Sunday, November 25, 2007

More High Kwality Science

Call me cynical, but I just wasn't that surprised by the latest rash of government data security atrocity stories. Sure, their systems are a trainwreck, but then isn't their everything ?

There's plenty of reasons behind the government's ability to scupper even the most trivial activities, but one of the biggest must be the central problem of government acting as both player and referee. That's how we end up shambles like this:
Millions of pounds of charity donations and taxpayers' money have been wasted on worthless cancer studies, the BBC has learned.

File On 4 has discovered thousands of studies have been invalidated.

It found some scientists have failed to carry out simple and inexpensive checks to ensure they are working with the right forms of human tumour cells.
In other words they think they're examining apples when it's actually oranges. You can see how that would be a problem. Or at least you'd think it would be a problem, but not for the government apparently.
But the Medical Research Council, the major source of public funds for such research in the UK which provides £70m of grants annually for cancer studies, is reluctant to enforce authentication.

Dr Rob Buckle of the MRC told the BBC: "As soon as you start talking about regulation we have to ensure that it is proportionate and does not inhibit research."
How come that never applies in any other context ? Isn't a £100 000 skin cancer study that's actually studying breast cancer cells at least as serious as the need to protect the public from excessive musicianship ? It's not even as if cell line contamination isn't a known issue:
Because of their avid adaptation to growth in tissue culture plates, HeLa cells are sometimes difficult to control. For example, they have proven to be a persistent laboratory "weed" and they can contaminate other cell cultures in the same laboratory, interfering with biological research. The degree of HeLa cell contamination among other cell types is unknown, because few researchers test the identity or purity of already-established cell lines. It has been demonstrated that a substantial fraction of in vitro cell lines - approximately 10%, maybe 20%, are actually HeLa cells, due to the fact that the original cells in the cell culture have been overwhelmed by a rapidly growing population derived from HeLa contaminant cells.
So in other words huge amounts of research is either useless or actively misleading, but no one in the scientific community wants to rock the boat and the government's boldly opted to keep the taps open, rather than risk a spat with the nerd community - but you can trust these guys on climate change!

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