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This is utter hogwash.

I'm as critical as anyone (probably more so, check my comment history) of academic biology because of my background in it. There are certainly things wrong it. And due to the nature of biology, replicating results is really hard. It's a fact of life when you deal with systems that are not perfect, not identical and very opaque.

But to say that "Science has been supplanted by money and politics" is stretching the problems of biology into a mountain of conspiracy.

Furthermore, I'm reading your "source" and it reads loudly as "I'm an underfunded big-pharma research who has neither the time nor the resources to properly replicate studies". Did you know that most big pharma labs do not have access to the academic literature? They mostly read abstracts because there is little budget to actually purchase the required papers.

How much do you trust labs that are A) only trying to recreate data so they can make a drug out of it and B) aren't even reading the original data? While academic labs can have grad students toil away on hard experiemnts for literally years before they perfect them...how long do you think Pfizer or Merck or Glaxco-Smith is going to let their paid researchers fiddle away on a project that is probably low priority anyway?

Because, of course, the high-priority projects are the reformulations of penis-enlarging drugs or cholesterol medication...you know, the ones that actually make money.

If you are looking for snake oil and shady research, I dare you to read any research paper that comes out of big pharma labs. We would routinely read them just for laughs because they are (often) downright terrible.




While I agree that "Science has been supplanted by money and politics" is going way overboard. I'm going to take the other side of the argument because I think you are way off base. I worked in both an academic lab and a "big pharma" lab(4 years and 6 years respectively).

To say "most big pharma labs" do not have access to the literature is laughable. We had better access than most academic institutions. If we needed a paper we didn't have access to, it took a few hours to get it. The company was more than willing to pay the $50 to get a copy of whatever paper, since we would often blow $50 running one experiment. Many of the smaller biotech might have poor access to journals, but even then, if you could justify the cost, you could get it.

Second of all, yes I trust labs that are trying to recreate data to make a drug out of it. You have to remember that these attempts to recreate data were a very important data point on a potential multi-million (billion?) dollar investment in a new target, these are NOT low priority projects. They WANT the data to be true. They have zero incentive for the data to not be reproducible.

Having worked in both academic and commercial labs, I would say the incentive to "tweak" results in much great in academic labs for the following reasons:

1) Often results are never double checked in an academic lab unless the work is use in a later project. Contrast this with a pharma lab where if the data is positive, you'll have to prove it again and again. 2) Academics (both profs and students) live and die by papers, not so in academic (in fact, in the company I worked in, they preferred if you didn't publish) 3) Work in academic is often performed by relatively inexperienced ungrad and grad students, while big pharma scientists often have years of experience.


Fair points. My thoughts:

>To say "most big pharma labs" do not have access to the literature is laughable. We had better access than most academic institutions. If we needed a paper we didn't have access to, it took a few hours to get it. The company was more than willing to pay the $50 to get a copy of whatever paper, since we would often blow $50 running one experiment.

I'll admit that my knowledge of big pharma journal access is colored by those in big pharma that I've talked to (anecdotal evidence, oh the irony). Perhaps they just had poor departments or bad access, I don't know.

However, every university that I've been at has instant access to journals. I never had to wait hours for a paper...we had free reign of just about every journal. Even at my relatively small and poor undergraduate institute.

>1) Often results are never double checked in an academic lab unless the work is use in a later project.

99% of projects in academia are building off some previous grad student or post-doc's work. Sure, there are projects which are nearly impossible to replicate (I should know, I spent 1.5 years of my life trying to replicate a previous grad's project). But it's equally laughable to say that data is never double-checked - professor's career is a long string of projects building on previous projects.

>2) Academics (both profs and students) live and die by papers, not so in [industry]

I'll concede that there is often pressure to publish positive results in an academic setting. However, as you rightly mentioned, academics live and die by their papers. It just takes one lab refuting your paper to have a burned career. While I agree that many academics prefer to just ignore papers they can't recreate, there is still a lot riding on publishing replicable data.

>3) Work in academic is often performed by relatively inexperienced ungrad and grad students, while big pharma scientists often have years of experience.

This is a pretty baseless statement? I know plenty of techs working at big pharma that just graduated with an undergrad degree and have zero of wet-bench experience (just like I know of plenty who did the same in academia). Conversely, I can't even count the number of post-docs and senior scientists that work at various universities, with literally centuries of experience between them.


To address your points:

1. The big pharma guys have instant access to journals. When I say we had to wait a couple hours, it was because I was looking for a paper from "The Russian Journal of Chemistry" from 1912. We had a vendor who could track down anything. For any of the big journals, we had the same access as academia.

2. We agree on this point. If a lab experiment is used in a later project, it HAS to work or else the future work can't occur. However, lots of projects have "arms", where the experiment is an interesting observation that is never pursued. These are often "one-off" experiments that are published, but never repeated in the same lab.

3. I am by no means painting academics with a broad brush here. I think most academic research is done on the up-and-up and the results are valid, if not hard to replicate (this is research!). I think one issue is the one pointed out in the parent comment. You run 5 reactions, two fail and the three that work produce yields of 50%, 70% and 80%. What gets published? 80%. The devil is in the details. In big pharma, you are trying to make a drug and the science better work or else you can't bring it to market. Much higher standards for reproducibility.

4. I guess my thought here is based on the fact that big pharma typically hires from academic labs. All those post-docs and senior scientists with years of experience? That's who big pharma hires. So overall, I would imagine that the level of experience in big pharma is greater than the average you would see in academia (which makes sense since academia is training for working in places like big pharma).

Once again, I always shy away from descriptions that put all "big pharma" or "academic" researchers into one pile. There are brilliant people on both sides and crappy people on both sides.


Ok, I'm with you on all your points. I suppose I over-reacted to the grandparent post - it felt like useless sensationalism and conspiracy-mongering.

Thanks for the useful counter-points...I'm now armed with some more anecdotes (hah!) on the other end of the "big pharma" spectrum.

=)


The incentives are great on the first test. But, there is a lot of money to be made for tweaking the finial study from inconclusive to slightly positive.


Did you read the original article in Nature before devising your ad hominem?

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v483/n7391/full/483531a...

They certainly had access to the original data. To quote:

> To address these concerns, when findings could not be reproduced, an attempt was made to contact the original authors, discuss the discrepant findings, exchange reagents and repeat experiments under the authors' direction, occasionally even in the laboratory of the original investigator.

There are quite a few other studies which raise similar questions statistics about medical research; e.g.:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11600885 http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v14/n9/full/nn.2886.html http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0895435605... http://dx.doi.org/10.1097/EDE.0b013e31818131e7




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