Wall Street Journal Editorial 10/4/05

Preposterous Nobel

Time was when our best medical minds thought peptic ulcers were a lifestyle disease, the result of too much stress, too much spicy food, or some combination thereof. For treatment, doctorly prescriptions included time off work, chewing your food thoroughly, popping antacids and drinking quantities of milk. In severe cases, patients went under the knife to have their stomach linings removed.

So it is not altogether surprising that when Australian physician Barry Marshall suggested, at a Brussels conference in 1983, that peptic ulcers might have a bacterial cause, his findings were dismissed by colleagues as the most preposterous thing ever heard, according to his entry in the Current Biography Yearbook.

Far from being deterred, however, Dr. Marshall pursued his line of inquiry into a bacterium named Helicobacter pylori, which had been discovered by his Australian collaborator Robin Warren and which seemed to be closely associated with gastric inflammation. Dr. Marshall even went so far as to make himself a research guinea pig by drinking a microbial stew, which caused him to become ill but which further confirmed the validity of their hypothesis.

Today, the milk-and-rest cure is a thinking of the past, surgeries are rare, and a disease that affects some four million Americans annually can usually be treated successfully within a few weeks with an antibiotic cocktail. For their findings, yesterday Drs. Marshall and Warren shared this year’s Nobel Prize in Medicine and its $1.3 million prize. It’s an inspired choice and a useful reminder that just because there’s a scientific consensus, that doesn’t mean it’s true.

Wall Street Journal

Friday, September 2, 2005
Letters to the Editor
NIH Grants Culture Hinders Medical Research

The peer-reviewed grant system in place at the National Institutes of Health funds safety and mediocrity (Cash Injection: As Universities Get Billions in Grants, Some See Abuses, page one, Aug. 16). Innovative, ground-breaking proposals don’t make it successfully through the grant-scoring system.

It is an open secret in the scientific community that there are two ways of doing innovative work with government funding: Lie about what you plan to do with the money, or do the experiments first, then apply for the grant and use the money for different experiments, the results of which can be used to apply for a new grant. Thirty percent of scientific research is never cited by anyone and may as well never have been funded or done. This percentage rises in areas of heavy government funding, such as AIDS research.

The current system rewards both the mediocre investigator and the skilled and creative scientist who is willing to be unscrupulous or dishonest. Is it any wonder that the pace of medical discovery has slowed to a crawl? We need a system that rewards the honest and innovative. But the current system is broken beyond repair, and should be scrapped.

Michael A. Brooks, M.D.
Assistant Professor
Section Head of Cardiothoracic Imaging
Department of Radiology
Wake Forest University Health Sciences
Winston-Salem, N.C.


Although Cornell’s misappropriation of NIH funds may have been egregious, I feel I can state with reasonable confidence that this is standard operating procedure for the vast majority of research labs because of the ridiculous means by which the NIH earmarks funds for research. The researcher is forced to submit volumes of “preliminary data” to document the feasibility of her proposed studies. Once submitted, there is a nine-month window while she waits for approval, during which time the proposed studies continue.

If the grant is funded, the funds by default are earmarked for studies that are essentially well on their way to completion. The funds are therefore used by the researcher to generate data for the subsequent grant renewal or to pursue ideas and generate preliminary data that may turn into funded projects. If the NIH wishes to avoid this problem, the grant cycle needs to be shortened and there needs to be a funding mechanism that doesn’t require such extensive amounts of preliminary data for grant approval, especially for new researchers.

Giri Venkatraman
Content Surgical Services
Evanston, Ill.


Change the World . . . with Your Computer Joins World Community Grid

July 12, 2005:
Millions of personal computers sit idly on desks and in homes worldwide. During this idle time, the mysteries of science and space continue to elude us. What if each of the worlds estimated 650 million PCs could be linked to focus on humanity’s most pressing issues?

To make this vision a reality, has become a partner of World Community Grid, joining the IBM Corporation and a group of leading foundations, public organizations and academic institutions. is encouraging our business associates to contribute their idle PC time to World Community Grid at

World Community Grid establishes a permanent, flexible infrastructure that provides researchers with a readily available pool of computational power that can be used to solve problems plaguing humanity. Importantly, World Community Grid is easy and safe to use.

To join, business associates should go to and simply download and install a free, small software program on their computers. When idle, your computers request data from World Community Grid’s server. Computers then perform computations using this data, send the results back to the server and prompt it for a new piece of work.

World Community Grid provides our business associates with an efficient and effective way to make a difference on problems that plague humanity. We are asking our business associates to join World Community Grid as part of our overall efforts to enrich the lives of customers, their families, and our communities.

World Community Grid will address global humanitarian issues, such as:

  • New and existing infectious disease research: Researching cures for HIV and AIDS, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), malaria and others.
  • Genomic and disease research: The Human Proteome Folding project World Community Grid’s first project seeks to help identify the functions of the proteins that are coded by human genes.
  • Natural disasters and hunger: World Community Grid applications can help researchers and scientists with earthquake predictions, improving crop yields and evaluating the supply of critical natural resources like water.

What is grid technology?

Grid technology joins together many individual computers, creating a large system with massive computational power that exceeds the power of a few supercomputers. This capability can be applied, on a global scale, to very large and complex problems for the benefit of humanity.

The benefits are proven. In 2003, the IBM Corporation was one of the sponsors of a smallpox study that took advantage of grid computing. This study, using today’s largest available super computers, would have taken years to complete. With grid computing, this study was completed in less than six months and identified 45 potential smallpox-treatment candidates.

IBM’s world class and open eServer and Storage products, built with IBM’s innovative and open Middleware products like WebSphere, DB2 and managed by Tivoli, serves as the technology behind grid computing. United Devices, the market leader in highly secure grid solutions for businesses of all sizes, developed the special software application that enables World Community Grid to operate., Marist College and other leaders in the corporate community are partnering with World Community Grid and encouraging their employees and business associates to participate.