Complexity vs. diversity

Re: "Darwinian Time,"1 If the environment is relatively static, attributes that allow the organism to out-compete should slowly become more prevalent. The less complicated organism will evolve more rapidly. When we have large environmental perturbations, however, then the diversity within the existing population would seem to be the controlling factor; in a natural population the genetic variation to tolerate the heat-shock protein, for instance, would have allowed the organism to continue. Whether a more complex organism has the genetic diversity to survive a large environmental event is obviously open to speculation.

I do not intend to be arguing that organisms that are more complex, per se, can handle rapid environmental events better than less complex ones, but whether more overall genetic diversity does. And does a more complex organism have the potential, within the species, to have more overall genetic diversity, thereby giving it an increased...

It is good advice

Despite the anonymous comments to the article on The Scientist's web site, Steve Wiley's advice to stop focusing on top-tier journals when looking for promotions and grants1 is good advice, and it is not just about Science/Nature papers.

I am presently on a search committee for a high-profile faculty job at a tier I research university. Candidate evaluation is very little about counting the number of Science/Nature articles. Those don't hurt, but they do not by any means make or break an application. There are much more important things, like the topic of the research, the clarity of the research plan, the letters of recommendation, and publishing topical papers in respectable journals in the field.

Morgan Giddings
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill


1. S. Wiley, "Don't fight to be cited," The Scientist, 23(1):25, January 2009.

A broken clock?

Re: "The disputed rise of mammals,"1 The molecular clock is notoriously unreliable, and it doesn't get more reliable because you dissociate the trees from their source data.

The real problem with the molecular clock is that it's interpreted as observational data, when in fact it's a simulation. Not only that, it's a simulation based on models known to be inaccurate, with the vain hope that adding ever more calibration points will compensate for the inaccuracy of the model.

In short, whenever the molecular clock conflicts with actual observational data—and it pretty much always does—it's a safe bet the molecular clock is wrong.

Mike Noren
Swedish Museum of Natural History
Stockholm, Sweden


1. J. Evans, "The disputed rise of mammals," The Scientist, 23(1):47-8, January 2009.

Towards a ticking box

In regards to the recent news story reporting that the United Kingdom will now require grant-seekers to demonstrate the impact of their work,1 I have been amazed at the continued commitment by UK researchers to producing a consistent level of high quality research aimed at opening up new understanding in important areas of science. Plenty of times I have heard US researchers ask how on earth the Brits do it? Well, it will not be much longer before our system crashes, if Research Councils UK come up with more schemes like this one.

It does not sound to me like filling in impact assessment forms will make life easier for researchers. The inevitable outcome will be that UK research funding will be driven by functionaries ticking boxes, just as in the rest of the world.

David Ray
BioAstral Ltd.
Leicester, UK

It is critical that the decision-making process regarding the awards of grants remains in the hands of active scientists, or recently-retired scientists, and does not slip into the hands of the professional science managers, especially the ones who have never done any science themselves.

Does a more complex organism have the potential... to have more overall genetic diversity, thereby giving it an increased potential of survival?

As long as working scientists make decisions, it doesn't really matter what a grant application requires, or does not require, in terms of predictions of likely impact from the grant applicant. If it's good science, it will probably stand a good chance of being funded.

Where science is concerned, letting the market determine scientific activity is probably worse than allowing a tail to wag its dog. The views I express here are personal.

Purnananda Guptasarma
Institute of Microbial Technology
Chandigarh, India


1. E. Dolgin, "What's your research worth?" The Scientist NewsBlog, January 15, 2009.

Biotech bailout

Re: "Bailing out life science,"1 if scientists and the companies that support their work got the bailout that banks and the auto industry are getting, we would likely have scaled Mt. Everest by yesterday.

My company is one of the firms that design and manufacture the tools used by researchers to perform their work. A bailout for us would not be a "bailout." Four million dollars (a mere pittance by comparison) to a company like ours would escalate into thousands of researchers developing scientific and medical breakthroughs.

Joan Burkholder
Crist Instruments Company, Inc.
Hagerstown, MD


1. B. Grant, "Bailing out life science," The Scientist NewsBlog, January 15, 2009.


In the article "Of cells and wires" (23(1):32-7, Jan 2009), the chips included in the illustrations are by Christopher Burke and are provided courtesy of NeuroNexus Technologies. The Scientist regrets the oversight.

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