Tag Archives: History + Insights

The Rosetta stone and the genetic code


The Rosetta stone (I took the picture above earlier this year in the British museum) has become the key to decipher Hieroglyphic as it contained the same text also in Demotic Egyptian and Greek. Discovered by a French in 1799, brought to England in 1802 it become eventually translated in 1822 by Jean-François Champollion.
Continue reading The Rosetta stone and the genetic code

Truth in science (and religion)

A recent interview of Jane Glitschier in PLoS genetics with Tom Cech nicely shows the relationship of truth and research: “There is a search for absolute truth in research. You never get there—but there are criteria by which you judge how close you are. You’re always criticizing yourself and criticizing your colleagues, and they’re criticizing you. And there is a test, very often, that you can do to decide who’s right.”


Here is a difference between science and religion — Jesus told his disciples, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). Yea, yea.

False Memory

The German magazine Spiegel has a nice paper about the false memory debate and the “implanted” memory of events that never happened. They cite Hans Markowitsch from Bielefeld that the autobiographical memory is not very good in recalling past events, being much much more adapted to orientation of current and future events. Has anyone examined blogs and if their content can be recalled by the author? Nai, nai.

Alternative Impact Factors

There is no need to say that impact factors have largely failed to measure scientific value – even within selected groups (look for the Wikipedia article).

But are there any alternatives to ISI-Thompson? I haven’t found so many, the Hirsch factor, Google Scholar page rank, or Elseviers Scopus. Of course download figures of open access journals help to define popularity. But is this impact?

The latest development are citation management systems like CiteULike or Connotea that require to make all your readings public. Maybe its true what 80-year-old Garfield wrote in the BMJ: “there is no substitute for judgement, quality, and relevance. Impact and other citation measures merely report facts.” So blogs are even more important, yea, yea.

Bereshit bara Elohim et hashamayim ve’et ha’arets…

The genesis – the common book of Jewish and Christian faith – reports the begining of the world. Interestingly , the creation of living things include also genes in the same instance: “1.11 let the earth spawn grass and leaves that make seeds…” We have been told that reverse genetics may not be used any more. Whats about forward genetics? Yea, yea.

Munich, Pettenkofer, Nazis and Public Health: An obligation

Reading the biography of Max Pettenkofer you will discover unexpected turns (starting his career as a third class actor in Augsburg) but also recognize him as one of the founders of Public Health (with a big impact on Munich city development by canalization and foundation of a fire department). Munich had been on the forefront even before the foundation of the famous Boston Public Health school.

With Volksgesundheit the idea of Public Health became perverted by the Nazis. With Erbgesundheit in mind the Nazis even tried to eradicate genes from the gene pool. Munich became Hauptstadt der Bewegung, and its university even awarded Mengele (the later physician in Auschwitz) a PhD degree.

During post-war period there was probably no epidemiological research in Munich, with Public Health only an unimportant discipline in the medical curriculum. When doing a first major epidemiological study in Munich at the end of the 1980ies and a first genetic population based study in the mid 1990ies, I felt a particular obligation for informed consent where any misuse of genetic data should be avoided.

Unfortunately, these goals are being threadened by an increasing ignorance of informed consent and missing legislative framework for genetic testing in Germany.

Informed consent – what else?

Ian Chalmers pointed me to a paper on “Rethinking research ethics” by Rosamond Rhodes. She basically argues that protection of the vulnerabale (as a major rationale of informed consent) has been leading over the past decades to a “tangled web of research policies that are sometimes at cross-purposes with the goals that they should actually promote” with current research policies “too often limit research … and therefore promote practices that are unethical and unreasonable by being harmful, wasteful or both”. She tries to make this clear with footnote 9 “Parents should certainly protect their children. But, consider the bicycle riding policy that parents would adopt if they took protection to be their primary parental responsibility. Children would not be allowed to ride bicycles because it would subject them to risk of harm” and so on.
While I am always be willing to discuss dogmas, I think that current research policies on informed consent are well developed for many reasons. Voluntary consent in a democratic society is undispensable. Full information is also vital and not only a matter of protecting vulnerables but also of respect of autonomy. Self-determination leaves the proband the choice to participate e.g. sharing the investigators goals or not. Of course we should recognize when “informed consent” is perverted by just filling in another form. With a few exceptions there is no excuse for not having asked for full informed consent.
I am even shivering by her view “if the Nazi doctors’ only ethical failure in their treatment of human subjects involved lack of informed consent, their behaviour would have been no worse than that of their fellow scientists around the world”. Does she really want to affront scientist around the world? Or does she want to downplay the atrocities of the Nazis?
Coming back to her example – has she ever heard about bike helmets? It is my responsibility to minimize harm for the individual, while allowing movement forward. Yea, yea.

Analyzing the log files for this site, I found this page is retrieved frequently every day. Maybe I should expand on this topic?


Paper cemetry (is La Sombra del Viento)

-moblog- Probably inspired by reading Carlos Ruiz Zafon “La Sombra del Viento – Shadow of the Wind – Schatten des Windes” telling about a cemetry of books I wonder whether it would make sense to
have also a cemetry of rejected papers. Would that be useful to have an arXiv.org-like access to papers that will otherwise be forgotten? Yea, yea.

Geneticists and NBIA-PKAN

Geneticists continue to publish about “Hallervorden-Spatz” or “former Hallervorden-Spatz” syndrome.

The German NBIA patient group advocates for many years that these names should be abandoned (the American patient group even formally changed its name 2003). NBIA is a rare inherited neurological movement disorder characterized by the progressive degeneration of the nervous system; NBIA means “neurodegeneration with brain iron accumulation”. Another frequently used disease synonym is pantothenate kinase-associated neurodegeneration (PKAN).

The clinical syndrome has been described by the neurologist Julius Hallervorden and the neuropathologist Hugo Spatz. Robert Jay Lifton does not h>ave any material about Hallervorden and Spatz in “The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide but Ernst Klee in “Auschwitz, die NS-Medizin und ihre Opfer” and Benno Müller-Hill in “Murderous science” mentions both. Professor Hugo Spatz (1888-1969) was docent in Munich 1923, director of Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institut Berlin 1937-1945 and director of Max-Planck-Institut für Hirnforschung Gießen 1948-1957. Professor Julius Hallervorden (1882-1965) was department head at Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institut Berlin 1938-1945 and at MPI for Brain Research from 1948 on.

The former director of Max-Planck association Professor Hubertus Markl mentioned their involvement in Nazi euthanasia in his lecture on Oct 14, 2000 at MDC in Berlin-Buch (own translation): “Recent research showed that brains of hundreds of euthasia victims killed between 1939 and 1944 in Brandenburg-Görden, were mis-used for research purposes. In a single case Julius Hallervorden was present in person, while children were killed in Görden and brains consecutively analysed in his laboratory… As a biologist it remains for me to declare that this is an eternal dishonor for German bioscience.”