Lenny Guarente’s Biggest Ethical Dilemma
Dr. Leonard P. Guarente is an American biologist and director of MIT's Glenn Laboratory for the Science of Aging, where he is also a Novartis Professor of Biology. He is best known for his research on longevity and specifically for uncovering the gene in yeast that governs the organism's life span. He is the author of "Ageless Quest: One Scientist's Search for Genes That Prolong Youth," which was published in 2003 by Cold Spring Harbor Press.
Question: What is an ethical dilemma you've faced in your profession?
Leonard Guarente: I think one dilemma you always have is, our profession really depends on our being able to publish our work in peer-review journals, so what gets published has really been gone over with a fine-tooth comb. And so we review each other's papers. And you have to decide when you have a conflict of interest or not, and if someone's work is too close to yours -- they're a competitor -- I think you have to stay away from it because there's an obvious conflict of interest. A little bit less obvious if you have people whose papers -- who wrote the papers -- are from your lab, they're former post-docs or students. I think that's also a conflict of interest. And I think it's a -- there are gray areas, work that's sort of close to your work, but I mean where do you draw the line when it's okay to review someone else's work, be it a paper or a grant, and when is it not? And when is self-interest creeping in? And you know, I think it's very important that the peer review process -- as it's the best thing we have -- that it be as pure as possible. It's never going to be perfect, but I think it's worth thinking about, and it poses dilemmas on a regular basis.
Recorded on November 9, 2009
The MIT biologist says peer-review journals can be tainted by conflicts of interest.