A large issue with human nature has always been pride. We’ve taken pride in the strangest and smallest of things. Braces are used to correct teeth, we lose weight for the appearance of it (skinny or obese), our height somehow determines control, etc. We also take pride in intellectual aspects. A girl who scored an 80 on a pop quiz might feel less than the girl who got a 95. This is no different when it comes to scientists.
There is a rush to get your ideas out there. There is a fear that somebody might “steal” all of your hard work. In reality, it might be that you and this other person have been working on the same project without realizing it. Whoever puts their results out first, gets the money, the fame, and maybe their name on a prize. This causes unneeded stress or worry. Carol Greider, known for her discovery of telomerase (above), had just the experience. “It was a pressure-to-publish situation, and some of the experiments weren’t as good as they could be, but I let myself be pushed around.” (pg.170) Upon discovering that there was tight competition for isolating this protein, Greider rushed, cut a few corners, and ended up ruining her final result which happened to be a completely different protein. The chief competitor published his paper later, correcting all of her mistakes, and she was forced to rewrite her paper explaining the errors. If there wasn’t that pressure, Greider could have taken her time and gotten an accurate clean result.
The medical world is being negatively affected by these inaccurate papers on such a large scale. Companies and universities look at high-profile magazines (Nature, Science, and Cell) to determine the quality of the scientist. “They’re using where someone publishes a proxy for the quality of what they published.” stated by Gregory Petsko, a professor at the Weill Cornell Medical College. (pg. 176) These magazines go worldwide, so if another scientist’s research is being based off of the facts listed in the papers, then they are getting nowhere. This is one of the leading causes of why biomedical science is moving so slowly.
Richard Harris’s Rigor Mortis has truly opened my eyes to the many reasons why the frequency at which medical breakthroughs occur are decreasing at an exponential rate. From the beginning chapter to the experiments done on lab rats to the terrible pressures scientists must face in society, it seems like there is so much we can do to improve the quality of research. I guess that’s up to us.