Activating Debate

Re: "Now Showing: RNA Activation,"1 I am surprised that the RNAi community is resistant to new mechanisms of RNA such as RNA activation, as it wasn't that long ago that scientists were not believing in RNA interference. Most discoveries in science have been found by mistake and not by hypothesis testing in a lab. With all the "revelations" that have been found in genetics over the last 15 years, this is just another facet of the complex interactions and functions of the molecular world. We will learn much more about genetic mechanisms when scientists try to keep an open mind about how these molecular processes work. Bet we haven't even scratched the surface of this yet.

Susan Colilla
Integrative Epidemiology LLC
Cherry Hill, NJ

In regards to the three different proposed mechanisms behind RNA activation, I would like to propose a Schrödingeresque alternative, which not...

Allan Helgeson
Des Moines Area Community College
Des Moines, Iowa


E. Dolgin, "Now Showing: RNA Activation," The Scientist, 23(5):34–39, May 2009.
Citation Amnesia

Richard Gallagher's editorial on "Citation Violations"1 suggests that many failures to cite relevant papers are intentional. That may be true, but my experience in reviewing nearly 1,000 papers suggests that a more common cause is ignorance.  Too many science graduate students are only exposed to recent papers in their field. Nobody seems to care much about the history of a field in general or in the citation history of current "hot papers."  While it is appropriate to overlook papers that should have been integrated into common knowledge, too many key papers just get lost. I think it would be helpful if every graduate program had a course in the history of the field and that seminar discussions of current papers include a review of the related history.

Bill Klemm
Texas A&M University
College Station, Texas

I serve on the editorial boards of a number of journals e.g. Journal of Innate Immunity, Stem Cells & Development and, in my opinion, checking that prior work is cited properly is much the responsibility of the editor, the selected peer-reviewers, as well as ultimately the author of the typescript. In the increasingly competitive world of publication, the practice of citation amnesia or deliberate omission of prior work in the field is scientific misconduct. There needs to be a collective responsibility and a clearly defined policy in all journals of the consequences of malpractice of citation avoidance or amnesia. This should include rejection of the typescript or instructions to the author to remedy the issue.Despite numerous essays such as the one published herein, as well as other learned editorials highlighting the practice of citation avoidance, it will continue to be a problem until a time that such malpractice is confronted formally and with consequences.

"I am surprised that the RNAi community is resistant to new mechanisms of RNA such as RNA activation, as it wasn't that long ago that scientists were not believing in RNA interference."

One should not ignore one other confounding issue. Journals are forever facing the problem of space allocation for published work and the increasing costs of publication processing. Clearly if citation avoidance or amnesia is to be challenged, more journal space will need to be occupied by increasingly lengthier bibliographies of prior published work.

Marc Williams
University of Rochester School of Medicine & Dentistry
Rochester, NY


1. R. Gallagher, "Citation Violations," The Scientist, 23(5):13, May 2009.

To Punish or Praise?

Steven Wiley argues in his column that public misbehavior by scientists helps reinforce our shared sense of morality.1 That may be true, but all too often in daily scientific life, I encounter examples of harsh criticism that are not balanced out by positive reinforcement of "good behavior," that is, either an example of scientific integrity or simply a personal attribute that makes for a good work environment. Our hero worship seems to be confined to those who are already big names with plenty of awards, and not to those who do darn good work in the trenches. How many compliments does one hear at research group seminars? Compare that to the number of negative comments, and you get my point.

Peter Kaczkowski
University of Washington
Seattle, WA


1. S. Wiley, "Heroes and Villains," The Scientist, 23(5):27, May 2009.

Peer Pressure

I'm not surprised that the article urging teachers to talk to students about peer review1 mentions resistance to teaching students, and thereby the public, about this key feature of what science is. Right now, the fad in the education community is to teach high school students to evaluate information solely on their own judgment, essentially teaching them that they get to vote on what should be accepted as science. The failure to familiarize the public with how the process works in the scientific community has produced an electorate that believes that one person's opinion on an alleged scientific question is as good as any other.

Michael Holloway
Rhode Island Hospital
Providence, RI


1. E. Raphael, "Teaching Peer Review," The Scientist, 23(5):24, May 2009.


In the May feature LOV Story, The Scientist incorrectly identified Wolfgang Gaertner's institution as the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Munich. In fact, he is at the Max Planck Institute for Bioinorganic Chemistry in Mülheim. The Scientist apologizes for the error

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