Fight! FIght!

For those of you who are interested in the seamy side of

1) I’ve revised my otherwise utterly irrelevant post on Linda Buck’s paper retraction on the advice of fellow blogger Mark Hoofnagle.

2) Mark is picking a fight with Jake, and notes the ongoing and developing spats amng Myers, Wilkins and Dawkins, how Shelley broke his heart, and starts an interesting discussion about poaching doctors, over on his blog.

3) In the mean time, I wrote a vaguely interesting post hidden as a comment on Denialism Blog, which you will find here.


  1. #1 Coturnix
    March 9, 2008

    You mean Myers and Wilkins, not Dawkins?

  2. #2 Blake Stacey
    March 9, 2008

    A spat between Myers and Dawkins would be very interesting to see, indeed.

  3. #3 Alexandra
    March 9, 2008

    I’ve revised my otherwise utterly irrelevant post

    And PhysioProf, banned for asking you to do that very thing, will now be unbanned, correct?

  4. #4 Greg Laden
    March 9, 2008

    Myers and Wilkins and Dawkins. An unspecified dispute.

  5. #5 Greg Laden
    March 9, 2008


    No one gets banned from this site for asking me to revise a post. That is not even CLOSE to what is happening here.

    PhsyiProf gets unbanned when he uncloaks himself to the entire world in a verifiable way, and apologizes for being an unmitigated asshole all the time to all people in all ways.

    (Actually, he’s not really banned. He just may find his comments going into the “possible junk” area more often these days.)

  6. #6 David Lee
    March 9, 2008

    You seem reasonable to me, Greg. You just go along doing what you do so well.

    And it’s spring so territorial aggression happens. Interesting to watch though. Is the is the fall of the house of scienceblogs?

  7. #7 Elizabeth
    March 9, 2008

    David: I was just going to say the same thing about territories. I was surprised to see PhysProf, I had never heard of him before. I looked at his blogs (there are two) and Greg is right, his theme is profanity and aggression. (But not totally without interest.)

  8. #8 Becca
    March 9, 2008

    I can very much understand your reaction to Physioprof, who’s posts are (at a minimum) excessive in profanity and impolite far beyond what I’ve generally seen on scienceblogs.

    That said, implying Buck committed a felony without any evidence is patently absurd. If you had bothered to check the Nobel website (see
    you would know that the prize was given for work with Richard Axel, and that they published ‘the fundamental paper’ together in 1991- a decade prior to the transgenic mouse mapping studies of Zao. You are factually wrong on what she was awarded the prize for.
    If anyone is curious, for whatever reason, it appears that the transgenic mice central to the disputed studies have very unstable phenotypes with respect to the regions of the brain the transgenes are expressed.

    If you want to fundamentally change the customs for scientific publication, bully for you (and can I help?!)… but there’s no need for namecalling of Buck just because you got some trollish comments and you don’t think publishing worked the way it’s supposed to an an ideal world.

  9. #9 Greg Laden
    March 9, 2008


    Mostly, I’m doing my best to counter-annoy PhysProf. I couldn’t care less about Buck, he prize, or her research. Honestly.

    But let me be clear: My comments (which I do stand by, so far) about her publication practices are not related to her Nobel Prize at all, in any direct way (via the research). But one might ask should the Nobel Prize be given to unethical scientists vs. ethical scientists.

    I’m not making a link via the topic of the research. I’m making the link via the ethical standing of the recipient.

    Her publication practices are quite possibly (but not with total certainty) unethical, at least in the case of the retracted paper. My comments are based on the evidence that is there for all to see and it is nothing close to absurd.

    I’m simply saying, in that regard, that I’m not so sure I like the idea of the Nobel Prize going to the bad guy. Maybe their rules allow this, that would be a shame, and this would take the N.P. down yet one more notch in my mind.

    And I’m not really talking bout ideal worlds verses “how it is always done.”

    I’ve never put my name on another person’s work. I’ve contributed more than enough to other people’s papers to have my name on that paper without this happening at least a few times. I’ve worked with teams and individuals on publication projects where we were very clear and open about how to do this, and how to do it ethically. The fact that there are people running labs who stick their name on everything is true, but not everyone does this and it is NOT common practice. It is unethical and should not be condoned under any circumstances. It is not a custom that needs to be fundamentally changed. It is bad behavior, wrong, not done by everyone, and IF Buck did it, she did something very, very wrong.

    As I have said a few times, I’m not certain, but if you look at that retraction, there seem to be only a limited number of possibilities. It seems to me like there is a good chance that she is one of the cheaters. I’m not sure why there is such vehemence in defending her.

    If you look at her publication record through 2004, it is actually reasonably close to what a very productive scientist with few teaching or admin responsibilities might produce, with a few large gaps that are probably either teaching/admin appointments or babies or whatnot. I don’t see the signature of a full time lab vampire. Maybe it was just this one paper.

  10. #10 the real cmf/et al
    March 9, 2008

    I am happy to see you haven’t actually banned the
    *F-enheimerProf*. If you did, you would just be like the rest of this anus gazing sciborg lek…
    ..and hey, are you a massage-gynist or something? Calling a woman a cheater!! PZ will have your head for that…

    That being said, yeah, *PhysioProf sure is acting like a pussy*

  11. #11 Becca
    March 10, 2008

    The urge to annoy physio-prof is duly noted :-).

    Nonetheless, you are making a huge assumption that she didn’t do enough work to warrent authorship- an assumption that is directly in opposition to the little blurb about who did what that they supplied.
    I realize having your name on the grant that funded the work is *not* an NIH criteria for authorship- but I do think it *is* common practice. In any case, having your name on the grant + designing the experiments + assisting with writing the paper (for a non-native English speaker) definitely = sufficient for authorship. You have to call her a liar *and be correct* in order to call her a cheater. It isn’t logically justified without more evidence.

    The question about who should get Nobels is an interesting one. I think it’s worth keeping in mind, it isn’t a “noble” prize… it’s named after the inventor of dynamite. Even today, pound for pound, and dollar for dollar, you’d be hard-pressed to find a non-nuclear “weapon of mass destruction” more effective and cheaper than dynamite. Thus, to my mind, the Nobel has always been intended to reward discoveries that benefit humanity- not necessarily the most positive role model scientists. Scientists are flawed like everybody else- that’s part of the point of the prize.

    Let’s say (for the sake of argument) that the situation is this: the paper involved generation of transgenic mice that, even though they are in inbred strains, still have a considerable amount of individual variation in which neuronal regions the transgene is expressed in. The work was done with an initial batch of mice, and that particular pattern of transgene expression has never been seen again. Thus, not only are the results not reproducible, but the method is not viable, and by withdrawing the paper they can prevent other people from wasting any more time trying this route to answer the underlying scientific questions. What then, is the problem with retracting the paper? Why is the situation *obviously* involving an ethical violation?

    I agree the odds seem to be that something suspicious is going on- and I think that’s why Buck asked for the University to investigate other papers.

  12. #12 Alexandra
    March 10, 2008

    Actually, he’s not really banned. He just may find his comments going into the “possible junk” area more often these days.

    Fair enough!

  13. #13 Greg Laden
    March 10, 2008


    Good points.
    Let me take this opportunity to put this all in perspective.

    Why did I write this post to begin with? What was my point?

    My point was that this looked to me like a possible example of scientists having done some research, then when the research was not replicated, they did the right thing and retracted the work. It was meant to be an example of something good happening. Since Buck was the main person behind all of this, this was therefore meant to be a possible example of Dr. Buck and/or her team doing the right thing. Yea for Dr. Buck! Give her another Nobel Prize!

    However, I had not read the original Nature paper. Now, this puts me in a conundrum as blogger. I could go and read the nature retraction, and maybe the original paper, summarize it for my readers, etc. etc. But that would take a lot of time and this particular project was not very high on my priority list.

    But I still wanted to make mention of what seemed like a possible example of self-correction in science. Note the name of the post:

    “Science Is Self Correcting: Nobel Winner Retracts Paper on Smell”

    This is an anti-creationist post. Simple as that.

    Now, I had a second conundrum, which I face with blog posts every day. If I’m just pointing people to something, what do I do? Do I refer to a paper that most readers can’t read because it is in a non-open source? I like to avoid that. I decided instead to just point readers to the NYT. Now, sometimes you need to register for the NYT so that is annoying, and this is why you don’t see me using New Scientist as well, or other such sources. I tend to you because it is open to all readers. But I threw the NYT post in this case because it is easy and free for my readers to get to.

    Now, there is a note in the NYT piece that mentioned that in a particular person’s opinion, this was not a retraction of the Nobel Prize research.. However, it was clear that the research related to the N.P. Randall had noted that the paper was “not central” to the NYT. What does that mean? Was it totally unrelated? A little related? Having only the NYT article, I did not want to support a particular opinion on this, so I said “This does not necessarily relate to the Nobel Prize.”

    I was hedging because I wanted to make mention of the connection, but not express an opinion. If I said nothing, the phrase “nobel prize winner” and “retracts paper” would go hand in hand, and this would no longer be an anti-creationist post. It would be creationist fodder.

    Then, PhyzProf read this an interpreted this as me equivocating on whether or not this paper’s retraction related to the NYT. I was equivocating, but not on the veracity of the argument, just equivocating on even wanting to say anything about it. But PhyzProf wanted me to have said something different, something that agreed with him or her explicitly. He interpreted my wording as suggesting that this almost certainly did have something to do with the NP. Indeed, Minion of Physprof explicitly states that my use of the term “not necessarily” indites Dr. Buck. But that was never, ever, my intention.

    Now, looking back at this, I would agree with the statement that one could look at my words and assume I was saying that this research was related directly to whether or not Buck should have the NP. Or maybe not. The truth of the matter, and I’d swear on a stack of Origins of Species to this, is that I had no opinion whatsoever.

    PhysProf weighted in on this in a very heavy handed manner. He/she could have said “You know, it looks like your making this particular argument, what’s up with that?”

    PhysProf’s problem is that you can’t maintain an overdone profane Gonzo like trope and at the same time engage in a constructive conversation. It is simply not possible.

    I made two mistakes.

    1) I should have originally said “From my reading of the New York Times piece, I cannot parse out the argument of the relationship of this work and the Nobel Prize, but really, that is not the point of my making note of this story…. my main point is simply that science shows itself once again to be self correcting.” That would NOT have satisfied PysioProf, I think because he/she wanted me to say that there was no link whatsoever. But I did not know that, I do not know this now, and I don’t care about this, and this never had anything to do with why I posted this (again, read the title of the post!)

    2) When I take crap from a commenter, sometimes I don’t feel very good about it. This is very unprofessional of me. If I want to write a blog, I should not have an emotional investment in the comments, needing them to be a certain way. …. In fact, normally I don’t have much of an emotional reaction, and when I do, I put off thinking about the comment and it always goes away (the emotional reaction, not the comment). In this case, I took offense and responded without waiting, and I responded to the comment rather than to the clear misunderstanding. I should have said:

    “PhysioProf, you are absolutely right that it is possible to conclude from what I wrote that I feel there is an important connection between the Nobel Prize and this paper. However, that is not the case. My particular wording was meant to express ambiguity that I have simply because I don’t know, nor care, about that connection or lack thereof. The point of my post is to say that a nice example of the self correcting nature of science may be represented in this NYT piece…” or words to that effect.

    Now, getting to your point. I had not considered the issue of authorship at all when I posted this. This did not occur to me at all until I read PysioProf’s post on this, which seems to me to imply that this was a screwup, and not just lab results behaving unpredictably. So if anyone has a problem with Buck and/or her team, her leadership, whatever, go to the source of that concern, over on DrugMonkey.

    When I did look at the retraction more closely, I see a claim being made that the results are very screwy, and I see Buck taking credit for writing the paper, but I also see another coauthor (is it ZZ? something with “z’s”) being circumscribed as the real guilty party … the one who screwed up.

    So, either Buck was deeply involved in this research at all levels and missed what in retrospect might be an obviously odd result that should have been questioned, or she was less involved in some key part yet still signed off on it. The third possibility is that every time you run this experiment, you get odd results. But that third possibility does not jive with what looks like a lynching of one of the authors. But of course, I could be wrong about that. This is all speculation.

    Becca, the scenario you suggest is interesting. Other experimental work with inbred strains have shown a fair degree of variation that was not expected in physiological results. Neural tissues are highly adaptable. So the guy comes and change the light bulbs Sunday night and the next thing you know your mice are developing differently in their occipital region, and the change cascades into nearby temporal and parietal regions (translate to appropriate terminology for mice brain) and next thing you know the smell experiment and the motion experiments get different results with this batch. Etc.

  14. #14 Becca
    March 12, 2008

    Wow, that really helps me understand the process of what happened. I never had any problem with your initial post. I can understand how the odd paraphrase you made could mislead people, and I think you were right to correct it for a more direct quote, but that didn’t really attract my attention.
    Basically I can sum it up as:
    “busy blogger -> annoyed physioprof, leaving terse, undignified comment-> annoyed response by Greg-> <-annoyed response by physioprof (feedback loop)" Something about the retraction seems to be finger pointing if one reads between the lines of dryly written (Nature-style) writing. Drawing attention to this and questioning if there was a better tone that could have been set is reasonable... assuming something very nefarious was afoot is not reasonable... but I think I see now that your taking such a strong stance may have been colored by providing a counterpoint to PhysioProf (who was expressing him/(her?)self with such vitriol). Hmm. Makes more sense now- good.