The current issue of Technology and Innovation, Journal of the National Academy of Inventors focuses on old but important issues in health-related environmental research, illuminates new trends, including rewarding patents born of humanitarian vision, and puts continuing arguments, such as those about organic vs. conventional foods and the real value of scientific peer review, under the microscope.
Public hazard and health
In "Asbestos Exposures Associated with Motorcycle Riding and Hiking on Asbestos-Containing Soils: Risk of Asbestos-Related Cancer," researchers focused on the public health hazard posed by asbestos in the soil of the motorcycle riding and hiking trails in the Clear Creek Management Area in California. The researchers, using current EPA models to project cancer risks presented by the asbestos-containing soil, reported that "from limited motorcycle riding on asbestos-containing soils, the maximum lifetime excess risk is approximately 0.18 asbestos-related cancers per million people exposed." According to corresponding author R.P. Nolan of the New York-based International Environmental Research Foundation, "This asbestos exposure is associated with an insignificant increase to the background risk of mesothelioma."
A second public health-related study in the current T&I looked at regulatory science and assessed pro and con arguments for organic foods versus conventional foods using "best available" science concepts and metrics. According to study co-author A. Alan Moghissi, PhD, president of the Institute for Regulatory Science, "certain people and organizations have come to consider exposure to human-made chemicals to be unsafe and unacceptable at any level." However, the authors of "Innovation in Regulatory Science: Assessment of Organic vs. Conventional Food" determined that "there is no scientific reason to support a preference for organic food." The authors pointed out that one issue exacerbating confusion about this topic has been the inability of the scientific community to communicate the fundamentals of toxicology to the public.
Of patents and humanitarian visionaries
In writing about the 2015 Patents for Humanity Awards, authors Edward Elliott and Alex Camarota of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) described the importance of the work being done by the award recipients, all of whom are using their considerable talents to address major world challenges. The competition, administrated by the USPTO, recognized the efforts of inventors who "used their patented technologies to improve the world's living conditions" and demonstrated the "compatibility of strong patent rights and business practices with humanitarian engagement." Awards were given in five broad humanitarian needs categories: medicine; nutrition; sanitation; energy; and living standards.
"Government and universities play a unique role in the innovation ecosystem by conducting basic research long before any commercial applications are identified and exercised," wrote Elliott and Camarota. "This forward thinking approach has spillover effects that reach beyond technological development. The authors note that this "program is meant to recognize projects that are having an impact on people's lives. It is not a program for good intentions or future promise."
The awards ceremony was held at the White House in April, 2015.
Academic-affiliated inventors described as "serial inventors" are those who represent 10 percent of faculty inventors at their university, yet hold 50 percent of all their university's patents. In a paper titled "Prevalence of Serial Inventors within Academia," co-author Richard Kordal, director of the Office of Intellectual Property and Commercialization at Louisiana Tech University, said that in an effort to shed light on university inventors, he and his co-researchers surveyed five major public and private academic research institutions to determine the extent to which serial inventors contribute to the institution's output of inventions. They found identical data on those described as serial inventors at all of the institutions they studied despite institutional geographical diversity and varying research emphases among the surveyed institutions.
"The results of this paper will be of interest to various groups--such as policy makers, technology transfer professionals, economic development officials, and university research administrators," concluded the authors.
Who gets to do independent peer review?
In a study into the role of peer-review review criteria titled "Innovation in Regulatory Science: The Critical Role of Review Criteria in Independent Peer Review," A. Alan Moghissi et al. laid out the elements of the peer review process and the significance of peer review criteria as one of the potential reasons for the shortcomings of peer review, which is a primary tool of regulatory science. "Key elements of peer review include the qualifications of peer-reviewers; their independence, implying that they lack conflicts of interest; the review criteria (questions) provided to the reviewers; and the role of the editor of the journal," wrote the authors, who surveyed 300 key scientific journals on the application of their peer review processes against a background of claims of inadequate peer review and the withdrawal of papers.
The researchers concluded that lack of consideration of review criteria could be the cause of "alleged shortcomings of peer review."
"Despite the existence of a voluminous scientific literature describing the independent review process, there continues to be a problem with how peer review is used in scientific publications," said the authors. The authors conclude by suggesting the creation of an open-access information system that would provide appropriate standardized review criteria for articles, thus addressing this problem.
Editor-in-chief Paul R. Sanberg sums up this issue as "a collection of notable articles, each of which sheds new light on some fascinating and important topics, including environmental research as it impacts public health decision-making, the phenomenon of the serial inventor, and the multifaceted importance of regulatory science."
The journal can be found at: http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/cog/ti/2016/00000017/00000003;jsessionid=917dhge9lg81r.alice
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