Jun 24, 2011

Interview with Prof. Lee Josephson

We have interviewed Prof. Lee Josephson (Harvard Medical School, USA).
Dr. Josephson received his Ph.D. in biochemistry from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Following a postdoctoral fellowship in the laboratory of Guido Guidotti (Molecular and Cellular Biology, Harvard), he was a co-founder of AMAG Pharmaceuticals (formerly Advanced Magnetics), and served as its Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer. In 1998 he joined Dr. Ralph Weissleder at the Center for Molecular Imaging Research at the Massachusetts General Hospital, and in 2008 he joined the Center for Translational Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging as the Director of New Probe Chemistry.

ARJ: Could you please do a brief introduction of your research?

My work involves several areas. One is the uses of magnetic particles in biosensors, as MR contrast agents, and for the separation and purification of materials. A second is an interest in probes for imaging cell death including agents which bind to necrotic or apoptotic cells.

ARJ: We're proud to be the first TOTAL Open Access publishers (no fee to authors or readers to publish or download), what do you think are the biggest advantages of Open Access?

Open access allows the world to read your studies, regardless of financial status.

ARJ: What do you think of publishing negative results? How can they improve our actual scientific methods?

Negative results can be extremely important if they are systematically obtained with reproducible experiments. Negative results can also be every important if there is a strong, well-based expectation of positive results. However, negative results need to be carefully screened to be sure that they are reproducible, and systematic, with proper experimental design. There needs to be a minimum body of data to make a negative result really significant. So I would set up an evaluation system:

1. Expectation of positive results

2. Quality of experimental materials and methods

3. Experimental design, including controls, statistics, etcs. Could positive really have been obtained or was that impossible because the experimenter was naïve?

4. Significance. This should be based on the likely reward of determining the (unknown) cause of the negative results.

ARJ: What makes negative results so different for not being usually published?

There is a strong tendency to accept the first publication as correct in almost any field. Then those who attempt to repeat the published result, and fail, are wrong and are penalized. However, this is not logical, since either the first or second result might be correct if both are done at the same scientific quality.

Negative results need to be screened for correctness by many of the same methods used to evaluate positive results. Are the materials and methods clear? Were the right techniques used? Could positive results really have been obtained?

ARJ: Are researchers used to publish negative results?

No. They're used to journals that require positive results.

ARJ: How do you normally manage negative results on your lab?

First, I screen them very carefully to see that the experiments were properly designed and properly performed. Second, I evaluate the significance of the negative result. If the reason for the negative result were known, what would its effect be on the field?

ARJ: What are the reasons, from your point of view, that negative results are usually not reported (or published)?

People assume that negative results are likely due to experimental incompetence or poor experimental design.

ARJ: Do the government agencies promote the publication of negative results?

No, they do not.

ARJ: Thank you for your time!

Contact info:

Prof. Lee Josephson
Massachusetts General Hospital
Building 149
Charlestown, MA, 02129
Mailstop: 5406
Phone: 617-726-6478
Fax: 617-726-5708

NOTE FROM DAVID ALCANTARA: Please post your comments below trying to add something with some value. Contribute to this conversation with an insight, a practice, or a resource that we can all use to create more value. Thank you!


  1. Great summary!
    Historically Journals and Publishers have published more successful results than failures because (a) magazine space was limited and (b) they feed on our weakness -> we want instant succeses (results).

    Scientists know that a success is only obtained after toiling hard and long in the lab and overcoming many failures.

    If we as a scientific community , publish our failures, than mankind will learn from those failures fast, and we will find successes even faster.
    On Internet, magazine space is no longer a scarce resource!

  2. These comments from the professor is specially valid in the case for biosensors. As taxpayers we need to know what systems failed so as not to repeat the same experiments, saving the community a lot of energy.

  3. Your last comment is disturbing. Treating information with less rigor because it's going to a virtual site is not a step forward. This will lead to dilution of relevance and as I'm sure we've all experienced on the Internet, will make it more difficult to separate fact from fiction. The internet should be called the misinformation highway because the majority of hits you wind up with on Google are questionable.
    I expect that most journals will become virtual but I would expect them to hold the same high standards before publication or risk becoming irrelevant. It would however be useful to create a system whereby all research that is publicly funded is itemized online, whether the results are positive or negative. This would then mention if not report in detail the negative results.