Publish or perish, drug target mapping, and why it’s funny


All the biomedical research news fit to print


It’s been a busy week on the biomedical research front, so let’s dig in. For starters, The Economist reviewed 34 million peer reviewed papers from the last decade, and the number of authors per paper has grown from 3.2 to 4.4, causing some to ask– why do research papers have so many authors? Two answers: 1) more cooperation among institutions means more authors, and 2) the “publish or perish” conundrum suggests that it is more fruitful for a researcher to co-write two papers than one entire paper. Nature did a mathematical study on science’s broken reward system, noting a recent game theory approach by researchers as they decide what to study in response to metric-driven decisions about the future – impact factor, tenure review, funding. These mathematical studies show that there are limited high-risk studies happening due to funding decisions that tend to bias for “safe” research, and it can point to ways to reverse this trend. Lastly, while scientific fraud is relatively infrequent, Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus of Retraction Watch note that “cutting corners” happens quite often by researchersmotivated by the rush to publish and receive future funding.
An article published yesterday in Pharma R&D Today updated some thoughts on the costs of irreproducible biomedical research. An organization you may be familiar with – the Global Biological Standards Institute – published an economic analysis of irreproducibility in June 2015 noting that perhaps $28 billion per year is spent on irreproducible research. The Pharma R&D author notes informal discussions with leaders at pharma that as much as 75% of research is not reproducible, which could be more like $40 billion. As GBSI has been advocating, reagent validation would go a long way to addressing this problem, and cells and antibodies are two areas where much can be achieved. A recent article examined 15 years’ worth of Leukemia-Lymphoma cell lines and noted that cell lines obtained from labs (as opposed to cell banks) had a risk of 1:6 that they are contaminated. For antibodies, a coalition led by GBSI to create community validation guidelines is in the works.
There are so many approved drugs – over 1,500 – that no one can keep what they do straight, until now. Researchers at the UK-based Institute of Cancer Research mapped all of them, and found 667 separate proteins in humans have drugs developed against them. That’s about 3.5%, so for those wondering what else needs a prescription, there is a lot left.


As noted regularly in High Fidelity, the human microbiome plays a significant role in our daily lives. Turns out, gut microbes have “daily” lives as well, including changing locations and metabolic outputs. Disruptions to microbes daily lives from, say, antibiotics, can trigger complications in our daily lives as well.


Scientists studying how and why humor is used to diffuse stressful situations have come up with a new field (move over game theory) they are calling “humor theory”.  Incongruity, relief, and superiority are all theories of humor that can be used to predict whether a situation could be considered funny.  The recipe consists of equal parts: 1) a norm (social, moral or physical) violation; 2) a benign or safe context in which the violation takes place; and 3) the interpretation of the first two points simultaneously.  Know any political figures whom this could apply to?