Duke University Professor Offers 10 Tips For Better Writing

Duke University Professor Offers 10 Tips For Better Writing


Michael C. Munger, Duke University

Professor Michael C. Munger of Duke University, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, offers “10 Tips on How to Write Less Badly,” something every graduate student should read.

As students make the shift from undergraduate studies to graduate school writing becomes crucial. According to Professor Munger, some talented people fail only because they write poorly.

“Many of the graduate students who were stars in the classroom during the first two years,” he writes, “suddenly aren’t so stellar anymore.”

Munger explains that some of the mediocre students go on to be published academics because they know how to write well.

Even though he offers a few obvious tips that encourage you to write a lot since “writing is an exercise” and “edit our work over and over,” there are some tips worth highlighting here.

“Everyone’s unwritten work is brilliant. And the more unwritten it is, the more brilliant it is.”

“Your most profound thoughts are often wrong. Or, at least, they are not completely correct. Precision in asking your question, or posing your puzzle, will not come easily if the question is hard.”

How well you write can make or break your career. Even though Munger doesn’t consider himself a good writer, “thinking about these tips, and trying to follow them myself,” he says he has “gotten to the point where I can make writing work for me and my career.”

Read the rest of the tips here.


Simple Breath Test Could Diagnose Colorectal Cancer

Simple Breath Test Could Diagnose Colorectal Cancer

Researchers reported on Wednesday that an experimental breath test can diagnose colorectal cancer with over 75 percent accuracy according to the results of their new study published in the British Journal of Surgery (BJS).

Donato F. Altomare, MD, along with his colleagues from a hospital in Bari, southern Italy, conducted a small clinical trial using exhaled breath from some 37 patients with colorectal cancer and 41 healthy counterparts.

The study demonstrated for the first time that a simple breath analysis could be used for screening colorectal cancer.

The breath test-technology, processed offline, screens for colorectal cancer using “volatile organic compounds” (VOC), combinations of chemicals which can be found in small amounts in the breath.

Test results which analyzed 15 of 58 specific compounds in exhaled breath — revealed that patients with colorectal cancer have a different selective VOC pattern when compared with those of a healthy person.

“The technique of breath sampling is very easy and non-invasive, although the method is still in the early phase of development,” Dr. Altomare notes. “Our study’s findings provide further support for the value of breath testing as a screening tool.” – Source: Wiley

Although the death rate from colorectal cancer has been dropping in the past 20 years for men and woman — colorectal cancer ranks as the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths for both men and woman combined in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society.

Should the process of publishing a paper trump the power of scientific ideas within?

Should the process of publishing a paper trump the power of scientific ideas within?
Henry Jacob Bigelow

Last week the New England Journal of Medicine announced that a survey of readers selected the 1842 publication of a paper by Henry Jacob Bigelow, reporting the first use of anesthesia, as the single most important paper in the 200 year old history of the journal.

Given the future implications of what was being reported in this paper, especially as we now look back over the medical landscape 150 years later, I cannot disagree with the selection. However, what I do find more than a little bit ironic is that such a paper, if submitted today, would stand almost no chance of being published in the NEJM, or virtually any so-called high impact journal.

As the Bigelow paper wended through the review process, this in-hindsight completely transformational paper, would be rightly criticized (and surely killed) as being little more than anecdote.

There is certainly no randomized blinded trial with rigorous statistical measures that ensures the quality of findings live up to the highest “scientific standards”. Moreover, lacking an IRB stamp of approval would certainly invalidate the paper for publication right out of the gate.

So I ask, have the standards of the NEJM and nearly all modern journals become so obtuse and elevated that the findings they now report are irrelevant to truly novel clinical innovation?

Also last week, I was advised by one of the journals for which I have long served as an editor, that future observational studies, if they are to even be considered for publication, must now assiduously adhere to STROBE guidelines.

Such STROBE guidelines represent the consensus of a 2004 big funded workshop, i.e. self appointed committee, composed of editors and sundry luminary academics who, presumably with the best of intentions, felt compelled to improve the reporting of observational studies.

But what started as well meaning “guidelines” have (perhaps not surprisingly) now morphed into a compulsory directive enforced by the editor in chief.  Will the quality of the journal articles now being published under the STROBE guidelines truly benefit from this new set of regulations?  Surely the editor in chief and politically-connected self-appointed STROBE experts would argue yes, but notably these sacrosanct “guidelines” have themselves never been subjected to any empirical test.

What I am quite confident about is that the journal in question has put up yet another barrier to authors reporting potentially interesting, and even ground breaking, clinical studies. As a result is it possible that that today’s equivalent to the good Dr. Bigelow’s reporting of anesthesia will go undiscovered because of the sheer hassle of publishing in the peer reviewed literature?

Is it possible that STROBE processes might drive some of today’s clinical innovators to just throw up his or her hands and say no thank you to reporting their findings? This leads to the bigger question, should the process of publishing a paper trump the power of scientific ideas within?

Readers of Cur&#275us are well aware of our Journal’s bias in this regard!

Merck Begins New Trial For Its Experimental Alzheimer's Drug

Merck Begins New Trial For Its Experimental Alzheimer's Drug

Although several competitors have halted testing of Alzheimer’s compounds — Merck & Co Inc has moved its experimental Alzheimer’s drug into the next stage of testing.

The drugmaker announced on Monday that it has begun Phase II and III clinical trials of its promising new class of oral Alzheimer’s medicine MK-8931, to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of the pill with some 200 patients who suffer from mild-to-moderate stages of the disease.

If the company finds success in Phase II, which will compare the drug with a placebo, the study is expected to enroll up to 1,700 patients in the main Phase III of the new trial by 2014.

“Merck is committed to advancing the understanding and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease,” says Darryle D. Schoepp, Ph.D., senior vice president and head of Neuroscience and Ophthalmology, Merck Research Laboratories, in a statement.

“As the global health and financial burden of Alzheimer’s disease grows, innovative research is critically needed, and we need to accelerate this research wherever possible. This new study is an important step in our overall strategy to understand the potential of the BACE inhibitor mechanism and MK-8931, our lead compound, in multiple stages of Alzheimer’s disease.”

Merck has jumped into a race where rivals have experienced mixed results with their own compounds, aiming to become the first drugmaker to get a medicine on the market that slows the progression of Alzheimer’s.

Regardless of who’s first across the finish line, the new trials offer hope to those suffering from the mind-wasting disease.

Read the entire Reuters report.