Translational disconnect

I enjoyed the article by Alan Walton and Frederick Frank entitled "Translational disconnect," in which they discuss ways to approach the crisis in bioscience innovation. 1 I applaud the establishment of the Committee on Bioscience Innovations, of which I knew nothing until reading this article.

I have two suggestions for improving the performance of pharmaceutical companies in the discovery of novel pharmaceuticals for diseases, old and new. The first is to increase patent protection from 17 to 25 years. The second is to ban advertising of medical products, especially on TV, a suggestion that would eliminate the huge advertising budgets of the pharmaceutical companies, which exceeds the amount spent on research in much of Big Pharma, and would liberate the funds for needed research.

Arnold Demain
Research Institute for Scientists Emeriti
Drew University
Madison, NJ

If such major journals as Nature or Science could be...

Walton and Frank point out "that many foreign students return to their own countries armed with the knowledge and experience, paid for by the American taxpayer, to commercialize science." In its generality this statement is false and misleading: Foreign students and postdocs usually pay their own way when studying in the United States. In addition, without their contribution to US research (foreign students and postdocs do more than 50%), the United States could never sustain its research quality. In conclusion, the opposite of Walton and Frank's statement is true.

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


1. A. Walton, F. Frank, " Translational disconnect," The Scientist, 22(3):29-30, March 2008.

Bias out of the bottle

In "Publishing bias out of the bottle," 1 a scientist surveyed the drinking habits and publication records of avian ecologists and evolutionary biologists in the Czech Republic (home to the highest beer consumption rates), and found that the number of papers published, the total number of citations received, and the average number of citations per paper all declined with increased beer consumption.

Based on the number of surveys responded, and how the participants were selected, I believe that this report has done nothing better than to increase clicks-per-day for the journal that published the study (Oikos) and some other news agencies. However, it can also serve as a joke to boot sleepy people in the lab.

Dzung Le
Institute for Agricultural Engineering, Ministry of Agriculture
Hanoi, Vietnam


1. E. Dolgin, " Publishing bias out of the bottle," The Scientist News Blog, March 18, 2008;

The impact of impact factor

Re: "A new proposal for citation data," in which researchers propose a new way of evaluating papers, 1 I believe that the impact factor is outdated, and it is open to manipulation. 2 Isn't it grotesque that in today's day and age scientists publish in different journals instead of a single, fully searchable and cross-referenced, peer-reviewed database? If overnight all journals were wiped out and you were king for a day, would you recreate approximately 20,000 different scholarly journals? With today's technology, would you even create two?

Bjoern Brembs
Freie Universtat Berlin
Berlin, Germany

Many scientists dedicate themselves to the impact factor, trying to publish papers with many citations. I think most of them go in a wrong way, focusing on those fields where it is easy to publish papers. In China, this problem is very serious: Professors must have certain papers to be qualified, postgraduates must have papers to graduate, and these papers must have certain citations. I think it is time for a new rule to evaluate researchers' work.

Qian Wang
Graduate School, Academy of Sciences
Beijing, China


1. A. Katsnelson, " A new proposal for citation data ," The Scientist News Blog, March 4, 2008. 2. PLoS Medicine Editors, "The impact factor game," PLoS Medicine, 3(6):e291, 2006.

It isn't just about innovation

In industrial R&D, my experience is that Steven Wiley is absolutely right when he says scientists need more than just good ideas. 1 When both innovating and evaluating innovation, there is no substitute for some sort of mock-up or prototype (or preliminary results) when trying to convince someone to loosen purse strings. The other factor in successful innovation is commitment to the concept, and some work done "for free" counts a lot.

Ian Newington
Principal Research Scientist
London, UK


1. S. Wiley, " It's not just about innovation," The Scientist, 22(3):33, March 2008.

Wonderful Wnt

The story of how Randall Moon stumbled on the developmental signal involved in tissue regeneration that could ultimately end up a target for cancer and Alzheimer therapies, 1 is really inspirational. How rewarding and noble a profession, to follow up your dreams and aspirations of becoming a career scientist, and ultimately have tremendous impact on solving everyday common global medical problems.

Anil Wali
Karmanos Cancer Institute, Wayne State University
Detroit, Michigan


1. R. Moon, " WNTer Wonderland," The Scientist 22(3):34-40, March 2008.

Abnormal benefits?

"An abnormal reunion" 1 describes the get-together of Mennonites and others who served as healthy volunteers in NIH studies conducted decades ago. With all the dysfunction at the civilian federal level today, it's impressive that so much new clinical information in applied science could have been collected so many years ago. The fact that such medical data could get out to medical practitioners in publications so fast and be put to use in treating patients is also heart-warming to see.

John Coupal
United Healthcare, LLC
Louisville, KY


1. P. McNees, " An abnormal reunion," The Scientist, 22(3):20-3, March 2008.

Fooled by fraud?

I can't decide how to think about the string of events reported in March, in which a South Korean scientist was fired after it was revealed that he fabricated data in papers in Science and Nature Chemical Biology. 1 On the one hand, fraud was discovered and will now be corrected, and the perpetrators punished. On the other hand, if such major journals as Nature or Science could be fooled, imagine how many times they were fooled and fraud wasn't caught? And how many times have authors fooled less-major journals while accumulating enough publications to make an academic career?

Whatever the pressures that make fabrication more likely, those pressures have not been diminished, and determined massagers of the truth will only become more clever.

Eliene Augenbraun
Sciencentral, Inc.
New York, NY


1. E. Dolgin, " Korean researcher fired for fraud," The Scientist News Blog, March 3, 2008;

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