He’s Not A Scientist? – Get Him Out of Here

Originally posted on January 11, 2012 on Science3Point0 (now deceased)

Illustration by Adrian Forrow

I’ve just read the great piece (and very interesting comments thread) “Scientists, Share Secrets or Lose Funding: (by) Stodden and Arbesman” It reminded my of a bizarre incident that I came across myself a few years ago that I started writing about a few days ago and it ties in rather well.

What follows is factually correct.

Some background context

In my spare time, I acted as Vice-Chair for a small UK Charity 2001 – 2005.  Like many other such organisations, we didn’t have an official HQ other than (in our case) “the office” which was a spare bedroom in one of our Trustees place of residence.

We met on a bi-monthly basis at

As I reside in Glasgow, traveling through to Edinburgh was a breeze.  Getting to Sheffield was OK, traveled either by car or by train. With regards to London, back then, I would normally fly down as opposed to train these days.

By year three of my four year stint, whilst I was settled into my routine, it occurred to me that rather than flying all the way down to London and back for a two – three hour long meeting, wouldn’t it save time and money simply to join in the discussion remotely by webcam?

Given the fact that the majority of these discussions (in all three locations) were largely pretty much routine/informal in nature, this made perfect sense to me, and all my fellow Trustees fully agreed.


So this would surely proceed along the lines proposed.


I was advised by one of our three Co-opted Members (our Medical Advisors)  at that time that a certain Prof John Collinge – Director of the MRC Prion Unit also based at UCL Institute of Neurology – London strongly objected to this !!

I don’t recall the exact words as to why, but it was along the lines of “John does not allow camera’s in here”.


Armed with hindsight, I should have challenged this right away and to this day, don’t know why I didn’t.

Why was this objection so wrong?

  1. Our meetings at UCL (as the did in the other two venues) took place in a meeting room, not in a wet/dry lab room
  2. I is no grass spy
  3. All Trustees of the Charity were members of the public who had lost or were losing a relative to the disease in question who were working to a common good
  4. I could go on…

Part of the reason I think can be explained by the well known (to those who know the disease well) fact that there has been an ongoing feud between certain researchers at the Unit’s in London and Edinburgh going back over 25 years or so. Cue this Lancet piece by James Butcher in 2004. 

Now if this is how Collinge (and others like him) view members of the public, heaven only knows what his/their views are an how they treat other scientists, generally.

Moreover, it took Collinge & colleagues several years to reveal the unpublished data from their failed PRION-1 Clinical Trial  – initially at a Conference in 2007 but it took a further TWO YEARS to actually publish the data behind a paywall, naturally.

To me, the pull quote from the Stodden/Arbesman piece is:-

“As Jon Claerbout, a professor emeritus of geophysics at Stanford University, has noted, scientific publication isn’t scholarship itself, but only the advertising of scholarship. The actual work — the steps needed to reproduce the scientific finding — must be shared”.



I strongly support initiatives like AllTrials

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