Doing it right: New book helps biologists conduct rigorous and reliable research

December 19, 2006

COLD SPRING HARBOR, N.Y. - "If something's worth doing, it's worth doing well." This is the motivation for a new book, Experimental Design for Biologists, just released by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press. Engaging and accessible, it addresses important issues biologists must consider when designing research projects, filling the often overlooked "pre-statistical analysis" gap.

"In graduate schools throughout the United States, Ph.D. candidates receive almost no formal instruction in the effective design, conduct, and interpretation of experiments, even though these skills are critical to success as a scientist," says the author, David Glass. "Courses are typically devoted almost entirely to factual information, whereas scientific process is equally important."

Experimental Design for Biologists--a new source of theory and practical guidance--is based on a well-received course that Glass taught while working at a biopharmaceutical company. The course was for recent hires, new PhDs who--surprisingly but frequently--had received little training in basic experimental design.

Glass is the Global Head of the Muscle Diseases program at the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Mass. He will use this new book as the core text for his experimental design "nanocourse" at Harvard Medical School next spring.

Suitable for classroom instruction or as a reference for students and professional scientists, Experimental Design for Biologists is not a statistics book: instead, it explains how to frame and set up an experimental question, devise experiments within that system, determine and use the correct set of controls, and derive verifiable models from the experiment. Separate chapters are devoted to negative controls, positive controls, and other categories of controls that are perhaps less recognized, such as "assumption controls" and "experimentalist controls." The book's aim is to help scientists get answers that are real.

The book is also philosophical: it relates to theories of knowledge and the history of scientific inquiry. Glass feels that a solid understanding of the theoretical and historical grounds from which experimental science has emerged will help future generations of biologists to properly interpret their data. "[B]oth apprentices and more experienced scientists would benefit from a broader understanding of different experimental frameworks and their implications," writes Glass.
About the book:
Experimental Design for Biologists
ISBN 0-87969-735-0; © 2007; 206 pp., illus., index; hardcover, $59

About the author:

David J. Glass is currently the Global Head of the Muscle Diseases program at the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Mass. Formerly the Vice President for Muscle Diseases at Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, he holds an M.D. from New York Medical College and conducted postdoctoral work at Columbia University. He is the co-author of more than 50 peer-reviewed research articles on cell signaling mechanisms in neuromuscular disease, obesity, and cancer.

About Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press:

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press is an internationally renowned publisher of books, journals, and electronic media, located on Long Island, New York. It is a division of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, an innovator in life science research and the education of scientists, students, and the public. For more information, visit

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

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