Never-ending Corners – Alex S.

When reading the preface and first chapter of Rigor Mortis, I was very interested in the points Richards Harris made, such as when he explains that cures to major diseases like cancer, alzheimer’s and osteoarthritis always seem just around the corner, but, as he mentions, “It turns out we live in a world with an awful lot of corners. Most of the time we round one only to discover another corner rather than a destination.” (pg.1) Afterwards he describes the shortcuts scientists constantly take, and before reading this, it never really occurred to me that it’s these shortcuts that are making the corners we must round so far away, or making us round them incorrectly, so that we “discover another corner rather than a destination.”

As Harris went into more detail on the shortcuts these scientists were taking, I was really surprised. They would leave tests alone and publish their work after getting one good result, not bothering to check their work or try to get that result again. How could you just think “Well, that was good enough, let’s hope that one success wasn’t a mistake.” and then publish your work to companies and organizations like the FDA? When I walk through grocery store and pharmacy aisles, I see an ‘FDA Approved’ symbol on nearly every product, because the FDA is a big deal. Through my own research, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) supervises and approves food, tobacco, cosmetic and drug products, which is practically everything that fills our homes. So what if they’re being supplied with false information from faulty test results that nobody had the effort to check? Now that’s an even bigger deal. We can be thankful that there are FDA employees that catch these mistakes, but that still doesn’t solve the issue of there being no reproducibility in these tests. Harris says, “There’s little funding and no glory involved in checking someone else’s work.” (pg.13) And this, along with the fact that these scientists strive for the profit, is the reason why there is that lack of reproducibility. The effort that needs to be put into every single test to avoid this, is what Harris describes as the ‘rigor’ that we lack in science today.  


There are people out there, like C. Glenn Begley, John Ioannidis and of course, Richard Harris himself, that are speaking out about this and actually trying to reproduce these false tests, but of course they come out with failed results because they are not reproducible. They are putting forth that rigor we desperately need. They know the cheap tricks and shortcuts scientists are pulling, and if they can stop those sorts of actions then we can save billions of dollars that come from taxpayers and the government. No one wants their money going towards testing that is done cheaply or has no effort put into it, especially if it relates to a disease that you, your family or friends have battled. Personally, I have seen so many of my friends and family battle cancer, and it is hard to hear that money is constantly being wasted on research and testing in oncology (or other fields) where “researchers cherry-pick their best-looking results.” (pg.27) It becomes even harder to hear when you add statistics like “glioblastoma cancer strikes about 12,000 Americans per year,” (pg. 19) and “‘Probably 65 to 80 percent of our trials in oncology fail.'”(Anna Barker, pg. 21) However, biomedical research is incredibly hard, we can’t forget that. There are scientists out there that are putting in the proper rigor, and it’s simply unavoidable restrictions of tools/processes we don’t have yet or knowledge we have not yet attained that keeps them from a discovery. The point of the situation, and what I believe Harris conveyed in his first chapter is, if we had more of those rigorous minds, we would be much farther along in our discoveries of cures and processes in the biomedical field.


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