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Be a scientific agnostic, but data fanatic

Are top journals like Science, Nature and Cell, artificially restricting the number of papers they accept and more keen to increase subscription?

Be a scientific agnostic, to be able to think out-of-the-box; but become a scientific fanatic when it comes to data. For instance, how do we deal with autism, an area where no remedy is available? Eric Hollander, chief of autism research at Montefiore Medical Centre at New York was hypothesising that relief for autism can be sought by boosting the immune system with our ancestral enemies like intestinal worms, a rarity these days, thanks to the ‘hygiene hypothesis’. He studied a group of grown up autistic patients by giving them harmless whip worm ova orally. Almost all improved significantly on their autism parameters. However, the work must be done on a larger sample before being let out into the public domain.

Modern killer diseases of ageing like diabetes, hypertension, cancer, and many such defy any serious analysis by us. A recent book The Story of the Human body by Daniel Lieberman, a Harvard biologist, tells a new story which when proved might open up a new vista of human wisdom. His main hypothesis is that the paleolithic human body might not gel well with our recent cultural evolution. For instance, eating large amounts of sugar or being very physically inactive leads to problems like diabetes or heart disease that then make us sick. So we have created mismatched diseases—modern,  novel or severe—because we don’t live in the way in which our bodies are adapted. We have plenty of sugar and simple carbohydrates that give us much energy but we do not have the required metabolism for that, resulting in life style diseases.

In addition, we were also endowed with the hormone cortisol responsible for the fight-fright response which has us craving for more food, thus, inducing further lifestyle diseases. Some infectious diseases defy our resistance with multiple antibiotic molecules all of which are resistant to germs. Such bugs are called ‘super-bugs’; some categories of super-bugs have the capacity to kill humans with a weak immune system.

An out-of-the-box solution to this, developed by a Johns Hopkins physician, is to replace patients’ gut germs by the normal gut flora from a healthy person. This is given a dignified name: faecal transplant. If the healthy stool comes from the patient’s mother, the infection could be controlled faster.  

Unfortunately, scientific research establishment not only does not go for the truth but perpetuate lies through “research papers”. Recently, Dr Randy Schekman, one of the Nobel Laureates of 2013, lambasted some ‘top’ journals such as Science, Nature and Cell. A detailed write-up on this was published by The Economist. According to the piece, his first allegation is that top journals artificially restrict the number of papers they accept and are more keen on increasing subscriptions than publishing the best research.

The second allegation is that science, as a whole, is being distorted by perverse incentives, especially those that measure a journal’s popularity. The Economist goes on to state: “But working scientists will tell you, perhaps after a few drinks, that he (Dr Schekman) is far from alone in his views.

“And many worry that the pressure to publish flashy research in glitzy journals encourages hype and faddishness and rewards being first over being thorough. Jobbing scientists can be reluctant to speak up; fearful of the damage they might do to their careers by rocking the boat. But one of the many perks of being a Nobel Laureate is that you no longer have to worry about such things.” In conclusion, if one wants to do good science, one must think out-of-the–box, to refute false dogmas. To do that, one must become scientifically agnostic to begin with but a scientific fanatic while analysing the data.

Professor Dr BM Hegde, a Padma Bhushan awardee in 2010, is an MD, PhD, FRCP (London, Edinburgh, Glasgow & Dublin), FACC and FAMS.

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COMMENTS

Amith S

7 months ago

Swallowing human faeces will cure a gut disease!
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/05/19/swallowing-human-faeces-will-cure-disease-nhs-say/

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