Funding: to Harriman (Dec25)

Alexander Berezin berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA
Mon Dec 25 10:11:38 EST 1995

On 24 Dec 1995, Gregory R. Harriman wrote:

> In article
> <Pine.SOL.3.91.951224141409.29841B-100000 at mcmail.CIS.McMaster.CA>,
> berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA (Alexander Berezin) wrote:
> > Dear Gregory,
> > 
> > Reading word-by-word what you are saying, I can 
> > see a point in almost everything you say. Yes,
> > there are 'good' and 'productive' big labs.
> > (question still 'good' and 'productive' for
> > what ?). Yes, not all go there 'for money' (although 
> > I do know quite few young fellows, both genders, who 
> > recently dropped half-way their biomedical PhDs 
> > to go to, etc.

> Alexander,
> Does deciding to go to medical school represent some kind of failure on
> their part?  Since when is becoming a physician such a great sin?
No, not at all. People going to medical school overwhelmingly
want 2 the most natural things in life:
(1) be valued, respected and needed members of the soceity,
(2) have a decent living to allow all the normal things, like:
  having house to raise children at younger age, some (reasonable) 
continuity and secrurity of jobs, etc.
Medical school almost certainly devivers these expectations
(not just promises),
while going to PhD (few best years of live) almost certainly
guaranties after that indefinetely many more years of unsecure, 
unsettled, poorly paid and dependable postDOGs life.  

> > But being 'insider' of the biomedical research 
> > you may (slightly or strongly - I don't know)
> > overestimate what people outside of it think about 
> > the importance of it for the real progress and
> > improvement of medicine. You may be very enthusiastic
> > about how much molecular biology and genetic engineering
> > can do for cancer, Alzheimer, AIDS, or whatever. 
> > 
> > But people 'out there' not necessary see it this way.
> > What people see is that there is NO real progress on
> > cancer despite all the billions spend on it (try to argue 
> > overwise to a mother whose child just died of leukemia). 
> > 
> > What people see ON THE GROUND are largely broken promises. 
> > And yes, that's why people go (often in desparation) 
> > to 'faith healers' and other likes. And paradoxically,
> > more and more people see the MAINSTREAM medicine as a 
> > just a form of highly sophisticated quackery which really 
> > can't do too much. In short, its geting more and more
> > clear (like in my earlier example with undelivered 
> > thero-nucler fusion) that Big Biomedical Establishement 
> > simply does not delievr. I personally, very sorry to say you
> > this, but it seems to me rather unlikely that BBE can 
> > continue on the same gears for too much longer on the 
> > basis of promises.   
>      You are perhaps overly pessimistic regarding the viablity of the
> biomedical establishment, however, you do raise some valid and important
> issues.  I believe one of the biggest failures of the biomedical
> establishment (your so-called BBE) is the way it has communicated with lay
> people and the general public about medical and scientific achievements. 
> Biomedical scientists often miscommunicate with the public regarding their
> research, for a variety of reasons.   Frequently, they get excited about
> their accomplishments and this exuberance is misunderstood.  Sometimes,
> they focus on the long-term significance of the work but fail to put it
> into perspective in terms of the lack of immediate benefits.   And, like
> all people, they sometimes exagerate the importance of their work.  

>      Regardless, there can be little doubt, when seen from an informed and
> objective point of view, that remarkable progress has been made over the
> last 30 years in our understanding of how living organisms, and especially
> human beings, function at the cellular and even molecular level.  While
> many of these discoveries will have profound effects on our's or our
> children's lives in the future, they unfortunately may not provide
> immediate benefit to people with diseases, such as cancer.  A good example
> of this is my previous posting regarding the BRCA genes.  We now know that
> mutations in certain genes lead to cancer.  While this knowledge will
> allow us to screen and hopefully prevent some cancers in the future, it
> does nothing for the person who has cancer today.  Often, these scientific
> discoveries are sensationalized (and the press bears some of the blame in
> this) to make it sound as if a cure for cancer has just been discovered.
> Clearly while that is not the case, there is every reason to be confident
> that such discoveries will ultimately lead to better treatments or even
> cures for many of these diseases.
>      The challenge to the "BBE" is to do a better job of communicating
> with the public.  Biomedical scientists must try harder to explain not
> only the significance, but also the limitations, of discoveries.  By doing
> this successfully, biomedical science will gain better credibility and
> support from the general public.

For as long as fundraising is concerned the bragging  
sensalization is not only the best, but the only stategy.
Do you expect public and (political) support for BBR will
increasre if bug guns of establishement will start 
talking of their own limitations ? - it will be 
Those (mostly, "ex"s) of med.establishement who talk
about limitations (several recent books) are largely 
seen as renegades if not betrayers (almost invaraiable
fate of truth-sayers).

After all let's (all of us) appraise a simple fact: how
many people do indeed care ? All of us who posted in recent
months on bioforum on these issues could be counted on
10 fingers (2 ourselves, Tivol, Kathy, Robison, Farland and
perhaps, 2 or 3 others). How many people get bioforum ?
I don't know exactly, but my conservative guess is about a 
thousand at least. So, in short 10 peopel out of 1000 care 
(1 % !), others sit on the fence.

New Year Greeetings to all of you !

Alex Berezin 

> Greg Harriman

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