March 2011

Biochemistry is not tennis

Letter to the Editor---AT0311

Dear Editor,

A nice attempt by Suzanne Pfeffer (December issue) to relate great biochemists to great tennis players. But she forgets that, whereas great play on the court is immediately perceived as such by everyone, biochemistry is evaluated by peer review (1). Mendel never would have gotten a grant, because it took 35 years for his grand slam to be recognized. Only then was the scientific community able to “get back to the big picture” that Pfeffer thinks is so important.

Yes, certainly Pfeffer should be at her “most creative” when writing a grant, but it must be creativity in marketing, not in science. By implying that young scientists should be scientifically creative, she invites future Mendels to commit academic suicide. Rather, she should be advising them to tune in to the perceptions of the peers who will sit in judgment. Rule one is to discard ideas that they deem as scientifically the most creative. But perhaps we should not be too concerned about the loss of one or two scientific Williamses or Clijsters? After all, it’s only a game!


1. Forsdyke, D. R. (2000) Tomorrow’s cures today? How to reform the health research system. Harwood Academic, Amsterdam.

Donald R. Forsdyke,
Department of Biochemistry
Queen’s University, Canada



Thanks, Dr. Forsdyke, for your comments and for reminding us that peer review can have its challenges. (I suppose the tennis referees get it wrong sometimes.) When I write a grant, I take time to try to identify the most important next steps that will move the science forward and the most powerful techniques that will permit me to accomplish my goals. As for marketing, all scientists have to explain why their science is important and worth funding. This is important grantsmanship, but it also is important for recruiting students and postdoctoral fellows to our laboratories and convincing legislators that science funding is critical.

Suzanne Pfeffer

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