Friday, July 22, 2016

Assigning Credit

Back in the early 50s with Watson and Crick, one could argue over perhaps a dozen people at best who were in the fray. The paper had two authors.

Today we have papers with in excess of a thousand authors. The recent CRISPR debate provides focus on this issue.

In the recent Nature article there is an excellent discussion of how best to attribute what to whom.

They note:

The history of CRISPR–Cas9 gene editing has become a subject of fierce debate and a bitter, high-stakes patent battle. Researchers and institutes have been jostling aggressively to make sure that they are credited for their share of the work in everything from academic papers to news stories.

 They continue:

In January, Eric Lander, president of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts, tossed into this minefield a historical portrait called 'The Heroes of CRISPR'2. It was instantly controversial. Some said that it marginalized the contributions of certain researchers, and they questioned the decision to publish the article without a conflict-of-interest statement noting that the Broad Institute is embroiled in a patent dispute that hinges on determining who invented CRISPR–Cas9 gene editing.

Lander may very well have stepped into a hornets nest. One suspects he was just trying to lay out the best understanding of what occurred. That is always useful. But in today's world we have a proliferation if not explosion of post docs and junior faculty. How does one best account for all the conversations, insights, bench work, and the like.

It continues:

Outside that community, however, the accolades continue to be heaped on senior investigators. “We need to invent ways to expand the medals podium,” says Lander. “The idea that scientific discovery involves just one, two or three people is so nineteenth-century.”

Science is no the Oscars. There is no Best Director or Best Film. It is an incremental process of incremental contributions until that one moment that some it comes together. The biological sciences especially is a team effort, and for better or worse the team may be what gets recognition. The recent Silicon Valley attempt to make this Hollywood just intensifies the star issue, a politically correct stardom at that.