I mentioned the CRISPR patent fight here the other day, but that’s not the only front where conflict has broken out. Cell has published a piece by Eric Lander called “The Heroes of CRISPR” that’s attracting some controversy, for example. The problem is that Lander (at the Broad Institute) is unlikely to be a completely disinterested party in any retelling of this history, and indeed, Jennifer Doudna of Berkeley commented on PubMed Commons, saying “. . .the description of my lab’s research and our interactions with other investigators is factually incorrect, was not checked by the author and was not agreed to by me prior to publication.”
Well, that’s what I saw last night, at any rate. <s>Today, there are no comments on PubMed itself,</s> although there’s a growing list at PubPeer. (Update: I’m seeing Doudna’s comment now; not sure why it was blank for me earlier). The thing is, it’s not that a commentary by Lander is without value here – it’s just that (since Feng Zhang is at the Broad) that there’s a clear possibility for differences of opinion about who discovered what, and when. Cell makes no mention of this whatsoever. Admittedly, most of the journal’s readers are immediately going to pick up on this situation, since this is such a large and public dispute, but you can’t assume that every reader will do so (or will do so in the future). The article itself, naturally, is attracting plenty of comment of its own (and see this series of tweets by Berkeley’s Michael Eisen). Plenty of readers are noting what seems to be subtle downplaying of the Doudna/Charpentier side of the story.
Personally, given that the whole thing is before the USPTO, I probably would have said something like “Gosh, I’d love to comment, but I really shouldn’t right now”. Perhaps that’s one of the many reasons why I’m not Eric Lander. As it is, this situation doesn’t seem to be helping anyone, which makes you wonder what the folks at Cell were thinking would happen. . .
Update: here’s a statement from Cell on conflicts of interest in this case.
Update 2: both Doudner and Lander make statements to The Scientist.
Update 3: more opinions, from all over.
Update 4: more reactions at Stat. Overall, this isn’t going over well.