Friday, May 7, 2010

A Correction

So, I need to make a bit of a correction to a comment I made on April 2. I'm not bothering to copy this to Age of Autism, since it'll never see light there, but I did want to at least admit when I was wrong...well, sorta wrong.

In the AoA article I was responding to, Jake Crosby wrote:

Thorsen was the second highest listed co-author from the university that led the Danish study on the MMR.

For the thimerosal study, he specified "from the university department".

Now, I took this to imply that Jake was saying that Thorsen was second-highest listed co-author overall, which has been the general (incorrect) position of Age of Autism. Minor reading comprehension fail on my part.

However, it seems that Jake is taking a slightly different tack. Rather than second most important author overall, Jake is saying that he is second most important author from the university (or department, in the thimerosal case), as if that somehow makes the argument stronger that Thorsen had significant influence on the studies.

I'm not sure if Jake just doesn't understand scientific research, if he's playing off the AoA schtick or something else. Because, when it comes down to it, his argument is even weaker than the AoA route, despite being more grounded in fact. I guess this would be best illustrated with an example, from a lay perspective though it may be.

Suppose that several labs are collaborating on a study. There would be the main lab of Dr. Smith, at the University of Veritasia, where the primary investigator (Dr. Smith) is employed and where the majority of the work and analysis is being done, but they also involve Dr. Jones' lab at Gruntville University. The extent of the Jones lab is that a research assistant and the lab tech performed a little bit of bench work, say, creating some growth media that were then sent over to the Smith lab. Due to their work, the RA and tech get credit in the paper's author list, even though their contribution was minimal. In the resulting paper, they could be listed alphabetically or by how much they contributed to that part of the work. One would be the "highest-listed co-author from Gruntville University" and one would be second-highest.

However, in the grand scheme of the paper and the results drawn from the study, they are not particularly important. They don't have any influence on the data analysis. They don't have any influence on the conclusions. In short, they don't have any real influence on the validity of the study.

So, I was wrong about my specific complaint against Mr. Crosby. But regarding his protestations against Thorsen, the question remains, "So what?"

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