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April 18, 2013

Scientists emphasize value of peer review during Research Day 2013

By James Ryan

james ryan

Cleveland State University’s College of Sciences and Health Professions welcomed Dr. Antonio Scarpa and Dr. Lonnie G. Thompson as keynote presenters at the CSHP Research Day on April 12 in the Student Center Ballroom (SC 311).

The first to take the podium was Dr. Antonio Scarpa, renowned scientist and former Director of the NIH Center for Scientific Review. Scarpa articulated the importance of peer review and how it relates to the history, budget and success of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The NIH is a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and is the largest source of funding for medical research in the world.

“The United States government spends, per capita, the same amount of money as any other country, but we produce 90 percent of the discoveries and 90 percent of the Nobel prizes in medicine,” Scarpa said. “And why is that? It’s because we don’t distribute money based on geographical distribution or politics. We base it on peer review, which means experts decide the priority and value of each individual application.
“And that’s what makes the difference. It’s not the amount of money, but the way it is spent that makes the difference.”

Ryan Coram, senior in biology at Cleveland State, was impressed by the history of the NIH and how it reviews applications and selects who receives grant money.

“I never knew about NIH funding and the history behind it,” Coram said. “It was really nice to know how it all works, especially because I’m in a scientific field.”
After Scarpa’s presentation, students within the College of Science presented their research and findings via posters on bulletin boards. Several rows of bulletin boards were aligned side by side inside and outside the Student Center Ballroom. Cleveland State student researchers explained their research, which they presented through posters to visitors who walked by.

When the students finished, lights were dimmed and doors were shut as the second presenter took center stage.

Dr. Lonnie G. Thompson, senior research scientist, renowned paleoclimatologist and distinguished professor in the School of Earth Sciences at Ohio State University, began his lecture with glaciers, people and global climate change.

“Glaciers have no agenda,” Thompson said. “They play no politics. They don’t care what I think, and they don’t care what anybody thinks. They simply sum up what’s going on in our climate system, and you know what -- glaciers are melting. This is the clearest and most visual evidence [of climate change]. People living near glaciers don’t doubt the earth is warming. Here in Ohio, we haven’t seen them in a long time, so it’s hard to see the subtle changes taking place.”

Thompson added that the dramatic increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is in part due to the expansive needs of an ever-increasing population.

“At the growth rate of the population, there will be 219,000 more people sitting down for supper tomorrow than there was today,” Thompson said.

Thompson left no room for doubt — global warming is a real and serious concern. He exhorted those present in the audience to challenge the opponents of climate change and ask these skeptics to cite the evidence supporting their argument and cite the scientific journal were it was published. Thompson appeared very confident that this will demolish the arguments of the skeptics.

Dr. Meredith Bond, dean of the College of Sciences and Health Professions, hosted the entire event and felt strengthened by both presentations.

“The two presentations actually talked to each other,” Bond said. “One of the reasons there is so much misunderstanding about global climate change is that there is an inadequate understanding about the scientific method and the scientific basis of the information.

“Just as Thompson said, the fact that science is rigorously peer-reviewed, which was the topic of the first talk, is what makes science strong and well supported.”
Bond highlighted the importance of STEM education in this current debate on climate change and said that a better understanding of science and the peer review process leads to good science.

“We’re going to have cities like New Orleans and Miami, which will be underwater in several years,” Bond said.

She added that a better understanding of science is needed if the United States is to combat global warming.