Tuesday, December 17, 2002

That's it for this year. if you're bored, check out my kick-ass links, including the recently added scidev.net, which provides free access to selected Nature and Science articles.

In closing, a cautionary tale in Science on the demise of "chimeraplasty", a gene therapy technique reported in said magazine and PNAS in 1996. It was alleged to work 50% of the time. More than 30 labs have since failed to replicate the results.

The great majority of researchers interviewed by Science say they find the negative results, even though unpublished, more persuasive than the positive ones because they come from independent labs with considerably more experience in gene repair and gene therapy than those that succeeded have.
So much for peer-reviewed publication. It hasn't stopped the NIH from giving Eric Kmiec, the man responsible, more than $2 million in the intervening period. That's your tax dollars, people. Where's Jesse Helms when you need him? He also blew through more than $20 million of VC money with no results. All this despite a flurry of letters to Science after the initial publication, explaining why the results were bullshit. Not to mention the uh, checkered past of Mr. Kmiec:
In the 1980s, Kmiec accomplished the noteworthy feat of publishing eight articles in Cell based on his graduate and postdoctoral research. The central findings of the first four, however, published with his doctoral adviser William Holloman, now at Weill Medical College of Cornell University, have never been independently replicated; those of the fifth and sixth, also published with Holloman, were publicly refuted. The remaining two Cell papers, published as a postdoc with biologist Abraham Worcel of the University of Rochester in New York, were retracted in 1988 by Worcel, whose own lab failed to replicate the results after they were challenged by outside researchers. Kmiec, who has continued to stand by his early papers, struggled for the better part of a decade to build his career before reemerging in 1996 with chimeraplasty.
Is it irrational to assume that no one was too worried about an obviously fake technique by an obvious charlatan because it told a nice story about how the march of science was going to save the children (the alleged work was even done on sickle-cell anemia) and make everyone a shitload of money, generating a convenient VC sinkhole for 90's investors? No one retracted it, disawoved its publication, or suggested -- nay, demanded -- that Kmiec be fired. All of which befell Quist and Chapela for publishing a demonstrably true (if possibly methodologically flawed) story about scientific hubris, suggesting that certain scientific surplus extraction techniques might not be a good idea.

See you next year.

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