Peer Review Anonymity on Trial

Gregory R. Harriman gregoryh at
Sat Jan 13 17:43:25 EST 1996

In article <96013.004838U27111 at>, <U27111 at> wrote:

> Ahhh... we are back to that again!
> I really can't imagine a month going by without debating this issue
> yet again?

     If it bothers you to have to debate this issue again, I'm sorry. 
However, I was simply responding to the statement in Berezin's article
which started this thread stating "there is indeed relatively LITTLE
progress coming from biomedical establishment".  Since IMHO that is an
incorrect statement, I felt obliged to respond. 
> And to be very blunt... it is my personal opinion, that more
> progress has been made due to ideas stolen from science fiction and
> fortuitous accidents... then by some nobel pursuit for the greater
> good.

     You are entitled to your opinion.  Nonetheless, I doubt most people
believe, as you apparently do, that the majority of scientists are
corrupt, cheating, greedy or incompetent.
> Just think... what if the majority of people in science actually
> worked towards solving problems and discovering unknowns instead of
> where their next grant is coming from and how many journals they
> have published in this year?

     You do a disservice to many scientists who are interested in
discovery and improving the health and well-being of people.  Is it a
crime because they also have to worry about where they are going to get
money to do research and to live on?  If you have any better ideas of how
scientists can get the money to do this, I'd sure be interested in hearing

> And many labs I have worked in don't even know how to do a proper
> cell count...

     I'm sorry you've had such a negative experience in science.  Still,
not everyone has had uniformly bad experiences.  Some scientists even know
how to do cell counts.

> would think that after 15 years, we would definitively
> know whether AZT actually works or not???
> Don't you think?
> Instead, we have dueling studies.
> And AZT is not alone in this... there are many drugs in which
> contradicting studies come out.
> And any half-way intelligent person should be able to recognize
> that such dueling studies aren't a factor of a poor understanding
> of complex issues.... but more due to intense competition at it's
> *highest* level.

     And any half-way intelligent person would realize that science has
always been a dialectic process.  Look at scientific controversies in
previous eras: spontaneous generation (Lamarkians) versus those who
believed in reproduction, or the Darwinians who believed in natural
selection versus those who believed that evolution resulted when organisms
acquired new traits from their environment.  No doubt, many of the same
negative attributes (greed, selfishness, incompetence, etc) which you
endow current scientists with existed in these previous eras.  Still,
science continues to make progress despite that. 

> Unfortunately... many sick and dying people aren't able to make it
> to the end of this marathon.

     This may come as a surprise, but people were dying of diseases long
before you and I were born.  And, people will still be dying from diseases
long after you and I are gone.  Because scientists and doctors don't have
god-like powers and don't know everything is hardly an indictment of
science or medicine. 
> Self-policing has been proven to be a myth.
> The ORI is generally ineffective, unless of course the person cited
> for misconduct 'agrees' to abide by their ruling.

     In fact, recent events should give reason for pause when advocating
that the government, regulatory agencies or other forms of big brother are
the solution.  Try reading the January issue of Nature Medicine.  It talks
about how only now after several years, has Imanishi-Kari gotten a chance
to challenge in court some of the previous accusations made against her by
the ORI and Senator Dingell.  For those not familiar with the case, she
was previously accused of falsifying experimental data in a paper that was
published in Cell several years ago.  It turns out that her lawyers were
able to find evidence that the Secret Service (which investigated her) and
a member of Senator Dingell's committee either (nice interpretation)
botched the investigation or (not so nice interpretation) conspired in an
attempt to make Dr. Imanishi-Kari look guilty.  Anyone who followed this
case knows that Senator Dingell and his staff (for political purposes
perhaps?) went out of their way to discredit her.  The sword cuts both
ways.  I don't know the true facts in Imanishi-Kari's case but sometimes
people get unfairly accused by people who are more interested in
condemning than in trying to find the truth.

> Try looking at the whole picture and not just from your very nice
> view point over their at Baylor (because that is truly not the
> norm... trust me on this one!).

     I don't need to trust you on this one.  I've done research at three
other scientific institutions besides Baylor, including two in California
and the NIH.  I've seen more than you think, including examples of just
about everything you have described.  I'm as disgusted by it as you are
and I'm as interested in getting rid of it as you are.  However, I know
from personal experience there are a lot of good people in science also. 
And they are conscientiously working hard and ethically to accomplish
something worthwhile.  You don't help those people by unequivocally
condemning the whole scientific enterprise.

> There is a new breed of scientist out there practicing a new type
> of science... The Science of the 90's - and it's not all about
> nobel and great pursuits for the greater good of all mankind.
> It's about self-interest, ego, greed and politics.  Competition
> instead of cooperation.  And quantity over quality of work.
> With all due respect sir, the whole system
> (funding/grants/APR/patents) *is* a breeding ground for
> corruption... and the honor system just isn't good enough anymore.

     One would have to conclude from this statement that either your whole
experience in science has been uniformly negative or you have a real
talent for seeing only the negative.  Either way, its unfortunate. 
Regardless, the few people out there who are trying to do good science
will carry on.

Greg Harriman

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