Photo by Jessica Gale via Morguefile

Photo by Jessica Gale via Morguefile

If you doubt the power of the written word, look at one of biotech’s recent controversies. In this blog, I’ve mentioned CRISPR, the gene editing technology that .

Like many scientific endeavors, it has a history of multiple scientists contributing to its discovery, a slow progression, and a mix of academic and private institutions working with and patenting the new technology.  But what happens to the scientific community when someone takes more credit for the technology’s progress than is due?

We may have just found out. On January 14, the journal Cell published a “perspective” written by Eric Lander, a director of Broad Institute, which holds several patents for the technology. It was titled  The Heroes of CRISPR.  Some readers felt it portrayed an inaccurate history of the discovery of CRISPR that seriously ignored the contributions of seminal scientists in favor of those associated with the Broad Institute.

Was it just an oversight? Or was it intended to garner more donations and bolster patent claims for the Broad Institute?  Did it have something to do with the fact that the earlier researchers who laid the groundwork for CRISPR were women?

Further, it was published in Cell, a prestigious science publication. They introduced it as a “perspective,” but no where else in the text did it remind readers it was just one person’s viewpoint or mention the potential conflict of interest.

It also underlines another potential issue within the scientific community. Should people do science to  advance knowledge and contribute to quality of life, or for fame and money. If scientific discovery is fueled more by thirst for knowlege? Does it roll forward faster and better when scientists are willing to collaborate rather than entering a patent race? Or is the promise of money and fame what fuels scientists to put out their best work fastest?

It  will be interesting to see what the future holds as bloggers and tweeters weigh in about the ethics of self-promotion in bio-technology, another aspect of the power of the written word. If a journal publishes something people think is biased, there are forums for people to call them out. Maybe that is what keeps certain interests from becoming too powerful.

The Embarrassing, Destructive Fight over Biotech’s Big Breakthrough

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