Scientific debate (Was: Stains for Helicobacter)

<< Previous Message | Next Message >>
From:"J. A. Kiernan" <>
To:Histonet <>
Content-Type:TEXT/PLAIN; charset=US-ASCII

On 9th August 2000 Abizar Lakdawalla wrote:

> Hi Jan, appreciate your comments but one of the aspects of good science is the
> constant flow of criticism (in it's positive form, of course) that helps refine
> and improve.

I agree with Abizar. If you publish something you must expect some
critical discussion. There's plenty to criticize adversely in pretty 
well every paper. That's how science moves forward, especially in the
field of methodology, by improving on and replacing earlier techniques 
and conclusions. 

Bob Richmond is quite right to point out the need for more details 
about the criteria for comparison of the different stains and the 
way they were evaluated. The paper was, however, a short one. 
I found it quite pleasing if only for the excellent micrographs.

It's to be hoped that the comparison of methods was in fact done 
more rigorously than implied in the HistoLogic article, and that 
a more thorough account will be submitted to a mainstream journal 
in the field of histotechnology or G.I. pathology.

It is unfortunate but understandable that adverse criticisms may
cause hurt feelings for the person whose work is under fire, but
it's an inevitable consequence of every new contribution to science,
major or trivial. Less understandable and more unfortunate is the
attitude of "don't say anything that's not nice" from people who
are not themselves involved in a scientific discussion. 

In earlier years the debates were more ferocious and less polite
than they are these days. Sir Isaac Newton may have hit the bottom
of the pit in his dispute with Liebnitz about who invented or
discovered what we now call calculus. In the late 19th Century
there were heated exchanges following presentations at meetings,
taken down by clerks and printed in journals that can still be
found in the basements of libraries. Even in the mid-1960s, at every
meeting of the Anatomical Society (in Britain; 2 or 3 meetings per
year and no fee to attend) Sir Wilfrid Le Gros Clark sat in the 
middle of the front row of the lecture theatre in his thin-rimmed 
circular spectacles. (They looked exactly like the ones given by the
NHS clinics to children whose parents couldn't afford plastic frames.)
After every 10-minute paper Clark had a penetrating question, and
lesser personalities in the audience invariably followed up in
the same vein. As I remember it the questions were all challenges,
and a young student could be equally direct (but less rude) in
answering them. It was this plain talk that attracted me back from
Medicine (with all the soft talk to disguise ignorance) into Science
where it was OK to say you didn't know something and to postulate
that nobody else did either.

 John A. Kiernan,
 Department of Anatomy & Cell Biology,
 The University of Western Ontario,
 LONDON,  Canada  N6A 5C1

<< Previous Message | Next Message >>