Tag Archives: ethics

The ethics of Alzheimer’s

Though the authors of the BSR blog don’t comment on the topic frequently, there’s an undercurrent of ethical debate to the vast majority of scientific issues. Sometimes the ethical debate is obvious, as in these recent pieces on Proposition 37. In other cases, it’s more subtle: all research needs to justify the money spent on it—money that could otherwise go to other efforts at improving the human condition. In the particular case of Alzheimer’s, the ethics of diagnosis have increasingly become critical. I want to pause for a moment from science, and think about a few of the shifting considerations of this case brings.

Alzheimer’s disease causes the slow degradation of the mental faculties, leading to dementia and death. This decline places an enormous burden on caregivers, often family members, and makes AD the third most economically expensive disease in the developed world. Because onset of the disease typically begins after age 65, it has been an increasing concern as the human lifespan lengthens. Though some are in trials, there are no known treatments that cure or even simply slow the progress of Alzheimer’s.
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Science in Sacramento: Update on Prop 37

In June, I wrote that signatures had been collected for a ballot measure that would mandate the labeling of foods in California that contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). As expected, residents of California will vote on the measure this November as Proposition 37. In a recent poll, likely CA voters supported the proposition two to one.  You can read the full text of the inititative here.

As noted in my previous post, California tends to set trends for the nation regarding health-related laws.  That means that the eyes of the nation are on this proposition. Mark Bittman, New York Times food columnist, wrote in favor of labeling GMO-containing food, though not everyone agrees with his analysis. Slate magazine presented the argument that GMOs could be good for the environment.
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Science Utopia: Some thoughts about ethics and publication bias

Psychology’s integrity in the public eye has been rocked by recent high profile discoveries of data fabrication (here,here, and here) and several independent realizations that psychologists (this is not unique to our field) tend to engage in data analytic practices that allow researchers to find positive results (here,here, and here). While it can be argued that these are not really new realizations (here), the net effect has turned psychologists to the important question: How do we reform our science?
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Scientific fraud and non-reproducibility

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Carl_Zimmer,_October_16,_2007.jpg Science journalist Carl Zimmer recently wrote in Slate about the issue of non-reproducible results in various scientific disciplines. In particular, he cites a famous study of a purportedly cancer-causing gene, SATB1, which could not be reproduced. Zimmer generously rules out intentional fraud as the culprit, instead pointing his finger at the tendency to ignore or diminish negative data for the sake of publication.

Most scientists can probably name a prominent paper that the majority of their subfield agrees isn’t completely true. One of the most shocking things to me when I started laboratory research was when a senior graduate student told me not to use a published protocol because no one could reproduce it. Luckily, advances in my field, noble metal nanoparticles, are unlikely to make it into a the popular media. When papers relating to human health have problematic findings, the results can be disastrous, as in the notorious study linking the MMR vaccine to autism in children.
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