After nearly 8 years as founding editor of The Scientist magazine, Richard Gallagher is stepping down to pursue new journalistic ventures. Gallagher helmed The Scientist as it grew into one of the top international outlets for reporting on trends in research, industry, politics, and ethics in the life sciences. In his final editorial for the magazine, Gallagher reviews what he predicts to be the top ten issues facing the life sciences in the years ahead. Of note, a majority of these issues revolve directly on dimensions of public engagement and how scientists interact with societal stakeholders and decision-makers. Here are Gallagher’s top ten:
1. Disengaged youngsters. No classroom experiments plus no role models equals no interest in science among the people who we want to replace us in years to come.
2. Corporate stupidity/greed. Exempting the R&D level (in needed areas such as vaccine research, “Nice Shot”), Big Pharma companies often do the wrong thing, and have the wrong motivations. So do Agbio companies.
3. Misplaced opposition from consumers to “Frankenfoods”. They are being misled: GM crops can provide quality produce at high yields without the application of chemicals, and without endangering anyone.
4. Uninterested students. Many of the best graduates rebuff a research career, lured by medicine or law or business.
5. Dramatic growth in sales of homeopathic and other ineffective “medicines.” These waste money, endanger lives and can discredit the entire field of drug discovery.
6. Misbehaving scientists. Misconduct takes a toll on the public trust, in addition to directly damaging science. We need strong codes of practice, transparency and stiff penalties.
7. Unhappy postdocs. More recognition and better career plans are needed for early career scientists, otherwise they’ll leave research for good.
8. Crafty animal rights activists. They are taking more sophisticated, long-term approaches to stop essential research. For instance, just last month Oklahoma State University administrators halted an approved study of anthrax vaccines at a new BSL-3 facility because it would have sacrificed baboons.
9. Creationism. It just won’t go away. In this issue (“Should Evolutionary Theory Evolve?”), we depict an ongoing debate over whether to formally expand our codified understanding of evolutionary theory, based on new information from epigenetics and other emerging fields. Scientists should be able to acknowledge ways to improve the theory without giving fodder to those who want to discredit it altogether.
10. A lack of politeness in scientific debate. See Steve Wiley’s column (“Mind Your Manners”). It’s an epidemic.