Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Why isn't my disease cured yet? The problem.

Sharon Begley - Newsweek's science editor - recently wrote an op-ed which blames academic science for "slowing" the search for cures. This comes on the heels of her cover story last year which says we've lost the war on cancer by funding a bunch of ivory-tower academics who "never met a signaling pathway they didn't like."

Begley's not alone. Last year, Sarah Palin made headlines by complaining about a grant for biological research on fruit flies. (Some folks later pointed out that fruit flies had actually taught us a lot about birth defects, one of Palin's champion causes.) On the opposite side of the political spectrum, left-wing strongman Hugo Chavez of Venezuela recently blasted academic scientists for working on 'obscure projects' and told them to start doing something useful with their lives.

When Palin and Chavez (and Begley) say the same thing, it's time to start listening. Is there something to all this? Is academic research too ivory tower? Is that why there are so many diseases that are not being cured - because we are too busy curing diseases in worms? I'll post my thoughts on this important question in follow-up posts. What do you think?

12 comments:

DF said...

I think Sarah Palin and Hugo Chavez are both morons.

Wait, what was this post about again?

WHAT? said...

I read Begley's commentary on academic science when it was published last September. She treats cancer as one disease, whereas it's actually dozens of diseases that have very different characteristics and thus are treated differently.

What kind of innovative approaches would she favor? She disparages the kind of basic science research that give us a concrete way to think about the molecular underpinnings of cancer. Please enlighten us Sharon what will get us to the answer quicker.

Sim said...

In agreement with 'WHAT?'. If she doesn't think that we're researching the right stuff, then maybe she should make some suggestions as to what to research to cure different cancers. She quotes these statistics about how the death rate from different cancers has gone down over the past fifteen years in a tone that downplays them, without really explaining what's incorrect about them. She says that soon cancer will be a greater killer than heart disease, and leaves out the reason- that we're getting better at curing heart disease.

Her "research is getting in the way of results" article just struck me as strange. Scientists aren't publishing their results because they don't have enough science behind them??? People don't completely understand neural transmitters, but their are still plenty of psychology publications. If a scientist can't get medically useful results published in Cell, why not try some respected medical journal? (Granted I am making an assumption that the medical journals would be somewhat less detail-oriented than the biology journals, without much of a basis.)

Samurai Scientist said...

Thx all for your comments.

@DF,
I think Sarah Palin and Hugo Chavez are both morons.

Or ARE they...?

@WHAT and Sim,
What kind of innovative approaches would [Begley] favor? She disparages the kind of basic science research that give us a concrete way to think about the molecular underpinnings of cancer.

If she doesn't think that we're researching the right stuff, then maybe she should make some suggestions as to what to research to cure different cancers.

Agreed. Begley, are you listening?

Dave L said...

Actually, I think I know what Palin and Chavez want. Their wish is probably to change the organization of scientific research and make it more sensitive to the needs of the masses.

Palin should push forward “faith-based science” where a group of theologians and fresh-thinkin’, morality lovin’, just plain folks without any fancy degrees like PhD.’s, B.A.’s, or G.E.D.’s can review and approve all research that the ivory tower, sushi eatin’, latte drinkin’, textbook readin’, scientific establishment wants to foist on the American people.

Chavez should “dictate” a new “Peoples Science.” First, there needs to be a redistribution of scientific dollars. Did you ever notice how much research money goes to Harvard, MIT, and (dare I say) Berkeley and how little goes to community colleges? We need to give every college equal amounts of research grants. There is no reason that Cal Tech and Devry should not get the same research dollars!

Second, we need to get rid of all of these wasteful scientific journals. We should centralize all scientific publishing into one journal controlled by a representative of the people who is appointed for life and, therefore, immune to pressures from the established research community. That representative of the people will determine all papers that will be published. Anyone who wastes money by publishing articles that do not fit the vision of the People’s Representative should face imprisonment.

But, maybe these brave new visions are too radical. Perhaps Palin should continue to advance science by trying to ban stem cell research. Chavez can stay the course to bring forward science by banning non-government approved media outlets. Surely their scientific contribution will be admired for years to come.

YZF said...

My guess is that academics aren't the root of the problem. If more government grant money went towards disease-curing research (as opposed to... http://tinyurl.com/leznl8), and there was less regulation into how the money was spent (let the patients sign away their rights, and then treat 'em like lab rats), the ivory tower may come up with more results.

Samurai Scientist said...

@Dave,
Palin should push forward “faith-based science” where a group of theologians and fresh-thinkin’, morality lovin’, just plain folks without any fancy degrees like PhD.’s, B.A.’s, or G.E.D.’s can review and approve all research that the ivory tower, sushi eatin’, latte drinkin’, textbook readin’, scientific establishment wants to foist on the American people.

LOL! Kinda like W's science advisory panel. Good stuff about Chavez, too. Those two ought to get together... or be locked up together...

@YZF,
If more government grant money went towards disease-curing research, and there was less regulation into how the money was spent (let the patients sign away their rights, and then treat 'em like lab rats), the ivory tower may come up with more results.

I couldn't agree more and I will definitely bring this up in the next post. Our three critics focus on academia, but it's really all about the $$$.

Dave L said...

"Kinda like W's science advisory panel"

Yeah, some of those guys were pretty out there. I really dislike Leon Kass's views on medical research. If he wants to drop dead at 70 he can go ahead and do so, just let me and everyone else take advantage of scientific research and have a better chance of living longer.


"or be locked up together..."

We just have to make sure not visit Venezuela.

Ah, Palin and Chavez, so different, yet I dislike each of you so much.

Samurai Scientist said...

@Dave,
We just have to make sure not visit Venezuela.

My mechanic is from there and has offered me an open invitation to visit and stay in his house. Loves Chavez. He thinks Venezuela is THE rising power in South America.

Dave L said...

"He thinks Venezuela is THE rising power in South America."

Only because oil is propping their economy up. I also have a feeling that leftists will become less popular in South America with President Bush out of office and President Obama's handling of the Honduran crisis.

therapydoc said...

This is an important post. I'm hoping you can do something about this. Pick an organ, any organ.

Margo said...

I'm reading and learning.

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