SUBJECTS FOR ESSAYS
All students must write a 2-3 page essay, which will be reviewed by the course directors.
A number of other books have been interesting to students. Students are welcome to write on other subjects after consultation with Dr. Palmer or Dr. Rubin. These include:
The Private Science of Louis Pasteur by Gerald Geison [Princeton University Press (November 1996)] and the response by Sir Max Perutz. This was an attack on Louis Pasteur that came close to accusing him of scientific fraud. The book and the vitriolic response by Sir Max Perutz in the New York Review of Books will teach you a lot about the early days of microbiology and modern medicine and about what constitutes proof of fraud.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot [Crown Publishing Group (February 2010)]. It relates the true story of Henrietta Lacks and her cells (HeLa), the first "immortal" human cells grown in culture. Recipient of the "Best Book" Communication Award by the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine, which recognizes excellence in reporting and communicating science, engineering, and medicine to the general public.
Descartes Bones by Russell Shorto is an entertaining account of how rationalism crept into European thought with Rene Descartes as one of the seminal thinkers.
Generosity, An Enhancement by Richard Powers (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009). This book is about a woman who has been through hell and is still sublimely happy. Her teachers think this is unnatural and have her studied by psychologists and molecular biologists. It is not simple prose, but as satire on modern thought, including science, it is excellent. This novel won the National Book Award for good reason.
An Imperfect Lens by Anne Roiphe (Broadway, 2006). This is the story of a graduate student of Louis Pasteur who is sent to Egypt during a cholera epidemic to isolate the bacteria causing this public health crisis. Sometimes a good novelist explains more than a good scientific paper.
The Dutch Psychologist case: A number of ethical calamities have occurred recently which would make interesting subjects, including a massive fraud by a Dutch psychologist, Diederik Stapel of Tilburg University that had disastrous ramifications for his students and revealed weaknesses of research in that field.
Eric T. Poehlman, Ph.D., a former Professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of Vermont College of Medicine, was found to engaged in scientific misconduct in research. His research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health.
1New York Times Magazine article: Interlandi, J. An Unwelcome Discovery. Oct 22, 2006.
"Poehlman pleaded guilty to lying on a federal grant application and admitted to fabricating more than a decade's worth of scientific data on obesity, menopause and aging... By the time Poehlman came clean, his case had grown into one of the most expansive cases of scientific fraud in U.S. history.... He was only the second scientist in the United States to face criminal prosecution for falsifying research data."1
Resources from the DHHS Office of Research Integrity:
Case Summary - Eric T. Poehlman
University of Vermont College of Medicine Investigation Report
U.S. District Court "SettlementAgreement and Stipulation for New Entry of Judgement"
Marc Hauser, Ph.D., a former Professor in the Department of Psychology, Harvard University, was found to have engaged in research misconduct. His research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health.
"Hauser's work in humans and monkeys probed the biological roots of cognition and morality. He was an especially popular professor among undergraduates, and his provocative ideas attracted many collaborators as well as frequent media attention. He was a prolific scientist, in recent years averaging about one peer-reviewed article per month. But his work fell under a cloud in 2007, when members of his laboratory brought concerns about his research conduct to Harvard officials, instigating a 3-year internal investigation."2
Resource from the Office of Research Integrity:
Case Summary: Hauser, Marc
Carpenter S. Scientific misconduct. Government sanctions Harvard psychologist. Science. 2012 Sep 14;337(6100):1283.
2Carpenter S. Harvard Psychology Researcher Committed Fraud, U.S. Investigation Concludes. ScienceInsider. 2012 6 September.
Inside Job, a documentary (2010) about the recent financial crisis, written and directed by Charles Ferguson. Among the subjects explored in this film is conflict of interest, which is discussed in our course by Dr. Henry Spotnitz.
Shattered Glass (2003), a drama based on actual events written by Buzz Bissinger and Billy Ray and directed by Billy Ray. It is based on Buzz Bissinger's Vanity Fair article (September 1998) in which he describes how a young reporter's widespread fraid was exposed while working at a high profile national political magazine.
Students are welcome to write on other subjects after consultation with Dr. Palmer or Dr. Rubin.