Jul 10, 2013

Interview with Dr. Juan Manuel Benito

It is a pleasure for us to interview last week Dr. Juan M. Benito, Tenured Scientist in the Institute for Chemical Research of CSIC (Seville, Spain).

Juan M Benito received his PhD degree in Chemistry at the University of Seville, Spain in 2001 for the development of cyclodextrin-based drug delivery systems. Then he moved to Carlsberg Laboratory, Copenhagen, Denmark, to develop combinatorial approaches to the design of artificial carbohydrate receptors under the supervision of Prof. M. Meldal.

In 2004, he enrolled the Institute for Chemical Research, CSIC - University of Seville, where he presently holds a permanent position since 2006. With more than 50 papers, he was distinguished with the “2007 Young Scientist Award of the Royal Academy of Sciences of Seville”.

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

Well, let me start by acknowledging SACSIS for considering me for this interview (actually this is the first interview I’ve ever been asked for!). In few words, my research deals with carbohydrates and how they interact with other molecules, for instance their biological receptors. Within this large research arena, we aim at exploiting this knowledge to conceive molecular systems programmed to develop particular tasks, for instance delivering a drug to a certain type of cells or selectively switching on/off the activity of a particular enzyme. We are currently engaged into the design of artificial carriers capable of targeting therapeutic genes into selected cells in the same way a virus does.

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?

Certainly, the price! or its absence. We live in the era of information, and we claim it fast and free. Science makes no difference. Indeed, it should be the arrowhead. The rise of the internet changed how publishers reach their clients during the last 15 years, the scientific community benefiting from much faster access to the latest advances and dissemination of their work. Now we might be witnessing a new change with the emergence of Open Access journals. Though some of them are already consolidated and prestigious publications, I sincerely don’t see a future in which Open Access publishers take over the business, but maybe they can force traditional publishers to change their pace again. Maybe this is the biggest advantage of “Open Access” for the scientists.

ARJ: What is your opinion about publication bias? What do you think is it due to?

From the point of view of Science as a body, any type of bias, including publication bias, should be discouraged. But this romantic view has to face reality, where individual researches compete for limited resources with their peers. Their work is continuously ranked and scrutinized by their funding agencies in terms of the results that they achieve (and publish) to decide whether to keep on investing on them or not. This system works (scientific progress is evident), but is far from perfect as lots of results (those that cannot be used to support the next grant application) might never see the light.

ARJ: What do you think is the impact of not publishing negative results in your field and clinical research? Can it be influenced by the editors of the journal?

Regardless of the field, if the results of an experiment are not published, it is quite likely that other researchers would end up by consuming a part of their (limited) resources repeating it. We’ve already experienced this frustration in our field when talking to colleagues in meetings and conferences. Unfortunately, it seems that, so far, this is the only communication forum for negative results. At this level it would only be a matter of resource optimization. But I am afraid that the scenario is far more complex when it comes to clinical research, where huge economic (over scientific) interests might be behind the decision of what to inform about.

ARJ: In your opinion, what is the main objection preventing the researcher from submitting negative results?

I would invoke “two” mains, the order depending of each individual researcher. The first one was already mentioned before: scientists are evaluated by their scientific production (mainly publications) and communicating negative results is not sufficiently appreciated. The second is ego.

ARJ: How do you usually manage negative results in your lab?

It is annoying when experiments do not run as planned, but a negative result can teach great lessons. It is certainly far more complex to rationalize a negative result but it usually ends by opening more doors than the one that closes. The process of rationalizing a negative to turn it into useful knowledge is very exciting and a superb academic exercise for students.

ARJ: What do you think about The All Results Journals and their scope?

The All Results Journal collects the spirit of all the above by offering a forum for dissemination of results that otherwise would lie in a drawer forever. In many senses, it is a truly pioneering initiative crashing against a monolithic establishment. Like for other pioneers, the chance of success is very limited, but even if it isn’t achieved, it might help the scientific community to realize of the potential benefits in terms of efficiency of sharing not only positive but also negative research results.

ARJ: Did you ever think about publishing your negative results?

Never negative results alone so far, I must admit. But quite often I have considered including in a paper the comparative assessment of different strategies to achieve a goal, some of them not being successful. And I have actually done it in certain occasions. Indeed this is quite common at least in chemistry. It is true that, in conventional journals, such kind of data is not welcome unless you end up by including a satisfactory solution to the proposed problem, but until this initiative was launched, it was the sole manner for sharing this knowledge.

ARJ: Do you motivate to your PhD student to consider negative results as important as positive? Do you success?

I always try to encourage students to be critical with their work and to scrutinize the results of their experiments, regardless of their positive or negative outcome. Evidently this is easier to do with positively ending experiments. I like the students to embrace the idea that experiments reflect reality, even if they run “oddly”. Thereby, if our hypothesis doesn’t fit the result, it is the hypothesis the one that has to be neglected, not the result. Do I success? Well, let’s say that I try many things…

ARJ: How would you convince all those authors who are against the publication of negative results?

That’s certainly a challenge. The argument of a pretended improved efficiency of the scientific activity as a whole might not be very convincing for those researchers that are urged to “produce” science to ensure the (economic and scientific) sustainability of their projects. Indeed, it wasn’t convincing for me when I first hear of it a while ago. It is easy to understand that these authors would stick to the “rules” rather than scattering their efforts. In my opinion, rather than being convinced by other’s arguments, authors should individually experience themselves the benefit of dissemination of negative results for their own research lines. This will be a slow moving process, but most important movements are slow.

ARJ: Thank you so much for your valuable collaboration with The All Results Journals Blog

Interview made by Dr. BelĂ©n Suarez  for The All Results Journals

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