Thursday, July 16, 2009

On interpreting scientific literature

My current PI sometimes worries me with his complete lack of faith in the published word. While I understand that it is up to the reader to critically evaluate any published paper: understand the methods, the figures and play devil's advocate to check if they included all controls and made proportionate claims, I still treat published work with a certain amount of faith and belief. My PI seems to lack any such belief. Everytime I tell him about a detail related to what we do in the lab, he retorts with "How do you know?". And when I cite the paper he disregards it. It doesn't matter if its a well-known group or an obscure group, a good journal or not. It is true, that a lot of what we do is subject to slightly different interpretations depending on the methods used to get there. And then, the human system is not that straightforward. What holds in a certain cell-type might not in another and what happens in the human body is not always reproduced accurately in lab culture. But, these are all caveats that are going to always be there. No single study can be the absolute answer to all questions, they are all but pieces of the puzzle. But if my PI were to be believed, all the stuff published is suspect and to be eyed with a huge dose of cynicism.

What worries me the most is how thorough is he when he goes up to submit a paper, if he has such a low opinion of peer review?

Then again, I have been in a lab where results of experiments performed just once were submitted and accepted for publication, and non-reproducible forever after that. So I guess I shouldn't be so surprised at my PI's lack of trust. It's just a bit disconcerting, though.


Born a Libran said...

I remember my first couple of yrs in grad school... I was very naive in terms of what I thought abt the scientific process and the whole publication process back then.. All such illusions were completely broken when I heard my masters thesis back in India led to a couple of publications after I left (with very little work to be honest).

Satish said...

noo. nooo.

we want more insights from dark side. dark is kool.

may be you could prepare a sample material on you rviews on 'dark side' preferably a PPT and post that here.

Sakshi said...

I am with Satish. Science is all boring. We like to hear more about this dark side.

The_Girl_From_Ipanema said...

hmm.. yeah- i also had my moments of realization and learned how to take literature with a sackful of salt sometime early on in grad school..

satish, sakshi

Sakshi said...

[i]satish, sakshi

Seen Austin Powers lately?