We’re #1 with “Saving One!”

It’s been a crazy 30 days since I submitted my LabLit novel, “Saving One,” to Amazon Kindle’s new publishing program, Kindle Scout. I would like to

Screen Shot 2016-06-18 at 10.49.03 AM

Saving One is #1 in HOT & TRENDING!

thank everyone who took a few seconds to go to my campaign link to nominate Saving One for a book contract. I do not know whether I will be offered one yet, but I DO KNOW that “Saving One” is ranked #1 in the HOT & TRENDING section of Kindle Scout, and has been firmly ensconced in this section for the past 24 h.

The campaign ends in about 11 hours, so for those of you haven’t yet had a chance to read the preview and nominate it, please support LabLit. It only take a few seconds, it’s free, and IF I am offered a contract, you will receive a free ebook to read. What do you have to lose?

Thanks to everyone, and I’ll keep you posted.



Posted in research, science | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on We’re #1 with “Saving One!”

Common sense policies to promote reproducibility in science

The ability of scientists to reproduce published experimental data from other laboratories is the foundation for all scientific advance. Indeed, the whole point of publishing is to educate other scientists (and the public in general) and to build a scaffold of information that will allow others, immediately or at some indeterminate time in the future, to build on the published findings and advance them to the next level. It is no wonder that recent concerns with the ability to reproduce published biomedical research have been taken very seriously by the scientific community.

How prevalent is the problem? A recent article by Monya Baker in Nature magazine sheds some light on this question; in effect, it depends on the field of science that one examines. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the more quantitative and exact sciences of physics and chemistry are a lot higher on the reproducibility scale (according to 1576 scientists who were surveyed). This, of course, is unlikely to be due to lower ethical standards in biomedical research, than, say, physics research; most likely it stems from the inherent variability in biological samples. While I will discuss some of the apparent causes for irreproducibility below, it is clear that there is great significance in ensuring the highest degree of reproducibility possible in biomedical science. Time, money, the honor of the biomedical research community, and ultimately, lives are at stake.

While there is some disagreement over the scope of the problem, I think there is likely a strong consensus among scientists that we need to do as much as we can to limit irreproducibility in science. So what should and shouldn’t be done to address the problem?

Many issues and concerns in academia and other walks of life are often superficially treated by adding administrative burden merely for an outward demonstration that “something must be done,” without taking practical steps to solve the problem. Weighing in this way is a serious mistake, which actually exacerbates the problem, because it diminishes the significance that should be attached to the issue. Unfortunately, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has adopted such bureaucratic measures, which include compelling researchers who submit grant proposals to “go through hoops” and provide a series of explanations of how they will ensure that there studies will be maximally reproducible. This, however, is unlikely to lead to any real changes in reproducibility, because researchers will simply write what they are being asked to write, in order to be eligible for funding. Simply writing that “we will verify cell lines, or test antibodies in our studies” will not improve the situation. The litmus test for reproducibility needs to be on ‘what we have done and intend to publish’ rather than on speculating vaguely on what we will do in the future if we obtain funding.

So where can reproducibility be effectively implemented? The key place to enhance reproducibility is in peer review for publication–in ensuring that papers published in scientific journals are well vetted by expert reviewers, and that the experimental design and reagents used are extremely well described. For example, the shunting of the Experimental Design section of papers to a hard-to-find supplement is unacceptable. Experimental Design (also known as Materials and Methods), should ideally be found following the Introduction section in a prominent and visible place within the manuscript. Not only should all the experiments be described in considerable detail (enough detail so that any graduate student is able to carry out the experiment described), but all of the reagents and antibodies used must be listed with their catalog numbers (and where applicable, lot numbers). This is because some reagents, such as polyclonal antibodies, are derived from the serum of animals such as rabbits. When the rabbits eventually die, and new antibodies are generated in new animals, the resulting immune response and quality/specificity of the new antibodies may be quite different than the initial batch. This is a potential problem with considerable complications, and has led to avid discussion about the use of antibodies in scientific research. While there are issues with the use of antibodies, I believe that they are too important to sideline, as suggested by some.

Scientific journals have an inherent responsibility in ensuring that the peer review process includes a careful examination of factors relating to reproducibility. While some of the factors are merely properly cataloging the reagents used, other considerations are whether the authors carried out appropriate controls to determine that the reagents (within reason) are valid or validated. This is a central and key reason why so-called “post-publication review”–or those in favor of letting readers decide on the value and significance of published papers (rather than expert reviewers) is a dangerous idea, at least for biomedical research. Many of the validations and controls that need to be done to ensure reproducibility are specific for the field of research, and any interested reader who is not acquainted with the field directly may not be able to judge such reproducibility criteria.

To make things even more challenging, many today view the internet as “the great equalizer” giving everyone an equal voice. By this scenario, outstanding journalists who write for the New York Times are no better than any individual with a Twitter account or a blog site. By the same token, for some strange reason, there are those in the realm of science who think that any website that calls itself a “scientific journal” has an equal voice to bona-fide scientific journals that carefully select editorial board members and reviewers. Every scientist in the realm of biomedicine today must be familiar with the endless junk-mails that arrive in our inboxes with requests to join editorial board. Just yesterday, another of these popped into my mailbox:

Dear Dr. Caplan, Steve,

Greetings for the day

We are completely aware of your busy schedule; however, we are taking the liberty to remind you again regarding our proposal to you, to be an honourable Editor for Source Journal of Ophthalmology.  Because we didn’t hear any reply from your side. Please accept our sincere apologies if this mail causes any inconvenience.

Awaiting for your positive reply

Source Journals
4722 E Bell Rd
Suite # 2159
Phoenix, AZ
E-mail: sjop@sourcejournals.com

We are glad to introduce our new journal Source Journal of Ophthalmology to you. Source Journal of Ophthalmology is a new journal launched by the Source Journals. With an open access publication model of this journal, all interested readers around the world can freely access articles online at http://sourcejournals.com/journal/source-journal-of-ophthalmology-sjop/ without subscription.

We are soliciting scholars to form the editorial board. This is our immense pleasure to invite you as an Editor of our journal. We aware of your international reputation, moreover, your unmatched expertise and experience will help the journal. We would be fortunate if you accept our request. If you are interested, please send your resume along with your areas of interest to sjop@sourcejournals.com.

Editor benefits:

  • Articles submitted by Editors will be published at free of cost.
  • Based on the quality of the manuscript suitable waiver can be provided for your recommended manuscripts (co-workers, students etc., referred by you).

Editor roles and responsibilities:

  • Processing of articles by assigning reviewers for the manuscript and making decision by considering the reviewer’s comments.
  • Active interaction with Source blog members.
  • Monitoring and suggestions to improve the standards and quality of Source Journals.

Kindly let us know your willingness by sending us the following

  1. Complete CV
  2. Short Biography
  3. Photograph
  4. Research Interest

Looking forward to work with you

Source Journals
4722 E Bell Rd
Suite # 2159
Phoenix, AZ
E-mail: sjop@sourcejournals.com

Aside from the embarrassing grammar, this type of very common scam-request raises crucial ethical concerns about the publishing process: if I am invited to serve on an editorial board for ophthalmology, when I have never worked in this area and have no specialization in the field, then the editorial board and review process for such a journal renders it useless. And this is but a single example of hundreds of such requests and cases that I receive (and I suspect most researchers receive) on a daily basis. The obvious concern with regard to reproducibility, is that even in highly stringent, peer reviewed journals that carefully select editors and reviewers, issues with reproducibility will crop up–but in journals such as these where there are no standards? It is a wonder there is any reproducibility in anything published in such journals.

So while many researchers typically ignore such requests and avoid such journals like the plague, there must be some critical mass of researchers that publish and read these journals, otherwise there would be no market for them. Along with the above-noted suggestions for dealing with irreproducibility, I believe that it is necessary for scientists to take on these scam journals and expose them for what they are, because they lower the standards and credibility of scientific research. We must take a stand in denouncing and actively dissociating themselves from such damaging enterprises.

However, there is much more that can be done to promote greater reproducibility in biomedical research, because as noted, there are concerns even in the most respected and prestigious journals. Some of the ways may need to be determined specifically for individual fields, as organized by researcher Dr. Daniel Klionsky for the field of autophagy. Society journals, such a the Journal of Biological Chemistry (from the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology; ASBMB) or Molecular Biology of the Cell (from the American Society of Cell Biology; ASCB) have taken initiative and either have new regulations for peer review, or publish important policy papers regarding reproducibility. Organized societies such as ASCB and ASBMB are crucial for providing the leadership and impetus for researchers to implement best practices, and I look forward to continued discussions about making biomedical science more reproducible.

Posted in research, science | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Common sense policies to promote reproducibility in science

The Wandering Jew

IMGP7954New view from our back deck. The path around the lake is precisely 1 mile.

Condemned to eternally wander from place to place? I guess that could describe my life. Born in the US when my father did a residency in Cleveland, lived in Canada in 3 different homes between ages 3-18, a year in Israel on a kibbutz, military service, 10 years as a student in Jerusalem, 4.5 years as a post-doc in Maryland at the National Institutes of Health, and 13 years in Omaha, Nebraska. 2 capitals: Jerusalem and DC.

How many homes? Cleveland: 2, Winnipeg: 3, Israel: 7 + military (I’ll count as “1,” although it was really dozens of places in 3 years), Rockville, MD: 1, Omaha 1 + 1. Total=16. On average, a move every 3 years. Does that qualify for a Wandering Jew, damned to circle the earth until the 2nd coming?

In truth, it isn’t as bad as all that. With a family and career, my last 13 happy years have been all at one residence—until last week. Why move? We loved our house and home. No one left last week without shedding tears. But sometimes change, especially advantageous change, brings freshness, new perspective, and renewal. Once the boxes have been unpacked, or course.

Another reason for the move relates to a career-related issue—an offer and long-drawn out negotiations for a position out of state. The process of seeing a new place, new possibilities, the potential for move and change—even if it didn’t actually occur—helped overcome an inertia barrier. Compared to moving labs and homes, the relocation of just a home—and only 2 miles away, was not as daunting.

Only time will tell whether this Wandering Jew has ultimately found a place to sink roots deep in the ground. But after 13 years in Nebraska, and a move to a house backing onto a lake with beautiful walking paths, it will probably take a lot to drive me away…

Our dining area, until things cool off in the late fall…


Picture window from my bedroom. Can hear frogs and toads at night.

Wide open skies of Nebraska.


The heart of the home; not much artifical light needed.

Posted in science, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

“Saving One” — my new lab lit novel

FRONT COVER-jpeg-convert

Over the past two years, I have been avidly writing and editing my new lab lit novel, Saving One. This is the story of a widowed biomedical researcher at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, who has a fateful decision to make. Both of his twin sons are diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease and require urgent transplants.

It does not take a Ph.D. in mathematics to realize the tremendous ethical dilemma that protagonist Jeffrey Coleman faces, and all this in the wake of his competitive professional life, which includes fighting for publications and his administrative burden. To complicate matters, one son is an ideal offspring, while the other son has an antagonistic relationship with his father.

I will not give away any more of the drama; suffice to say that Saving One is my most ambitious lab lit novel to date, a story that goes beyond the lab and interweaves a desperate circumstance with complex characters.

I have chosen to first try a new publishing route that, if successful, may allow the novel to reach a wider reading audience. It is called Kindle Scout. For the next 28 days, a 5000 word preview will be available on the Kindle Scout website, along with my short bio, links to my writing on websites and my 3 other published novels. Based on recommendations or NOMINATIONS on the site, and the Kindle Scout editorial staff, after the 30-day preview, the book will either be selected or not for a contract as a Kindle Scout ebook. The advantage in selection is that there is a very robust marketing campaign (and a modest royalty advance).

And now, the shameless request: I would be grateful if you, dear readers, would go to the site and NOMINATE Saving One. All that’s needed is a (free) Amazon account (any country). Just click on NOMINATE. And please, spread the word to fellow scientists: students, postdocs, PIs, technicians, doctors, colleagues, friends and family. Thank you!


Posted in research, science | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on “Saving One” — my new lab lit novel

How much is my sanity worth?

largeI think that many scientists today would likely agree that writing grants (and worrying about funding) can drive a person to insanity. A question that I’ve never really pondered until recently is “Would I trade my sanity for a grant?” And if so, what size of a grant would warrant relinquishing my treasured stable mental state?

The reason that this question penetrated my conscious thinking stemmed from an email that I received a few weeks ago from a colleague at another US university. Paraphrasing his note, he essentially told me that our collaborative grant proposal was just reviewed and was deemed worthy of funding. Yay! As a result, he was asking me to send him a variety of documents related to the proposal.

My first thought was WONDERFUL! Good for him! And good for me, too, as apparently my proposed contribution to the work had led him to ask for a significant sum for our end as well. To the tune of $30,000/year for 4 years. But then a nagging feeling hit me—yes, we are collaborators and even published a manuscript together—but I honestly couldn’t remember reading and helping write the grant. Or when it was submitted. Or even what precisely we had pledged that we would do to support the study.

Over the course of my career, one of the things that I learned to do was to delegate responsibility. Along with that skill, I also learned to “let go” of anything that I had already done or delegated to someone else to do. In layman’s terms, in one ear, and out the other. I have always maintained that my brain is not large enough to hold all the information I need, so by releasing and forgetting about things that I have completed and no longer need, I free up more space for current tasks. Just like a hard drive—although I shouldn’t flatter myself.

Well. I calculated that this must be what happened with the collaborative proposal with my colleague. Proposal written, read, edited, submitted (ages ago)—and out of sight, out of mind. On to other matters until it is reviewed. But then, being organized, I should have computerized records of some of these documents. None could be located.

Now I began to worry. I began to randomly call to memory the names of extended family members, politicians, athletes. Anything that would reassure me that I’m not losing it. $30,000 is great, but I never played professional football or boxed. Never had a traumatic head injury. Should I be forgetting such basic work-related things?

Giving up, and quite embarrassed, I wrote to my colleague and asked if he wouldn’t mind sending me a copy of the proposal. That’s when he responded, sheepishly (if that can be detected by email), that the email he sent me was intended for ANOTHER STEVE who is also a collaborator—and not me! Good or bad? Well, I lost $30,000/year of grant money for the next 4 years, but what I lost monetarily, I gained in relief. No, I’m not crazy—yet!

Posted in research, science | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

How to deal with delicate situations in the lab

Welcoming diversity in the workplace has become second nature in the US, and I would venture to guess that the biomedical workplace has been paving the way for years. The reliance on international scientific talent in the US has truly made the biomedical science laboratory a mosaic of cultures, religions, ethnic groups and nationalities that could almost outdo the United Nations in diversity. My own laboratory, since its inception 13 years ago, has seen students and postdoctoral fellows from nearly every continent, religion and culture, and overall, the tolerance and willingness to learn and empathize with others (in my lab and all others I have seen) is nothing short of remarkable.

I would further venture that based on my experiences throughout the US, this tolerance and open-minded behavior is the reigning sentiment. I know that skeptics will point out the recent racial tensions in St. Louis and other US cities, and will comment on “Black Lives Matter,” and I do recognize that there is still a way to go before things will be as they should. However, seeing my own teenagers at school, and their friends and their attitudes, I can honestly say that it appears as though the next generation will be “color blind,” “gender blind,” “sexual orientation blind,” and so on. It just isn’t an issue to them, and they truly fail to understand how such issues have been so divisive for so many for so long. I am encouraged by the spirit of the younger generation.

In this era of enlightenment and optimism, how then, do we deal with the day-to-day issues relating to tolerance in the laboratory—tolerance of those of any culture, including our own? Specifically, how do we manage to thrive if our work environment is subject to odors resulting from poor hygiene, or noises made by bodily functions that are perceived by many as unpleasant? And how can we ensure that our responses to such incidents are not viewed as being ‘intolerant?’

Many years ago, in another place and time, a graduate student joined the lab and my ‘tolerance’ was tested to the limit. She was from another country, but it was not a true cultural difference that created a rift; she was a heavy smoker. I am not only a non-smoker, but having grown up in a family with a parent who had no qualms exposing me to second-hand smoke in the home and in enclosed automobiles, I developed a severe reaction to even the slightest whiff of cigarette smoke. Yes, nausea, coughing and wheezing were probably as much psychological as physiological, but my pain was real enough.

Of course, smoking in the lab was forbidden—even in those days, when people were still inclined to pipette with their mouths—but when she would step out for a smoke and return to our tiny lab space, working back to back at the bench, her clothes, breath and hair would reek. What is the proper way to politely deal with such an issue? Is there one? Speaking quietly to the principal investigator of the lab to try and locate bench and desk space as far away as possible was the only, albeit partial, solution.

Years ago, in another lab, in another time, I became acquainted with a postdoctoral fellow with several habits that I found to be rather less than pleasant. He was an extremely likeable and helpful person—traits that made it even more difficult to broach a sensitive topic with him. He would arrive in the laboratory promptly at 8 am, head to the sink in the center of the lab space, and proceed to clear his nasal passages and throat. “Would you mind not doing that?” Or, “Could you please do that at home?” just did not seem like a compelling option for me or any of the other early-birds in the lab. Instead, 8 am became time for a coffee break in the library, far from the distracting noises in the lab.

I was reminded of these instances some time ago as I entered an elevator and caught the scent of poor hygiene/body odor emanating from the only other occupant of the elevator. She appeared to be oblivious to my discomfort, as I recalled instances when poor hygiene had been an issue with someone when I was in the military. After been forewarned and not taking corrective measures, in the military such a person was subjected to a ‘night shower,’ being carried and dumped unceremoniously in the shower, sleeping bag and all. Not a solution for the laboratory, obviously. So, how to deal with it? Grin and bear it? Grimace and bear it?

These examples, and other similar instances, are difficult issues to resolve. Sometimes they revolve around differences in culture, other times they may have more to do with socio-economic status. At times they have no nothing to do with anything—an example that’s probably no longer relevant in the realm of iPhone-carrying and headphone-wearing lab personnel is the once controversial radio channel/volume debate that every lab seemed to have. I worked in a lab once where a postdoc loved Carmen so much, that for months I couldn’t get the music out of my head.

What’s the solution? As I noted earlier, there is no magic bullet. In many cases, a more astute lab chief can minimize tensions by instituting common-sense rules that promote the most efficient workplace. For example in the case of music, if the music or volume bothers someone, then no music. After all, it is a place of work. But in other, more sensitive instances—personal hygiene and such—aside from a more efficient ventilation system, it seems difficult to find a solution where someone will not be offended.


Posted in research, science | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on How to deal with delicate situations in the lab



First, I must say that I feel more than a tinge of guilt at my lack of ‘productivity’ on the OT site in recent months. I would like to maintain that it’s my hectic schedule, science, grants, teaching, papers, reviewing–and outside the lab, the recent election to the American Society for Cell Biology’s Public Policy Committee (more on that as I learn the ropes), the imminent upcoming publication of my fourth (lab lit) novel (coming soon, to be published by Big Table Publishing: title “Saving One“). I will reserve a separate future blog for this new work, about which I am extremely excited and proud. By far my best yet, according to my editor…

I can also claim that I have been extremely preoccupied, seriously considering a job offer in the American desert Southwest, and now buying a new home here in Omaha and trying to sell the one we are in. All valid excuses. But really, have I not out-blogged myself in the past few years? Do I even have anything or interest to say any more? Time will tell, I guess.

For now, major renovations go on from the massive water damage caused by a small and insignificant fire. Our laboratory had relatively little damage, compared to others on our floor and on other floors of the 8-story research tower (Durham Research Center 1). So, we were able to continue working most of the time unhindered by the surrounding mess. However, this week it was finally time to fix up the less damaged labs, and it was our turn to shut down the lab for a day or two.


As for now, everything is ‘pending.’ A lovely word, that puts life in the lab on hold. Grants are ‘pending.’ Papers are pending. Reviews of manuscripts are pending. Frozen in time. Glacial. Inching forward with no tangible change. As the pilots call it: a ‘holding pattern.’ In my humble view, a key skill in science these days is to maintain one’s cool and confidence, and to be able to continue to be productive, even in the wake of days, weeks and even months of pending, because that is the essence of a scientific lifestyle today–everything is always pending.

Posted in research, science | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Fire and ice (water) — parallels to inflammation

The hallway in front of my lab space filled with fans for drying the moisture.

Things have been a little hectic around here recently. And to make things even more challenging, there was a fire on the floor above me last weekend. The good news is that no one was hurt, and the fire was put out by the automatic sprinkler system fairly quickly. The bad news is that it took a long time to get the water system turned off AFTER the fire was put out. It turns out that there is tremendous property damage caused by the water–damage that will take (probably) months to mitigate.

The fire was apparently caused by a piece of equipment that did not shut off, overheated and led to the fire. It was on the 8th floor of an 8-story research building. 43 laboratories appear to have been damaged by the water– relatively little equipment, but walls and ceilings and cabinets and footboards.

Water damage seen on the ceiling and the need to protect the benches and equipment for mitigation.

My mind, which is inevitably thinking about science–even in the wake of this mini-tragedy for our excellent research building–found an interesting analogy to human disease. In many diseases there is often a situation where the inherent damage due to the disease is dwarfed by the tremendous damage caused by the body’s response to the disease; if you will, the attempt to overcome the disease. A classic example is the process of chronic inflammation; studies in recent years have shown the terrible detrimental effects of chronic (as opposed to acute, temporary) inflammation, often result from the attempt to combat a disease. The initiator could be cancer, infections, etc., but the overwhelming response and damage done by a powerful inflammatory response that is meant to fight the disease is often worse than the disease itself. Just as the water-sprinkler system was designed to combat the fire, and ended up causing far more damage than the fire did. We need to train our immune systems (and sprinkler systems) to respond with appropriate (rather than overwhelming) force.

Damage in the lab.

ice at zorinsky
Fire–but also ICE in Omaha…

Posted in research, science | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Got no time for the blogger-blagger!

modern science

One of the toughest things about modern science is its all-consuming nature–it literally sucks up one’s time. And while I am unable to sit down and write a serious blog, I thought this photo nicely illustrates how scientists struggle-to-juggle their time.

Posted in research, science | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Hey, I didn’t even get the grant!

Scientists today spend a considerable chunk of their time writing: grants, protocols, manuscripts, reviews, grant reviews, etc. One of the bureaucratic requirements that most of us are familiar with is the “progress report.” Every year — or even after every six months of funding, we are obliged to send in a report detailing our progress in carrying out the aims of the grant proposal.

I think I am on fairly safe ground in claiming that although this can be time-consuming, most scientists don’t begrudge this task — they are too happy and relieved to have money for their research. However, I managed to lose my temper with such a request this week.

Into my email box came a rather stern note complaining that I had not met my deadline for submission of the annual progress report, and I was being given a final warning to submit. However, although I typically try to comply with all of my grant-related obligations, this time I unequivocally refused. No! I will not submit this report! Absolutely not! Enough bureaucracy! No! 

Yes, dear reader, I refused. I decided that I would not comply. ENOUGH is ENOUGH!

And why would I be such an adamant refusenik and troublemaker? Because the private foundation that was demanding I submit the report — read carefully, dear reader — this esteemed research foundation HAS NEVER FUNDED ME!

How my name became entangled in the web of grantees who were required to submit progress reports, I will never know. But what I do know is that every scientist has his limit — and this is where I draw a line in the sand: no funding, no progress reports! Go pick someone else’s email out of a hat…

Posted in humor, research, science | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment