Alexander Berezin berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA
Fri Jan 12 14:46:24 EST 1996

end of this poster - Alex Berezin

On 12 Jan 1996, Gregory R. Harriman wrote:

> 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.

I agree with you to the point that sayings like "progess in
such-and-such field is little (or big)" are very arbitray and
relative. We don't have parallel experiment running elsewhere
(in a parallel universe ?) where the science is organized
differently. I don't dispute that last 50 years brought
a lot of insights on how the body works. I am much less
sure that the present organization of biomedical research
with its emphaisis on quick sensationalization and 'getting
it published in Nature' is an optimal (or even sub-optimal) 

>      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". 

As we all perfectly aware, in this society (USA, Canada)
very small percentage of people can afford lawsuits.
Correnspondingly, even rare happenings of ACTUAL lawsuits
might well be testemonial to a much wider problem.
In short, tip of an iseberg effect.

> 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.

That's what I am saying. Its pointless to attempt to 
change the nature of people - it will remain the same
regardless. But you can modify practices in a given
field in such a way that miscounducting behaviour will
not bring the actor too much the avantage. In the above
example people tried to publish in Nature because
the present (arbitrary, fictional) reward system
gives a great premium to anything that published in
Nature (as opposed to elsewhere).

As I said before, I see it as a sheer stupidity
and anachronism (though deeply ingranted by 
historical reasons). For me it makes no difference 
at what paper (or by what publisher) my (or your)
article is published for as long it is published and 
the community can find about its existence (say, thru 
abstract services) and all who are interested can 
obtain a copy of the full text.  

[ in physics studies show that in average there is 
less than 100 full-text readers for any given paper


One solution which I want to outline here for the
biomedical community is based on my experince with
IAS (Industrial Applications Society)

(it may well happen that similar practice is
already used in some biomedical sub-fields, and 
I don't pretend on the originality of the proposal). 

Every year IAS runs huge annual meetings (several 
thousands people and talks) where all the presented
papers are published in the Conference Record. 
Papers published 'as is' and are not peer reviewed.
Conf. Record are usually several huge volumes at cost
of about $ 200 per set. Despite papers are not peer 
reviewed these Conference Records are quite popular 
and accessable. Then later those who wish may proceed
with publsihing peer-reviewd versions of their
articles (although, I personally find this activity
has rather little meaning). 

Should the above Nature authors have access to a
similar 'FAST FOOD' publication the whole affair may 
not occur at first place.

Alex Berezin


> Greg Harriman

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