Chapter 07: Rapidly Changing Science and the Pressure to Publish in High-Impact Journals

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Chapter 07: Rapidly Changing Science and the Pressure to Publish in High-Impact Journals

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Dr. Bast begins this chapter by observing that science is changing so rapidly that it's "almost always continuing medical education." He praises the wide array of specialized scientists at MD Anderson who can contribute their expertise to research. Next he observes that it is difficult to publish translational research in high-impact studies and that the mechanistic studies that are given the most respect don't necessarily take into account the variety of ways that studies effects can manifest in patients in the clinics. He notes that in today's very competitive environment, graduate students and fellows need high-impact publications to compete for a limited number of jobs. Graduate and post-graduate training programs are generating more scientists than there are positions.

Identifier

BastRC_01_20140707_C07

Publication Date

7-7-2014

Publisher

The Making Cancer History® Voices Oral History Collection, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

City

Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The Interview Subject's Story - The Researcher; The Researcher; Understanding Cancer, the History of Science, Cancer Research; The History of Health Care, Patient Care; MD Anderson Culture; Professional Practice; The Professional at Work; On Research and Researchers; MD Anderson Impact

Transcript

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

I have kind of a—just, I’m going to throw this question out here, and see what happens. (laughter) You know, obviously, in order to come to these exciting conclusions, and, you know, these systems are moving together, and wow, we have, you know, a possibility to intervene in the cancer system at this particular point, you have to have this extremely elaborated understanding of many, many different types of mechanisms within the body. So, my question is, and I guess it’s basically the collaboration-translation question, how do you go about establishing the conversations and assembling the people with the specific brain power needed to make that field of knowledge happen?

Robert Bast, MD:

Yes, one of the things I’ve realized over the years is that science is changing so rapidly, that it’s almost all continuing medical education.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Hmm, interesting! (laughter)

Robert Bast, MD:

One of the strengths of MD Anderson, is that there are other scientists here who are knowledgeable about almost any particular area within our institution. These days, people collaborate nationally and internationally. There usually are experts in most of these areas right within our institution, which is one of the tremendous advantages of a really large cancer center, like our own. You also have the opportunity to attend very specialized conferences to learn about areas like autophagy.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Mm-hmm.

Robert Bast, MD:

Over the years, I’ve really had to learn almost all of the current recombinant DNA techniques that have been developed since I finished my formal training. Fortunately, there are people in our laboratory who are quite competent in this. But again, it really requires, as you’re suggesting, a team, if not a village, that actually can encompass all of the different techniques, let alone all the concepts that are involved in dissecting these really complex cancer-related systems.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Mm-hmm. Do you feel, I mean, there used to be this kind of image of the lone genius researcher, you know, who kind of hold up and had a big ego, you know, obviously that’s no longer the case.

Robert Bast, MD:

There still may be a few of those around.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Well, and I guess that’s kind of the question I’m asking. I mean, is there a personality type that’s attracted to translational, you know, are there certain characteristics that you really need to have as a thinker, as a social personality, that suits you to this kind of work, and that creates a culture of translational?

Robert Bast, MD:

Yes, there are some translational challenges. One of the verities, although this may be changing to some extent, is that it is difficult to publish translational research in the very highest impact journals.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Really?

Robert Bast, MD:

And the flipside to that is that these days, even for Cell, Nature and Science, you get extra credit, for having clinically relevant figures in papers. But in terms of purely translational research, that has not been attractive to a number of the highest impact journals.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

And why is that?

Robert Bast, MD:

I don’t know, but over the last 40 years, the very highest science hasn’t necessarily emerged from hospitals or cancer centers. The mechanistic studies that are given the highest respect don’t necessarily take into account the heterogeneity from patient to patient, or from cancer to cancer. There’s the abstract principle that should apply to everything, and then there’s clinical medicine where the differences are really important from individual to individual.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah. I mean, a number of people that I have spoken with have, you know, talked about—I mean, some people have been pretty blunt and said that clinical medicine is just a poor handmaiden, that it’s just not as supported or respected, and it’s difficult to get funding. You know, and so that question of what is—because, you know, all science takes place in a political and social context. And it is very influenced by all of those factors, and economics as well is tied up with them. So, you know, what is that? You know, what does that add up to?

Robert Bast, MD:

Yes.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

You know, how does that influence what research gets done, how it gets done, how the findings are disseminated, you know, which obviously has been one of its impacts.

Robert Bast, MD:

Well, again, there are many translational journals that have intermediate impact, and so it’s not a question of whether this gets published, it’s more a question of where it gets published.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Where. Yeah.

Robert Bast, MD:

For PhD post-doctoral fellows to get a tenure track job on a faculty at a decent institution, they need high-impact papers somewhere on their CV to justify their hiring. There is incredible competition these days for employment.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Mm-hmm.

Robert Bast, MD:

And we’ve trained probably more PhDs than we can utilize.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Oh, really?

Robert Bast, MD:

In terms of jobs. About the only place that has excess capacity for hiring these days is in China.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Really?

Robert Bast, MD:

Yeah.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Well, I didn’t realize that there was a glut—

Robert Bast, MD:

Yes, but glut may be too strong a word.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Mm-hmm.

Robert Bast, MD:

But there’s certainly an excess.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Okay. I mean, I’m just surprised to hear that, because I guess I was making an assumption based on the comments that there were a lack of physicians, that there would also be a lack of researchers, or—

Robert Bast, MD:

No.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Not at all.

Robert Bast, MD:

And certainly in terms of PhD investigators, this relates to the fact that we’ve been the graduate school for the world for the last fifty years or so.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Oh, really? Okay.

Robert Bast, MD:

So, a number of very able people come from China, India, or other countries to join students and postdoctoral from the United States. So, there’s a very large number of able people competing for the same jobs.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Right. Right.

Robert Bast, MD:

And I think we’ve had very little birth control on the number of students recruited to graduate schools.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah, well, and it happens. I mean, there’s always a lag time with academia response to reality of the kind of market needs.

Robert Bast, MD:

Yes, and I think it’s probably only been in the last five years or so, I’m sure somebody saw this coming. But it’s only been the last five years or so that you’ve seen more of this in Science and Nature.

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Chapter 07: Rapidly Changing Science and the Pressure to Publish in High-Impact Journals

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