What we don’t know

There’s a general perception that we know in outline how everything works and we’re just filling in the details. It’s good to find out that this is not the case – and often for seemingly simple, everyday processes. For instance, did you know that we know next to nothing about what tells a plant to produce flowers? From the Science summary:

Two new reports, published online by Science this week (www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/1141752 and www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/1141753), have identified the signal that tells plants to flower. Contrary to work reported in 2005 showing that the signal was messenger RNA, the new work fingers the so-called flowering locus T protein. (Read more.)

In Science this week, the authors retract a paper from two years ago which suggested that the flowering signal was a mRNA and publish two new studies implicating instead the protein product of the mRNA. The lead author on the previous paper, who no longer works in the group, “strongly objects to the retraction of the paper and has therefore declined to be an author of the retraction.” Ouch. Where do you stand when your ex-boss retracts your work, I wonder? You’d at least leave it on your CV?

2 thoughts on “What we don’t know

  1. I don’t see why you need to retract a paper unless there was actual fraud involved. Sure, it might turn out later that you think you were *wrong*, but that’s okay. Some authors like Cavalier-Smith have made a career out of basically arguing against the conclusions of their earlier papers, but it isn’t as if he’s retracted them.

  2. I agree, there’s a big difference between a wrong interpretation and bad data. In the retraction, the authors claim to have repeated the original work and they no longer see FT mRNA migration. It’s almost as though they feel compelled to retract the mRNA conclusion so as to strengthen the protein argument.

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