Cytocentric Visionaries: Ian Mudway, King's College, UK
Part Three: We Will Know We Have Gotten Through When People Complain About the Difficulties of Publishing Data Generated under Atmospheric Oxygen
In Part Two, Dr. Henn talked with Dr. Ian Mudway about difficulties in getting publishers and the greater scientific community to embrace his important findings. Here, they discuss overcoming scientific inertia and paradigm shift. Learn more about lowering the barriers to publish scientific findings in our interview with Dr. Ian Mudway today.
How did you overcome those conditions that made it so difficult to get this work published?
IM: We have the advantage in the work that we do here on air quality. We do things at the population level and we do clinical studies. The in vivo/in vitro correlation has to make sense or the work I do intrinsically doesn’t have coherence. Individuals who never move outside their cell model have no need to worry about this issue. They carve out a safe cul-de-sac where they raise questions that are relatively easy to address. That is not to say that the work isn't valuable, but having the clinical reality in mind at all times I think keeps the work true, even if it constrains you somewhat.
I got into this business in the first place to try to understand fundamental mechanisms which play a role in human health. For me, it’s not sufficient to create some sort of complicated Sudoku-like scientific model to address biologic questions as an engine to create publications and further my career. It has to have meaning and it has to have some sort of context.
Otherwise, you can find yourself becoming very narrow, conservative, and almost anti-innovative in the one discipline which still exists in the world that should be encouraging innovation at all times.
So creating a community, being together with people working in the same area, and encouraging people to generate preliminary work that they can then take to funders to get grants and pieces of work off the ground I think that’s the best way in which we can pursue this.
What about the growing body of literature in the stem cell field with findings that oxygen control is critical to good research?
IM: This is the 'day in the sun' for the stem cell community. They are in prime position to do fantastic high impact work, which will get into the top journals. Their potential contribution to shifting this field forward and getting it taken seriously I think is going to be profound.
In our paper, we did a literature review of the field. There’s quite a lot of supportive literature out there. I hope because papers are finally emerging that we’ve knocked the metaphorical pebble out of the dam. The water will begin to flow and it will be easier to get this type of work published. I’m very optimistic that there won’t be so much institutionalized inertia within the publication community concerning this topic in future.
We will know that the argument has got through when we have people complaining about the difficulty they have attempting to publish papers which have been performed under atmospheric oxygen conditions.
That will be the sign that true paradigm shift has happened?
IM: At the beginning of this process, I was speaking to a senior colleague who was saying you kind of hope that this work, along with similar contributions across the community will shift the paradigm a little bit. It dawned on me that we have this very naïve idea that a paradigm shift happens when there’s some sort of revelatory idea and it comes to the attention of the community and it stimulates change.
My opinion now is that the work is there, but it’s being blocked because nobody is ready to fundamentally change what they’re doing. You’re the antagonist; you’re going to rock the boat, so papers get delayed. As the publication is delayed, people begin to lose faith in their message and many drift away from the topic because quite frankly they have other academic demands to meet.
Actually the paradigm shift isn’t the great idea. It’s more like the rock popping out of the dam. Once that one piece of information gets out, it enables other people to get their work out in the same area and it seems as though overnight everything’s changed. But what you’re looking at isn’t a sudden wave of new knowledge. This is the release of backed-up scientific knowledge held back by an inertia increasingly evident with scientific publishing, by a reticence to embrace something new and challenging.
Any other advice for our readers?
IM: I would always encourage people to not focus on fashion and fad, but to pause and ask themselves the fundamental questions about what they want to achieve with the model system they have. Models are only as good as the question they are designed for. Some might require physiologic oxygen and others might not.
Once you’re finished with a model and a question, you should design a new one for your new question. You should be innovative and not conservative, never simply retreading old ground for the sake of simplicity.
Thank you, Dr. Mudway, for sharing your experiences and your insights. We will be watching for your work in the future and watching for signs of water flow from that community dam.
About the Author
Alicia D Henn, PhD, MBA
Alicia Henn has been the Chief Scientific Officer of BioSpherix, Ltd for two years. Previously, she was a researcher at the Center for Biodefense Immune Modeling in Rochester, NY. Alicia obtained her PhD in molecular pharmacology and cancer therapeutics from Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, NY and her MBA from the Simon School at University of Rochester in Rochester, NY.