Peer Review Anonymity on Trial

Gregory R. Harriman gregoryh at
Fri Jan 12 13:34:53 EST 1996

In article
<Pine.SOL.3.91.960111150858.4359C-100000 at mcmail.CIS.McMaster.CA>,
berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA (Alexander Berezin) wrote:

Stuff deleted.
> Fierce battles to secure personal interests ('who said 
> what') is the MAIN reason why (contrary to some optimistic 
> claims at this thread) there is indeed relatively LITTLE 
> progress coming from 'biomedical establishment' to a real 
> medicine. Biomedical scientists think much more how to 
> beat each other than how to beat major deceases. The above 
> lawsuit is a clear-cut illustration of a deep moral crises 
> of the present research enterprise (and not only biomedical).   

     Once again Dr. Berezin demonstrates his penchant for hyperbole and
exaggeration.  Unfortunatley, his excesses obscure some valid and
worthwhile points.  

     To put some perspective on the issues and contrary to his assertions,
there has been substantial progress in biomedical research in the last
20-30 years.  No one who is willing to be objective could disagree with
that statement.  Do we know everything about how the human body works?  Of
course not, it is incredibly complex!  We still know relatively little
about even a single cell, let alone the whole human body.  Given our
current state of knowledge, in relation to what remains to be understood,
it should come as no surprise that we still can't cure many diseases. 
That does not mean "LITTLE" progress has been made.  It simply means there
is still a long way to go.  We're in a marathon, not a 100 meter dash.

     Further, while I don't know the particular details in this case, I
would agree with Dr. Berezin that the bringing of this lawsuit is likely a
good thing.  Nonetheless, the presence of a single lawsuit hardly
constitutes evidence of "a deep moral crisis of the present research
enterprise".  In any social institution or activity there will always be
people who try to take unfair advantage or cheat.  While this is
unavoidable, we should certainly do everything possible to discourage and
punish those that step over the line.  To the extent that such
inappropriate behavior occurs in science, it should be condemned and
policies implemented to prevent it.  Still, the fact that this type of
misconduct occurs (as it always will under any system) hardly constitutes
proof that the whole system is corrupt.

Greg Harriman

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