

Joan Burkholder
Crist Instrument Co., Inc.
Hagerstown, Md.

1. B. Grant, “Stimulus funds harbor hidden costs,” The Scientist News, February 2, 2010.

Red Tape: Strangling Science?

Excellent points about how red tape is stifling research.1 Unfortunately, we have been making the same points for nearly 40 years. But all that’s happened over those past 40 years is that things get worse: More and more regulatory paperwork is required and less and less time of researchers actually is devoted to science. However, it’s partially our own fault. There’s always someone in the academic community who doesn’t play by the rules, who lies, cheats, and steals, who skirts protocols, who is always gaming the system. Every time we get close to convincing the feds to ease up a bit on the regulations, another Congressional committee reveals some new horrendous violation of law, common decency, and common sense.

Robert Killoren
The Ohio State University
Columbus, Ohio

Don’t always blame the bureaucrats who are responsible for the proper use of public funds. If everyone always did the “right” thing, such burdensome regulations might not be needed. But we don’t and so they are. But that doesn’t mean that we should give up; both “sides” need to work to make sure that these onerous requirements are fully necessary to accomplish their ostensible goals.

However, everyone is so busy dealing with the current situation, there isn’t any time to revise, let alone reinvent. Who will take to initiative to “fix” the system?

Walt Hill
FDA and FSIS (retired)
Seattle, Wash.

I have felt this pain as well—to the point of feeling that it has nearly incapacitated me as a researcher.

I think one thing that might help would be if universities would hold an annual (or even every 6 months) “red tape fair” with all the appropriate administrators present so that faculty could do all their paperwork by passing from booth to booth; then it would be done until the next year at the same time. Changes that occur in the interim could be dealt with at that date.

Susan Hollingshead
University of Alabama at Birmingham
Birmingham, Ala.

1. N.S. Greenspan, “Strangling the experimentalists,” The Scientist News, February 8, 2010.

Physician-scientists: Vanishing?

As a physician-scientist between grants, I feel like an endangered species.1 A number of people I trained with, both MD and MD-PhD scientists, are contemplating life without the lab. We get reviews of our proposals wondering why we haven’t published as much as our PhD peers, why we do not have the reams of preliminary data expected. We feel like we cannot commit to students or postdocs because our funding and time is so tenuous, but then we lack the hands to churn out research at the assembly-line rate expected for NIH funding these days.

Pascale Lane
University of Nebraska Medical Center
Omaha, Neb.

One must remember that physicians are applied scientists. They apply the techniques that have been researched by the trained scientists. A good example of this is the basic medications that are prescribed by the physician but researched and tested by the scientist using samples (such as cells) from the patient. I think that the physicians and the scientists should work together as a team. Both are needed in the field of medicine. Instead of vanishing, it should be the bonding of the physician and scientist to enhance cures and discoveries in the fields of science and medicine.

Jeanie S. Payne
Bergen Community College
Paramus, NJ

1. J. Akst, “Physician-scientists: Vanishing?” The Scientist News, February 26, 2010.

Why I Love Vendors

I hope that Wiley’s approach to walking the hall during conferences spreads.1

It really is worth going in with fresh eyes and seeing where things are going. Obviously, some changes are cosmetic year to year, but some are truly innovative. A lot of time and effort goes into R & D and design and development.

Timothy Jahnigen
Berkeley, Calif.

1. S. Wiley, “Why I Love Vendors,” The Scientist, 24(2):23, February 2010

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