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Monday, February 16, 2015

The Cycle and The Betrayers of the Truth

When The Great Recession hit in 2008, Jamie Diamon of JP Morgan said, "My daughter called me from school one day, and said, 'Dad, what's a financial crisis?' And, without trying to be funny, I said, 'This type of thing happens every five to seven years.'"

That was 7 years ago. Are we due for another "this type of thing"? If so, how will the cargo cults of biotech fare after their surge in IPOs?

A cargo cult does not get to experience the arrival of cargo. It doesn't come once every 5 to 7 years. They spend their lives performing ceremonies in hopes of one day enjoying the cargo. Likewise, biotechnology and the pharmaceutical industry employees/scientists can spend their whole careers in hopes of one day working on a successful drug project. It may never come. There are no cycles in real science.

Western investors are just as susceptible to the lure of ceremony as any cargo cult tribesman. They listen to scientists who have the best credentials. They invest in companies that are using the latest Nobel Prize winning "science". They look for companies that need money within a certain range, as opposed to a specific amount for specific tasks. They tend to differ, however, in the attitude towards the lack of cargo. They won't wait a lifetime to see results. Thus, we should be able to predict our that investment cargo cults will begin to pull out of their biotech cargo cult investments.

What makes investment even more risky is the system of conducting science in modern times. It is not as the professional community of scientists would have you believe. We are led to believe that science is a strictly logical process, involving skilled objective scientists performing experiments in the laboratory, that are rigorously verified by other scientists. All work is published and shared in order to advance the basic science. Any deviations from the truth are weeded out in a self-policing manner.

In the 1982 book, "Betrayers of the Truth, Fraud and Deceit in the Halls of Science" by William Broad and Nicholas Wade, a different description of how science is conducted was offered. "Logic, replication, peer review, objectivity - all had been successfully defied the scientific forgers, often for extended periods of time." This book written right around the advent of our modern biotechnology industry, did not think about the influence of a multi-billion dollar industry. It focused only on the problems of science.

Chapters in Betrayers of the Truth include; 1)The Flawed Ideal 2) Deceit in History 3) Rise of the Careerists 4) The Limits of Replication 5) Power of the Elite 6) Self-Deception and Gullibility 7)Myth of Logic 8) Masters and Apprentices 9) Immunity of Scrutiny 10) Retreat Under Pressure 11) The Failure of Objectivity 12)Fraud and the Structure of Science. In 1982 the biopharma world began spending billions and billions of dollars resulting in a handful of millionaires and no significant medical advances. William Broad and Nicholas Wade had sent out a warning. As they explained

Fraud, we believe, offers another route to understanding science. medicine, after all, has derived much useful knowledge about the normal functioning of the body from the study of its pathology. By studying science through its pathology rather than through some preconceived criterion, it is easier to see the process as it is , as distinct from how it ought to be.

The pathology of the life sciences is like a big juicy piece of fruit ready to be picked from the vine. Has anything changed since the publication of Betrayers of the Truth in 1982? Have we taken a few hundred billion dollars and amplified the problems of careerism and non-reproducible work? Clearly fraud continues to be a part of everyday life in the sciences. We are no better at preventing nor spotting deceit. The cargo cult aspects of science and the biotech industry remain steady.

There is a pattern however. The layoffs have begun. Sanofi, InterMune, Abbott, Syngenta AG, GSK, and Amgen all have plans to cut their workforce this year. All signs point towards a rough 2015. The consequences of "Fraud and the Structure of Science" do have a pattern.


In the documentary "I Am" movie director/producer Tom Shadyac asked two questions, "What is wrong with the world and what can we do to fix it?" I have long been asking the same questions about the field in which I am passionate about and in which I once worked. What is wrong is complex. I have spent the last year writing a summary of ideas from this blog that very closely mirror "Betrayers of the Truth". Many of the themes, such as careerism, the structure of peer review and publish or parish, and the simple notion that science is a human endeavor thus subject to constant fraud and deceit, are explored. It is my hope to offer solutions for useful careers in science, not the cycle of the money. I will spend the next year or two or three... editing and self-doubting the effort. Then e-publish and offer my thoughts on this blog.

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