April 24, 2016

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | A Hyperbolic Article

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To the editor:

I read the article “Is Stevia the sweetener…..” in Cornell Sun and must confess my disappointment on comparing between the contents of the said article and of the actual technical paper in which the findings were published [S MUDGAL, I KERESZTES, GW FEIGENSON and SSH RIZVI, “Controlling the taste receptor……” Food Chemistry 197, 84-91 (2016)]. In the article you [Mudgal] mention that you et. al. proved that “stevia could be ridden of its bitterness while retaining its sweetness.” For starters, this is misleading — it implies that a chemical reaction can be performed which nullifies the bitter taste of the stevia. On the other hand, the technical paper describes an attempt to selectively present the sweetness of stevia to the taste buds while masking the bitterness — a significantly different objective in my opinion. Further confusion is created by your confident proclamations in the Sun article regarding “glorious success” and “dream…. being finally accomplished.” This led me to first search for your paper in ‘Nature’ and ‘Science’ — only when this search proved futile I found it in the pages of ‘Food Chemistry.’ In the journal article you mention that “current study highlights the relevance of [a mechanism] which MAY ULTIMATELY lead to [stevia]’s taste modification.” You further go on to say that your work “is LIMITED to the understanding of chemical parameters associated with [something] and further studies especially [something] are necessary to conclude the effectiveness of [your] model.” These statements seem to imply that your studies are still at a preliminary stage — how can you be so confident about its success before the research has even been completed? Further, in the Sun article you mention successful commercialization — surely you too must be aware that before even thinking in terms of mass production there are so many more steps which are required, to name just a few, (a) extensive clinical testing of the reagent BSA which you use, to evaluate potentially harmful effects at the expected dosage levels, (b) if such testing is cleared, actual experiments on human subjects to verify the effectivity of the proposed bitterness masking scheme, (c) shelf life and long time stability of the chemicals involved etc. Since none of this has been performed, your sentences about commercialization appear premature and misleading. On the basis of the above, I feel that you have deliberately exaggerated and misrepresented scientific facts in your Sun article.

Apart from these major criticisms, I also have a few minor points. For one, your work is obviously collaborative — there are four authors in the paper. Yet you imply that the work is entirely yours. Is it really true that all the other authors — including professors — were just duds coming along for the ride? Somehow I cannot believe that. You also describe what-you-say-is-your-own idea as ‘brilliant’ — surely that looks a little weird? Finally, the long introduction about saccharin is unrelated to the point at hand.

If you have any response to my above queries, then I will be pleased to hear them. Else I will request you not to publish factually inaccurate and self-glorifying articles in the newspaper in future. Such articles constitute an embarrassment to the entire community.

Shayak Bhattacharjee grad

  • Andreas Greaves

    This is a really charged up reply Mr. Bhattacharjee! I think you have a serious problem reading and comprehending simple words. However, instead of being charged, I will support my claim logically:

    1. The author claimed in the last line of the column “What still remains to be seen is: “Will this invention be successfully commercialized as the sweetener of 21st century?” HOW ON EARTH CAN YOU WRITE THAT THE AUTHOR IS CLAIMING SUCCESSFUL COMMERCIALIZATION? I think the whole point about the column is to ask this question if this technology will ever be commercialized or not. It seems you did not even read the article before writing such a charged, pessimistic and self-contradictory “letter to the editor”! Quite surprisingly you go onto explaining how a research or an invention is commercialized. Gosh! Give me a break! It feels as if you are flaunting that only you know that process and nobody else does. My sincere request is to read before you write. You seem to be “deliberately exaggerating and misrepresenting” something that doesn’t even exist anywhere other than your own thought-process.

    2. I am neither the author, nor a Food Scientist nor anywhere related to Cornell Sun but yes, I am a scientific researcher for sure and that gives me ample experience to suggest that I guess you have some inherent bias that values research based on which journal it has been published in. This brings me to my second question to you – Will you only value a research as something worthwhile if it is published in ‘Science’ or ‘Nature’ ONLY? Are the rest of the hundreds of journals completely worthless by your understanding? Do other research journals publish useless articles? Well! Let me clear the air for you – your understanding is completely flawed. It reflects your immature understanding of the research world and your strong prejudice. My only message to you here is that every research is worthy irrespective of the journal it gets published in. Never judge the content by the cover.

    3. Coming to your claim that the first part of the article is useless; I can sense another reflection of your immaturity here. I have published not only as an author to research articles but even as a columnist. And I must state this that a newspaper column is not supposed to be as technical as you are expecting it to be. A newspaper column is supposed to broaden the outreach of a research in much simpler words that can be understood even by a layperson. There has to be a narrative in a column in order to walk the reader through the complex scientific research. Therefore I think that the first portion of the article is really justified. In fact, I am sure like myself many others would have kept reading the article just because it has a narrative there. Nobody reads a newspaper to dive deep into research inventions. Journals are meant for that.

    4. You claim that by your understanding the research is at a preliminary stage and the author should not be confident. To that I would simply want to respond that by those standards the entire research world is at a preliminary stage and no author or no researcher should even be allowed to feel remotely confident about his/her research work. Let’s take a simple but in your words perhaps a “glorified” claim – There is water on Mars. NASA claimed something like that but would you go out in the public and say that this is “misleading”, “exaggerated”, “misrepresented”, “preliminary and thus unworthy of a newspaper column”, “self-glorifying” and all those hate words that you have literally used in your letter to the editor? Mr. Bhattacharjee, you need to understand that research and its results are always subjective in a given time and space. Everything is phenomenal and everything is as mundane as it can be. It’s like the Chicken and the egg problem. Wright brothers would not have been able to invent the flying machine if the preceding research that helped them do their background research was not published. So will you call the invention of the flying machine as “phenomenal” or the preceding research “phenomenal” or both? If you might understand the research world even remotely, it’s always built on the previous research done. There is nothing mundane and there is nothing glorious. It’s all good and therefore everything is worthy of appreciation. Thomas Edison, the inventor of the bulb responded on being asked how did he feel failing 10,000 times before inventing the bulb “I didn’t fail 10,000 times, I know 9,999 ways by which bulb cannot be invented”. So if a researcher is feeling confident about some possible lead, there is nothing wrong in that. We should encourage researchers across the globe.

    5. Last but not the least, you also charge the author of not giving co-authors in the original research article, their due in this column. This is also as lame and as uninformed as most of your other comments. Why? Just because the author clearly claimed – “I along with my professors proved that stevia could be ridden of its bitterness while retaining its natural sweetness.” Where did the author even hint the fact that the “professors — were just duds coming along for the ride?” GOD! That’s purely your thought and your invention. It seems you wanted to write a “letter to the editor” so desperately that you forgot what you were going to claim there. It seems only and only you think like that. The author has been very respectful in mentioning other co-authors as needed.

    Now let me “request YOU not to publish factually inaccurate and self-glorifying letter to the editors in the newspaper in future. Such articles constitute an embarrassment to the entire community.” Having said that, I would want to clarify that I surely never wanted to stoop to that level. So let me request the audience to pardon me for being so strong with my wording, but your falsified claims and irrelevant allegations literally compelled me to quote your strong wording wherever I wished to sound as agitated as you are. Hope my points are received with maturity.