Sunday, June 22, 2008

Whistles can't feed your cat.

From around the web: Finally some big press for astrocytes, one of the "other kinds" of brain cell. In addition to neurons, there are also glial cells in the brain that are at least as important to normal function as their more glamorous counterparts. Astrocytes are highly active in brains, involved in immune response, regulation of the environment around neurons, regulation of blood flow, and even synaptic activity. This study concentrates on how they regulate blood flow, and provides an important caveat for future studies using brain scans like fMRI - neuronal activation measured using blood flow is also measuring astrocytic activation.

Drug giant GlaxoSmithKline put massive amounts of their own biological data online for free - hopefully something we can look forward to seeing more of. This somewhat innovative move makes a ton of sense. They cannot possibly follow up on everything they have in these enormous datasets, and independent researchers might be able to use findings from these studies at starting points to help advance cancer research in general. Count on more and more datasets like this to crop up online over the next couple of years.

Lastly, a comment on an important piece of news about the abundance of scientific fraud. A broad survey of American scientists found that between 6 and 9 percent of students and faculty knew of peers who had either falsified or plagiarized data. Almost half knew of other examples of misconduct (holding back data from competitors, for example). An overwhelming 94% of faculty said they have some responsibility for the conduct of their peers, but only 13% report actually doing anything about perceived examples of misconduct.

The problem is endemic to the structure of the scientific community. When you are working on a doctorate, or a fellowship, there is little or no motivation to report on scientific misconduct in your lab. If you do, papers from your lab might have to be retracted, granting agencies could withdraw your funding, your project might get shut down (or lose the data it was started from), and your boss may be able to make life very, very difficult for you in the long run. As a student, there is absolutely no reward - and huge consequences - for being a whistleblower, unless you count sleeping at night. Which doesn't pay the bills.

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