Post Tagged with: "Science"

Halogen Bonding

Some of you may be familiar with the term “halogen bonding”. In analogy to hydrogen bonding, this weak interaction occurs between an electron donor, such as nitrogen, and a halogen (Cl, Br, I). The halogen acts as an electrophile.

Halogen Bond N...Br

This is possible because the halogen has a region of positive partial charge at its tip, the so-called sigma-hole, as shown by calculations (doi:10.1007/s00894-006-0130-2). The group of Resnati and Metrangolo in Milan have used this interaction to construct a variety of polymeric chains and networks for crystal engineering. As they discuss in their current Science paper (doi:10.1126/science.1162215), it also plays an important role for drug design, which I am particularly interested in. Many drugs on the market are halogenated aromatics. The exact role of the halogen for binding is not always known, since often it was introduced in order to tune the hydrophobicity of the compound. I suspect that in many instances, halogen bonding to a backbone carbonyl oxygen could be of importance.

Clearly, more work is required to further investigate halogen bonding in a biological context. If people want to incorporate this kind of interaction into rational drug design or crystal engineering, good quantitative models will be needed.

By August 23, 2008 15 comments general chemistry

Scientific Misconduct

This nature article discusses the results of a survey about scientific misconduct, while an editorial makes some comments.

Quote: “The 2,212 researchers we surveyed observed 201 instances of likely misconduct over a threeyear period. That’s 3 incidents per 100 researchers per year. A conservative extrapolation from our findings to all DHHS-funded researchers predicts that more than 2,300 observations of potential misconduct are made every year.” Almost 9% of the respondents had witnessed some sort of misconduct, and 37% of those incidents went unreported.

The authors conclude that, besides protecting the whistleblowers better, it is necessary “to create a zero-tolerance culture”. The editor, however, holds the opinion that one also needs to take a look at “the environment that has allowed misconduct to flourish”. In his opinion, there should be the possibility of finding a solution without ruining the career of a scientist, especially in mild cases.

I tend to follow the editor’s reasoning. In my opinion, the zero-tolerance culture already exists to a certain extent, because a scientist convicted of, e.g. faking data, can forget about his career. But the result of such a policy is clear: no-one wants to blow the whistle on a colleague, because they don’t want to end somebody else’s career and because they will make themselves very unpopular. The real problem is the way misconduct is treated at the moment: we want to identify the guilty scientist, and punish him/her.

While this makes sense for the worst cases of fraud, in milder cases one should try and ask the question *why* the misdeed was done. Take, for example, the way hospitals treat mistakes nowadays: they try to find out how it could happen, and how it can be avoided in the future. This is very sensible, because it treats the problem in a proactive way: instead of reacting to the incident by punishing somebody, future incidents are reduced by tackling the things that cause them in the first place.

If there is a lot of pressure to produce as much data as possible in a research group, it is tempting to cut a corner once in a while. Can this not partly be considered the prof’s fault? In a similar way, one should address the working atmosphere in the group in question. The problem with the academic system is that there is no informal institution to turn to, besides your boss, if you are to witness a case of scientific misconduct. So we fall back to the old issue: the only person you can contact in case of problems has all the power over you.

At the University of Toronto, a “Graduate Student Oath”, similar to the Hippocratic Oath, has been tried as a means to strengthen scientific ethics (Science). Although this is an interesting idea, I doubt it will change the behaviour of people very much.

By June 25, 2008 6 comments Uncategorized