2016年8月10日 星期三

MIT Challenges New York Times Over Book on Famous Brain Patien

200 neuroscientists from around the world are raising questions about an excerpt that published in the New York Times on Sunday.


(中文底本為Google Translate 之後修改)
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology brain sciences department and, separately, a group of some 200 neuroscientists from around the world have written letters to The New York Times claiming that a book excerpt in the newspaper’s Sunday magazine this week contains important errors, misinterpretations of scientific disputes, and unfair characterizations of an MIT neuroscientist who did groundbreaking research on human memory.

In particular, the excerpt contains a 36-volley verbatim exchange between author Luke Dittrich and MIT’s Suzanne Corkin in which she says that key documents from historic experiments were “shredded.” “Most of it has gone, is in the trash, was shredded,” Corkin is quoted as telling Dittrich before she died in May, explaining, “there’s no place to preserve it.”
更具體的錯誤在於,該篇摘錄包含作者盧克·迪特里希和麻州理工學院的蘇珊·柯金之間的36句連珠炮般通信的逐字稿,其中蘇珊·柯金說,從歷史性實驗的關鍵文件已經被“切碎掉”。“大部分都已丟進垃圾桶裡,被切碎掉, “迪特里希引述柯金在五月去世前,向他解釋,”沒有地方來保存這些文件。“

Destroying files related to historic scientific research would raise eyebrows, but Corkin’s colleagues say it never happened.


“We believe that no records were destroyed and, to the contrary, that professor Corkin worked in her final days to organize and preserve all records,” said the letter that Dr. James DiCarlo, head of the MIT Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, sent to the Times late Tuesday. Even as Corkin fought advanced liver cancer, he wrote, “she instructed her assistant to continue to organize, label, and maintain all records” related to the research, and “the records currently remain within our department.”“我們認為,沒有記錄被摧毀,並與此相反,柯金教授在她最後的日子裡,還將所有記錄組織並保存,”麻州理工學院的腦與認知科學系的負責人,詹姆斯·迪卡洛博士,在週二晚送到時報信中說道,即使柯金在與晚期肝癌戰鬥中,對相關的研究,“她指示助手繼續組織,標籤,並保持所有記錄”,“記錄當前仍然是我們的部門中。”

It is highly unusual for so many prominent scientists to take a newspaper to task over a book excerpt, especially when they do not also contact the publisher (Random House). One scientist criticizing the Times said they hadn’t thought of that. The scientists also complain that the newspaper did not fact-check the excerpt. In a statement, however, a spokesperson for the paper said the excerpt “was thoroughly vetted and fact-checked by the [Sunday] magazine’s staff.”
The book, “Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets,” whose official publication date was also Tuesday, is notable for Dittrich’s connection to the most famous brain patient ever studied: H.M., as he is known in scientific publications (his full name, Henry Molaison, was revealed after his death in 2008).
Experimental surgery in 1953 to treat Molaison’s epilepsy had removed or destroyed his right and left hippocampus, his right and left amygdala, and other structures. That left him with no ability to form memories, allowing scientists to make groundbreaking discoveries about how human memory works. The surgeon was Dittrich’s grandfather, and much of the book is an impassioned discussion of the moral complexities of the surgery.
The Times excerpt focused on Corkin. Although much of the groundbreaking work on H.M. was done by Brenda Milner at McGill University in Montreal, Corkin (Milner’s graduate student) eventually took over as the lead scientist studying H.M., which involved giving him memory and other tests.
Dittrich (who published a point-by-point rebuttal to the MIT criticisms on Medium on Wednesday) quoted a lengthy exchange with Corkin in which she seems almost smug about destroying key data sheets and other records of her work on H.M. The new Medium post includes the audio file of that exchange. MIT’s DiCarlo said he and two MIT colleagues who investigated the supposed destruction “cannot explain why professor Corkin made the comments reported in the article.” But they hypothesize that there were “tensions” between her and Dittrich “because she had turned down his request to examine Mr. Molaison’s confidential medical and research records.”
In fact, said MIT neuroscientist John Gabrieli, “nothing was shredded or destroyed.” Corkin’s assistant, he said, “was strictly instructed to preserve everything.” Although there is no way to say definitively that every single document was preserved, said Gabrieli, “there is a whole room here filled with those files.”
Dittrich said that if the supposedly shredded data still exist, “I would like to know whether MIT intends to index it and make it available to the public or other researchers.”
An equally incendiary claim in the book excerpt is that Corkin tried to suppress the discovery, by a scientist who studied H.M.’s brain after death, of a previously unknown lesion. Virtually all of the science built from H.M.’s memory loss held that it was the result of the surgery that removed his hippocampus. But neuroanatomist Jacopo Annese, then at the University of California, San Diego, acquired H.M.’s brain from Corkin soon after his death. He cut it into thousands of wafer-thin slices and studied it in 3-D detail, discovering the lesion in the frontal cortex.
According to “Patient H.M.,” Corkin tried to downplay the significance of the discovery and stop publication of the paper reporting it, for fear that the abnormality in a region of the brain far from the destroyed hippocampus—supposedly the source of H.M.’s amnesia—would muddy the orthodoxy on how human memory worked. In the end, Annese listed her as the paper’s senior author, and the frontal lesion was reported prominently.
“It’s there,” said Gabrieli. “And in an interview after [the paper’s] publication, she highlights it.” In a 2014 interview, Corkin said that the cause and the timing of the frontal lesion was unknown, and that it was “unclear whether this lesion had any consequence for H.M.’s behavior.” “Patient H.M.” recounts Corkin’s trying, in notes to Annese, to delete all references to the frontal lesion, saying it did not appear on MRIs when H.M. was alive, and “any consideration of it would be highly misleading.”
A second letter, from just over 200 brain scientists, to the Times (which could not be reached by STAT after business hours) is less detailed. It is signed by some of the leading lights of neuroscience, from as far away as New Zealand, including Randy Buckner of Harvard; Adele Diamond of the University of British Columbia; Adam Gazzaley of the University of California, San Francisco; Eleanor Maguire of University College London; Henry Roediger of Washington University; Daniel Schacter of Harvard; and Scott Small of Columbia University.
The signers say they are “disturbed” by a book excerpt, saying it describes Corkin’s research “in what we believe are biased and misleading ways.” Any hint that she did not behave with scientific integrity, they write, is “contrary to everything we have known about her as a scientist, colleague, and friend.”
Editor's Note (8/10/16): This story was updated at 1:45 PM to include responses from The New York Times and Dittrich.

Republished with permission from STAT. This article originally appeared on August 8, 2016