Sunday, August 10, 2008
The Psychology of RNAi
This summers reading brought me in contact with a most beautiful book on the subject of randomness. The book is called "The Black Swan". In it you will find heretical discussions such as, "Academic success is partly (but significantly) a lottery. It's easy to test the effect of reputation. One way would be to find papers that were written by famous scientists, had their authors identities changed by mistake and got rejected. You could verify how many of these rejections were subsequently overturned after the true identities of the authors were established."
The painful truth about science is that it is run on the most non-scientific means of judging a persons work. Reputations rule. Good solid science will do you no good if you cannot convince the powers that be that they have missed something. This is not an easy task due to the arrogance of power. If you dare challenge someone like a David Baltimore or Craig Mello you had better have a powerful group of cohorts willing to back you in your battle.
The CCS knows this and is under no delusions that he is actually battling the powers that be. This is rather an exercise in psychology. What does any person have to do to affectively be heard? Write a blog? Ha! Have a great idea? Ha again. Great ideas can have just as hard of a time being sold as bad ones. In fact, the scientific merits of an idea is not as important as its presentation. Who is presenting the idea. Are they confident? Is the idea presented in peer reviewed journals, scientific meetings or books? Does the idea fly in the face of current thinking?
Billions of dollars have been spent and many more are on their way out the door for RNAi to be used as a drug. Beyond that, RNAi has been the bane of many a research associate whose job it is to use RNAi to knock out genes. It's like using a feather to hammer nails. But no one is going to listen to a guy who wears a white lab coat daily. No one is going to publish a paper stating that RNAi has yet again failed to produce knockout data. The idea that it doesn't work is no longer being accepted. Like gene therapy however, it will cease to impress and thus be put on the back burner. One day the real story behind what happened in the early studies of RNAi will be known. Until then we must accept that we are in the middle of a common situation in the history of human reasoning. We are convinced that we know the truth. We no longer require evidence to the contrary. Yet the planes are not landing.