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Stupendous! Amazing! 'Astonishing!'

Over at The Scientist, Douglas Green has some simple advice for scientists: "I can sum up in two words what it is that is asked of you, and really, everyone who works in science: Astonish us."

NeuroDojo's Zen Faulkes has a problem with that advice. There's nothing wrong with a "dramatic" breakthrough, he says, but it's easy to get carried away. For instance, he adds, saying that microbes can live without phosphorus or that vaccines cause autism are pretty astonishing claims. But science also puts a pretty high premium on truth, and the research community has seen that some astonishing claims often have problems attached to them. If the focus is on astonishing science, then regular everyday science gets overlooked. "Focusing on astonishment plays into the belief that science is just for geniuses," Faulkes says. "This craving for astonishment feeds into the mindset that if it isn't amazing enough to get into Science, Nature, or Cell, it isn't worth doing. So entire foundational fields, like basic taxonomy, suffer because describing a new species of beetle isn't astonishing." Researchers should focus on hard work and incremental progress, which get "undervalued" when we're focused on the astonishing, Faulkes says.

The Scan

Pig Organ Transplants Considered

The Wall Street Journal reports that the US Food and Drug Administration may soon allow clinical trials that involve transplanting pig organs into humans.

'Poo-Bank' Proposal

Harvard Medical School researchers suggest people should bank stool samples when they are young to transplant when they later develop age-related diseases.

Spurred to Develop Again

New Scientist reports that researchers may have uncovered why about 60 percent of in vitro fertilization embryos stop developing.

Science Papers Examine Breast Milk Cell Populations, Cerebral Cortex Cellular Diversity, Micronesia Population History

In Science this week: unique cell populations found within breast milk, 100 transcriptionally distinct cell populations uncovered in the cerebral cortex, and more.