"On non-scientific forums, it's best to keep your qualifications to yourself."

Altitude or attitude?

In "Kids climb Everest,"1 Janet Stocks reports that kids and adults had vivid dreams and difficulty sleeping, and seems to imply that this is a result of high altitude. Take any kid or adult transport them to an exotic place like Nepal, with its fantastic scenery, peoples, cultural and gastronomic experiences (both positive and negative) and I bet excitement/adventure/anticipation has more to do with restless sleep and vivid dreams than altitude.

I'm envious of Janet for being wise enough to get grant funding for such an experience.

Greg Wooster
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY


1. A. Gawrylewski, "Kids climb Everest," The Scientist, 21(6):20, June 2007.

Should you be online?

I strongly support Richard Gallagher's call for scientists to engage in public debate, and have done so myself for some time. In...

I'm a Green Chemist and a blog writer. My "technical blog" http://greenchemtech.blogspot.com generally comments on interesting articles/publications/reviews and pieces of mainstream news. I don't mention personal information - instead, I use the site to record URLs of useful sites/institutions.

No one said the Internet and science had to be simply databases and academic publications and major articles. Some commentary, especially from degree/PhD holders, is invaluable for the public. Maybe the Internet is enabling science to reconnect with the public, and it should. It's up to us, the "educators," to put scientific subjects into context for students and the public.

Mark C. Reid
Cheshire, UK


1. R. Gallagher, "Shouldn't you be online?" The Scientist, 21(6):13, June 2007.

Publish or post?

Re: "Posted v. Published,"1 I would post a research article in Precedings, primarily because, in today's climate, if you do not produce positive results or the results wanted by whoever is funding your research, then it does not get published. It is critical to all fields of research that negative results be given as much credibility as positive results. Otherwise other researchers can continue research for years assuming the outcome will be positive, and waste a lot of time and money.

Additionally, Precedings gives access to research without having to pay a fortune to read it. There is a major flaw in publishing which has flourished in the last several years by the big corporate publishers, who make research only available to those with deep pockets, requiring everyone else to wait a year or more for the results.

Micki E. Kobylk
University of Alaska
Fairbanks, AK


1. A. Gawrylewski, "New site pits 'posted' vs. 'published,'" The Scientist Daily News, June 19, 2007.

Rights without Responsibility?

In "Now playing: Stop the FDA!",1 supplement manufacturers argue that since they can claim general efficacy - that a product is for "heart health," for instance - they should be able to claim efficacy for a specific condition, such as heart disease.

If supplement manufacturers want the "free-speech right" to make efficacy/potency claims, then they should accept the responsibility of measuring, demonstrating, and continuously demonstrating the potency of what they manufacture. But it costs a lot of money. Supplement manufacturers do not have to bear this cost at present. I think they would be wise to not rock the boat, unless they want to pay the price of potency/efficacy claims.

S. Clark
Barrington, RI

We have the worst of both worlds: An FDA with heavy regulatory costs and a product-liability system with uncertain, but usually heavy, costs. There is no possibility of a universally-safe or -effective drug, so both approaches are flawed at their base.

Both could be replaced with an open-access database: After initial animal studies, a drug would be made available. Every doctor using a new drug protects himself/herself by entering the data for his/her patient and consulting the summaries about previous patients' experiences. This would provide both more complete and more timely information.

Lew Glendenning Applied Micro Circuits Corporation (AMCC)
Sunnyvale, CA

While the idea of an open access database to collect experience may sound like a solution, it is not. Such an uncontrolled, unregulated system would be no better than the current word of mouth and testimonial approach favored by supplement manufacturers and alternative advocates.

Relying on busy practitioners of medicine to enter cases in a database, without compensation, one assumes, is naive at best, but most likely merely useless.

Gary Anderson

Komodo Pharmaceutical Services

Kalamazoo, MI



1. K. Grens, "Now playing: Stop the FDA!" The Scientist Daily News, June 29, 2007.

What is synergy?

It is difficult to believe that biomedical communities are still debating how to define an "additive drug effect" for over 100 years, even for the combination of only two drugs in vitro. This is after spending a tremendous amount of effort and resources during the past decades on basic biomedical research. I believe the time has finally come to call for a consensus on "what is an additive effect" and thus, on "what is synergy," to avoid the harms of faulty synergy claims.

Without using a clear definition of synergism, it's misleading to make claims about synergy, whether in a paper in a scientific journal, a research grant application, claiming a discovery of a new utility patent for a new drug combination, or seeking approval of a new drug combination for clinical trials and use from the FDA. Individuals have their own definition of synergism based on their preferences, purposes, and agenda.

In my recent article on drug combination,1 I argue that there is only one definition for synergy (i.e., CI < 1), and there is only one basis to determine it, which is the mass-action law. I extend an open invitation to all methods that claim to determine synergism using anything other than the combination index method based on the mass-action law.

Ting-Chao Chou
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
New York, NY


1. T.C. Chou, "Theoretical basis, experimental design, and computerized simulation of synergism and antagonism in drug combination studies," Pharmacol Rev, 58: 621-81, 2006.


A book review in our April issue (21(4):56, 2007) misspelled author Eve Herold's name as Harrold. The Scientist regrets the error.

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