How Are Scientific Studies Chosen to Receive Grants?

“To maintain our edge . . . we’ve got to protect our rigorous peer review system and ensure that we only fund proposals that promise the biggest bang for taxpayer dollars . . . that’s what’s going to maintain our standards of scientific excellence for years to come.”- President Barack Obama 

President Obama restated an idea that has kept the United States at the forefront of scientific research and discovery for decades; we must have the most rigorous peer review in the world in order to stay ahead of the world. Grant’s are given by the United States Government by going through a peer review process that grades your work, and considers its impact. There are several criteria that have to be considered in the peer review process for a lab or study, including, but not limited to: overall impact, significance, investigators, innovation, and approach.

A study’s overall impact is very important to peer reviewers because they want to know that a discovery will have a lasting impact on the research field and the world. The significance of a study is similar to overall impact, except that it focuses on overcoming a barrier or problem in the research field. Investigators, are the actual scientists who will be running the study, the peer reviewers want to know that they are accomplished members of the research field, and how the organizational structure and hierarchy of the study is laid out. Peer reviewers also need to know how innovative the study will be, will it shift the current understanding of the field? Finally, the approach of the study’s team is also important, how will it be designed, what are variables that are being controlled, do they have a alternative strategies?

 

Source: http://grants.nih.gov/grants/peer_review_process.htm#Second

How Are Scientific Studies Chosen to Receive Grants?

Human Genetic Research and Ethics

On page 93, Hughes mentions that UCSF and Harvard faced some difficulties because their research used human genetic material. I wanted to know more about using human genetic material in research. I found an article that talked about human genetic research and all that it entails.

http://www.pre.ethics.gc.ca/eng/policy-politique/initiatives/tcps2-eptc2/chapter13-chapitre13/

This article addresses how genetic research can violate some ethics. This is due to all the information that researches can get from a person’s genetic material. This includes ancestry and cultural background. The question is asked if this is too much to know? Does this violate a person’s privacy? The article brings up a lot of good points about this and really makes you one think about how much should be kept private.

The article also talks about the rights that the individual has when it comes to the researchers sharing the findings of the experiment and who can know the information. I was also surprised to read about genetic material banks where genetic material is collected and stored for future analysis.

This article really opened my eyes to how challenging the world of human genetic research is and how many different factors need to be considered when doing this type of research.

Human Genetic Research and Ethics

The Sociopath Gene

“We are peering over the brink of an abyss. In the coming decades, there will be a monumental leap in our knowledge of the genetic locations of inherited diseases. And more and more genes will be discovered that link behavior to the chemicals in our brains, and genes tied to our urges and emotions.”- Weinberg, page 350 (Epilogue)

In her closing statements, Weinberg talks about inherited genes and infers that Frediani might have inherited sociopathic traits from his ancestors. On first glance, this statement seems kind of preposterous. Our genes determine our physical traits, but our mental ones, our attitudes and opinions, seem to come from other places. I have been raised to believe that our mental state results from our choices, beliefs and experiences. In other words, I would not act the same way I do today if I grew up in Amsterdam or if I was born into Donald Trump’s family. I always thought that someone goes thrill-seeking because they have a boring life, or someone is a sociopath because of traumatic experiences which cut them off from their emotions and morals.

However, this may not be exactly the case. Weinberg brings up Dean Hamer, who claimed to have identified genetic reasons for homosexuality as well as a gene that makes one seek out thrills. Here is an interview between him and Time magazine, for more information. His research suggests that many aspects of our personality come from our genes rather than our minds. This would not be an unprecedented idea; everyone knows someone who “acts just like their mother/father” or has heard of a family where a certain trait like aggressiveness or ignorance “runs in their blood”. In fact, Adolf Hitler’s descendants agreed never to have kids in order to end his bloodline, possibly out of the fear that being a ruthless dictator was an inheritable trait. Obviously it is still preposterous to think that a human mind is only a product of one’s genetics and not a myriad of factors, but Hamer’s information seems to show that we likely inherit many mental traits in addition to physical ones.

The Sociopath Gene

Forensic Bias

In the book on page 193, Weinberg asks the question if it creates bias that the forensic scientists knew which samples came from the suspect and which came from the victim? This got me to thinking about why would  this be allowed? And then how could this effect the results without the scientists even meaning it to? I found an article that had a study done on forensic experts and what could be a factor in their ultimate conclusion. http://www.psmag.com/politics-and-law/biased-forensics-experts-82712

The article talked about how bias, time pressure and expectations could all be a factor. Many of the experts tended to focus on the information that was given them and when examining the bodies they looked for details that would support what they already knew. This is human nature to assume what we already know is correct. It is hard to figure out what we don’t know yet. The study also says that there is a “movement underway” that will hopefully establish some guidelines to erase a lot of the bias that is present in many of these cases.

This connects back to the question in the book because it does create bias that the forensic scientists knew which samples came from which person. They would then be looking for evidence to confirm what they thought was correct instead of looking for new answers.

Forensic Bias

Explanation of PCR and Some Info about GMO’s

In Chapter 10, Weinberg writes about the discovery of the polymerase chain reaction, or the process used to duplicate DNA. While we talked a lot about it in class, I thought that some people still did not completely understand the process (myself included), so here is a post on Reddit which explains it well. In addition to that Reddit post, while I was researching I found many Q&A Reddit threads with scientists who were involved in GMO study. I felt that these threads were relevant to our discussion, since we talked about GMO’s in class earlier in the semester. The questions that the scientists are asked are very interesting and give a lot of insight into how these GMO companies function and understand their work. Here they are:

Monsato AMA

“Ask Me Anything About Transgenic (GMO) Crops!”

Explanation of PCR and Some Info about GMO’s