How does a "layperson" grab the attention of research scientists?
January 3, 2013 6:42 AM   Subscribe

How does my friend get his prostate cancer research into the hands of the relevant researchers?

Over the past year, my friend (an electrical engineer by day, a science geek by night), has completed a thorough review of the scientific literature on prostate cancer, benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) and chronic prostatitis/chronic pelvic pain syndrome (CP/CPPS) and a preliminary laboratory investigation which have led him to conclude that there is a yet-to-be-identified fungal cause for these three diseases. He has collated over two dozen pieces of diverse evidence confirming this link. He is now trying to get the attention of the research community. As a research scientist (although in a different field) I have been helping him with this (as well as reviewing his work and manuscript) and whilst he has had some success in contacting high level researchers in the field, it is not enough. In his words “I pushed this forward because I felt a moral obligation. Had I decided to not publish, I’m convinced that other researchers would have reached the same conclusions within the next ten years. Such a delay would have resulted in more than a million preventable deaths.” He is inspired by the story of Dr Barry Marshall, the researcher who convincingly linked the bacterium Helicobacter pylori to stomach ulcers and who shared the Nobel Prize in 2005. It took seven years before anyone attempted to confirm Dr Marshall’s findings, resulting in over a hundred thousand preventable deaths.

List of things that he has tried

1. Publish in peer reviewed journal: the manuscript was accepted for review in one journal, but rejected outright by a single reviewer; seven other journals did not accept the manuscript for review.
2. Self-published a book summarizing his research (PubMed declined to add the book to its index, however it is indexed in Google Scholar. For those that are interested, a link to the book’s website is in my profile)
3. He mailed 113 printed copies of the book to:
a) Prostate disease researchers: reply rate low, no replies from important researchers.
b) Nature, Science, The Economist book review editors: no reply.
c) The Economist, NYT, WSJ, LA Times, Washington Post, USA Today Health/Science editors: one negative reply (subject too specific for readers), no others.
4. Met a well known prostate disease researcher for three hours. The researcher did not find anything wrong with the research but remained very skeptical; this researcher is currently looking for causative bacteria, as are most prostate disease researchers.
5. Contacted lead researcher at NIH/NIDDK: received a reply but was asked no follow-up questions.

List of things he has considered
1. Present these results at a prostate cancer/urology conference.
2. Hire leading prostate cancer researchers as consultants to comment on this work.
3. Buy publicity in Nature, Science, cancer/urology journals, print media, Google Adwords.
4. Continue trying to have print media and/or blogosphere cover this, hoping that it makes its way to many researchers (it appears that it was a National Enquirer article that stimulated interest in Dr Marshall’s work on H. pylori)

I am asking this question in order to get more ideas about what we could be doing to try and effectively reach out to researchers and have them consider this idea.

We are in Canada, but please don't restrict answers based on geography or finances.
posted by unlaced to Science & Nature (36 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Has he tried contacting people who raise funds to support prostate cancer research? If the researchers themselves seem reluctant, perhaps convincing the people who are funding their research that this is worth looking into might help sway them?

The guys who started Movember are good people...maybe they might be able to help?
posted by Grither at 7:02 AM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

First: keep trying more journals. Go straight down the chain in order of reputation. Go to overseas journals if necessary. For such a long-shot (which is what it is; sorry), 8 submissions is not nearly enough.

I'm guessing the reason he hasn't had much luck is that he doesn't have any cancer researcher coauthors. The reason he's having trouble getting researchers to sign onto his findings is that they don't want to put their reputations on the line for research that isn't primarily theirs, and it would take an extensive time investment to make it theirs. I just don't think they trust him enough to make that investment. (That's assuming there are no glaring flaws to someone familiar with the field, which I'm not.)

Honestly, the best shot he has at getting it into the scientific community as a whole is to become part of the community-- start volunteering in the lab of one of these researchers, take a part time research assistantship, or become a student at the associated universities. Is he willing to put his day job on hold? That's probably what it would take. Barry Marshall had the advantage of actually being a doctor, instead of an amateur (sorry).

Other than that, I think that from your list, his best bets are 1, 2, and 4, probably in that order. He also has to realize that these researchers probably get dozens of this type of "cold call" a month, even soliciting paid consulting, and it's hard to make them not come off as spammy.
posted by supercres at 7:02 AM on January 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Post this in the forums. while the organization is devoted to debunking quacks, they may have tips on not appearing as one. Also has he persued fungal researchers? I'll memail you a contact.
posted by Sophont at 7:03 AM on January 3, 2013

With peer reviewed journals you get feedback from the reviewers as to why you are being rejected. What did the reviews say? That's the best place to start. The fact that so many places have rejected him outright says there is some major flaw in either a) how he's presented his results or b) his actual results. I don't know which without having seen the results. Also be cognizant of the quality of journal you are applying for, he may just be aiming too high (ie. Nature, Science, etc). Find a lower tier journal.

Supercres makes a good point, right now your friend seems like an outsider that doesn't know what he is talking about to other scientists. This may or may not be true, but it is a hurdle he has to overcome. Since money is not an object, can he use this paper to get into a lab, either as a grad student or RA and be able to do some actual research (instead of just meta-analysis) on this? It might take longer, but it will be more significant.
posted by katers890 at 7:09 AM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

rejected outright by a single reviewer

Why? The way this is written it seems as if he has dismissed this dismissal, but it may provide valuable information about why the manuscript is getting rejected.

You might also be interested in listening to the This American Life episode called "So Crazy It Just Might Work," which details the frustrations (on both sides) for science researchers working with laypeople.
posted by OmieWise at 7:12 AM on January 3, 2013 [16 favorites]

There is nothing special about your friend. He has to do what we all do: publish the research in peer-reviewed journals, and give other researchers a chance to vet it. Keep trying. Once it is published somewhere, he's got a better chance of getting attention when he sends it out. It is not going to get much attention until then.

The point is, every researcher wants their research to be disseminated, and we all work hard to get it out there. Just because your friend is an outsider doesn't mean there's a magical channel available to him.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 7:18 AM on January 3, 2013

If money were not a problem I would find a junior researcher and hire them as a part-time consultant to a) review the work and b) make suggestions for future avenues for research. In doing so you're indirectly hiring his/her network as well.

Part of the problem is a network problem. The problem isn't that the guy is lacking strong ties in the field, but that his network seems entirely disconnected from the network of researchers involved in this field. To overcome that doesn't mean that he needs to cultivate strong connections to the center of the network - just that he should cultivate any kind of connection he can.
posted by mikel at 7:20 AM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I just looked at your friend's webpage. In order to be taken seriously by any biologist ever, he has got to know that the word 'species' is both singular and plural. Seeing someone refer to a singles species as a 'specie' makes me think that they are either a crank or one of my intro bio students. In either case, I would not trust their biological hypothesis regarding disease etiology. It also makes me wonder how many other redflags the reviewers saw. If he did not get comprehensive reviews of his paper with his rejections, he might consider submitting it to a paid peer-review service company to get some feedback from folks in the field.
posted by hydropsyche at 7:21 AM on January 3, 2013 [17 favorites]

1. Present these results at a prostate cancer/urology conference.

This actually should have been his first resort. Conferences are where you publish new findings, present them, and get feedback, along with meeting with other researchers. The number of conferences tends to expand to accommodate the expanding number of conference papers submitted, so odds are he will get it published somewhere.

This and getting published in a journal (possibly as part of a collaborative project with another researcher) are really his only recourse. All those other venues (The Economist, etc.) are dead ends because something isn't "research" unless it is a published, peer-reviewed work.

What were the reviewer comments in his last rejection? It is important to know so he can revise and retool his work for submission elsewhere.
posted by deanc at 7:26 AM on January 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

Your friend is behaving like a crank, and it's setting off the researchers' warning bells (many of whom are used to being contacted by cranks in this way). (Specifically, I'm talking about self-publishing the research and then mailing hundreds of copies out, as well as cold-calling research scientists and expecting immediate results.) See here and here and here for some discussion of crank behavior. Note that your friend may actually just be a crank; the research might be wrongheaded in ways that aren't immediately obvious to someone outside the field.

The This American Life episode referenced above would be good listening for both of you as a cautionary tale.
posted by gerryblog at 7:32 AM on January 3, 2013 [7 favorites]

Peer-reviewed publications are definitely the way to go, but it sounds as though your friend doesn't have a research background, so is likely not framing his argument in the language of research i.e. he probably sounds like a quack or a crank as has been mentioned previously.

Your friend seems to have a hypothesis that he believes in and is trying desperately to prove. This is the true mark of a junior or lay person with no reseach experience and might be what is preventing him from making actual headway in the scientific community. Research tends to be dispassionate.

Can he take some graduate-level courses in epidemiology including study design, research methods and biostats? This would help him to learn how research is carried out, and how results are calculated, presented and interpreted. I suspect he would also learn that his current approach is quite biased (given that he really wants to prove a point).

Unfortunately it's likely that if he were to take an epidemiological/scientific approach to his 'research', his theory would no longer be 'true'.
posted by lulu68 at 7:38 AM on January 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

I agree with other commenters that he needs to get it into a peer-reviewed journal, it's an important sign that someone knowledgeable has given your research a first pass and it's not just another complete crank theory on cancer. What is the reviewer's report like? Were there any reasons given for outright rejection from the others? It depends on the journal, but 8 rejections is not necessarily a lot depending on where you sent it. Try sending it to more journals lower down the chain (PLOS One makes decisions entirely on technical merit, not importance) or you could try sending it to a an editing service first (the BMC journals recommend Edanz) to see if they can help make it better before resubmission.
posted by penguinliz at 7:40 AM on January 3, 2013

He didn't submit that whole manuscript linked to off that page in your profile to a journal and expect it to get reviewed, did he? Journals and conferences have formats, templates, and page limits. He needs to retool that manuscript into something like what is submitted to the journals and conferences (using their templates and using the Abstract-Introduction-Background-Methods-Results/Data-Discussion/Conclusion "format" that research articles take). You can't just drop off a 50 page manuscript you typed up in Microsoft Word and expect the editors to read it.
posted by deanc at 7:50 AM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is the research specialization and passion of an immediate family member. I'm pretty sure this a pretty complicated research area and researchers will likely not listen to anyone who does not have a PhD.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:12 AM on January 3, 2013

Well, a few things. This is not exactly my field, and please don't take this as personal criticism or anything, but:

* Your friend may have an interesting hypothesis, but the document linked off your profile is over a hundred pages. Most cancer researchers are very very busy people, and do not have the time or energy to read a hundred page document written by somebody without credentials in the field. I would suggest producing a much shorter executive summary, or, as others have suggested, a conference paper.

An established researcher is, if he or she is inclined to read it, is going to first quickly glance through the abstract or introduction.

The first paragraph is: The 2010 thesis ―Antimicrobial activity of human seminal plasma and seminal plasma proteins by Dr. Anneli Edström may be one of the most important discoveries related to cancer research. This monograph reviews the scientific literature in light of Edström‘s findings, and identifies mechanisms which may be causing prostate cancer and benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH)—and possibly other diseases. As of this writing, these mechanisms comprise the most plausible hypothesis to explain the etiology of prostate disease.

My suggestion would be to rework this to make this first paragraph a stand-alone paragraph (it's like a 'hook' in fiction writing), and clearly state the proposed mechanisms. There's a lot of vagueness ('possibly other diseases'? Which ones? 'most plausible'? Based on what?).

* Your friend has a hypothesis for how prostate cancer happens. Great. What are other people's hypotheses? Why are their models wrong? Has he read the other models? Does he have criticisms? Does he agree with them in some senses? You have to realize that you're trying to pass a very high bar, particularly for people in the field. You're basically telling them that they're wrong, and that you are right. How inclined do you think people are going to be to read a 100 page document on that topic? People like to know that they've been read, anyway.

* As best as I can tell, your friend has a hypothesis and some suggestive correlations. He does not actually have any 'novel findings'. Because this is not my field, I am not in a position to design an experiment which would help him show his findings, but I would think that experimental evidence would really help a lot. Of course, experimental evidence may show the hypothesis to be false. It happens. And I guess it's not likely that you'll be doing animal experiments or cell culture work without institutional support. But what experiments would your friend propose to test his hypothesis?
posted by Comrade_robot at 8:32 AM on January 3, 2013 [6 favorites]

If I were your friend, and cost were no object, I would sponsor a grant for basic research into the fungal causes of prostate disorders. Properly advertised and you'd be nearly certain to get multiple bench-ready proposals from qualified PIs, whose findings certainly would be published if significant. Even findings consistent with the null hypothesis would get out there into the scientific record (albeit not in Nature.)
posted by MattD at 8:44 AM on January 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

He should hire a post-doc or grad student (an MD/Ph. D student would be ideal) as an editorial consultant to help him frame his work appropriately.

Agree with everyone that what he has done so far, in terms of his process and framing, is absolutely indistinguishable from random tinfoil hat crankery a la the endless parade of dudes who have invented a perpetual motion machine. He has made his work look irrelevant and unscientific. If his work is actually useful, he needs help from someone familiar with the relevant professional discourses to reshape it.

There are certainly lay people who have done literature reviews and created hypotheses of disease etiologies whose work has became part of the professional debate in medicine. Trevor Marshall is one.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:51 AM on January 3, 2013

There is a lot of tacit knowledge involved in getting one's ideas taken seriously in the research community. As others have suggested, your friend is a complete outsider who is behaving as such, and a lot of his behavior is setting off alarm bells because he simply doesn't know how to behave in that community.

To give just one example, the first page of his monograph has this statement: "The length restrictions and delays involved in peer reviewed publication motivated me to write this monograph instead. Since these findings may be necessary for the development of a preventative strategy for prostate disease, disseminating this information as quickly as possible is my primary goal."

This is classic crank behavior - e.g., "the wheels of science turn too slowly for my brilliant idea which will save millions of lives, so I have to get the information out right now!" The wheels of science turn slowly because every idea, no matter how interesting, has to be carefully vetted, often multiple times. Marshall was an extreme outlier; for every Barry Marshall there are thousands of researchers who have a great idea that simply doesn't pan out.

My suggestion is that your friend consider applying to do a masters degree in the appropriate field. This will give him an institutional home, a community of researchers to bounce ideas off of, and, most importantly, training in how to frame and pursue his ideas in a rigorous fashion.

And, if he doesn't have the time or inclination to pursue graduate training, there is always Medical Hypotheses.
posted by googly at 9:03 AM on January 3, 2013 [9 favorites]

I worked in a different field but, my PI got these sorts of emails and documents all the time. She would never in a million years have had time or interest in sitting down and reading someone's 100-page document on their theory. The only ways I can think of that you would have gotten her attention are:

1) As someone else suggested, get involved in her lab as a volunteer. If you were invested in her work, she would have made time to get invested in yours. Even then, not to read that document, but to sit down with for half an hour and hear about your idea, your review, and help you with some ideas of what to try next? Sure.

2) This one I don't think has been mentioned yet - catch her in person at a conference. She gave a lot of talks, I'm sure other well known researchers in their fields do, and it was not that uncommon for her to come back with names and contact information for five or six people who'd come up to her after the presentation to talk about their similar interests. I can't think of a case where that person was a random non-researcher trying to drum up interest in their lit review, but on the right day, in the right frame of mind, I think she might have given that person five or ten minutes. They'd have needed a really good elevator pitch to get more.

Assuming neither of these are an option, I think your friend's best bet is to continue to submit to journals and conferences, and to really pay attention to the feedback he's getting from them and learn from it.
posted by Stacey at 9:06 AM on January 3, 2013

Also not my field, so I'm just using my general academic science requirement knowledge, but I scanned the document. It does look like your friend has put in an incredible amount of work and is pretty knowledgable (leagues above the basic layman), but he needs to be way more realistic.

There should be no discussion of Nobel prizes and changing the face of medical treatments at this point, at all. This is a theory, developed without much professional criticism and with little supporting labwork.

Nature? Science? These are top-tier journals in which the vast majority of PhD-holding researchers lack publications. This is never going to happen without support from a university laboratory, and many more detailed experimental procedures. If he wants to publish only the literature review portion, he should try to do that, but he'll need help cleaning up and framing the work (agree with the other commenters on the various ways to do that).

The original research part uses four unique samples. I understand that's a lot for a guy running a lab in his house, but that's nothing in terms of establishing trends, providing proof or warranting publication. There's no statistical control. There's a lot of things that your friend can't explain (and putting "(?)" next to a possible definition/nomenclature isn't good form for manuscript/paper/book setting.) I don't think that these results will be useful for anything aside from potentially getting a researcher interested in the work. But is it compelling enough for a researcher to devote funding money, time, and people toward the theory?

Personally, I don't think anyone is going to pay attention to the theory unless he signs himself up to do a PhD and starts the research fresh under the tutelage of a professor/researcher. But that's going to require a lot of humility and preparation for failure. Not because his theory isn't good, but because a lot of theories fail, and a lot of PhD students don't make groundbreaking discoveries.

"PSP94‘s fungicidal properties shed new light on so many aspects of prostate disease that it would have been impossible to report all relevant findings in a single journal article. The length restrictions and delays involved in peer reviewed publication motivated me to write this monograph instead."

No no no. Scientists find ways to summarize their complex theories and discoveries into journal articles, so it's not impossible. This is how it's done. You can't expect the scientific community to take your work seriously if you outright dismiss the normal protocol of validating that work.
posted by Paper rabies at 9:23 AM on January 3, 2013 [7 favorites]

As a research scientist (although in a different field) I have been helping him with this

I assume you publish, right? Why didn't you help him with forming the discipline to write a succinct, to-the-point conference submission, without the grandiose declarations? Why didn't you show him what a journal or conference papers looks like?

It's not that the peer review process is so hard-- the peer review process is so easy: there's a format, you download a bunch of templates, write a good abstract, present the context of previous work in the area, and present your results. Peer reviewers will tell you what you've missed if the work is inadequate. Especially if you're submitting to a conference, there's a firm deadline (when the conference happens) by which the review process needs to be done, so it really doesn't take that long.
posted by deanc at 9:32 AM on January 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

I don't think there are any experiments? My impression is that this was a literature review, synthesis, and hypothesis based on the synthesis of existing experimental data?

Agree that partnering with a lab to do further experimentation would have been an infinitely better use of your friend's resources than printing a monograph. And may be a better use of his resources going forward than trying to get his literature review and hypothesis published in a peer-reviewed journal.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:50 AM on January 3, 2013

I am a medical scientist (albeit not one specialising in this particular field) and I have to say that this all sounds VERY iffy to me.

Is this your friend posting in this forum?

Leaving aside the validity of his argument, passing oneself off as an established scientist (Principal Investigator, Prostate Cancer Lab at Shipshaw Labs?? ... please) and asking people to contribute their medical histories is outrageously unethical, especially when dangling the prospect of a non-existent drug trial in front of them.

I initially approached this question with the best of intentions. Your friend obviously is passionate about his hypothesis and wants people to hear it. But he is also showing a stunning and dangerous naivety. Ask any scientist who does clinical work what one of the most difficult parts of their work is and they will often tell you that it is about managing patient's expectations. These are vulnerable people, which is why they are so susceptible to fly-by-night quacks who promise a boatload of dreams to further their own ends.

I only had a cursory read of the paper. (To be honest, I am too steamed up now to give it much more of my time).


- Get it smaller, or at least put a proper abstract in it

- The 'experiments' don't really show anything other than a) contaminated samples or b) contaminated plates. This elusive microbial agent (that scientists have apparently been looking for over a decade) isn't going to magically reveal itself by spreading some semen on an agar plate. You can be sure that this experiment will have been done a million times.

- As others have noted, the 'fungal cancer' field is rife with charlatans and alt-med proponents.

- Go a little easy on the whole 'I am a maverick, like Barry Marshall' schtick. This and the ''I would have saved millions of lives if those pesky scientists would just listen to me" speaks volumes about your friend's motivations.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 1:33 PM on January 3, 2013 [24 favorites]

I work in a medical research field, but not cancer research specifically.

If this were my friend, I would suggest that he apply to a PhD program with a group that does similar work. If his work has any merit at all there will he'll be able to find a PI to take him on (assuming he brings his own funding with him). This isn't the easy way to get attention -- he'd probably have to go through coursework and boring lab stuff -- but it's the best way to get academic credibility.

If we had a PhD applicant come in and say "my background is in engineering, but I've been pursuing cancer research as a hobby for X years and have learned this and this and this and I want to pursue this in a more formal environment" we'd probably be pretty interested. If they came and said "I've discovered this and this can you help me publish" we'd probably get scared off.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 2:09 PM on January 3, 2013 [5 favorites]

Like several other people here I am a biomedical researcher. This whole story gives off a big crackpot vibe. I've seen worse, but many aspects of this scenario are reminiscent of the behavior of people who do not know anything about what they are doing but think they are smarter than experts. As a scientist with limited time and resources there are many signals that engaging with this would be a big waste of my time. It appears to be more about self-aggrandizement than science or public health.

Lots of good comments above. I will underscore a few things:
  1. If this is really about the science, you have to make it about the science and not about yourself. What I've seen here is all cloaked in this narrative about how difficult it has been to get scientists to take you seriously and how important you think it is and how many people are going to die if no one takes you seriously. This may make it more interesting to a layperson, a Hollywood writer, or a journalist, but no scientist cares. If you really think you are going to save lives by getting people to take you seriously, start acting in a way that will enable it. That means getting rid of this whole narrative, which wastes the time of anyone who is seriously trying to understand your ideas.
  2. I started reading the "monograph," which, after dedication, prefaces, and acknowledgment (all of which induce eyerolling), starts with "The 2010 thesis… by Dr. Anneli Edström may be one of the most important discoveries related to cancer research." You do not have the expertise to decide what is one of the most important cancer research discoveries. It's pretty unlikely that it is going to be a thesis, though, and this is and the dramatic length enough for me to know that what follows will probably be a waste of my time. I literally have a stack of peer-reviewed, expert, and concise scientific literature to review that is already literally hundreds of pages long. This is none of the three and isn't making it onto the list. Condense and at the beginning stick to the facts, not your opinions.
  3. As noted, asking cancer patients to participate in a study which has not been vetted by an institutional review board is incredibly unethical, and would be grounds to bar the results from publication, grant funding, or consideration in further funding. Doing this makes me incredibly reluctant to provide you with even this much assistance.

posted by grouse at 2:10 PM on January 3, 2013 [23 favorites]

To expand upon my previous answer. Your friend also appears to have obtained semen samples from people undergoing treatment for BPH and CP/CPPS.

Please tell me these donors know of your friend's true background and gave fully informed consent.

Proper scientists require proper ethics clearance and mountains of paper work to perform these sort of experiments.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 2:25 PM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

A while ago a family friend came to me via a relative with a manuscript that rejected the existing scientific consensus on the cause of global warming (fossil fuel combustion) and proposed a new mechanism. I'm not a climatologist or anything like that, but I had enough expertise to recognize that, aside from issues with presentation and clarity, his ideas were based on some fundamental and very obvious misunderstandings of chemistry and the carbon cycle. I tried to let him down gently. I heard via my relative that he was not dissuaded, feels that his theory was misunderstood by me -- really I just failed to convince him that I understood it and that it was wrong -- and was going to continue trying to get his "research" into the right hands. The problem was, he had already gotten it into the right hands, and ignored what he received in response, because he didn't want to hear it -- that it was bunk, pure and simple, that he didn't have any idea what he was talking about, that he had no conception of the mountains of evidence behind the theories he was "refuting" and thus had no basis to claim that his alternative theories based on no evidence at all had any reason to be considered more likely. And moreover -- and this would be the hard part to admit -- that he was doing this because he wanted attention, to be praised for his brilliance, to have outsmarted all those egghead scientists. The poor fellow is a dentist, for God's sake.

It is the height of arrogance to presume that one can invalidate the career work and publications of hundreds of scientists -- god knows how many thousands of person-years -- by reading a few papers and proposing a new theory they were all somehow unable to see, not being clever enough. It is especially aggravating and indeed insulting when one claims to have done so without having any conception or understanding of all of the evidence that already exists. It's like claiming you've disproved global warming by showing a cooling trend in your backyard -- it might be convincing to a layman who is comparing it against a void, but a trained scientist will know about data and studies that back up the conventional wisdom that stand like a fortress against the layman's tiny sand castle. Most trained scientists will have helped build that fortress, though many of them will have tried to knock it down at some point as well. The conventional wisdom is conventional for a reason. And you may have built a very nice sand castle, but you want to go around crowning yourself king of the mountain and you don't even know about the fortress!

Your friend may be the rare contrarian genius, but it seems unlikely, because he clearly so desparately wants that recognition and attention and glory, and it means he is attached to his baby theory, and it means any study he conducts will reinforce it because he is biased to hell and will only see what he wants to see. Real scientists are not passionate about 'their research'. They are passionate about truth. They do not ask how to receive attention; they ask how to discover what is true, and they are prepared to revise their theories to fit the evidence. You can learn how to do this, and about the various fortresses that comprise the research frontier, by enrolling in a PhD program. Your friend could obtain exposure and feedback on his work, but he must adjust his mindset to become that of a truth-seeker, rather than an attention-seeker, if he hopes to get anywhere.
posted by PercussivePaul at 2:58 PM on January 3, 2013 [10 favorites]

That forum post and other related web presences of the monograph's author are MASSIVELY unethical misrepresentations. The sort of unethical that would be the kiss-of-death for obtaining grant funding or getting positive attention from a real lab.

My advice to your friend: STOP. You're passionate about this, which is lovely, but you need to go to school and learn the appropriate way to apply your scientific energies. Until you do: STOP.

My advice to you, unlaced, is to sit down and have a hard discussion with him in which you explain to him that what he is doing is deluding himself and others, and convince him to stop before he gives someone false hope or gets into [further] trouble for presenting himself as something he's not. (And if he's coming at this from a place of grief and desperation, perhaps help him find ways to process that and channel his scientific drive productively.)
posted by Westringia F. at 4:25 PM on January 3, 2013 [9 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for the responses so far, I appreciate them all. There are some great ideas here and some good reality checks for my friend.

Just to clarify a few things
1) When my friend submitted the paper to be reviewed, it was as a pure review article (not the monograph that is linked in my profile). The single reviewer’s major criticism is that it was not really a suitable review article, as there is no body of evidence/literature about fungal infections and the prostate to review. We did identify Medical Hypotheses as a potential journal but, as someone mentioned above, there was a perceived issue with quality.

2) The semen samples used in the experiments were collected with informed consent and were not from people who were being treated for any of the described conditions

3) As I understand it, my friend’s motivation is to try and find a solution to a problem which affects many men. He believes that an as yet unidentified fungus is causing a series of symptoms in men (CP/CPPS), which may lead to prostate cancer. Many people in the CP/CPPS and BPH fields are pursuing clinical studies trying to find a bacterial causative agent, though there seems to be a body of literature that supports/proves that bacteria is not the cause. He would like these people to consider searching for a causative fungus.

4) He is not in the position to go university and pursue a PhD in this subject, however, the suggestions of hiring a Post-doctoral Fellow or Junior Research to pursue some of this are good!

5) As I mentioned in the question, he has met with a high level researcher in the field, and this researcher put him in touch with the NIH contact, so although the researcher may have considered it a long shot, he must have considered the idea to have some merit. The issue is trying to engage with other researchers, to find one who may be able to help move this forward. Your comments about clarity and brevity when contacting other researchers are noted and appreciated.

6) He does not follow all the advice that I give to him!

Thank you again for all of your responses.
posted by unlaced at 5:56 PM on January 3, 2013

posted by gerryblog at 6:06 PM on January 3, 2013

In my field about 40k-ish would buy you a funded masters student for a year to work on a project that the student could ideally use as a masters or publish in some way. This would also get you a certain amount of input/supervision from a professor. You would need to convince the professor you weren't crazy upfront though, and as it stands I think your friend would scare anyone off.
posted by pseudonick at 6:14 PM on January 3, 2013

Note: I am as dubious as most of the responses, but in the interest of offering good faith askme info I wanted to expand on the idea of buying legitimate academic research (which would come with IRB review for human subjects experiments!):

My first year of graduate school was funded by a company that wanted a novel radiation detector characterized in its response to neutrons as compared to gamma radiation. They funded a research assistantship for me, in exchange I did the work and my advisor provided me with guidance on how to go about doing that. We wrote up the company a technical report under my school's name with myself and my advisor listed as authors describing the results. I know she had a sliding scale for such projects, she would take on some similar projects for free if it looked like an interesting masters project for a student, if she was skeptical of the project's merits, or the source of the project had deep pockets, the price of a project of similar scope could be in the hundreds of thousands. Based on what I've seen, your friend would definitely be paying his way.

The more money, the better quality of the research. This involves funding a student or students (tuition and stipend, minimum 40k year for one masters student) and possibly funding some portion of a professor's time (sky is the limit). The school will also take an unreasonably large sum of money for 'overhead.'

Unless your friend can throw fairly huge sums at this problem (many hundreds of thousands of dollars at least), he is not going to get the world's leading prostate cancer researchers to look at his ideas. He won't even get top researchers willing to supervise their students working on it. The world's leading cancer researchers have no trouble getting their own large grants from highly respected funding agencies. He needs to aim at young untenured professors anxious to bring in research money, even in relatively small amounts, and at less prestigious programs with unfunded students who would take on the project to be able to provide more students with support.

For any of this to work your friend would need to stop acting like the platonic example of a crank with a theory. Instead he'd need to say I want to see this researched, let's talk about what that will cost me.
posted by pseudonick at 9:04 PM on January 3, 2013

I work in biomedical research in a technical capacity (I am not a scientist). I don't know what the regulatory framework is like in where you are (your profile lists 'Montreal/Australia'?) but here in the UK you can't just do medical research on human subjects without jumping through numerous hoops. It isn't just a question of 'they gave informed consent' - your study has to get approval from an ethics committee, it has to get local R&D approval where they check that you have the qualifications needed to get genuine scientific results from the research, there are restrictions on how you treat tissue samples, you can't collect clinical data from forum posts (!) etc. There are people I work with where like 50% of their job is just making sure what we do is legal. Whatever your friend does, please make sure he isn't breaking any laws. He sounds well-intentioned and it would be a real tragedy if he ruined his life through ignorance of the legal framework surrounding this area. To reiterate: I am not a specialist in the legalities of medical research in the UK, much less in other countries.
posted by Acheman at 2:25 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

This guy is an excellent example of the distilled essence de crank, looking through the actual ideas that he has and the literature behind it, the ideas that are good don't appear to be at all original and the ideas that are original don't appear to be any good. He makes many of the predictable errors of someone who doesn't know anything about what they think they do, but desperately wants to appear to.
  • A Primary Investigator is not shorthand for a sovereign researcher not beholden to a more established one, but someone who has attracted their own funding and is primarily responsible for the good stewardship of that money as they investigate whatever line of inquiry that money was intended to support. In using that title, Martin Laurence is actively misrepresenting himself as someone responsible for someone else's money, which is not ok.
  • A laboratory is an entity that performs scientific research. There are actually people who can plausibly claim to have a laboratory in their basement, though for the last hundred years not many, but your friend is very much not one of them. He does not seem to claim to have ever actually performed research of any kind, having just combed through other people's work to produce his conclusions.
  • His forum posts seem to indicate that he thinks attracting a self selecting sample population of patients gullible enough to believe him to self report what they think they are suffering from, when, and why without any verification of any kind much less any human subjects review whatsoever represents research. Were he to ever actually collect any data he would need to continue to lie his ass of to publish it or communicate it in any way.
  • His protocol for whatever he thinks he is planning to do (an environmental survey of whatever fungi might be present in semen? a titer?) strongly indicates that he has not read many protocols, has no idea what the tools is is planning on using are for, and has no business being around human tissues.
  • I've been fascinated by cranks for a while and I think I have a decent model for understanding where it comes from, frustrated privilege. They seem to be almost exclusively white men from relatively economically privileged backgrounds, a demographic that Western society is constantly reminding from a young age is smart, talented, knows things, and HAS THINGS TO TEACH US. The practice of crankery represents a reversal of something fundamental to the honest practice of science, where it is all about finding ways to feel smart - smarter than everyone else - whereas as good scientists are constantly finding new ways to feel stupid - pushing themselves to the edge of knowledge where they know nothing and no one can help them. This guy is absolutely confined to the knowledge that is already known and published, he is not capable of honestly producing more, and so, in his desperation to feel smart like he imagines scientists to be, he tried to re-synthesize other peoples work into something coherent as a review but he is not capable of doing anything remotely like what someone with a proper education could do, much less the actual researchers involved.

    I don't know Canadian research law but in the US and the EU his plans would almost certainly be super illegal and could attract all kinds of unpleasant attention he does not want that would arrive to protect the vulnerable patients he is taking advantage of to feed his ego, please stop him.
    posted by Blasdelb at 3:16 AM on January 4, 2013 [46 favorites]

    "Shipshaw Labs", the name he operates under, is not mentioned anywhere outside of his own activity. It appears he is representing himself as "principal investigator" of a "lab" that consists solely of him, and by his own admission, his completely inadequate set of tools. Given the total lack of information on his website, and his willingness to publish his research on Amazon without even having one other qualified person look at it first, why should anyone trust him?
    posted by StrikeTheViol at 1:06 PM on January 4, 2013 [5 favorites]

    unlaced, I'd love to hear an update from you after everything that has come out of this thread and the Meta. It seems your friend has deleted his medipedia account, is that from your intervention?
    posted by Blasdelb at 5:06 AM on January 7, 2013

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