Remember my post about the genetics of autism last week? Remember how I predicted that the knives would come out from anti-vaccine loons? My original prediction was that Mark “Not a Doctor Not a Scientist” Blaxill would pull one of his usual brain dead attacks on genetic studies, such as his ” immaculate mutations” gambit.
I guessed wrong, apparently. It wasn’t Mark Blaxill who went on the attack first. Although Blaxill hadn’t tried his hand at a pseudoscientific deconstruction of this study as of Sunday afternoon, John Stone over at the anti-vaccine propaganda blog Age of Autism has already pulled this gambit. In a post epitomizing the arrogance of ignorance entitled Scherer of Nature Autism Gene Study Fails to Disclose Pharma Funding As Competing Interest, Stone lays this brain-meltingly stupid charge of a conflict of interest on the corresponding author of the Pinto et al study::
Prof Stephen Scherer who is the senior author of the autism gene study launched in Nature last week holds the ‘GlaxoSmithKline-CIHR Pathfinder Chair in Genetics and Genomics at the Hospital for Sick Children and University of Toronto. The title used to be ‘GlaxoSmithKline-CIHR Endowed Chair”, GSK being one of the defendant companies in the UK MMR litigation
What’s so hilarious about this little paragraph is that Stone is clearly completely ignorant of just what an endowed chair is and because of that he’s just completely humiliated himself by laying down a swath of burning stupid that has consumed everything in its path.
Basically, to create an endowed chair, a company or wealthy donor gives a university a lot of money, and the university sets up the endowed chair using that money. The interest and dividends from the fund used to set up the chair are put at the disposal of the holder of the chair to do research and scholarship as he or she sees fit. The reason such chairs are desirable is because an endowed chair gives a researcher a reliable supply of funding without the need to write grant proposals or a department chair a source of funds for various projects that doesn’t have to come out of the departmental budget. It often allows a researcher to do more exploratory work or a department chair to engage in various research and educational activities by doling out funds from the chair to his faculty, for example, to support pilot projects by young faculty. Once an endowed chair is set up, the donor usually has no say over who gets the chair or how the money for the chair is spent. Claiming that Professor Scherer’s holding the GSK chair at his institution is an insurmountable COI that needed to be reported is, quite simply, ridiculous to anyone in academia who knows what an endowed chair is. Clearly, Mr. Stone does not, although one commenter going by the ‘nym of Werdna does try to set Mr. Stone straight. It’s a rare thing indeed on AoA for a commenter to take a blogger to task like that, something that usually only happens when an AoA blogger makes a mistake too egregious even for some of the less nutty AoA readers.
Equally ridiculous is Mr. Stone’s lack of understanding of what a corresponding or first author is on a biomedical research paper:
While Prof Scherer’s departmental colleague Dalila Pinto is listed as lead author of the paper Scherer is listed as ‘correspondence author’ and he identifies himself as ‘senior author’ in Kevin Leitch’s LeftBrain/RightBrain blog.
Here’s a hint for Mr. Stone. The lead author of the paper is an honor usually reserved for the person who had the most to do with designing and doing the research. Most of the time the first author is the person who actually wrote the manuscript. On the other hand, the corresponding author of a scientific paper (at least a biomedical paper) is usually the author listed last or near last. More importantly for Mr. Stone’s criticism, the corresponding author and the senior author are nearly always one in the same, namely the author in whose laboratory and using whose funding the research described in the paper was performed. That’s it. That’s all those terms mean. There’s no inconsistency there. The terms are interchangeable. Mr. Stone would do well to learn a little bit about what he speaks before embarrassing himself so.
I’d be happy to educate him.