View From The Trenches

William Tivol tivol at
Mon Jul 17 17:11:56 EST 1995

U58563 at wrote:

[stuff snipped]
: Specifically, if you recall, the THEORY of getting grants is that after going
: through a wringer of educational steps to prove your prowess, you finally
: acquire a tenured position with which you have complete security --- THEN, you
: propose a good idea, and get money based on what is written in the grant

	If only practise kept up with theory.  It has been my contention
throughout this thread that grants should fund ideas.  This might not be per-
fect, but it sure beats what goes on now.  I'd go further and break the pro-
posal into the idea part, which goes to the study section, and the lab/track-
record part, which goes to another section--the "certification" section(?)--and
have the idea reviewed anonymously.

: The need to get "preliminary data" for
: a grant application, before a deadline!, is a recipe for disaster.

	I'd not go that far.  If the study section might think an idea would
never work, some preliminary data would be a good way of showing that it does.
However, the prelim results *must* be stated honestly: "Although only one gel
was run, it indicates..."  After all, these are supposed to be prelims.  If the
study section judges that the gel needs to be repeated in order to satisfy them
that the idea will work, then that should appear on the pink sheets, and next
time you apply, you should have rerun the gel.  If the prelim data is thought
of as just to convince the study section, the concept is workable.  The study
section can decide if the data are sufficient.

:    Had the scholastic system been maintained intact, then the only incentive
: left for fraud would be to gain fame.  But since fraud WILL inevitably be
: detected (unless it happens to be right --- not a sure bet!) the person who
: desires fame will stay honest.

	Not really; there are a lot of famous, dishonest people who wouldn't
have it any other way.  It's like the old adage about good and bad publicity--
it's bad only if my name isn't spelled right.

:    As it is, however, we see cases described every month in The Scientist and
: so forth describing the reputation that is truly devastating to one's research
: --- not to be dishonest, but to be a whistleblower!  Because the dishonest
: scientist now brings money to his institution, and is a valuable asset, while
: the whistleblower is a dangerous liability who, _due to regulation_, represents
: the potential loss of a great deal of money!  And there is the sad state of
: affairs which you lament.

	Right on the money.

:    As to the FDA:  I cannot believe that you do not see the advantage to having
: a drug available for some people to try a few years earlier than it would be
: now.  The disadvantage is to the few who suffer adverse reactions, who would
: have taken the risk voluntarily rather than face certain death.

	There are other disadvantages.  If any of a cohort is taking some sub-
stance, this could invalidate the testing of a possibly good drug.  If everyone
with a particular disease is on something or other, valid testing is not pos-
sible.  There's also the laetrile phenomenon--people will pay a lot of money
for false hope.  If anything goes, someone will make a fortune from snake oil.

  The advantage
: is to all the rest of us, who would benefit if we fought the diseases that
: attack us as if it were a war, in which casualties were unfortunate but
: inevitable, rather than prohibiting acts of bravery as our first priority.

	Actually, regulating acts of bravery may be a good thing.  One sol-
dier falling on a grenade to save the company is good.  One soldier disobeying
orders and endangering the company or its mission is bad.  One patient taking
a substance which gives a false result on a test can cause a poor drug to be
sold or a good one to be rejected.
	BTW, there are many tests where the placebo or alternative is discon-
tinued part way through, since the test drug is so overwhelmingly better.  The
example of AZT should convince anyone that thorough testing is needed to delin-
eate the range of cases where the proposed therapy is beneficial.  AZT is very
tricky in that respect.
				Bill Tivol

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