Fundamental flaws in (cancer) research

Watching a TED talk by Ben Goldacre recently, my attention was drawn to an excellent Nature article on fundamental flaws in cancer research. The Comment Raise standards for preclinical cancer research (subscription required), by Glenn Begley and Lee Ellis, discusses some systematic weaknesses in basic biomedical research and proposes some solutions that would resolve some of these problems.

Nature 483:531–533 (29 March 2012) doi:10.1038/483531a

Nature 483:531–533 (29 March 2012) doi:10.1038/483531a

As part of their work at the Amgen pharmaceutical company, the authors have tried to replicate the findings in 53 “landmark” papers reported to reveal important advances in understanding about the molecular biology of cancer. Despite their best efforts, including contacting the scientists responsible for the original studies, getting resources from them and, in some cases, visiting their labs to repeat the protocol there, Begley and Ellis only managed to successfully reproduce the published results in 6 (11%) of cases. We are not told which experiments were replicable, or perhaps more importantly which were not, since confidentiality agreements had been made with several of the original authors (a point that was made post hoc in a clarification statement). Continue reading

How DO you cite audiovisual materials correctly?

The BUFVC is conducting a survey about people's experience of citing AudioVisual materials

The BUFVC is conducting a survey about people’s experience of citing AudioVisual materials

Most of us feel reasonably comfortable with the conventions for citing books, journal articles and so on. There may be certain variability between journals regarding formatting (it has been argued that there are as many versions of Harvard as there are journals using “Harvard” for example), nevertheless there is fairly standard agreement about the core information that is needed.

What, however, are the rules if you need to cite a particular interview within the lunchtime news on a given day? Or the Director’s commentary that comes as a bonus with a bought DVD? Or, indeed, what about citing the film itself? What are the correct procedures for referencing these materials?

For the past 18 months  I have been part of a working group convened by the British Universities Film and Video Council to draw up an authoritative guide regarding citation of audiovisual materials. We’ve had some really interesting discussions about different media, different contexts and different purposes for the citation.

Our deliberations are drawing towards a close, but before they do the BUFVC is conducting a survey to check that we haven’t missed anything or come to any erroneous decisions. Therefore if you are reading this between 13th December 2012 and 14th January 2013 do please take the opportunity to fill out the survey – it doesn’t take very long and you get a chance to win vouchers to your favourite tax-avoiding online retailer! The survey itself can be found via this link (alternatively see here for more background info). Thanks.

What’s Good on TV? Understanding Ethics Through TV


A good idea, but unfortunately WGonTV fails to deliver

I have recently completed a review of What’s Good on TV? for the BUFVC magazine Viewfinder. As the subtitle of the book implies, it is intended to be a guide to understanding ethics using television-based examples in place of the classic “An out of control train is rushing down the tracks towards a group of unsuspecting children…” style examples beloved of ethics textbooks.

As the review shows in more detail, I love the concept (my other blog over at BioethicsBytes tries to achieve similar goals). Unfortunately I felt that the book didn’t quite hit the mark. I have a number of significant reservations about the appropriateness of the chosen examples for educational use in the UK (both in terms of the familiarity and the explicit nature of some of the content). I also craved rather more detail from the authors regarding the ways that they use the recommended programmes.