View From The Trenches

U27111 at U27111 at
Fri Jun 23 02:12:25 EST 1995

Here's the latest e-mail exchange between the PhD and myself:

PhD: Sarcasm and _another_ out of context assumption concerning me
PhD: (a person you don't even know).

Well... I was being so bold?

>> Take care and enjoy your dream world sitting up in
>>your tower... it > is really fun  - while it lasts.

PhD:        I had no idea of the depth of your anguish and disgust.
PhD: I'm truly sorry for the way science "in general" has sucked
PhD: the spirit from you totally and so completely.

Thanks... because it truly has.

You previously mentioned.... "You sound like a bitter person who
has been burned by a former student (if _I_ can be so bold as to
make an assumption about you)."

The truth of the matter is....

I spent nearly 5 years in cancer research only to 'somewhat'
watch my uncle die of lung cancer.  (I wasn't personally there for
him in the end.)

I then went on to work for 7 more months, again in cancer research,
in a lab that prior to my uncle's death - I would have  probably
been ok to just chug along in - like the rest of us usually do...
but instead, I couldn't take it anymore.  I couldn't take the
incompetence, stupidity and the 're-arranging' data in the
computer... re-arranging the data NOT because they were trying to
beef it up for a grant proposal or a paper... but because the
people were too damn lazy to do the work properly the first time
and didn't care to take the time to re-do it - so they just made it
into what they wanted it to be (or what they 'thought' it should

All they cared about was working as little as possible (ave. of 6
working hours per day); and taking home a pay check (for full time

So I made a big stink (job suicide) and left in the end.  And do
you want to know what I was told?

     "All significant discoveries in science have been by
     accident.  Thus you can consider it a random event.  And
     a low caliber lab has just as much chance of having that
     random event happen to them as a high caliber lab.  Thus
     it doesn't matter if we were a low or high caliber lab."

And every time I complained about the guys leaving early and doing
slop for work... he response was "but they are pure of heart and do
not do this intentionally"

Thus *I* came to the conclusion that *he* thinks if he is pure
enough of heart; GOD would grant him a significant accident?

BTW, this was a federal research lab.

Anyway, a few months after leaving that job... my mother became
ill.  And I have just finished spending nearly a year home taking
care of her... slowly watching her die of lung cancer as well.
Holding on to her during all of her pain and suffering... and
watching her choke to death in the end - she did not die in peace.

Then last month I went to work (for the first time since the
federal lab) in yet another cancer research lab.

This one was at the University of Illinois at Chicago,
Biochemistry... in the laboratory of Dr. Margalit Mokyr.

This is the type of cell culture work they do...

-    They work with what they believe to be non-human cancer cells
     utilizing non-laminar flow hoods (they use hoods which blow
     sterile air over the work surface and right into your face)

-    These hoods do have UV lights, but it is considered a waste of
     time to utilize them in between working with the various cell
     lines... "we don't have time, too many people are waiting to
     use the hoods" was the reason given.

-    All biological waste is considered non-biohazardous and thus
     used flasks and pipets gets tossed into the regular garbage...
     and media waste gets poured down the sink [all unbleached]

-    They repeatedly claimed they don't have a problem with
     cross-cell contamination... yet the lab has never done species
     specificity testing on any of their cell lines to verify this

-    No notebook is kept on the history of their cell lines... nor
     do they bother to keep track of passage numbers.

-    With respect to their claim of no cross-cell contamination
     occurring in their lab... they claim they have very stable
     cell lines.  Yet, they have a P-815 cell line which they have
     been growing continuously in their lab for somewhere between
     2-3 years.  This cell line originally started out as a
     suspension culture but has somehow turned into a monolayer
     culture sometime during this time period.  It's chalked up to
     genetic drift and the cells remain to be utilized for
     experiments.  Again, no species specificity testing was done
     to verify their claim.

-    I saw one graduate student a MD/PhD student) do injections of
     some cells into mice... this cell solution had been sitting
     for 2 hours at room temperature (in a solution not containing
     FBS) before he got around to injecting them.  In addition, he
     sucked the cellular solution up through a 25G needle to load
     his syringe.  No viability testing was done immediately prior
     to injection nor have they bothered to do any studies on the
     viability of these cells under these conditions... but they
     claim it's alright and the cells are 80-90% viable - without
     anything to show to back this claim up.  One final note... he
     did multiple mouse injections utilizing just one syringe and
     tossed the syringe (uncapped) onto the bench top in between
     injecting mice [not only was he sloppy about his work... but
     not very clean either]

On the subject of cell counts:

-    First she claims that a cell count done on a hemacytometer is
     more accurate than one done via a coulter counter.  In
     conjunction to this, their coulter counter counts are normally
     off by 20-30% as compared to a hemacytometer count of the
     exact same cell solution... and they will take the
     hemacytometer count over the coulter counter under these
     circumstances [and no, I am not talking about cells which are
     massive clumps here]

-    When they do their cell counts on a hemacytometer they don't
     bother to clean the hemacytometer cover slip or the
     hemacytometer itself... it just gets wiped off with a dry
     kemwipe in between counts.  I never saw the hemacytometer
     properly cleaned with EtOH, bleach or even water!  As a matter
     of fact, I saw it left sitting under a microscope overnight,
     wiped off and then used for another cell count.  When I took
     another hemacytometer out of drawer and cleaned it... we
     compared cell counts and guess what, the counts were off by
     nearly 50%.  When Dr. Mokyr complained that I have to do
     'something' to get my cell counts more consistent with the
     lab's... I failed to figure out a way how to get my
     hemacytometer filthy enough to be more consistent with their
     counts... just how long should I sit it out under a microscope
     allowing the cells and trypan blue to dry out before it's
     dirty enough?

By the end of the week it was mutually decided that my personality
did not fit into their lab.  The one tech even suggested I might
seek a job at ATCC because they are the only ones who have to be so
strict with how they handle their cell lines... out here in the
real world of research, such details does not matter.

And as Dr. Mokyr stated to me at one point during the week...
"Sometimes science must move on and we just don't have time to
worry about ever little detail"  [note how she makes a similar
comment concerning 'details' as Roger Poisson in that one article?]

Anyway, when I asked, "Yes, but sometimes you have to stop and
determine if what you are doing is actually valid"  Her only reply
was, "It's valid!"

This fits right into the 'It's only research' and 'It's good
enough' mentality which is so prevalent in research of the 90's.
And this is how the graduate students in her lab is being taught to
do their work; who in turn will go on and teach this to yet others.

And if this doesn't show you how badly this field needs to become
standardized and certified (with certified techs and accredited
labs)...  I just don't know what else will?

But what I don't understand is why people think I'm bitter about
all this?  Just because it took watching both my uncle and mother
to die from lung cancer before I opened my eyes and came down from
*my* tower and decided to stop accepting what is unacceptable
laboratory practices?  How is this bitter?

It's just not enough to sit by and watch others abuse and misuse
the scientific process all the while making sure what *you* do is
correct and valid... we should *all* be responsible for the type of
work which gets put out there (*IF* the self policing policy
*really* worked?)

But since it is so obvious it doesn't... it's time to *force*
people to do the work properly in the first place (instead of
waiting forever if and when they get caught) and possibly cut down
on the abuses and fraud by creating a certified field (similar to
that of clinical and forensic laboratories).

It only makes sense.

Money would then get spent more efficiently and grad students would
then be more properly taught on HOW to do their work... we may even
be able to slow down the amount of contamination going into the
pool of scientific knowledge?

PhD: Don't get me wrong...I'm certainly not burying my head in the
PhD: sand and going through life with blinders on.  I am just as
PhD: concerned as you are about the state of science and disgusted
PhD: with the money grubbing egos (and their @#$%^&* lawyers-Bill
PhD: was right) that will use their positions to pad their wallets
PhD: and leave the empty shell behind with no regrets for the
PhD: future.
PhD:        I do not sit around in my ivory tower and dream of
PhD: better days... I write and try to educate Congress concerning
PhD: my views on the state of science and the crisis that is upon
PhD: us.  I view cases such as Gallo, Baltimore, Stanford
PhD: University (all Universities are just as guilty, they just got
PhD: caught...which seems to be the defining definition of science
PhD: and society in general today) with your same disgust and
PhD: anguish.  It's no longer "Don't do the crime because it is
PhD: morally wrong", it's "Don't do the crime if you think you will
PhD: get caught or you can't afford a @#$%^&* lawyer (ala O.J.
PhD: Simpson).

One PhD student I previously 'attempted' to train said "Gallo
wasn't so stupid... he got the patent didn't he... he was just
stupid in getting caught!"

PhD: The moral implications of a persons actions are no longer
PhD: taken into account and responsibility for those actions have
PhD: been blurred beyond recognition by the steady hammering away
PhD: by 80% of the worlds lawyers (located in a country with only
PhD: 5% of the total world population).

But what about the statement made in the Dingle report?  Who in the
end was (and still is) responsible for Gallo?  Congressional
lawyers or us, the scientific community?

After the HHS General's report (the one which resulted in the re-
negotiation of the AIDS test kit royalties with the French)...
Gallo got involved in yet another controversy (remember the Witte
verse Gallo debates last year in JAMA and Science on a supposedly
new drug for KS?).

His work could not be duplicated by Witte.  And how did that debate
end and where is the man today?

Why do we allow this to continue?

PhD:        As it goes for my unforgivable desire to be rewarded
PhD: for my hard work in the form of a *GOOD* job (I have flipped
PhD: hamburgers and poured enough drinks while putting myself
PhD: through school...thank you), I don't want a *GOOD* job just to
PhD: passify my "ego" or make me wealthy and powerful, I would like
PhD: to simply be able to take care of my wife and family and
PhD: maintain some sense of happiness.  I hope you are able to find
PhD: some form of happiness in the future (if there is one?!?)

???  I don't know ???


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