To frame, or not to frame?

Re: "The future of public engagement,"1 the first thing scientists need to do is abandon all talk of tentativeness, paradigms, and social construct when talking to the public about science. This model of science is appropriate in certain circles, but I see not a shred of evidence that it has improved public scientific literacy, and [I see] a great deal of evidence that it has been used by charlatans to dismiss scientific findings or push bogus alternatives. Like it or not, the vast majority of the public thinks in concrete, black and white terms. Framing discussions in any other way amounts simply to disregarding all the published literature in psychology.

Steven Dutch
University of Wisconsin, Green Bay

I come from a science background (medicine) and I also work in the media, developing, writing, and producing science and medical TV. It's...

"I think framing science is a very dangerous proposition and one I personally will not pursue."

Remember that television (even Discovery, now that it gets ratings) is about entertainment, and information is NOT entertainment. Emotion, drama, and mystery are entertainment and it's the producer's job to find them ... or invent them if they're not there. Science might be interesting to you and me, but to commissioning editors, if it's not got one of the above, they're not interested. The trick is to find the stories and at the same time remain true to the science. It's harder when you come from an arts background and don't quite get science, or if you come from a science background and don't quite get entertainment.

Paul Trotman
Dunedin, New Zealand

Framing is about presenting the facts in a way that will cause the recipient to form the desired opinion. Framing is not about telling the truth as honestly and as openly as it can be told, and allowing the recipients to form their own opinions. Some folks would therefore describe framing as a form of lying.

As scientists our job is not to present the information in the way we think it should be understood. Our job is to present the information clearly and honestly, and to answer questions openly and freely. I think framing science is a very dangerous proposition and one I personally will not pursue.

Please note that this letter expresses my personal opinion, not that of HortResearch or its staff.

Bart Janssen
Auckland, New Zealand


1. M.C. Nisbet, D.A. Scheufele, "The future of public engagement," The Scientist, 21(10):38-44, October 2007.

What is your brain worth?

McGee notes correctly that therapeutic payoffs from investments in neuroscience research are fewer compared to investments in other areas (such as the kidney) and inadequate compared to societal need. 1 The shortfall in therapeutic payoffs is due to the indisputable fact that neurologic systems are far more complex than other systems, and humanity's understanding of these systems is in its infancy. Acknowledging this fact, it is more rational for societies to consider an investment level that is proportionally greater, instead of the prematurely defeatist reduction suggested by the author.

Badrinath Roysam
Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute
Troy, NY


1. G. McGee, "What is your brain worth?" The Scientist, 21(10):36, October 2007.

Poisoning the poison

In "Poisoning the poison," Jack Woodall suggests recombinant human butyrylcholinesterase (rHuBChE), a naturally occurring protein found in human blood, to counter the anticholinesterase activity of organophosphates. 1 Butyrylcholinesterase is a large protein, which has the potential to generate an immune reaction when administered exogenously.

Sometimes the presence of a self-protein in unusually large quantities can result in the expansion of B cells against that protein. The odds increase with more variation between the recombinant sequence and the person who receives it. With human sequences originating mostly from northern European genes, field workers in much of the world would tend to be at significant genetic distance from the recombinant source sequence. If a vaccination response to rHuBChE happens, there is potential for generating an autoimmune disorder in those people, and having them lose all butyrylcholinesterase.

The effect would be minor under normal conditions, something doctors in developed countries could easily manage. However, for field workers in developing nations, it could render them more susceptible than they were. On balance, rHuBchE would doubtless be of great benefit, as such reactions would probably be rare. But they could occur, possibly in clusters related to genetic distance.

Brian Hanley
University of California, Davis


1. J. Woodall, "Poisoning the poison," The Scientist, 21(10):77, October 2007.

Saving the South China tiger

We have both modern animal husbandry techniques and the technology (with DNA testing, Internet-based database tools, and electronic tagging and tracking devices) to save the South China tiger. So, why does the animal rights community and elitists in some major wildlife conservation groups call Li Quan's efforts to save this subspecies of tiger a waste of resources? 1

I'm a fundraiser for a US tiger refuge, and I can tell you that the conservation community is protecting its donor base with its criticism of practical programs such as Li Quan's. The fear is that such practical efforts as hers are far more sexy than appeals for more money for lawyers and lobbyists, and that it will draw money away from the largely political efforts in which many of these conservation groups are engaged.

People would rather give to something they can see and get their minds around. I think a little less talk and a little more action are called for. As a donor myself, I know what kinds of programs will get my dollars to save the tiger.

Tom King
Tiger Missing Link Foundation
Tyler, TX


1. C. Jennings, "Fashioning conservation," The Scientist, 21(10):30, October 2007.

Challenging reproduction assumptions

Re: "Genetic benefits of asexuality?" 1 : When describing the main feature of sexual reproduction, the universal assumption has been that sexual reproduction generates genetic diversity due to genetic recombination, and that asexual reproduction produces identical genetic copies. This very assumption has formed the basis for all leading theories on why sexual reproduction is dominant despite the twofold cost of sex.

In brief, we have found that asexual reproduction is associated with high levels of genetic diversity (both at the genome level and gene level), and the opposite is true for sexual reproduction. 2 The main purpose of sexual reproduction is the preservation of the identity of a given genome, rather than the promotion of genetic diversity, as is commonly thought. We believe that the genetic diversity occurring at the genome level is much more extensive and significant as the chromosome-defined genome context determines a given biologic system. 3,4 This genome-centric viewpoint differs fundamentally from conventional models (such as reducing the load of deleterious mutations), as drastic chromosomal aberrations cannot survive the very process of sexual reproduction.

Henry Heng
Wayne State University School of Medicine
Detroit, MI


1. K. Grens, "Genetic benefits of asexuality?" The Scientist Daily News, Oct. 11, 2007. 2. H.H. Heng, "Elimination of altered karyotypes by sexual reproduction preserves species identity," Genome, 50:517-24, 2007. 3. H.H. Heng, "Cancer genome sequencing: the challenge ahead," BioEssays, 29:783-94, 2007. 4. C.J. Ye et al., "The dynamics of cancer chromosome and genome," Cytogenet Genome Res, 118:237-46, 2007.

In our November issue, the Best Places to Work in Academia article contained the following errors: in reference to two countries that ranked lower than India on page 67, Switzerland should have read Sweden. On page 65, in the Top 10 International institutions table, the first column listed as "Rank in the US in 2007" should have read "Rank in 2007." In the Top 15 US institutions table, Mayo Clinic was listed as being located in Rochester, New York. The correct location is Rochester, Minnesota. Also in the Top 15 chart, the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center was listed as having 139 publications, a number that was derived from ISI Web of Knowledge Essential Science Indicators. The database had grouped many of UT Southwestern's publications under the general University of Texas umbrella. UT Southwestern reports they've had 16,014 publications over the past ten years. The Scientist regrets these errors.

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