Friday, December 30, 2005

Biomedical Science, Pressing Issues for 2005/2006

Well we're at the end of the year ... and as others do, I will try to list the most important issues facing the Biomedical Science community in the coming year.

1) Doing Science with Less Funding.

Yes for the first time in over 3 decades, 2007 will see a cut in appropriations to the NIH budget. Get it straight - the NIH is the world's largest source of financing for biomedical science. As the NIH goes, so goes basic research in the life sciences.

Over the past decades, the NSF budget has not increased much, but the NIH budget had been growing with help from big Pharma lobbyists. Then under the Bush administration, the increase in funding to all the basic sciences (including the NIH) slowed down while money towards defense research increased (as this graph from a Boston Globe article demonstrates). From the AAAS website:

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget will fall in 2006 for the first time in 36 years because of a modest appropriation combined with the 1 percent across-the-board cut. The $28.6 billion NIH budget is 0.1 percent below 2005. After adjusting for inflation, NIH has a smaller budget in 2006 than it did in 2003, erasing the small gains of the last two years. All but two institutes suffer budget cuts in 2006, with most institute budgets falling between 0.4 and 0.7 percent.

The AAAS is giving a daily update of the 2006 appropriations ... click here to see the latest. This slowdown in the NIH's budget increase has been exacerbated by an expansion in the number of principal investigator positions at major research centers. Already I've heard of several labs closing down in the past year as NIH funding is stagnating. So there are more researchers vying for less money. Things do not look good for young professors starting up their own lab (that will be me in a couple of years!)

2) Science Outsourcing.

First economics has pushed much of the computer technology to Asia, and now it seems as if the pharmaceutical industry and maybe even much of academic research may follow. It's the extension of Science by kits. It's neither good nor bad, but will have a dramatic influence on how we do Science. I've already wrote extensively on this subject. Here are some of those entries:

Outsourcing Science.
More on the Rise of Chinese Technology.
Thanksgiving Dinner Talk & Outsourcing.
America, Foreigners, and Academic Science.
Scientific Establishment to the US: Shape Up!

3) Science Education.

Yes there is all this talk of intelligent design ... blah blah blah. The bigger problem is that all these "evolution critics" DON'T UNDERSTAND HOW EVOLUTION WORKS! You can see it in how the whole subject is discussed in various public forums and in the mass media. The problem here is that the public needs better science education.

On that front there is good news: Americans

  • have a high opinion of scientists
  • want better science education in schools
  • are very "science literate" when compared to citizens of other nations

But what are the obstacles? Anti-intellectualism is still highly prevalent in American society. Science literacy, although high by international standards, is very poor (click here for some scary stats), and this is due to the fact that science literacy is dependent on college education. High schools just don't cut it. Bottom line: we need to improve Science education in high schools.

4) Studying Biology on the Next Level.

Many biologists have come to the conclusion that reductionism can only go so far. (Want proof? ask a physicist how cells divide.) Biology must expand from studying how a single gene/protein works in the context of a biological system to understand how a whole chunk of the system works. To address this, two new lines of research have been created, Systems Biology and Synthetic Biology. Will they succeed or are they just the new trendy fields? We'll have to wait and see.

Not on the list ... The Culture Wars.

Look, despite all the stem cell critics and problems in South Korea, stem cell technology will happen (although perhaps not in the US).

Evolution? As stated above, the main problem is confusion in minds of the general public. The problem is not that certain people are hostile to evolution, but that the majority of Americans (and some so-called biologists) can't even explain how the "theory" they're against works, let alone criticize it.

Well that's it for 2005. Have a happy New Year.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Biggest Finding of the Year

Yes everyone has his/her lists ... but it's oh-so-fun. So here goes, the biggest finding of the year. (This might be a little RNA-centric!)

Central Dogma of Biology overturned! (???)

Have a near-lethal mutation in your DNA? Researchers from Robert Pruitt's lab at Purdue suggest that in Arabidopsis thaliana (the model organism for studying plant genetics), mutants can attempt to alter upto 10% of the genome so that the next generation may rid itself of the deleterious gene. The reversion process is stimulated by stress - it's as if the organism knows that something is wrong, and attempts to correct the error so that the next generation is free of potentially bad (or deleterious) mutant gene. Since the organism does not know what is the bad gene, it willy-nilly reverts upto 10% of the genome. Consequentially 10% of the offspring have fixed the offending gene. The altered genes often contain sequences found in the grandparent's DNA that were not inherited in the parent's genome. So where did the extra genetic information come from? These researchers suggest that the parents store extra-genomic information from grandparents. Since the researchers could not find any of this information in the parental DNA, it may be stored in RNA versions of the genes that are retained between generations. Of course for the theory to be proven, the team from Purdue need to identify this inherited RNA.

So it use to be thought that information in biology flowed in one direction: DNA => RNA => protein (i.e. the Central Dogma of Biology). But in this case RNA is the potential source of the backup genes. In the case of stress, backup-RNA => DNA.

As with all great findings, there are controversies. Abed Chaudhury has claimed an alternative "fix" for the poor arabadopsis mutant, where bad genes may be turned off using RNAi. How are 10% of the genes reverted? ... Dr Chaudhury postulated that sick individuals may fix genes by soaking up DNA from the environment ... this alternative theory needs to be tested and would be as remarkable as the RNA-backup theory.

And a second researcher, Animesh Ray, postulated that mersitem cells may store parental-DNA- fragments. These DNA fragments may be used to revert genes in the gametes of sick individuals. Again, someone should be asking "show me the DNA".

So yes my finding of the year is a big question mark, however this line of investigation has shown that our current understanding of inheritance is flawed ... somehow organisms can fix mutant genes. Hopefully 2006 will bring us closer to how this really works.

Lolle S.J. et al., Genome-Wide Non-Mendelian Inheritance of Extra-Genomic Information in Arabidopsis Nature (2005) 434: 505

Chaudhury A., Plant genetics: Hothead healer and extragenomic information Nature (2005) 437:E1

Ray A., Plant genetics: RNA cache or genome trash? Nature (2005) 437:E1-E2

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Artichokes & that sweet taste

Well here I am in rainy Seattle visiting the inlaws. Last night we prepared artichokes for dinner. Naturally the conversation turned to how the consumption of artichoke has a curious effect on the sense of taste: everything tastes sweet even water. If you've never experienced this before it's because you've never had fresh artichoke. Pickled artichoke hearts don't have this property.

So entering "Artichokes and Sweet Taste" into Pubmed what do you get?

Bartoshuk LM, Lee CH, Scarpellino R, Sweet taste of water induced by artichoke (Cynara scolymus). Science. 1972 178(64):988-9.

The authors commented that their research was catalyzed by an AAAS dinner which featured artichokes. Using a tasting assay, the researcher discovered two substances in artichoke that stimulate a sweetening of subsequent ingested substances (such as water), chlorogenic acid (3-caffeoylquinic acid) and cynarin (1,5-dicaffeoylquinic acid).

From the original paper:

In other reseach, these two phenolic compounds have been proposed to

  • have antimicrobial activities
  • act as anti-oxidants
  • upregulate Nitrous Oxide Sythetase in exposed tissue
Searching a bit further, I found this other fruit, miracle fruit (Synsepalum dulcificum), that has similar effects on altering taste. However this time the culprit is a protein, miraculin.

Kurihara K, Beidler LM. Taste-modifying protein from miracle fruit. Science.
1968 161:1241-3
What else could there be? ... searching more I stumbled into this review:

Kurihara Y. Characteristics of antisweet substances, sweet proteins, and
sweetness-inducing proteins. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 1992 32:231-52.


Recent studies on structures and functions of sweetness-inhibiting substances (gymnemic acid, ziziphin, and gurmarin); sweet proteins (monellin, thaumatin and mabinlin); and taste-modifying proteins (miraculin and curculin) were reviewed. Several gymnemic acid homologues and gurmarin were purified from the leaves of Gymnema sylvestre and their structures were determined. Ziziphin was also purified from leaves of Ziziphus jujuba. Gymnemic acid and ziziphin are glycoside of triterpenes that suppress sweetness in human, while gurmarin is a peptide having antisweet activity in rat. Mabinlin is a heat-stable sweet protein. The whole amino acid sequence and the position of disulfide bridges of mabinlin were determined. Miraculin has the unusual property of modifying a sour taste into a sweet taste. Curculin elicits a sweet taste. In addition, water and sour substance elicit a sweet taste after curculin. Their amino acid sequences and subunit structures were determined. These proteins are expected to be used as low-calorie sweeteners.
OK enough Pubmed for me. Have a ... sweet ... holiday.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The best things about science

After having written about the worst (parts I and II), why not write about the best things about science?

Here goes:

1) Discovery. One of the greatest feelings I've ever had as a researcher was peering down at the microscope and seeing something that I know has never been seen in the history of mankind. It's funny, the first thing you want to do is ... tell somebody. When my thesis advisor discovered that cells have different types of microtubules (a truly unexpected finding) it was the middle of the night. Apparently, he rushed off to explain the big discovery to the only other person in the floor at that time, a janitor. Science literally means standing at the edge of knowledge ... and looking beyond. What a thrill.

2) Discussion. One great part of Science is that scientists love talking about ideas. I never tire of speaking to fellow scientists - we are a very curious group. It reminds me of this quote I once heard (I'm not sure of the source):

"People of high intelligence talk about ideas...
People of average intelligence talk about things...
People of no intelligence talk about other people!"

Although in my opinion I would substitute "intelligence" with "curiosity". There is a bias that scientists are a very reclusive and unsociable group. I would strongly disagree. We are constantly discussing and exchanging ideas - and the freedom to explore, invent and analyze ideas within the scientific forum is unlike anything else I've ever experienced. Due in part to this type of social interaction, I believe that scientists are trained to be very clear thinkers and very CAREFUL thinkers. But more importantly, a good scientist makes careful assumptions. This is the difference between Darwin and say Freud ... or Marx. Many non-scientists have this strange habit of not checking their assumptions. In the course of analyzing the world around them, this type of error magnifies itself and leads these individuals to strange and often erroneous interpretations of phenomena. As a scientist I often question non-scientists' assumptions and sometimes find that they confuse this line of inquiry as an attack on their ego (although many scientists also fall into this category - see "worst things about science", item #8). So as a summary I would say that good scientists love discussion and are non-judgmental in what they discuss (as long as the discussion is about ideas!), but scientists are judgmental in how they discuss ideas. This is where many non-scientists could learn from scientists.

3) Creativity. Good scientists are very creative. Think of it, you are at the cutting edge of knowledge, you read the scientific literature, there is a problem you would like to address, and then you ask (hopefully) a very insightful question, and come up with a model of how nature works. What to do next? Well you want to test your model ... usually by performing experiments, while covering all your bases (i.e. with appropriate controls). But of course you can't perform the "perfect experiment", because you are limited by the current technology. What to do? Most scientist use the latest techniques ... but the best scientists modify these techniques slightly to perform innovative experiments that are closer to the "dream experiment".

If you've managed to invent a really good technique that is capable of addressing a particular type of question, this is referred to as an assay. Working out the bugs of an assay is hard and can take a long time, but once the assay is up and running, you can collect tons of data in very short time spans. In addition, you've become the world's expert at this novel technique. Great scientists always come up with innovative assays, and then use the assay to gain new insights into old problems. Even better than that is to use an assay to address problems that people haven't even begun to think about. I love this part of science - call it MacGuyverism.

OK that's enough for today, but as usual other suggestions are welcome.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Dead cell art!

As promised, weird pics of the remains of dead cells (due to microinjection induced explosion):

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Images from gradschool

While my wife is at Spanish class I was rummaging through some old data CDs from gradschool. I had lots of great pics in there.

Picture #1 is of the microtubule cytoskeleton of a migrating cell. I took this picture when I was investigating how migrating cells modify their microtubules (yellow/green microtubules here) when they crawl (in this picture towards the woundedge on the right). In red are the unmodified microtubules. If you get the impression that there is a circular structure to the left that is devoid of microtubules, you're right, that's the cell's nucleus. For more on microtubule modification, click here. For more on how the nucleus gets nudged to the back of the cell during migration (a topic I worked on as well), click here.

Picture #2 is of a fibroblast in the act of re-adhering to a fibronectin coated coverslip. I took this picture while studying how cellular adhesion stimulates the modification of tubulin. Blue is the phase image, red is the cell's unmodified (or tyr) microtubules, yellow/green is the cell's modified (glu) MTs.

Picture #3 random salt crystals:

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Invented Results

Wow the whole stem cell debacle is all over the press. And in the process Science is scarred in the public's imagination.

(On the other hand, scientists are conservative when it comes to the belief in other peoples work. Science is a brutal place. There is always someone who is re-evaluating, re-dissecting, re-examining, your ideas/results. Many times these same people are advocating that your ideas be discarded. After a while, if an idea is repeatedly confirmed by others, it MAY be accepted by everyone.)

Since we are on the topic of ideas and results, I've updated the Worst things about science II. While we are so pessimistic, you can also check out the Worst things about science (part I).

Friday, December 16, 2005

What I've been doing for the past couple of days

Microinjecting and snapping photos ...

Here are some weird things that I've been seeing (or as they say IMAGING) in the nucleus. I wont explain much ... so view it as nano-art.

First up are two nuclei microinjected with Fluorescein coupled 70-KiloDalton Dextran (basically a large fluorescent molecule). The injected fluorophore redistributes throughout, but can't escape, the nucleus. Why can't it leave? It's too big. Notice the darker splotches within the nuclei, these are dense zones are called nucleoli, and are centers for ribosome assembly. Look at the multi-lobular nuclei on the left, how can a nuclei be deformed in such a manner? The answer is totally unknown.

OK next up is a coinjection experiment. Two pictures of the same cell. Top picture is of RNA, stained with a red fluorophore, bottom picture is fluorescein (green) 70-kD dextran (see previous paragraph). Notice the cool looking dots of RNA that SURROUND THE NUCLEOLI - very weird. Notice how these dots are regularly spaced.

Again how or why these dots/granules/bodies are formed - totally unknown. If anyone ever tells you that we understand biology or cells - they obviously haven't been looking very hard.

So much to look at, so little time (to blog) ...

I'll post pictures of exploded cells next ...

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Farewell Bil

It's been a strange week - full of experiments and great results. And full of parties. Sunday we met for our monthly Bookclub meeting (or as one member calls it, our monthly food and drink orgy). Saturday we were over at Bil's, who is leaving us to start up his own lab on the west coast.

First we lost U. Now Bil ...

Scientists are always on the go. 4 years here, 5 years there. It's exciting but at the same time disorienting. My wife and I feel like we have no real base. Is it Seattle where her family is from? Is it where my roots are in Montreal? Is it New York where we lived for 6 years?

It reminds me of this great book I read a couple of years ago - The Global Soul, by Pico Iyer. In it, this Indian born, English and American educated, now resident of Japan, describes a new class of countryless individuals. These educated citizenless people take part in a nebulous global culture. A true phenomenon of life in the 21st century.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Word of the day

A very short post for today:

Karochi: Japanese for death by overworking.

In a related topic – I have more microinjections planned for tomorrow. Wish me luck.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Microinjecting my brains out ...

I've been microinjecting cells like a madman recently (or perhaps a mad scientist?)

Microinjection is a very useful technique - you can basically shove anything into a cell. Antibodies, DNA, RNA, quantum-dots ...

One question that fellow scientists ask me is whether microinjection damages cells in anyway. You would be surprised how resilient cells are. As far as we know microinjected cells display normal functions. They can transcribe DNA into RNA. They can translate the RNA into protein. They can migrate. In the case of neurons, they can form axons.

One of the classic microinjection papers is Yuli Wang's microinjection of fluorescent actin, a component of the cytoskeleton. Another was Tim Mitchison's injection of fluorescent tubulin, another cytoskeletal component. Both papers led to major discoveries as it allowed the researchers to monitor how cells and molecules change over time. In cells the cytoskeleton could be remodled and reorganized in minutes - it's a dynamic rather than than a solid scafold for the cell. Visualizing molecules inside of living cells was a big deal as the behavior of biological molecules over time - the illusive dimension - could now be analyzed.

Ok I've got another time-point to take care of ...


Taylor DL, Wang YL. Molecular cytochemistry: incorporation of fluorescently labeled actin into living cells.
Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1978 Feb;75(2):857-61.

Mitchison T, Kirschner M. Dynamic instability of microtubule growth.
Nature. 1984 Nov 15-21;312(5991):237-42.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

One man's garbage is another man's gold ...

It's strange how within the Biological community different fields of research have different views.

I just completed experiments where I've inhibited a cellular process by microinjecting (into cells) antibodies raised against a key molecular component. To researchers that study the cytoskeleton, such antibody injection experiments are routine. However, in the "RNA field" such experiments are taboo. One collaborator (from an RNA lab) claimed that my experiment was the equivalent of injecting phenol into cells.

My graduate training was from a lab that specialized in studying microtubules, a component of the cytoskeleton, and as a postdoc I now am studying mRNA. Funny thing is that in the cytoskeletal fields, microinjection experiments are much more common. Antibody injections have been performed for decades. No one has ever reported any adverse effects of the antibodies. Infact it is common practice to mix non-specific antibodies with an active protein and inject the mixture into cells. The injected cells can then be identified by performing immunofluorescence against the injected antibody.

But would those in the RNA field trust decades of standard practice? This is a prime example of how different biological fields are totally oblivious to what is standard in other biological fields. I guess it's a side-effect of such divergent areas of research within biology.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Bravo Nicolas Kristof

In today’s OpEd Nicolas Kristof skewers the right, and the left, for their scientific illiteracy.

As I’ve posted on before, the US will no longer maintain its title as the world leader in technological innovations. Why? First, with respect to higher (i.e. graduate education in the sciences), eastern countries such as India and China are catching up. I applaud their efforts. Second, scientific illiteracy and anti-intellectualism are rampant in the US. As Kristof puts it:

In the U.S. and most of the Western world, it's considered barbaric in educated circles to be unfamiliar with Plato or Monet or Dickens, but quite natural to be oblivious of quarks and chi-squares. A century ago, Einstein published his first paper on relativity - making 1905 as important a milestone for world history as
1066 or 1789 - but relativity has yet to filter into the consciousness of otherwise educated people.

"The great edifice of modern physics goes up, and the majority of the cleverest people in the Western world have about as much insight into it as their neolithic ancestors would have had," C. P. Snow wrote in his classic essay, "The Two Cultures."

So the dumb-dumbs in the west remain (or become) clueless, and scientific proficiency (and technical know-how) spreads in the east. What will the outcome be? There are many possibilities. And some of what I've speculated has started. As I’ve writen before, if trends continue ALL SCIENCE WILL BE SHIPPED ABROAD (infact it seems almost as if Kristof reads my blog).
This disregard for science already hurts us. The U.S. has bungled research on stem cells, perhaps partly because Mr. Bush didn't realize how restrictive his curb on research funds would be. And we're risking our planet's future because our leaders are frozen in the headlights of climate change.

But a science illiterate citizenry also is ill-equipped to deal with many current day issues.
Without some fluency in science and math, we'll simply be left behind in the same way that Ming Dynasty Chinese scholars were. Increasingly, we face public policy issues - avian flu, stem cells - that require some knowledge of scientific methods, yet the present Congress contains 218 lawyers, and just 12 doctors and 3 biologists. In terms of the skills we need for the 21st century, we're Shakespeare-quoting Philistines.
So what’s to be done – western society must realize that hubris (from all parts of the political spectrum) and anti-intellectualism (or ANTI-SCIENCE-ism) will hurt us in the long run.

Intellectuals have focused on the challenge from the right, which has led to a drop in the public acceptance of evolution in the U.S. over the last 20 years, to 40 percent from 45 percent. Jon Miller, a professor at the Northwestern University medical school who has tracked attitudes toward evolution in 34 countries, says Turkey is the only one with less support for evolution than the U.S.

It's true that antagonism to science seems peculiarly American. The European right, for example, frets about taxes and immigration, but not about evolution.
But there's an even larger challenge than anti-intellectualism. And that's the skewed intellectualism of those who believe that a person can become sophisticated on a diet of poetry, philosophy and history, unleavened by statistics or chromosomes. That's the hubris of the humanities.

Will the US be selected against?

Sunday, December 04, 2005

The Control of Nature

While my column is washing, and my brain is fried, I should finally write this entry ...

A while back, right around the time of Katrina, I read a spectacular book, The Control of Nature by John McAfee (Amazon site).

When man's interests conflict with an ever changing environment, what does man do? He/she fights change.

(All images were hijacked from

Part 1

The Army Corps of Engineers vs the Mississippi River.

As time goes on rivers carry sediment from their sources to their deltas. The sediment settles, the riverbed rises until the river overflows and takes a new steeper route to the sea. But not the Mississippi. After the war of 1812, the Army Corps of Engineers was commissioned to protect New Orleans and the mouth of the Mississippi from future sieges. Eventually the Army Corps took control of the whole river. From Baton Rouge to the big easy, millions now depend on this great river, but the river wants to switch course to the Atchafalaya. Old River (see map) connects the Mississippi to the Atchafalaya, is now dammed. Walls that are longer, wider and taller than the great wall of China, hold the Mississippi in it's current itinerary. The elevated river has become an aqueduct. To read this part of the book, click here.

Part 2

Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland vs the Mid-Atlantic Ridge

Your home is right where two tectonic plates rip apart. A nearby volcano erupts, the lava is heading to your town and the only harbor in your country. What do you do? Water the lava of course (or as the locals call it, "pissing on the lava"). And those crazy Icelanders managed to stop the lava in the nick of time (see map). This crazy tale is too incredible to believe. The Icelanders were even walking on the lava to water it from the top. If the lava-watermen stood still, their boots would catch on fire. At some point a chunk of the volcano (Eldfell) broke off and drifted on the lava towards their town. Migrating Mountains?? Read the book to find out what happened next. Here's a nice website on the whole affair.

Part 3

Los Angeles vs. the Sierra Madre

You city fills an entire valley and is creeping towards an incredibly high (and young) mountain range to the north. Due to tectonic plate movement (see arrows) this mountain range is growing. Every couple of decades avalanches from the growing mountains turn into mud slides that engulf whole sections of the city. But that's not all. The climate is very arid and the vegetation is highly combustible. Driven by evolution, many plants emit flammable oils to encourage the scorching of themselves and competing plants turning these new mountains into fire drenched infernos every 10-30 years. Once the area is reduced to ashes, their heat resistant seeds sprout. Mudslides, wild fires, and still people want to live in L.A.?

Having examined these 3 examples, I had many questions. But one principle stood out,

Sometimes, progress = resistance to change.

Look at the Kyoto protocol. Look at our unsustainable business practices. What will happen if the sea levels rise? It looks like instead of moving our coastal cities, we will erect huge dikes. We humans use technology to find quick fixes ... but such a strategy may lead to our eventual downfall.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Cool things for Friday

Nature has something on Synthetic Biology, in cartoon form.

Someone from Seed Magazine alerted me to this new toy they have (now available to the public), called Phylotaxis. Speaking of Seed Mag, check out their Podcasts.

Here is an interview with the author William Gibson. Here's a link to his blog where he gives a link to this great movie clip from 1946 (Tall Medstudent, you'll love this one!) on how to tell whether you're community is under the influence of despotism.

Here are incredible (and fun) movies of Listeria monocytogenes infecting tissue culture cells from Julie Theriot's Lab.

If you missed it, here's a link to the Picower Institute's inaugural seminar (not too interesting, according to coworkers that watched it).

My Dad keeps on getting his letters published in the Montreal Gazette and Time Magazine.

And a coworker sent me link to this crazy site ... Creationists looking for pterosaurs??? Look at the map (right) of possible pterosaur migration routes from Noah's Arc to present day sightings. We weren't sure whether this was a hoax or the real thing. Fellowship University? (as one blog pointed out it's initials are FU). The site is quite extensive and the links (as far as we can tell) are legit. But it's too wacky. It has a great kidz page. Wikipedia lists this organization (Objective Ministries) as a parody.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Worst Things About Science II

So here is part 2 of my whiney post. I've had lots of suggestions about this topic but I only have time to enter a couple of points:

The Worst Things about Science Part II

8 - The Model (or the Ego and the Id). Inspired from personal experience and two comments. Science is all about models - how does a cell know when to divide? The current model of the cell cycle with it's check points explains it. Good scientists generate good models which fit the experimental evidence and give further insight into the processes studied. However some scientists view their "model" as their own child, fiercely defending it with every psychological means necessary. A subset of those researchers go as far as substitute the model with their own credibility and thus defending the model (in their mind) is equivalent to defending their standing within the scientific community. Data that does not fit is easily discarded and opponents are belittled. As more people subscribe to the model, the model's champion experiences ego inflation. Finally if enough people believe this idea and will irrationally fight for it, that's when the model becomes dogma. Woe is the one to challenge this.

{Update: 12/14}

This whole model thing reminds me of a JCS T-Shirt I once received. The caption was:
Owner of the Idea
Chanpion of the Model
Victim of the Dogma

9 - The "Last Experiment" syndrome. About a quarter of all scientists at anytime are performing the famous "last experiment". This elixir supposedly will solve all the researcher's problems. Often it has been catalyzed by mentors, reviews or thesis committees (often with the chant of "just try this") and often looks deceptively simple. If the experiment gives a negative result, the researcher duefully repeats the experiment with additional "tweaks" in a futile attempt to get the damn thing to work. Often the desired result is needed to prove the "model" (see # 8) and so a negative result is greeted with a "just try it one more time, but this time why don't you try ..." Conversely if the experiment works, magically a NEW last experiments appears. Like a black hole, weeks and months disappear with nothing to show for it. Like a drug habit the thing just won't go away. To all those out there on their "last experiment" all I can say is "good luck".

10 - The artifact. Non-scientists may be asking, what is an artifact (in the context of science). Here is a good definition from Wikipedia. These artifacts have plagued scientists for a long time. Want to detect a protein? Use an antibody that "specifically" binds to your protein of interest. But whatchout, this antibody also recognizes (artifactually) a second unrelated protein. Have an assay to see if your protein polymerizes actin by measuring light scattering of the actin sample? Little did you know that the cuvet (i.e. container) that you are using has a scratch in it that can catalyze actin polymerization ALL ON ITS OWN. In the best case scenario, proper controls are performed and you catch the anomaly early. Worse, you spend 3 years on a project only to learn that the premise is based on an artifact. Worst case scenario ... you publish a paper using the artifactual results and your career is over. Artifacts that support the model (see worst thing #8) are hard to catch and harder to overturn. Moreover, results that disprove the model are often disregarded by the model's champions with the quip "those results are artifactual".

Ah, isn't science fun ...

Unfortunately I'm in the last experiment mode (for a publication), so I really should not waste anymore time with blogging (oh no! this last comment will surely provoke comments from some coworkers ...)