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Mail Thanks for an excellent article, and for creating The Scientist Video Awards competition.1 Homemade videos of scientists at work may be the best way to show the general public how science works, and make it relevant to their daily lives. Hopefully this article and the video competition will encourage more scientists to make videos about their work, and other professionals to develop resources and tools to make it easy for th

The Scientist Staff
Oct 1, 2009

Mail

Thanks for an excellent article, and for creating The Scientist Video Awards competition.1

Homemade videos of scientists at work may be the best way to show the general public how science works, and make it relevant to their daily lives. Hopefully this article and the video competition will encourage more scientists to make videos about their work, and other professionals to develop resources and tools to make it easy for them to do so.

Chris Farnet
Biotech Consultant
Montreal, CANADA
chris.farnet@post.harvard.edu

1. J. Akst, “The Future of Science Videos,” The Scientist, 23(8):39–43, August 2009.

I’ve had a similar experience to Steven Wiley, who laments how some ideas won’t get funding if they’re deemed ahead of their time.1 In the mid-1980s, the p53 protein was considered an odd cancer protein because if its gene was introduced into a normal cell, it did not cause the cells to...

Warren Maltzman
Barsett Consulting
Barrington, IL
wmaltzman@barsett.com

A recent issue of The Scientist mourns the demise of taxonomy. We need to fund “outliers”—both people who are ahead of their time and those who are behind their time (i.e., sustaining knowledge already gained). Only in this way can we maintain the full richness of science. By defending running with the crowd, one favors the madness of crowds over individual perspective, the whims of the reviewer over the creativity and insight of the individual.

Alexander Scheeline
University of Illinois, Urbana–Champaign
Urbana, IL
scheelin@scs.uiuc.edu

1. S. Wiley, “Timing is Everything,” The Scientist, 23(8):25, August 2009.

Universities lay the groundwork for innovation, not only by conducting government and privately funded research but by training the pool of scientists that corporations like Amgen draw from. The notion that innovation will not thrive without an enormously vigorous profit motive (as argued by one article in “Healthcare Reform: 2 Views”1) is bunk. I do not know any colleagues that entered into the sciences as a road to riches.

We need to fund “outliers”—both people who are ahead of their time and those who are behind their time (i.e., sustaining knowledge already gained).

It requires very little scientific and medical literature review to spot how much innovation is coming from countries that are not running “for profit” medical systems.

Richard Bergman
P H Research
Duluth, MN
rbergman5@juno.com

Amgen’s Sean Harper’s commentary on the necessity of support of pharmaceutical firms, which carry out nearly all the research and testing of new therapeutic medications, is fine as far as it goes, except for one glaring omission—namely, that he has somehow failed to mention the outlandishly outsized profits garnered by the pharmaceutical corporations, a matter of well-publicized public record. The pharmaceutical corporations are doing just fine on their own, thank you, and certainly do not require further support from anyone else.

Francis Scalzi
Arizona State University
Scottsdale, AZ
fscalzi@cox.net

From a European point of view, it is amazing that there is no consensus of the population on the big problems of the U.S. health system (exploding costs and high number of uninsured).

Once there will be some consensus that there is a problem, a very obvious approach would be to simply copy the rest of the world, e.g., Canada: Introduce more regulation of the cost and make membership more obligatory. There seems to be a cultural problem that prevents Americans from accepting that less freedom is sometimes more efficient.

Maximilian Haeussler
CNRS Gif-sur-Yvette
Paris, FR
maximilianh@gmail.com

1. S. Harper, D.J. Cotter et al., “Healthcare Reform: 2 Views,” The Scientist, 23(8):22–24, August 2009.

I think the point of the research that showed epigenetic changes to brain cells in people who committed suicide1 is not to predict who might be suicidal; rather, the researchers are getting a toe hold on one aspect of the molecular biology underlying some cases of suicide.

Actually I find it surprising that such an important gene or set of genes as rRNA genes would be underexpressed. Obvious questions are: Are there fewer ribosomes in the hippocampal neurons in abused animals? Does this affect the rate of protein synthesis in the neurons? Eventually, this research may lead to a better understanding of the pathology induced by abuse.

Douglas Easton
Buffalo State College–SUNY
Buffalo, NY
eastondp@buffalostate.edu

1. E. Dolgin, “Epigenetic Suicide Note,” The Scientist, 23(8):18–19, August 2009.

This article about the growing use of adaptive clinical trial designs1 is an excellent overview, but fails to mention that many of the adaptive designs being used today are based on Bayesian methods, which treat all the parameters in a model as random variables. This makes many statisticians, including myself, a bit uncomfortable. We’re used to thinking of the efficacy of a drug as being an unknown constant.

The Bayesian paradigm offers several advantages, however, such as producing simple estimates about the future results of the trial based on the data already collected. This is what makes Bayesian methods so useful in adaptive designs. At any point in a clinical trial, you can forecast the future results and make appropriate changes. Every time I work on Bayesian models, I get a bad headache. It requires a different way of thinking, and it doesn’t come naturally to me. As much as I would like to complain about it, though, Bayesian methods are something we need to embrace.

Steve Simon
P.Mean Consulting
Leawood, KS
net@pmean.com

1. A. Katsnelson, “Adaptive Evolution,” The Scientist, 23(8):55–57, August 2009.

During a sabbatical.1 the main reason to go away not only from one’s home institution, but from one’s home, generally is to shed one’s normal adult responsibilities and social obligations. This allows one to focus on writing/research and family in a new and concentrated way. My husband and I (both biologists) have taken simultaneous sabbaticals twice, first with young kids, next with teens, and we have found it to be rejuvenating for our professional work, our broader perspectives on science and academics, our marriage, and our family relationships. It is amazing how much time there is for things when you don’t have a house to care for, extended family or work-related social obligations, committee work, advising, etc. Obviously, this is not a sustainable life, but it sure is great for 6–9 months!

Elizabeth De Stasio
Lawrence University
Appleton, WI
destasie@lawrence.edu

1. E. Dolgin, “Scoring on Sabbaticals,” The Scientist, 23(8):58–60, August 2009.

The original version of “The Protein Tango” contained a typo that suggested the protein domain pKID was able to bind to itself. The passage was meant to describe the structural changes that pKID assumes as it becomes the bound version of the domain. The Scientist regrets the error.

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