Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Back room politics: analogy edition

Article today in NY Times about a possible public safety database got me thinking about how this controversy is much like the current rift in scientific publishing.

In brief, there's a divide between the manufacturers, who don't want to be unfairly accused and/or undermined by fake reviews, vs. the consumers who fear that the manufacturers are just trying to make money regardless of who gets hurt.

This seems quite similar, I think, to parties who have gotten conflicting results and are both trying to publish them.

The manufacturer doesn't know if the consumer's experiences are real and/or due to user error. The consumer doesn't know if the manufacturer could have been aware of the potential safety issues and/or is already taking steps to fix the problem(s).

So let's talk about three options when it comes to conflicting data:

1. Just publish it: open access model, aka the public safety database.

Rationale: Who cares what was published before? Cite the earlier work, but say what you think is really going on.

Pros: Everything is out there.

Cons: It's a way to make accusations, which may or may not be backed up by expertise and evidence. Have you seen the movie Doubt?

2. Before publishing, contact the people who got the original results, and work out some kind of compromise. Aka, contacting the manufacturer first.

Rationale: The data can all be published anyway, most likely only the interpretations will be massaged, and/or both parties will benefit from the advanced exchange of information, while potentially saving face and mending fences.

Pros: Keeps everyone on the same page, prevents all-out wars, and avoids nasty surprises.

Cons: Gives the manufacturer (or your competitor) time to manipulate the situation to their advantage. May result in political pressure to hide data or interpretations.

3. Anonymous review. Aka, the current situation (and the traditional scientific publishing system).

Rationale: Allows the manufacturers to know who the consumers are and what accusations they are making, and ask for more evidence before having to address the potential problems raised by the consumers.

Pros: Protects the manufacturers from unfair or unqualified accusations.

Cons: Effectively silences the consumers if the manufacturers are powerful enough to block the data from coming into the public domain.

So, given a choice, what do you think the government should do about the public safety database? Do you think we should protect manufacturers, given the risk that our economy relies on them all staying in business? Would the whole thing fall apart if the abuses were made public? Is it better not to know?

Similarly, does it make more sense for science to remain as a manufacturer-driven economy, that is, one where the senior scientists have all the power? Doesn't the whole system rely on their expertise?

Or would it be better to have a consumer-driven economy, that is, one where those people currently referred to as "trainee" or "junior" are free to openly challenge the status quo without fear of repercussions?

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At 12:19 PM, Blogger Kea said...

Similarly, does it make more sense for science to remain as a manufacturer-driven economy, that is, one where the senior scientists have all the power?

Only the Illusion of Power remains for them, now that we speak freely here and the poor are now too poor to be trusted to hold up the status quo. Revolutions don't happen overnight, but if the system won't change, it will end.

The fat complacency of the first world cannot last forever. Nothing does.

At 2:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Kea. We are already at #3 to know what goes on behind closed doors. We really don't know what goes on behind those doors and as long as we are in the positions we are in, we may never know. The minute we get to know more, the more we will have to keep quiet to protect the life we live and the salary we hold.

1984 is upon us, 26 years later.

At 7:57 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Anon, some of us already know too much!

At 10:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

(Anon reply 12:19)
Indeed about knowing too much already...

Yes, I am already in the 'behind closed doors camp' these days with experience and insight that can be uncomfortable.

At 2:10 PM, Blogger Kea said...

Oh, but isn't it wonderful! You can admit the situation here, from behind closed doors, in safe anonymity. So everyone can learn. And when everyone understands, they will be unable to accept - that what generations of their ancestors fought for has been so shamefully eroded.

Today the ass licking media laughs at the naivety of the demonstrators in the streets, and it is laughable to see so many without any real leaders. But they forget that tomorrow is another day, and that poverty, and lack of opportunities, are real. These young people are educated, and they can read. Long live Blogger.

At 5:28 PM, Blogger Kea said...

Quote of the month, from J. Assange: "Courage is contagious."

At 9:57 AM, Blogger Tim said...

i just cant believe Kea said something that's actually palatable for a change :D

At 4:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry Tim, you don't win the internet for this thread. It wasn't Douchebag Intrusion Day. See, you need to "stay ahead" ALL THE TIME to keep up with your moving goalposts.

At 9:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


You need to read this comment I found over at Corante's in the pipeline.

"32. Anonymous on November 30, 2010 6:03 PM writes...

Dear Mr. Witty, if "shareholders are not prepared to see more money invested in R&D without tangible success", how did you guys get away with buying Sirtris, Praecis and Genelabs? Andrew, you silly little man, it is far better to appear an idiot (and trust me, you do) than to open ones mouth and relieve any tiny inkling of doubt. The next thing we'll hear from him is that he and Moncef have hired Jenny McCarthy to run their vaccine R&D effort. Imagine the cost savings!

And one other thing, pandering to the greed of shareholders as a rationale for slashing R&D is akin to slitting your wrist to cure your cancer. Let me dumb down the whole scenario to one that Witty, Slaoui, Vallance and their ilk can understand. If you're a Nascar driver and you always wind up last to cross the finish line; then slashing your tires and hiring a new pit crew from the guys hanging out in front of the Home Depot that morning probably isn't going to save the day. And that is exactly what these clowns have done."


At 8:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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