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[Phys-L] Science, Scientists, and the Scientific Method.

This weekend's WSJ has an interesting article about research for cure of Alzheimer disease.

It describes how much of the research focused on one putative source of the disease -- a protein called beta amyloid -- and neglected another possible source, a protein called tau. It describes how the prevalent beta amyloid hypothesis may be slowly sputtering and the tau hypothesis is finally gathering steam.

Nothing new here, except that the description of how the beta amyloid proponents fought against the tau proponents for a couple of decades made me smile.

/Dr. Wischik says he and other tau-focused scientists have been
shouted down over the years by what he calls the "amyloid
orthodoxy," a hard-charging group of researchers who believed
passionately that beta amyloid was the chief cause of the disease.
"Science is politics," he says. "And the politics of amyloid won." /

/The so-called "amyloid hypothesis" quickly gripped the field, and
attacking the protein became the main strategy for fighting
Alzheimer's. ... Meanwhile, tau researchers say they found it hard
to get research funding or to publish papers in medical journals. /


/"It was very difficult to have a good publication on tau, because
the amyloid cascade was like a dogma," says Luc Buee, a tau-focused
researcher at the French National Institute of Health and Medical
Research. "For 15 years if you were not working in the amyloid field
you were not working on Alzheimer's disease." /


/Commitment to the amyloid hypothesis persisted, however. Peter
Davies, an Alzheimer's researcher at the Feinstein Institute for
Medical Research in Manhasset, NY, recalls hearing a researcher at a
conference in the early 2000s concede that his amyloid research
results "don't fit the hypothesis, but we'll keep going till they do."/


/"I just sat there with my mouth open," he recalls./

Now, as I have said, nothing is really new here. Just a few months back we've heard last year's Nobel Prize winner tell how his research into quasi-crystals was described by Linus Pauling as pseudo-science, or his boss at NIST politely dis-inviting him from returning to his group.

But it is good to remember that scientists are not above politics; that herd mentality works among scientists too; and that vested interests viciously defending their turf and grants (and politics), while labeling their opponents "deniers," "quacks," "religious fundamentalists," or even "Republicans," (smile) and try to deny them publication in scientific journals, are not characteristic only of the middle ages.