Hi everybody, My name is Mary. I am working as Science Editor and Trainer for Academic communication at Editage.
This blog article is a first in a series, in which I will happily describe all the wonderful books, articles, in print and on the web, that I have come across over many years, words in print that have made me into the person I am today. I hope the articles will give you a glimpse of the joys of reading books in English that will make you feel research problems worth investigating, writing worth doing, and life worth living.
The book that I introduce first, since it is one of my all-time favorites is “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin” the subject of which is also my favorite person in history, Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790). Most of us are familiar with Franklin and his accomplishments, but I guess many of us might not know about his life as a boy, which he writes about candidly in the book, particularly, about his wrongdoings, and how he was able to learn from them. As we hear reports of scientists fabricating data and appropriating words or ideas, we can learn from Franklin, learn what it means to conduct oneself ethically.
Very early in the book, Franklin describes his misdoings when he was a boy of 12 years. He describes an incident where he and his colleagues carried off stones “intended for a new house near the marsh,” which were used to build a little wharf for the boys’ fishing. After the townspeople discovered the missing stones in the morning, Franklin owned up to taking them but he “pleaded the usefulness of the work.” However, Franklin’s father thought otherwise saying “nothing was useful that was not honest.”
Reading these words, reminded me of the article I had just read in Nature News , about the recent controversy over the validity of a “method to reprogram mature cells into an embryonic state by exposing them to stress.” The authors calling it a “stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency (STAP)” described in recent papers in Nature (H. Obokata et al. Nature 505, 641–647 and 676–680; 2014). In the article in Nature News, David Cyranoski reported that at a press conference, a five-person panel, including RIKEN director and Nobel-prizewinner Ryoji Noyori reported mistakes. These included “an image of an electrophoresis gel that seemed to have had a lane added in later, and plagiarism in part of the methods section.” What seems quite telling was what D. Cyranoski reported about Charles Vacanti, of Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, senior corresponding author on the first of the two papers. He writes that Dr. Vancanti “has made it clear that he has no intention of retracting unless there is compelling evidence that the data are incorrect.” While reading this, I could not help thinking about the incident of Franklin, who tried to convince the townspeople that it was acceptable to take the stones because what they made with them was excellent.
We really have to ask how we are all thinking now, in the 21st century. Have we gotten to the point of saying that data fabrication and plagiarism are acceptable, as long as the ultimate results lead to a benefit to humanity in the end? I hope not.
In the book, Franklin goes on to describe the character of his father. He writes, “At his table he liked to have, as often as he could, some sensible friend or neighbor to converse with, and always took care to start some ingenious or useful topic for discourse, which might tend to improve the minds of his children. By this means he turned our attention to what was good, just, and prudent in the conduct of life…”
Franklin admitted his error and because of it became the person we all know, and many of us, love. There are countless useful writings in this book: descriptions that made me think more deeply; others that made me chuckle a bit, or a lot, insights into human nature that lulled me into a deep, peaceful sleep. The next time we might be tempted to “borrow” the words of others, misinterpret data, or add a little “something extra” to our photo, we can recall the words of Benjamin Franklin: “Tricks and treachery are the practice of fools, that don’t have brains enough to be honest.”
勤務地 Tokyo, Japan