Jack and the Beanstalk: The Real Story
Jack and the Beanstalk: The Real Story (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The story of Jack Andraka is a seductive everyman’s story — a 15-year-old wunderkind surreptitiously reading in his high school science class a scientific article he downloaded thanks to free online content initiatives, combining this with other free sources like Wikipedia and YouTube, and, using these free materials and his own ideas, he invents a cheap, effective, and novel way of testing for pancreatic cancer.

With a story like this, Andraka won a science prize and was embraced by the media — giving a TED talk, appearing on the Colbert Report, and receiving glowing coverage around the world, including accolades at the White House, the Vatican, and the Max Planck Society. He has also become a folk hero of sorts for advocates of open access (OA), who point to his story to dispute “elitist” claims that lay people can’t benefit from free online science publications, and to demonstrate clearly that society benefits immensely from OA policies. After all, here is a boy who used free online information to create a cheap, effective, and novel test for the fourth-deadliest cancer in the world.

It sounds too good to be true. And, if you’ve lived a while, you already suspect what’s coming next.

Jack Andraka comes from a well-educated, relatively affluent, and scientifically-oriented family, one that has produced another science standout (Jack’s older brother) and that could afford to buy a few articles or subscriptions. His parents also started a business in 2000, which went under a few years later. They are clearly an active, inventive, and entrepreneurial family. Given the parents’ stable careers in good fields and with good organizations, and the family’s deep science backgrounds, the economic and “layperson” aspects of his story seem less clear-cut than some would have us believe.

Let’s move on to his claims, which were startling. Using carbon nanotubes in a novel way, he sought to derive the level of serum mesothelin using a dipstick on a few drops of blood or urine, and thereby detect early signs of pancreatic cancer. The test was purported to be 90% effective at detecting mesothelin, a soluble protein thought to be associated with some early stage cancers.

But, as the saying goes, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Does Andraka have extraordinary evidence?

One paper he relied on to develop his hypothesis apparently came from the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science (PNAS), and was published in 1999. The paper was clearly speculative, stating at the end:

Soluble molecules of the mesothelin/MPF family may provide useful new marker(s) for diagnosis of ovarian carcinoma and/or monitoring its response to therapy.

These researchers speculated that serum mesothelin might have possible relevance to screening for ovarian cancer or monitoring therapy. In the paper itself, the only mention of pancreatic tissue is as a normal tissue that did not respond to the screening test the authors used. The cancerous tissues they tested included ovarian, testicular, cervical, breast, bladder, lung, and prostate, but not pancreatic. And of these, only ovarian showed a strong correlation. In some press clippings, Andraka boasts of his test being able to detect early-stage lung or ovarian cancer, but his focus is on pancreatic cancer in most instances. It’s the kind of cancer that took a close family member, and also the type of cancer that killed Steve Jobs, whom Andraka identifies as a particular hero of his.

Another paper Andraka apparently relied on is a 2001 paper published in Clinical Cancer Research. It is an analysis of a gene library, where the authors found “the tag for the mesothelin mRNA transcript . . . in seven of eight SAGE [serial analysis of gene expression] libraries derived from pancreatic carcinomas but not in the two SAGE libraries derived from normal pancreatic duct epithelial cells.” From this association study, they speculate that mesothelin overexpression may be a potential disease marker. However, they also state that because “mesothelin is known to be overexpressed in other cancers, detection of a soluble form would be unlikely to be specific for pancreatic cancer.”

A commentary on another study in Clinical Cancer Research from 2011, which it’s not clear Andraka integrated into his thinking, outlines the vast array of markers associated with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, then discusses the importance of first finding high-risk individuals, along with the potential and comparative utility of imaging studies. It ends with the much more cautious statement: “Because screening brings with it the risk of overtreatment, more controlled trials are needed to better determine the risks, benefits, and optimal approaches to pancreatic screening.”

Suffice to say that there is a vast amount of scientific information in this field — the area is complex, information is emerging, associations are unclear, and claims appropriately cautious. But one piece of research is missing — Jack Andraka’s published results. In fact, this is one of the major complaints about the Andraka story — he has never published a peer-reviewed paper of his findings, despite being an advocate of open science and free information. Instead, he seems to be focused on exploiting his claims — taking more than $100,000 in prize money for his unpublished claims, working with Intel and other corporations to develop a commercial over-the-counter test based on his approach, and possibly even filing a patent for the invention.

In December 2012, Andraka started a company called Andraka Technologies, LLC. On his LinkedIn page, he lists himself as “Founder And President.” Because he’s a minor, the resident agent for the LLC is Jane Andraka, his mother. The LLC application was filed as a walk-in application on December 21, 2012. She paid the $100 filing fee and an additional $50 fee to expedite the application. The LLC’s purpose is to “develope [sic] medical technologies.” The LLC currently has a status of “Not in Good Standing” with the state of Maryland, a status given when “the entity has not filed the current year’s Annual Report/Personal Property Return or it owes a late filing penalty.” But the fact remains that mere months after making his claims about a cancer screening test, Andraka established a company to commercially exploit what he thought he’d found.

In a fundamental way, these strategies are the antithesis of “open” — making claims that other scientists can’t examine fully, then taking rewards for the claims and trying to exploit them personally and commercially. These attempts include a rumored patent, a partnership with Intel and another commercial entity, and an LLC started to develop medical technologies.

There seems to be a good deal of self-promotion involved with the Andraka story, as well, including his own vanity Web site and some deliberate Wikipedia editing revealed in criticisms of his Wikipedia page from BioMed Critical Commentary:

The references in the Wikipedia “Jack Andraka” page were (as of accession October 13-17, 2013) largely self-references to statements and research conclusions made by Mr. Andraka, as had appeared in talks and news articles. Independent scientific sources were not cited for the research claims.

Assertions made in the Wikipedia page about Andraka patenting the test were expanded to be more fulsome and detailed, but these edits were deleted. Other references to a paper refuting mesothelin as a cancer biomarker in the sera of pacreatic and biliary cancer patients were also deleted, as was the text summarizing these findings in Wikipedia:

Pancreatic cancer patients representing multiple stages of disease did not have serum mesothelin levels higher than was normal.

As other scientists attempted to confirm the logic of Andraka’s methods and reproduce his findings from the scant information available — findings that, once again, have never been published in full — problems have emerged.

For instance, the authors of the paper contested in edits to his Wikipedia page found no association between serum mesothelin levels and pancreatic tumor stage or differentiation grade. A major problem with using mesothelin levels from serum appears to be that normal adults can have high levels and no disease. There are plenty of opportunities for false-positives, and making the test more sensitive would only increase the rate of false-positives. Sensitivity is not specificity. In addition, his claims about his test’s increased sensitivity don’t seem to matter, as currently available commercial tests for serum mesothelin levels are quite sensitive, making any claimed improvements clinically meaningless.

There are also problems with the scant and unpublished evidence backing up the claims, which as the BioMed Critical Commentary piece states:

As time has passed since May 2012, when Mr. Andraka’s project won the Intel ISEF award, inconsistency has emerged among accounts relating the sample types studied in the project.

These inconsistencies include mentioning patients with pancreatic intraepithelial neoplasia in one summary of his work then removing these in later summaries (possibly because patients with this pre-clinical version of pacreatic cancer are nearly impossible to identify); presenting data without labels on the axes of the charts shown in poster sessions and not correcting these oversights; listing drug therapies for purported patients that were non-standard for pancreatic cancer treatments; and failure to clearly describe control groups other than to say “healthy” controls.

While the media version of the Andraka story is nothing but glowing, a more complete version of the Andraka story is more chastening:

  • An open science and free information paragon doesn’t publish his claimed positive results, yet these unproven positive claims are embraced unquestioningly by some in the OA community and by more in the mass media because they fit a particular folk narrative about open science and its utility among lay people.
  • Someone benefiting from taxpayer-funded science did not feel compelled to share his results, and instead took prize money, worked with commercial funders, started his own company, and may or may not have filed a patent on the claimed invention.
  • Findings that have never been published in a peer-reviewed publication have been widely broadcast in the mass media across many continents, as if they were vetted and validated by experts. In the meantime, doubts about their veracity or reproducibility are not finding the same welcoming spotlight. This puts us right back into the sad old problem of positive claims overshadowing negative studies. More worrying this time, while negative studies have been published, the positive claims aren’t based on any published results.
  • The logic and facts on which these claims seem to be based may not even have face validity — pancreatic cancer may not be associated with increased mesothelin levels in sera, while increasing the sensitivity of serum mesothelin testing wouldn’t add specificity and would only yield more false-positives.

The list above is a mixed bag of questionable science, low accountability, attempts at personal enrichment, and limitations of public peer review.

It also may be possible this the Andraka story is collapsing under its own weight. The LLC appears to have been abandoned. The patent was only rumored but never filed. The paper we’re owed may never be seen. But as long as the accolades keep coming and accountability is not demanded, fame could continue to provide plenty of rewards for outsized claims while continuing to mislead the public and provide a source of false hopes.

So, what is the Jack Andraka story? We can’t know because he hasn’t published any paper clearly outlining his methods or findings. But his claims are looking less compelling by the day, as is his status as an open science and free information poster child. Here you have a person who could afford to buy information to complete his inquiries becoming a symbol for free information. You have claims that are outsized, but these claims have yet to be validated by strong evidence. You have a boy who has perhaps been overwhelmed by big science and big business and big fame. You have a young aspiring scientist who is not following normal scientific protocols regarding publication and peer review. You have a parent helping her son create an LLC to exploit his inventions. You have the mass media and some enthusiasts getting ahead of the facts.

Whatever the final disposition of the Andraka tale ends up being, it’s clear that the story is far from settled. In that regard, we should stop throwing the Jack Andraka story around as if we know what it means. In the final analysis, it could all be for naught.

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Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson is the CEO of RedLink and RedLink Network, a past-President of SSP, and the founder of the Scholarly Kitchen. He has worked as Publisher at AAAS/Science, CEO/Publisher of JBJS, Inc., a publishing executive at the Massachusetts Medical Society, Publishing Director of the New England Journal of Medicine, and Director of Medical Journals at the American Academy of Pediatrics. Opinions on social media or blogs are his own.


75 Thoughts on "The Jack Andraka Story — Uncovering the Hidden Contradictions Behind a Science Folk Hero"

Admittedly, however, the publication business is rather long and drawn out. The Intel science fair is the equivalent of an oral abstract presented… and so, we all know it can take some time to get from abstract to publication. With peer review, it can take a long time (between weeks to months depending on the selected journal). Not every journal can be as speedy as NEJM or JBJS….?

I do believe that reading his twitter account he has finally written and submitted the paper you request.. and as such, I might suggest that this editorial is a BIT premature.

Has the author of this article (Dr. Anderson) actually attempted to contact young Mr. Andraka about his publication? Or his lab? Or has he just lambasted the unsuspecting teenager with unfounded accusations?

Great, good to know. Now, we’ll get to finally, after a 1.5-2 years, perhaps get to see whether his claims are based on defensible science. I wonder which PLOS journal he submitted to?

The defense that “he’s in high school” rings hollow. He had plenty of time for the glamorous aspects and to start a related company. As I note in the post, he may have been overwhelmed by “big fame.” But fame isn’t science. In fact, we just had a little dust-up about glamor journals, fame, and hypocrisy, in case you didn’t see that. http://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2013/12/11/this-takes-the-prize-editor-of-new-luxury-oa-journal-boycotts-luxury-subscription-journals/

Is this how you want science to work? Lots of claims, years before the papers appear, and even then people defending untested claims because they play on our sympathies?

Just learned the paper has not been submitted yet, just to clarify. It has yet to be sent to his “mentor,” and has not been submitted to any journal yet. So, from December 29 to today, still no submission. So that tweet above, which gives the impression that the submission was being made, does not mean that any paper has been submitted to any journal yet. Andraka revealed this when I asked him via Twitter.

The comments are open. If Jack Andraka has indeed written and submitted his paper, please let us know. But given that writing the paper is one of his New Year’s resolutions for 2014 according to his Twitter feed, I don’t think this has happened.

He received the Intel award in May 2012, so he’s had more than 18 months to write and submit the related paper. You can’t blame the publication business for this 18-month-plus delay. He’s taken more than 18 months to get from abstract to pledging to write the paper. That’s not normal, especially when claims are this potentially significant. The non-existence of this paper is also not a fact that’s often brought up when the Andraka story is trotted out to support some claim about OA or open science or lay science.

I am not an MD, and make no pretensions about this. My bio is available on the site. I’m just an experienced medical editor and medical publisher. I know that we’re all human, and I am willing to stand corrected if I’ve gotten something wrong here. That’s really the kind of accountability we all need — Jack Andraka included.

kent Anderson writes:

“Someone benefiting from taxpayer-funded science did not feel compelled to share his results, and instead took prize money, worked with commercial funders, started his own company, and may or may not have filed a patent on the claimed invention.”

Scientists in all walks of life “benefiting from taxpayer-funded science […] [take] prize money, [work]with commercial funders, [start their] own company, and may or may not have filed a patent on the claimed invention.” Why do you specifically pick in Andraka? I also think you are contradicting yourself by conflating the non-publication with the possible claim of a patent (as a patent must necessarily describe the invention with enough detail for anyone “practiced in the art” to reproduce it.

” Findings that have never been published in a peer-reviewed publication have been widely broadcast in the mass media across many continents, as if they were vetted and validated by experts. In the meantime, doubts about their veracity or reproducibility are not finding the same welcoming spotlight. This puts us right back into the sad old problem of positive claims overshadowing negative studies. More worrying this time, while negative studies have been published, the positive claims aren’t based on any published results.”

The same paragraph is true about the arsenic life paper, the number of studies on claimed efficacies of candidate drugs published in high impact papers which are subsequently proved much less effective (but which are then relegated to journals with much lower impact factors, etc.), the papers by “Big Name Scientists” which remain highly cited even after they have been repeatedly proven wrong, etc….

I’m not saying everything’s perfect in science publishing or research reporting, but the incidents you cite are about published research, not just unpublished claims. Those published reports were shown to have serious problems, and practitioners in the respective fields know that. There’s no mystery there. But at least those claims had papers behind them, providing a level of detail about methods and findings that other scientists were able to evaluate.

Andraka needs to publish — that’s the main point. Right now, it looks like he’s riding high on claims alone, and that’s not the kind of scientific process we want.

Andraka’s patent application can’t be found, so he hasn’t even published anything via patent. It’s merely been rumored, and edits regarding it on Wikipedia include deletions that suggest someone wanted to keep it out of the story.

To be fair though, I don’t see anyone publicly promoting the arsenic life paper as an example of a system working at its finest. Should we then consider the Andraka story yet another cautionary tale of “science by press release” as we do the arsenic life saga?

“Should we then consider the Andraka story yet another cautionary tale of “science by press release” as we do the arsenic life saga?”

Definitely… But that has nothing to do with the value (or lack therof) of Andraka’s opinions on Open Access. I would have more respect for Kent Anderson’s post if it decried science by peer release per se, and not only when performed by people who have not yet published their findings/claims in respected journals.

I took it more as a cautionary note to address all questions with the same rigor, whether they fit your preferred narrative or not. It’s hard to declare an unpublished, unrefereed work as much of anything.

It’s hard to take an OA advocate seriously who waits 18-20 months to even write a paper based on claims made repeatedly and publicly, starts an LLC based on the claimed invention, and so forth. It’s the OA version of a meat-eating vegetarian.

It’s an interesting event that can be learned from, but there’s something about bringing the contributions of a now 16-year old kid to the forefront of a negative discussion that makes me uneasy. Maybe I’m alone with that thought, but I agree, “In the final analysis, it could all be for naught.” The grown-ups should know better.

I know it sounds a little coldhearted, but should the age/personality of the person making the claims come into play in assessing scientific rigor? If a 15 year old is used as the face of the creationist or anti-vaccine movements, are we allowed to critically analyze the public scientific statements that person makes?

Yes, I feel age should and does make a difference when a kid is center attention. Open discussion is good; but not every discussion needs to be had. If the discussion is about open access, aren’t there lots of others to involve rather than a kid? It makes me uneasy, because it feels unnecessary.

Yet, when adults bring him up as an example of why their OA assertions makes sense, that’s OK? You can’t have it both ways — exploit him to support your point of view, then say that same story can’t be analyzed closely and flaws in it criticized?

There are two separate issues here though.

1) Questioning the scientific validity of his claims – scrutiny is part of the scientific process, so this could be considered an issue. However, it has absolutely nothing to do with OA advocacy. And it still needs bearing in mind that he is in fact a 17(ish) year old, not a full time working scientist. He’s probably quite busy, and rapid publication is not necessarily the most important thing either for his future, or for humanity to benefit from what he has claimed.

2) The possible hypocrisy of him being an OA poster child, yet not having published, not necessarily being open and maybe prioritizing patents and commercializing the findings. Well, this breaks down in a number of ways:

a) It seems fairly reasonable that there are few details prior to either a formal publication and/or patent filing.

b) Commercial exploitation of the results is not in opposition to Open Access. In fact, part of the benefit of OA is to be able to generate commercial activity, and drive economic growth. Even if he did “get rich” from commercializing his work, it is still his work (enabled by OA resources) that is being exploited, and in so doing there would be a lot of money put back into the system because of it (employment, taxes, etc.)

But then we can’t even know the intentions of any possible commercialization. So far, this is essentially “unfunded” research, and to take it further will likely require additional resources. You can forgive him for not necessarily being able to follow otherwise traditional routes for that, given that he still has to finish his education.

c) Which leaves us with the possible hypocrisy of not having an OA publication. Well, we haven’t got any publication (yet), so it’s maybe a little too early to call that one. Let’s judge the actions that have been taken, not the ones that are yet to be.

It’s a very good point that in anything we say about the Andraka story, we need to bear in mind that it is an incomplete story. But that’s advice that applies equally to applying a critical eye.

The commercial benefits of OA are supposed to stem from making information available, and from that available information, economic innovation occurs, driving economic activity. Andraka has not published anything, and is seeking (apparently) through an LLC and potentially through a patent to lock up his claimed advances in commercial locks before making the evidence backing them up available. That is poor science citizenship, and contrary to the commercial claims of OA advocates. OA advocates don’t say, “Keep your inventions secret, try to make money off of them, advocate OA, and after you have all your commercial ducks in a row, then publish the evidence.” That’s backwards, so you’re mistaken here.

As for not having a publication, we’re coming up on two years since the claims were made. Can you imagine the justified outrage if a pharmaceutical company were out making claims about a new drug that would revolutionize cancer care, yet would not publish the evidence backing up these claims?

We need to have a standard here, and the standard should arise from making evidence available when claims are made, period. Anything short of this is open to criticism. When a person is also trying to lock up claimed scientific advances, supposedly made because of publicly funded research and tools, then the criticism gains an extra edge.

Just a quick comment on length of publishing time and patents. If Jack Andraka was considering a patent then he would most defiantly not want to publish as that would invalidate his potential patent. He would have to file a patent first then publish. This might explain some of the delay in publishing if he was considering a patent. This would have involved talking with lawyers and running a patent search which can take months in not years, especially if you don’t have the backing of a large corporation.

Moreover, I am not sure what definition of Open we are talking about here. “In a fundamental way, these strategies are the antithesis of “open” — making claims that other scientists can’t examine fully, then taking rewards for the claims and trying to exploit them personally and commercially. These attempts include a rumored patent, a partnership with Intel and another commercial entity, and an LLC started to develop medical technologies.”

I have yet to find a definition of Open except for the most extreme cases that eliminates all personal gain from anyone. For example, there is Red Hat which makes a profit off of Open Source software. There are Open Access publishers that make money off of publishing OA (PLOS 1, Wiley, etc.), . The internet is Open but no where is it said that companies like Google, Yahoo, etc. can’t make money off of an ‘Open’ system.

My understanding of Open is to provide the same benefits to everyone and not necessarily requiring the users to follow the same rules. There are some Open Source licenses that require people to follow the same rules and make any changes to the code open source. At the same time there are licenses that say you can do whatever you want with the code, including make money off of it. The same goes for Creative Commons. You can make you work CC-0 or very restrictive, CC-ND-NC.

The story I see is that someone not associated with universities, large companies, organizations with the resources i.e. can afford to give access to publications, can compete with these organizations because he did not need to spend a small fortune to access publications. For my understanding of Open that is what it is all about- everyone benefits, even universities, companies, individuals, people making money, people looking for no reward, etc. So where exactly is the problem?

I think you raise some very important issues. There are indeed some definitions of open that include things like reuse, “for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself” (http://www.budapestopenaccessinitiative.org/read). Does that only apply to the papers themselves, or to the ideas in the papers or the discoveries made in the papers? Is there value in everyone being able to read about a cure for cancer if we are legally prevented from using that cure? Are concepts of “open” only surface deep–do they only apply to the articles written about the knowledge but not the knowledge itself?

It also speaks to how those who exploit the openness of others without returning the same level of openness are at a great advantage. If we’re working on the same problem and you’re open about your results but I’m secretive about mine, I have a competitive advantage. If you’re open about your results and I take them a step further but hide them behind trade secrets or forbid you from taking the next steps via patents, then I am at a competitive (and financial) advantage. To use your examples above, Google, Yahoo, etc. make their money by keeping their algorithms and other trade secrets hidden from the world or by blocking others from using them via patents. They are sterling examples (pun intended) for the benefits of not being open.

I don’t have an answer to any of these questions. Research funds and jobs are strictly limited and there are more people who want to be PI’s than the system can support. There has to be some way of selecting for the best researchers and I don’t know how to do this without some level of competition, which seems in opposition to openness. There also have to be rewards offered for achievement and mostly we do this through letting discoverers lock up their IP and prevent reuse by others. Those have to be balanced with the broad sharing of knowledge and lack of barriers to experimentation that drives progress efficiently.

It is a complex set of issues. Where does “open” end and where does the personal benefit of the researcher begin?

Without getting too technical- ‘Open’ in Open Access only applies to copyright. Copyright only applies to the expression of ideas and not the ideas themselves. You need a patent to control ideas. So yes- technically one could read about a cure but not be able to use it because it is under patent. Luckily patents only last 20 years unlike copyright.

Open Access is only about access to copyrighted material. Unfortunately, because how publishing works now most ideas are only expressed behind pay-walls. So while ideas are not under copyright because they can only be accessed for a price it acts as a sort of patent (the only way to control ideas).

I guess my question is are we talking about “Open” in the sense of everything or in the case of Open Access. Kent states that this article is about Open Access but then tends to use the more generic term of “Open”. Thus my question about what Open we are talking about.

Thanks Doug. It’s something that continues to confound me, and seems an inconsistency in philosophy, albeit perhaps one that’s forced by practical considerations. I would think that being able to use ideas for the betterment of society is more important than having free access to the articles expressing those ideas, yet no one seems interested in the former and all the squabbling is going on over the latter. I’ll fight you to the death to make sure the sequence to the BRCA genes is made publicly available but it’s okay for the University of Utah to prevent anyone from using them to treat cancer. I often wonder if the OA publishing battle is but a distraction from the real fight.

Agree completely. Though I think it differs for each discipline. In mine, archaeology, there is very very little patentable material. So in a sense access to ideas is the only barrier to using them. For other disciplines the same is true- history, sociology, literature, etc. For those of us in disciplines without patents OA is the main battle. These also tend to be the areas that have the least amount of money and were a paywall might as well be a patent.

In other words, OA matter most to some and patents matter most to others in terms of ‘Open’.

Patents can be filed within a year of making an invention public. His patent application may have been pulled back simply because he missed that window. It’s unclear, but certainly no impediment to publishing a paper. Submitting a paper is not making an invention public. The paper can even be published, and the inventor would have 12 months from that date to file a patent, and the coverage would be retroactive. In fact, the published paper would add to the validity of the patent filing.

Patent searches take days, not months or years, unless you have a terrible patent attorney.

Making claims and then keeping them hidden in a black box is the antithesis of scientific, certainly, and of “open” in any philosophical sense. We can argue about various interpretations all day long, but I think any reasonable person would say that making information unavailable through action or inaction is essentially closed.

The 12 month grace period does not exist in most other countries outside of the US. Presumably if one was considering a patent they would want to use it outside of the US too. Heck chances are that even the newspaper articles might invalidate the patent overseas. The most famous example is Steve Jobs invalidating overseas patents because of one of his intro to an Apple product speeches. So yes, publishing is still a factor in getting patents.

Completely agree that a patent search takes only days but figuring out if a patent is possible e.g. prior art, may take much longer. The kid also does not have the backing of a University or large company with its own dedicated patent lawyer. Mind you he also had a whirlwind of other things going on- interviews, presumably that includes finishing school, etc. I can see all sorts of reasons not to publish right off the bat- including never publishing before. Also- how do you choose a patent lawyer? Do you open up the phone book/google? How would you know a good lawyer from a bad? If you are on your own with no advice would you even know that you only have 12 months in the US to file?

Closed! Touche in trying to end the conversation. However, science is a process not a philosophy. When Lockeed Martin creates the next generation of radar preventative material they follow the scientific method but their results might never be made public because of reasons of National Security. Does that mean that their work is not scientific, any reasonable person would say that it is still science. Would you disagree that top secret research is still science?

Re-reading your argument I see that you are creating a huge straw man argument here. Open Access has always been about access to publications. You state this is about Open Access but then switch to a much larger topic of ‘Open’. Fair enough, yes you can be critical about the general concept of “Open” but that is not the same as ‘Open Access’. Open Access is only about providing free to the user access to the publication. It has nothing to do with what one does with the information they access. There is no current OA license that says that if you cite or use the information in an OA paper then that work also has to be OA. Plenty of paywalled papers cite or use ideas or data from OA papers. OA is NOT and NEVER has been about controlling how people use the ideas presented.

For example, I could post a paper under a CC BY-ND-NC. Then a neo-nazi group could take my paper and use it in a blog post to “prove” some crap theroy of theirs, even though it does not say that. As long as they cite me, it is non-commerical, and they did not change it then there is absolutely nothing I can go about it.

This is what Open Access is about- access to the presentation of ideas. What people do with that access is up to them. Open Access would not work otherwise. If I had to ask permission every time I cite an OA article or use on OA figure then potentially the author could sabotage my work by forcing me to use their interpretations or stop me from citing their work at all. Publishing in general could not work this way, not just OA. What you are asking is not possible with OA, Paywall, or other? I think any reasonable person would say that requiring people to use ideas in the only the way they want is an unreasonable requirement of any sort of publication. Do you disagree with this?

Essential, this kid is the perfect example of OA- access to the presentation of ideas helped him. Yes- be critical of what he did with that knowledge BUT you can’t use that as an argument against Open Access. Unless you are ok with making a straw man argument? …. then I guess there is not much more to discuss.

My point about using him as an OA paragon is that he didn’t need OA to get his ideas or work done. In fact, he admits his parents paid for a lot of articles for his research. They can afford to. One thing that we have not defined at all is what a “layperson” is. Andraka is a perfect case for this. He’s called a “young scientist” in some venues, suggesting that he is not a layperson. He’s called a “high school science student” in others, which puts him a little more in the layperson camp, but not deeply into it. One of the criticisms of OA that’s emerging is that it is a solution for elites, not for the general public (i.e., “laypeople”). Andraka, coming from a scientific family with an older brother who is also a promising young scientist, may be more of an elite than OA advocates are willing to admit. That was my point. Parents with long and stable careers in scientific areas. Check. Brother also a promising young scientist. Check. So, is young Jack a “layperson”? Or an acolyte?

OA isn’t about “the presentation of ideas.” Science demands the presentation of evidence. OA is a business model for publications. Andraka has dragged his feet in making his evidence available, opening himself up for criticism. This is the mess here. He’s used as an OA paragon by some adults who ignore his scientific shortcomings. He’s used by other adults as a paragon of open science, despite there being nothing open about his science. “Open” is an overused bit of jargon applied to both science and publications. Andraka may ultimately publish OA, but he’s not been open about his science, and has not published OA yet. And he benefited from subscription-based publishing plenty. So, how is he an OA paragon? How is he a science paragon? How does his story demonstrate anything except the ability of some adult OA advocates to ignore many important details in order to advance their tired old storyline?

“Science is not a philosophy”? You lost me there. It is a process based on a philosophy. You’re just playing with false distinctions in much of the comment above. I’d urge you to accept the reality here that a young scientist made extravagant claims, has not yet backed them up with evidence (which the philosophy and process of science demand he does), and has no claim on any OA advantage as he relied on subscriptions and subscription-subsidized materials as much as anything.

As for moving from open access to open being a strawman, the entire background about OA is that science should be open. The two are related in the minds of some strong advocates of OA. Not publishing is anathema to both “open” in the larger, scientific sense and to OA. How can you be open and scientific if you don’t even publish?

“In fact, he admits his parents paid for a lot of articles for his research.” Why didn’t you add this to the article? I think that would have made a much stronger case against the “myth”. If you have a quote of him saying his parents bought most of his articles that would make a much stronger case.

“So, is young Jack a “layperson”? Or an acolyte?”- OK I get where you are going with that and I agree. I guess I need to state I agree with some of your points. News organizations love a good story even if it is not 100% factual. Not saying your wrong on all accounts just I question some of your conclusions.

“He’s used by other adults as a paragon of open science, despite there being nothing open about his science.” -maybe you see OA different than others. OA is a subset of “Open Science” but you specifically pick on OA in your article- “He has also become a folk hero of sorts for advocates of open access (OA), who point to his story to dispute “elitist” claims that lay people can’t benefit from free online science publications, and to demonstrate clearly that society benefits immensely from OA policies.” You never actual say Open Science advocate hold him up you say OA do.

“OA isn’t about “the presentation of ideas.” Science demands the presentation of evidence. OA is a business model for publications.” OK now I am lost. I agree OA can be a business model for publishing. In my and everyone’s else definition of OA it is to remove barriers, for end users, to publications. Are not publications presentations of ideas? I guess my main problem is I don’t see how you can tie OA to Open Science. Without, in my opinion (please don’t take this as an insult) being a strawman argument. I don’t know your motivations so I don’t want to accuse you of creating a strawman argument are purpose (rereading my earlier comment I realize that it does not come off that way) but maybe unintentionally.

I will agree completely that not publishing results is an example of bad Open Science but not bad OA. I agree with you-“Open” is an overused bit of jargon applied to both science and publications.

However I don’t know how you then jump to- “How does his story demonstrate anything except the ability of some adult OA advocates to ignore many important details in order to advance their tired old storyline?”

Or how you reach this- “I’d urge you to accept the reality here that a young scientist made extravagant claims, has not yet backed them up with evidence (which the philosophy and process of science demand he does), and has no claim on any OA advantage as he relied on subscriptions and subscription-subsidized materials as much as anything.”

As far as I know almost every person who has published in OA has benefit from a paid subscription of some sort. When you start from near zero OA then many of the articles cited will be behind paywall stills. As far as I know in almost every OA publication paid work is still the most cited. In other words any OA advocate who uses a paid article at any point in their research can’t be an OA advocate? Am I miss reading you?

“As for moving from open access to open being a strawman, the entire background about OA is that science should be open. The two are related in the minds of some strong advocates of OA. Not publishing is anathema to both “open” in the larger, scientific sense and to OA.”- here I think is were we get the straw man. You say because SOME OA advocates are advocates of Open Science then the two are connected. That is how I come to the straw man conclusion with your work. You take the opinions of SOME advocates and apply it to all of us (full disclosure- if you haven’t figured out yet I am an OA advocate) when really our opinions are more diverse. I for one believe in Open Science but I also believe that Open also involves choice. I believe if you want to commercialize your work that is one option. I also believe that all publications should be OA but again not my decision and I respect that. I believe that one can both commercialize work and publish OA.

So maybe the problem I really have is that your piece is not nuanced enough. You paint all OA advocates as holding the same beliefs when we are diverse. I also believe that OA and OS, while they share many of the same goals, they can be separate, as do any definition of OA I have ever seen. I think most reasonable people would agree too with this assertion of the definition of OA. Maybe you could clarify if you actually mean to tie OA and OS together or just in the case of certain advocates. If in the case of certain advocates then yes I think we are on the same page. If not we might just have to agree that we see the definition of OA very differently.

PS- you really should show where he used paid articles. It would make for a much better article then pointing to the OA ones, just my humble opinion.

Apologies for spelling and grammar errors in that last post- using a mobile on a train is not the ideal conditions for grammar and spell checking.

My observation about OA advocates using the Andraka story is that they have glossed over important points. First, they tend to characterize it as evidence that laypeople can benefit from OA policies. This is a complicated statement. There are the laypeople who are supposedly going to benefit from Andraka’s unproven pancreatic cancer screening claims. They don’t point out that these claims are only claims, with no published research to back it up. There are the laypeople in their storyline like Andraka, who are students capable of amazing discoveries because of OA. Second, they ignore the role of subscription businesses in providing information Andraka has said he’s used (without specifics yet), because that doesn’t fit their narrative. Third, they help to exaggerate the claims without asking for evidence because that supports the OA narrative. Their narrative has been used as a blunt instrument, and Andraka is part of it. Want to talk about a lack of nuance? There’s your lack of nuance. Compared to their storyline, my post is a freaking five-movement symphony of nuance.

Pointing out that he used a lot of subscription articles is part of adding nuance here, as is pointing out that he’s not exactly a prototypical layperson. I’m not sure which articles he paid for, etc., because he hasn’t published his results, so I don’t know what he’s citing in any detail. That’s the problem here, and why only so much nuance can be added. He’s not been very clear about what he’s actually demonstrated and how he got there. Methods, references, and data are all in short supply.

As to your postscript, remember that the burden of proof isn’t on me, it’s on him.

My bad, when you said- “In fact, he admits his parents paid for a lot of articles for his research.” I assumed you got such a assertion of fact from a statement he gave from something like an interview he gave, newspaper article, etc. I thought it would have made your piece stronger if you could point to an interview where he said he used non-OA sources, where you could say look his parents spent X $ on subscriptions Y and Z journals/articles.

Apologies for assuming that when you were making claims you would have sources to back any assertions of fact.

I guess the old adage about assuming is true 🙂 . That was my bad.

Not to be too pedantic but could you clarify WHO you mean when you say OA advocates. That was the nuance I was looking for not what they, whoever they are, supposedly do. I might not have been clear on that request when asking for nuance. I feel you paint all OA advocates in the same light when not everyone believes the same things i.e. why I thought you were going into a straw man argument.

If you’re just looking for a general admission that he relied on subscription papers, it’s here: http://blogs.plos.org/thestudentblog/2013/02/18/why-science-journal-paywalls-have-to-go/

Your postscript indicated you wanted specifics about where he used paid articles, and my point on that stands — I have no idea what papers he used to back up his claims. We don’t know the methods, results, or evidence base he used.

In addition to David Crotty’s example of the above, here is this:

In refuting the claim that ordinary citizens are unable to understand scholarly articles OA advocates invariably cite the example of 15-year-old US schoolboy Jack Andraka, who used Google to locate freely-available science papers on the Internet, and then applied the knowledge he had acquired from them to invent a new, rapid, and inexpensive method for detecting an increase of a protein that indicates the presence of pancreatic, ovarian, and lung cancer during its early stages (when there is a better survival rate with current treatments). This necessitated Andraka getting to grips with, amongst other things, nanotubes and cancer biochemistry. . . . If schoolchildren are able to benefit from having access to peer-reviewed scientific papers (and can occasionally devise new medical procedures as a result) it seems reasonable to assume that many ordinary citizens would be able to understand and benefit from scholarly papers published in Osborne’s fields of expertise — Greek history, Athenian law, ancient social and economic history, and Classical art and archaeology — without first having to take a degree in ancient history. We might therefore want to conclude that [claims] that the public cannot understand scholarly writing is plain wrong.

Yet, we now know Andraka’s claims are just claims, that he perhaps needed non-OA research to even arrive at those claims, that his claims are not based on a published research report, and that he is not a typical child in school.

Apologies for the lack of clarity- just want a general statement not specific articles. Thank you. Again stand by my statement that would have a better article.

Sorry, but a blog comment and another general statement are only saying it is a good example of OPEN ACCESS not OPEN SCIENCE. You said- “He’s used by other adults as a paragon of open science, despite there being nothing open about his science.” Both examples provided by David and yourself say he is an example of OA not OS.

Moreover, you point to a statement that says the same thing you say- OA advocates say (WHO!) is it all? I certainly have never said this and I am an OA advocate. From wiki-

The straw man fallacy occurs in the following pattern of argument:

Person 1 has position X.

Person 2 disregards certain key points of X and instead presents the superficially similar position Y. The position Y is a distorted version of X and can be set up in several ways, including:

Presenting a misrepresentation of the opponent’s position.
Quoting an opponent’s words out of context—i.e., choosing quotations that misrepresent the opponent’s actual intentions (see fallacy of quoting out of context).[4]
Presenting someone who defends a position poorly as the defender, then denying that person’s arguments—thus giving the appearance that every upholder of that position (and thus the position itself) has been defeated.[3]
Inventing a fictitious persona with actions or beliefs which are then criticized, implying that the person represents a group of whom the speaker is critical.
Oversimplifying an opponent’s argument, then attacking this oversimplified version.

Person 2 attacks position Y, concluding that X is false/incorrect/flawed.

This reasoning is fallacious because attacking a distorted version of a position does not address the actual position.

Here you has said OA advocates support the kid because he is a good example of Open Science- “He’s used by other adults as a paragon of open science, despite there being nothing open about his science.”. Then you tear apart his OS- I concede quite well.

HOWEVER- none of your examples have OA advocates ever saying the kid is a good example of OS. What they have said is that people can use access to papers via OA to do great things.

I think you have some good points to dispel some of the myth:
Not an average kid
Not all of his articles used were OA
He is late in publishing a paper (bad OS not OA)

However very little of this has to do with OA. At best you could argue make the argument that he is not a layperson. I think by the very fact he is 16 and invented a cancer test almost guarantees he is not a layperson. This undercuts a argument mentioned on a blog comment and by Richard that a layperson could benefit from OA not all the benefits of OA. BUT it is only a blog comment and someone else saying OA advocates. It is NOT all advocates. By ascribing these views to all advocates you are “Inventing a fictitious persona with actions or beliefs which are then criticized, implying that the person represents a group of whom the speaker is critical.”

Again not disagree with all your points but still feel you have made up “OA advocates” as some sort of group that universally use him as an example of X Y and Z when really you should call out individuals and not a whole group of people. Do disagree with my interpretation of what you have said? Do you disagree that this appears to be a straw man?

First, open science is just science, so let’s get over attaching the word “open” to that. Andraka made public claims, expanded them a few times, and has yet to provide evidence to back up these claims. So, when someone advocating OA policies points to his science as evidence that OA delivers public benefits, they aren’t pointing at anything more than claims. They are not pointing to published science.

Now, if your standard for portraying the view of so-called “OA advocates” demands that 100% of people advocating OA share the same points of view in all matters and issues, then that is an absurd standard, and you are creating an absurd, unattainable standard in order to prove your point. So, now we’re playing games again.

As one item I quoted stated, “OA advocates invariably cite the example of 15-year-old US schoolboy Jack Andraka”. This is from a journalist who covers this space a lot. I’ve been involved in this area a long time, too. We seem to see things the same way. What do you make of that?

Instead of playing logical and rhetorical games, I would urge you to focus on the core issues of duty, obligation, scientific integrity, and truth-telling. Sophistry only goes so far. The facts to take away are the ones you’ve absorbed despite some resistance — Andraka has not backed up his extravagant claims, which makes him a poor candidate to cite as evidence of anything regarding scientific achievement; his lay status is iffy and more akin to an science apprentice status; he can afford to buy, has bought, and with $100K in prize money can buy more content if he wishes, so his economic plea for OA is weak and potentially self-serving; and if you tell an OA advocate that things like literacy levels, jargon, context, and addressibility are greater barriers to using scientific information in the lay sphere than any pricing model, you very quickly get the Andraka story thrown in your face. Unquestioningly. Because it fits with the pre-fabricated narrative many OA advocates have formulated.

All I said was- “you should call out individuals and not a whole group of people”. Never asked for 100%.

It is like me saying all publishers are evil because at some point Elsiver’s parent company was a weapons manufacturer (if do so made someone evil). I would be painting all publishers as same. I think any reasonable person would agree that such an action is word as it takes a position not all publishers do. I wouldn’t do that for publishers and might be a curtsy, one I think most reasonable people would extend, that you give to proponents of OA.

“As one item I quoted stated, “OA advocates invariably cite the example of 15-year-old US schoolboy Jack Andraka”. This is from a journalist who covers this space a lot. I’ve been involved in this area a long time, too. We seem to see things the same way. What do you make of that?”- I would say nice game of telephone? Point to someone else who points to not named sources is about the same as point not named sources, just now it is secondary source.

Not doing much more than you in the article- asking that “facts” have some sort of backing. Please don’t shoot the messenger. Just asking to review some sources.

“So, when someone advocating OA policies points to his science as evidence that OA delivers public benefits, they aren’t pointing at anything more than claims. They are not pointing to published science.”- Great. I agree but why didn’t you put that in the article? Not once do you quote jack himself. You say “advocates of open access (OA)”, whomever they be, say this but never do you say Jack says X Y or Z on OA and this is why you think he- not the myth around him is wrong.

“First, open science is just science, so let’s get over attaching the word “open” to that.” I am ok with that but then why is your piece about OA and not bad science?

I am not trying to pick a fight here, I don’t know how many times I have to say I agree with the points you present, so no need to repeat them. What I really what to know is what this has to do with OA.

I can’t tell what you are saying from the piece-

A- Jack shouldn’t talk about OA because he is a bad scientist ,allegedly because he has not published his results yet?

B- Jack shouldn’t talk about OA because he was thinking of filing a patent?

C- OA advocates (those mystery people) should not talk about how OA benefited Jack because he is a bad scientist, allegedly (there are plenty of reasons why someone might be delayed in publishing, I prefer not to pass final judgment without hearing his reasons why, though I believe your concerns are very valid).

D- All or a combination of the above.

E-none of the above- I am still missing the point.

How do you connect any of the points you made with OA? Should your argument not be- so and so said this I don’t think this shows what they said? Instead of some sort of mysteries group of OA advocates that some how make this a universal OA issue?

You know, you’ve managed to make this all about OA, and I’m done. I mentioned very little in the actual post about OA — mainly pointing out that he’s not the typical layperson and has more resources in both the financial and science areas than many people in the lay public. To me, this weakens his place in any story about “look at what this layperson did with OA resources.” Add to that the likelihood that he benefited from subscription information, and the story is more nuanced and less clear.

My goal with this piece was to make people aware of how complex the reality of the situation really is. It’s not a cut-and-dried “kid finds OA articles, kid invents awesome test for dangerous cancer, kid now amazing scientist.” It’s more like “remarkable kid uses a mixture of information sources to invent something that may be good but we can’t be sure yet because we can’t evaluate it so let’s hold off waving his story around like we know what it means.”

And, point of fact, I’ve never used his story before to score any rhetorical points. As noted before, many OA advocates have been waving it around recklessly. The goal was to give them information and signal that it’s not that clear a story. They are, after all, the ones who made this story all about OA.


Great thanks for answering. Sorry it took us so long to get here. I was struck by your mention of Open and my first and subsequent, question was just trying to ascertain what was meant by “Open”. My apologies for, from what I gather in tone, annoying you with the questions and comments/taking up time. It looks like I latched on to your mentions of “Open” and was trying to make sense in how it connects when really you were using it as a literary tool/intro.

Jack Andraka won the top prize in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in which over 1,500 students participate. The fair was judged by independent experts. The criteria for being a judge in the fair is given below.

“Judges must have a B.A., B.S. or a masters degree with a minimum of six years related professional experience OR a Ph.D., M.D., or equivalent. Judges may include university faculty, corporate scientists and engineers, representatives of private, state and federal research centers and agencies, and medical researchers.”

That in of itself is a pretty major achievement and an indication his study went through fairly rigorous expert review.

It appears Jack Andraka developed a very sensitive and inexpensive test for mesothelin. I am not an expert, but whether or not that is true seems pretty straightforward. If his research on that issue was seriously flawed I doubt he would have won the price.

The second issue of whether or not mesothelin is a good marker for early stage pancreatic cancer is far more difficult and I doubt even addressed in his research. If he was successful in developing a highly sensitive, inexpensive and non evasive marker for elevated mesothelin, it seems it would in itself be a very important tool for addressing the second question.

The criteria for the prize are the ones you’d expect for students. Did they present well? Are their hypotheses testable? Are they clearly stated? Etc. Nothing validating them as likely true or verified by experts. You can’t say that was expert review for cancer diagnosis or screening. That’s a huge stretch.

The claim is that his test could detect with much greater sensitivity mesothelin which he stated to be a serum biomarker for pancreatic cancer. It was addressed clearly and repeatedly in his claim, which also expanded from time to time to include other cancers. A problem with these claims seems to be that mesothelin at high levels can exist in normal healthy people, making the test potentially sensitive for mesothelin but non-specific for pancreatic cancer. So, the potential for lots of false-positives is enormous. And we don’t even know if his test for mesothelin is that reliable or any better than what’s on the market currently. You’re jumping to conclusions, as I stated in the post, and getting ahead of the evidence.

Once the prize was won, the promotional steps that followed needed a publication of results to give the scientific community the chance to assess the scope and validity of the claims. Right now, we’re all guessing, and the guesses are getting less interesting daily as other evidence emerges.

“The criteria for the prize are the ones you’d expect for students. Did they present well? Are their hypotheses testable? Are they clearly stated? Etc. Nothing validating them as likely true or verified by experts.”

How do you know this? Are you on the selection committee?

His study was selected as the best out of 1,600 students who were all winners of their local sciences fairs from all over the world. According to the web site “This “best of the best” honor and a prize of USD 75,000 is awarded to the top Best of Category winner(s) for outstanding and innovative research, as well as the potential impact of the work.”


You don’t think they looked at his methodology and results or had someone competent to do so?

The criteria are listed on the awards’ Web site. You can examine them yourself.

Nothing you say is untrue, but it’s also not relevant to the question of whether the claims were validated by anyone qualified to assess cancer screening technologies, their clinical implications and effectiveness, etc.

There is no evidence that his project was assessed by oncology experts. There is no evidence of blinded peer-review. There is no evidence of revisions based on feedback. The criteria don’t seem capable of really exploring his claims, methodology, or findings, and the concerns raised by practicing scientists who have seen his poster presentations confirm that there are inconsistencies, logical errors, and inadequate controls.

You are reaching, here. We should follow the evidence, not create fanciful stories to whitewash the need for it. We have too many problems (vaccines + autism, anyone?) when we don’t follow the evidence.

What is the Kent Anderson Story?

Every scientist self-promotes their own work. It is a shame that science does occur by press release and fame but attacking the work of the very young AND very bright student seems to serve no purpose.

The young and the bright are above being critically analyzed? We should just give everyone making claims a pass until they’re of a certain age? No controls necessary on experiments until you turn 18?

I think Jack Andraka is sincere and enthusiastic, and incredibly bright. But he’s made some missteps from what I can tell, and his claims about pancreatic cancer screening seem outsized and potentially of very limited value. Criticizing someone’s work is fair game, especially when they are in the sciences. That’s how it works, for crying out loud.

If he were promoting his own published paper to drive readership, and we could evaluate that report, then fine. But promoting a claim and trying to build a business before we’ve even seen the basis for his claims? Not a great move in science.

Yes, let’s have the Kent Anderson story.

For example, what’s with SocialCite? This is an LLC being developed by Caldera Information Solutions, according to this http://www.stm-assoc.org/2013_12_04_Innovations_Anderson_Flash_SocialCite.pdf. Dr Anderson is apparently involved in this in a significant way.

The SocialCite website has no “About Us” tab and no link to any info about the individuals responsible for this service, which appears to have a for-profit business model. Nor are there any links to evidence of the need for or usefulness of the service anywhere on the site. So is SocialCite based on non-peer-reviewed, unpublished findings? Is this the pot calling the kettle black?

Andraka’s narrative is here http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2013-10/17/jack-andraka-wired-2013 (Paywalls mentioned at 14:50). He seems to be enthusiastic about doing some good in the world. If his science is not strong enough for TSK, he’ll no doubt learn and do things better. He should be encouraged and supported, not excoriated on the net simply because he mentioned the problems he had obtaining access to research articles.

Okay, now we’re veering off into absurdity. First, Kent is not a Dr., and no, he is not a proponent of open access nor open culture, so it’s not appropriate to hold him to the same standards as the work of the (literal) poster child for these movements. I have no idea what SocialCite is, but I sincerely doubt that it has been proposed by activists as a model achievement for how scientific research and publication is supposed to occur.

The article was not meant as an anti-Andraka polemic, but instead to question the dogma that has sprung up around his achievements. Many here seem very upset by the Kent daring to question mythology that so perfectly fits a desired narrative that they’re willing to overlook the flaws in the story, and that’s worth raising awareness of.

“The article was not meant as an anti-Andraka polemic”
That’s a ridiculous assertion. Half the article is spent questioning his background and personal motives.

“Many here seem very upset by Kent daring to question mythology”
Many here seem very upset by Kent writing a misleading and self-serving hit piece attacking a high schooler’s personal motives.

What is misleading about this piece? What is self-serving?

OA advocates have actually been far more misleading and self-serving about exploiting the Andraka story to advance their political agendas. In fact, they’ve turned a blind eye to many of the issues raised in this piece — that no paper has been published, that the logic of the approach is questionable, that the claims require evidence, and so forth. The story they prefer is flawless and unquestionable, aka mythology.

Pointing out facts that make people uncomfortable is not anti-anything. It’s merely providing more of the story. I can’t bring myself to apologize if some facts about what Andraka has done, not done, and claimed without evidence were upsetting to you.

Did you know he’s filed an LLC? Did you know he’d not published a paper? Did you know his Wikipedia page was so heavily and favorably edited?

The issues that you raise are important from a scientific standpoint. They are far less important as advocacy for Open Access – this isn’t about what has been achieved by Open Access, but about what could be.

If it does stack up, then we’ve gained a very cheap, very simple, very fast, early test for pancreatic cancer. Something that will be cheap, whether it’s been commercialized through an LLC or not. Something that will save lives.

The worst case scenario is that this all turns to nothing. In which case, what have we lost? Nothing. In fact, we’ve actually gained knowledge that the possibilities that had been hinted at in existing publications actually don’t exist.

And possibly an inquisitive mind. Someone who could still go on to do other important things, who may have drifted off elsewhere, if he didn’t have the material available to engage him.

It still remains that Open Access will have generated research and increased our knowledge, in a way that wouldn’t have happened, or would have happened much slower and / or more expensively, had it not been for OA. Lots of small wins can be just as important as infrequent large ones.

But I don’t see what is gained by trying to compare a 17 year old, in full time education, studying for exams, and having to deal with the attention that came from winning the Intel Science Fair, to people who are employed to spend 40+ hours a week (each) at a major pharmaceutical, over issues of timeliness.

So, your point is that some fantasy is important here, one that depends on removing economic barriers while leaving barriers like expertise, literacy, jargon, context, and certifications in place. OK, that’s your fantasy.

The word “if” happens a lot in your defense here.

Your worst case is far too benign. The worst case is that young scientists learn there is no downside for unproven extravagant claims; in fact, you can get money and prizes if you hit the sympathies button and sell it well enough. The worst case is we’ve learned the wrong lessons from how the information was obtained and what it meant. The worst case is that people with familial associations with pancreatic cancer have gained false hopes and been deceived by misinformation. The worst case is that an increasingly jaded public continues to see scientific information as inherently unreliable and contradictory, when instead science should be clear about what is preliminary or unproven and what is better supported by evidence.

So Andraka has potential. Sorry, but so what? The hundreds of others at the same science competition have just as much, if not more. They’re all great, but they all have to hew to the same standards.

Your assertions about OA are unsupported by facts.

And, again, we have the “oh, he’s young, busy, and distracted by fame” excuse for why he hasn’t produced a paper. Here’s a better alternative — don’t go around broadcasting extravagant claims, then people won’t start asking for evidence to back them up. Wait until you have marshaled the evidence, had it peer-reviewed, and seen it published, then broadcast the claim and the evidence simultaneously. He wasn’t too busy to make all the claims. He’s just been too busy to back them up.

Doing good in the world comes in many forms. As you can tell from its Web site, SocialCite is a nascent attempt to create a systematic approach to evaluating the quality of evidence, context, and type of citation in reference lists on scientific and scholarly articles. We’re just getting underway, and the next six months we hope to have some beta publishers participating. Caldera Information Solutions, LLC, is my LLC for the IP involved with things I think up. I make no pretense about being a scientist or having scientific claims. But the vision is to improve the sources of authority and quality and care among citations, and thereby improve the literature.

You may note that when describing the Andraka family and their attempt to start a previous business as an LLC, I praised them as “active, inventive, and entrepreneurial.” I have no problem, and a lot of empathy, for people with ideas who want to get them off the ground and take the proper path.

Where I have a problem is when scientific claims about cancer patients and cancer detection are made, yet no evidence is forthcoming for going on two years now. That’s not the kind of scientific culture we should have. We’ve suffered enough from PR science and celebrity science. Let’s stick to demonstrable facts when we’re talking about scientific claims.

Apparently, asking for evidence enrages some people. Puzzling.

Zero of the comments under this article express outrage that you asked for evidence.

These people, scientists and non-scientists alike, are upset at you (rightfully) for a lot of things, including who you are and what you represent. But “asking for evidence” isn’t one of them.

I disagree. According to comments here, I’m asking for evidence too soon and inappropriately — I’m supposed to give him more time, I’m being rude for pushing for the evidence from a young and busy person, I’m supposed to wait longer than the 18-20 months we’ve all waited, etc.

Now, what exactly do I “represent” in your eyes? So far, in my career, I’ve helped a lot of scientific publishers improve their speed, quality, and adaptability to innovative trends. Are those things that upset you? What exactly do I “represent”?

In your article you make it sound like Jack has edited his own Wikipedia article, but you present no evidence. Why? Is it that you misunderstand the point of the biomed commentary?

I haven’t misunderstood anything in that context. You’re inferring things I didn’t write, and the Biomed Commentary is even more damning in its completeness. I recommend you read it.

I did read it; and I’ll say, Wikipedia isn’t great about covering topics like this. However, you said “There seems to be a good deal of self-promotion involved with the Andraka story, as well, including his own vanity Web site and some deliberate Wikipedia editing” which makes it sound like you think Andraka has edited the Wikipedia article about himself. Why would “deliberate Wikipedia editing” be an example of self-promotion otherwise?

If you go through the change history of the Wikipedia entry about Andraka, you see these recent statements by the editors:

    These are personal claims concerning self actions, not independently referenced

    Need verification for claims made by self-referencing one’s own statements

    Request scientific verification of self-cited claims of a single individual

I think what I wrote was fair, and thanks for prompting me to explain it better.

Oh dear, you think those are statements that Mr. Andraka has edited that article? Did you read the diffs described by those comments?? No, those are editors noting that, for example, the article needs better references than Andraka’s statements, not that Andraka himself edited the article! You have made a pretty serious mistake here, Kent.

No, I don’t think so. My original statement was referring more to a few unrelated but directionally similar moves — his vanity web site, among these, as well as earlier mentions in the piece to his seemingly endless participation in media events. Add to this a Wikipedia page that was established by a user who has never done any other editing in Wikipedia, and then materials that are largely circular in nature, and I don’t think it’s unfair to write: “There seems to be a good deal of self-promotion involved with the Andraka story, as well, including his own vanity Web site and some deliberate Wikipedia editing revealed in criticisms of his Wikipedia page from BioMed Critical Commentary”. That’s the sentence you’re picking at. I think you should step back a bit and look at the overall here. There seems to be a good deal of self-promotion involved with the Andraka story.

Kent, thanks for the reply. Would you please clarify something for me? Do you feel that a user with no other edits serves as evidence that it is Andraka? Or, are you _not_ saying that Andraka edited the article about himself?

If it is the latter, then why is “some deliberate Wikipedia editing” included as an example of self-promotion?

I think you’re hung up on something minor, a written passage that you think can be misinterpreted. I’ve said all I have to say on our minor disagreement about these semantics.

It certainly isn’t an error as conscious or reprehensible as purposely deleting some entity’s Wikipedia pages out of spite. That would be way out of line, don’t you agree?

I realize it’s a minor part of your article. You rightly draw attention to the *real* problems with the Wikipedia article, and there is indeed self-promotion (his website, twitter, etc) going on here, to be sure. So yes, I guess I am hung up on it: your article still includes this claim—”self-promotion…including…Wikipedia editing”—and you have *no* evidence to even suggest that this happened.

If I am somehow misparsing that, I would love some confirmation of that from you, so that I will no longer be confused about the semantics. Thanks!

Your confusion over the semantics is indicated by our use of ellipses. You’re cherry-picking my words and rephrasing the construction to emphasize a forced interpretation.

But, again, this is a minor disagreement over semantics.

While you seem unable to accept that and move on, I’m sure you’ll agree that a more shameful and egregious act would be to delete valid pages from Wikipedia by trumping up claims about copyright infringement. I mean, that would be truly cowardly and shameful. It would be even more cowardly if the person doing that failed to respond to requests to restore the pages, explain themselves, or do the right thing. Even if those requests came in public comment threads like this. I mean, doing anything like that would really be as low as low gets, wouldn’t you agree?

I see; thanks for clarifying that you didn’t mean to imply this.

I don’t think my ellipses change the meaning conveyed to readers much, though; your statement “includ[es]” the Wikipedia editing as a part of the self-promotion. I would still encourage you to rephrase this in the article; even if you disagree with my I think it’s worth being more clear to avoid any possibility of unintentionally accusing someone of something shady.

Thanks for engaging with me on this!

And yes, trumping up charges of copyright infringement would be very serious. As to the rest of that paragraph, please be more clear if you’d like me to respond.

Yes, I would like you to respond to these question (or to my email or my InMail):

1. Did you delete the Scholarly Kitchen and SSP Wikipedia pages?
2. What copyright issues (be specific) caused you to do this?
3. What effort did you make before making a determination of “unambiguous copyright infringement” on the Scholarly Kitchen page to ascertain copyright status or ask us to cure specific issues?
4. Are you an employee of Google?

Let’s start there. If you start showing some accountability, we can go from there.

1.) yes, no 2.) almost all of the content is from sspnet.org 3.) http://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/about/ makes it pretty clear that this material is not available under CC-BY-SA or GFDL, the licenses required by Wikipedia. It even threatens public shaming, which I can assure you is a tactic that SSP has no qualms about using.

Ironic side note: It appears that the copied material, including the original draft of the article, might have been added by an SSP volunteer.

Several more appropriate venues for this discussion exist on Wikipedia, including the talk page of the user whose actions you dispute.

Everything the SSP does is done by a volunteer. Without irony.

Let’s continue our conversation in email, that’s a better venue. See you there.

In any case, edit summaries by unknown Wikipedia editors—even if interpreted correctly—are hardly appropriate sources to back up anything, let alone an accusation like this.

Thanks for clarifying. In which case, to use the Wikipedia compare facility:

1) Changed the word “tests” to “Mr. Andraka claimed that his tests”

2) Added a number of calls for verification of claims (such as “Tests on human blood serum”). Or “errors” (the statement is about the accuracy of the test in detecting mesothelin, the challenge is in the validity of mesothelin indicating cancer):

Officials at Intel have said that Andraka’s method is more than 90 percent accurate{{third-party-inline|reason=This statement may be in error. Mesothelin levels of pancreatic cancer patients widely overlap those of normal persons, according to research of I. Pastan and colleagues at NIH.|date=October 2013}} in detecting the presence of mesothelin

3) Challenges that other tests are available.

Despite these being three separate edits, none of the intervening edits made any changes to the text (one made some formatting changes to the inserted annotations) that was being questioned.

I haven’t located the source of that text, or substantial edits to it over time. However, any creation / editing of that text has happened quite distinctly apart from the edits that you’ve highlighted. You can’t infer what you are suggesting just from the presence of those three edits, in the way that they have occurred.

Oh, and all three of those edits were made by a single user. Whose only other activity on Wikipedia is to make one change to a page on Pancreatic Cancer – again, simply to challenge claims made about Andraka.

So now we’re going to see if Andraka’s scientific claims are valid by visiting the edit history of his Wikipedia page? You’re missing the point. He made big claims, he’s behaved in a self-promotional manner in many venues (poster session, media events, LLC, web site).

And, again, the main point of this piece was to add nuance and substance to a story that had become oversimplified and non-scientific. Given that you’re down to this level of detailed critique, I think it worked.

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