Discovering a Drug Testing Flaw, The Issues with Peer Review, Academic Pettiness, and More – Bret Weinstein on The Portal, Hosted By Eric Weinstein

Key Takeaways

  • Natural selection tends to prefer traits that are beneficial early in life, even if they have negative consequences later on
  • Bret’s Nobel Prize-worthy (?) discovery: Lab mice have longer telomeres than wild mice.
    • Here’s why is important: Longer telomeres delay negative drug side effects. As lab mice are frequently used for drug testing, this could potentially lead to the approval of unsafe drugs.
  • Bret and Erice are both against the scientific paper peer review process
    • Eric calls it “peer-injunction,” as the process is mostly used to reject breakthrough or disruptive discoveries
  • Bret has it out for Carol Greider, who’s refused to provide him with credit/acknowledgment he undoubtedly deserves for much of her ground-breaking research

Intro

The Evergreen State College Controversy

  • Bret was a biology professor at Evergreen State College for 14 years before resigning amid student protests
    • You can read more about the story here, but the gist is as follows (copied from Wikipedia):
      • In March 2017 Bret wrote a letter to Evergreen faculty, objecting to a change in the college’s decades-old tradition of observing a “Day of Absence” during which students and faculty of a minority race would voluntarily stay home from campus to highlight their contributions to the college. The announced change would flip the traditional event, asking white participants to attend an off-campus program while the on-campus program was designated for participating people of color. Bret said this established a dangerous precedent.
      • Student protests disrupted the campus and called for a number of changes to the college. The protests involved allegations of racism and intolerance and threats, and brought national attention to Evergreen, sparking further debate about free speech on college campuses.
    • Bret’s wife, Heather, was also an evolutionary biology professor at Evergreen State College – she resigned shortly following Bret’s departure
  • Bret considers himself a “professor in-exile.” He now hosts his own podcast and regularly puts out content on his YouTube channel, where he explores biological and philosophical ideas.

Natural Selection

  • Natural selection tends to prefer traits that are beneficial early in life, even if they have negative consequences later on
    • Since many individuals aren’t around to experience the late-life harm (or would have already reproduced by that time), natural selection deems it a good tradeoff
  • The Hayflick limit is the number of times a normal human cell population will divide before stopping (if cell division continues on for too long, it’ll lead to cancer)
    • This is a brilliant move by natural selection when one thinks about it. For example, cells divide whenever a human gets injured to heal a wound, but won’t reproduce infinitely (as it would lead to cancer).

Bret’s Nobel Prize-Worth Discovery: Lab Mice Have Longer Telomeres Than Wild Mice

  • Mice used in lab experiments aren’t representative of mice in the wild – almost all lab mice come from the Jackson Laboratory
    • Bret noticed that lab mice had quite long telomeres, and hypothesized that this was a result of being bred in captivity without any natural predators
      • Upon further research, Bret and his co-researchers found evidence supporting this hypothesis, going on to document that wild mice did indeed have shorter telomeres
  • The fact that lab mice are quite different from wild mice is an incredibly important discovery as lab mice are used in countless scientific experiments, including drug and medical testing
    • “All of the science that’s stacked on these mice that’s contingent on their function relative to their telomeres is all compromised” – Bret Weinstein
      • “There’s a clear danger that the mice we’re using for drug safety testing are biased in an egregious way”
  • Only lab mice that are 8 months or younger are used for breeding purposes
    • 🎧 If you let a lab mice live long enough, it’ll eventually die of cancer because of its long telomeres

The Issues with Peer Review

  • Bret eventually wrote a scientific paper about his mice discovery and sent it to Nature, a prestigious scientific journal. However, the journal rejected it without review, even though Bret’s paper received high praise from the late and great biologist, George Williams.
    • Bret then sent the paper to another journal only to have it rejected yet again. But, Bret pushed back, stating that their feedback was illogical, causing the journal to give way and publish the paper.
    • Eric believes Bret’s work is Noble Prize worthy
  • 🎧 Bret and Erice are both against peer-reviewing papers
    • Eric calls it “peer-injunction,” as the process is mostly used to reject breakthrough or disruptive discoveries
    • Real peer-review occurs after your study is published and other researchers attempt to replicate your work 
  • Peer-reviewing work isn’t something that’s always been a part of science – it’s a relatively new addition to the field

Longer Telomeres in Mice Delay Negative Drug Side Effects

  • As drug testing is expensive and there are many restrictions on using humans, much of it is done on animals (mainly mice)
    • Since we don’t know how a drug will affect humans 40 years down the line, large doses are given to mice to see how they react. The problem, however, is that if the animal has ultra-long telomeres, it’ll take a long time to see the true side effects.
      • As lab mice have long telomeres, this is a problem – the negative effects of a drug may be delayed by quite some time
  • Commenting on the above: “It’s a perfect storm for causing us to release drugs that should never have been released to the public” – Bret Weinstein
    • One example of a drug that shouldn’t have been released is Vioxx, also known as Rofecox (although it was eventually withdrawn)

Academic Pettiness & Possible Theft

  • A colleague of Bret’s, Carol Greider—who helped conduct research for his paper on lab mice telomere length, actually scrutinized it when Bret attempted to have it published, as she didn’t want the paper to go mainstream
    • Why? – Publishing papers and receiving grants is highly competitive, and she preferred to be able to publish a stream of papers on the topic, instead of simply publishing only one paper on the source of the problem
  • 🎧 Carol, in one of her since-published papers, refused to give credit to Bret, nor acknowledge any of his work, even though she ran several experiments Bret had helped collaborate on
    • (Carol later won a Nobel Prize in 2009 for discovering that chromosomes are protected by telomeres as well as the telomerase enzyme)

Problems in Academia

  • There’s too little funding, not enough autonomy, and too much peer-review
  • But wait there’s more!
    • The cost of tuition has skyrocketed
    • The number of administrators has soared above the level of admissions
    • Older professors are winning more grants, while new professors are winning far fewer grants  
    • Top-tier universities are all run by baby boomers

Additional Notes

  • DISC: Distributed Idea Suppression Complex
    • (Some ideas are so breakthrough and disruptive to the establishment that they’re suppressed )
  • Tissues that tend to wear out (i.e., the heart, eyes, etc. ) have low-capacity for self-repair and tend to not get cancer
  • The ability to peer into genomes and molecular pathways is still fairly new in the field of evolutionary biology
  • Eric believes that Americans aren’t very good, nor as interested, in science compared to Asians
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