The Pressure to Publish or Perish Takes Scientists to Street

in education

It was with great interest that I read the news and science article on arsenic-linked life backbone.  When the study was exciting to me and several others, it was provocative to the critics. 
I was compelled to write this blog entry when I read the Slate magazine article "This Paper Should Not Have Been Published".  Initially when I posted a blog on this news, several the issues associated with the finding were not clear.  Now more and more scientists are coming forward and challenging the discovery.
Whether the finding is correct or not, the first question that came to my mind was, would there have been arsenic DNA in Napolean's cells?  Has anyone looked at the DNA of microorganisms thriving around hydrothermal vents to find out their arsenic composition?  It is likely that, as critics point out, arsenic containing DNA might not be stable and if at all micorganisms use this to substitute phosphorous, it is likely to be in very simple forms and possibly transient.  However, even this likelihood, if exists, is important.
The study had flaws and the study leaves many fundamental questions unanswered. Those in the peer-review system know that it is rare to find manuscripts without flaws.  However, for peer scientists to go to main street media and declare on  the correctness of a manuscript published in a respected peer-reviewed journal is also likely to be driven by popularity-seeking urge. The most appropriate method would have been to confront the authors in professional journals rather than becoming instrumental in stirring public controversy.
I support to some extent the opinion of the first author of the study, Felisa Wolfe-Simon  that "any discourse will have to be peer-reviewed in the same manner as our paper was, and go through a vetting process so that all discussion is properly moderated."  At the same time their press release conference was also a popularity-seeking exercise. 
I think it is time the scientific community stop rushing to the 'press' with every new paper they publish.

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