Don’t underestimate the enemy

Don’t mistake me–I am all for promoting the wonders of science and scientific research–you will be hard pressed to find a better advocate than me. And after all, there is a growing awareness among scientists that research should be translated into layman’s terms, so that the general public can have some rudimentary understanding of what we scientists are up to, day and night.

However (and this is the key “however” that comes immediately prior to the rejection of a manuscript or grant proposal), we must take special care not to over-simplify and patronize (to “dumb-down”, as the new expression says). Worse yet, we must never–and I mean never–fall prey to the danger of hubris and gloating, especially to “The Emperor of all Maladies“.

Accordingly, I was rather shocked and extremely disappointed recently to see a campaign advertisement in a highly visible and public place flaunting the “Emperor of all Maladies“.

researcher and institute intentionally obscured


Who among us does not have friends and family who suffer or have suffered and died from cancer? Can those responsible for this campaign–“Cancer Doesn’t Stand a Chance”–stand in front of the beaved families of millions of cancer victims and look them in the eye?

In my humble view, such bombastic statements are very dangerous to scientists and research, as they are simply untrue and ultimately harm the integrity and credibility of science and scientists.

Anybody care to weigh in on this one?

About Steve Caplan

I am a Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska where I mentor a group of students, postdoctoral fellows and researchers working on endocytic protein trafficking. My first lablit novel, "Matter Over Mind," is about a biomedical researcher seeking tenure and struggling to overcome the consequences of growing up with a parent suffering from bipolar disorder. Lablit novel #2, "Welcome Home, Sir," published by Anaphora Literary Press, deals with a hypochondriac principal investigator whose service in the army and post-traumatic stress disorder actually prepare him well for academic, but not personal success. Novel #3, "A Degree of Betrayal," is an academic murder mystery. "Saving One" is my most recent novel set at the National Institutes of Health. Now IN PRESS: Today's Curiosity is Tomorrow's Cure: The Case for Basic Biomedical Research (CRC PRESS, 2021). All views expressed are my own, of course--after all, I hate advertising.
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4 Responses to Don’t underestimate the enemy

  1. ricardipus says:

    A quick Google search reveals that this slogan is widely used (ok, I was trying to find the “researcher and institute” that you “intentionally obscured”. While I understand the rhetoric when used as, say, a get well card, I agree that in this sense it’s a little lot misleading.

    • Steve Caplan says:

      How resourceful! Yes, I agree, as a get well card, I certainly accept the value of that. This advertisement was placed in the airport of a major US city, clearly to sway potential patients to a certain university hospital, on what I would call fall pretenses.

  2. GAAH. This kind of thing drives me nuts. You’d think research institutes would try not to fall into the same “cure for cancer ZOMG!!1!” hyperbole as the media..

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