It's us vs. cancer

This "new" strategy, in which cancer researchers beat the disease by collaborating in massive projects,1 is bound to fail. Why? Because enforced cooperation for the sake of obtaining research grants is counterproductive to a physiologic matching of research interests, including a viable chemistry between participating scientists. The European grant programs for cooperative research, based on the same intentions as described by the authors, have not only turned out to be bureaucratic nightmares but also fostered wrong motivations for collaborations. There are already numerous cooperative cancer programs in the US, Europe and Asia which take advantage of the great diversity of expertise, focus and motivation without major governmental interference.

Rainer Zahlten
University of Frankfurt am Main Medical School
Frankfurt, Germany

Our small lab has received nearly 30 years of continuous National Cancer Institute support that has allowed the training of both graduate and undergraduate students...

FDA face-lift

I was fortunate enough to recently tour the US Food and Drug Administration's new multimillion dollar facility and laboratory in College Park, Md. The strides that FDA has made in revamping its scientific image, mentioned in "Morale mire,"1 are evident in the scientific staff and laboratory operations. Preliminary statistics indicate that the FDA has filled approximately 1,500 jobs over the past two years and expects to fill another 600 in 2009. With these new minds lies the hope that the FDA will rediscover their role in medicine and in health, and to the American people by fostering a better work environment where dissension is welcomed, not punished, and where staffs are encouraged to explore and question, not forced to accept. But the rest of us need to remember that the FDA is our last line of defense before doctors prescribe those drugs to patients, and to maximize our health we sometimes have to exercise patience.

John Crews
Guatemalan Forensic Foundation
Guatemala City


1. F. Hawthorne, "Morale mire," The Scientist, 22(12):67-8, December 2008.

To train or not to train?

Alexander McPherson is doing the right thing by refusing to participate in sexual harassment training,1 even as it seems to have taken more time than a pat response to the requirement. The argument that taking such a course would not be formidable and could well be tolerated in terms of its content and the time it involves is in error. During the McCarthy era when grantees were mandated to take loyalty oaths, similar objections by courageous scientists were expressed. I saluted them then (I was too junior then to express my own objections in this manner) and I salute McPherson now.

Michael Katz
March of Dimes Foundation
White Plains, NY

"Alexander McPherson is doing the right thing by refusing to participate in sexual harassment training."

Precautions are not punishments. If McPherson would look around himself, he'd notice how few women are high-level academics in the sciences, and how frequently women who leave the field cite sexual harassment as a reason. As a scientist, he's supposed to be able to separate the patterns that are coincidental from the directed. I'd be interested in what he'd hypothesize is going on, if not workplace hostility perpetuated by the willfully ignorant.

Sara Anderson
Moscow, Idaho

Anybody who is a supervisor has to take the harassment course, man or woman. It is not all about what bad things you might do; it mostly concerns the steps you should take and the resources available if, say, one of the students in your lab starts making another student feel uncomfortable, and yes, how to keep your rear covered legally. Pretty useful stuff, actually.

It wasn't that big a deal, and I think I got through it in less than an hour. If MacPherson thinks he has to jump through hoops, he should talk to my wife in the public elementary school system. She is a highly trained speech pathologist with a master's degree, and yet she spends most of her day doing paperwork and attending workshops to make sure that the school's collective butt is covered if anything goes wrong. It's just a symptom of the times.

Perhaps the university should cut some slack and not make him take the course, but then he will have to realize that his rear end will be very uncovered if somebody in his lab or class ever does cause problems.

Gary Huber
Howard Hughes Medical Institute
La Jolla, Calif.


1. B. Grant, "Prof slapped over harassment training," The Scientist NewsBlog, December 11, 2008.

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