"Analytical" or "Synthetic" Research in
the Life Sciences
Professor Béla Mess, M.D., Ph.D., DrSc.,
Dept. of Human Anatomy.
Medical Faculty, University of Sciences, Pécs,
Szigeti u. 12, H-7624 Pécs, Hungary.
FAX +36 72 536 393
TEL +36 72 536 392
A few years ago, on the occasion of my 70th birthday, the Scientific
Society of my University honoured me by asking to deliver a
so called "life-work" lecture. The title of this lecture
was "Vertical or Horizontal Research?" According to
my formulation, "vertical researchers" are interested
in a more or less circumscribed problem, and they investigate
this question for a longer period, sometimes for a life time.
These investigators search even for the smallest details of
their circumscribed research field so deeply that they are not
interested sometimes even in the broader aspects of their own
subject. In contrast, "horizontal researchers" are
interested in more fundamental or basic mechanisms. When they
have found the first satisfactory answer to their question,
they omit investigating the further finer details of the problem.
They already have several quite pressing other questions exciting
It is unneccessary to stress that both types of researchers
and both styles of research have their advantages and disadvantages.
I have to confess, I feel myself belonging rather to the latter
group of investigators.
The title of the present paper refers to a similar question.
I would say, "vertical researchers" usually make analytical
research, while "horizontal researchers" do synthetic
research. It would be senseless to raise the question, which
one of the two types of research should be preferred, or which
one represents a higher quality of investigation? Both have
their real values and both are important in the progress of
life sciences. If this is not so, what is the aim or purpose
of writing a guest-editorial in a distinguished scientific journal
on this subject?
It is quite evident that there are some "fashions"
also in scientific research. Probably these fashions are not
so frequently and quickly changed as fashions in ladies-dressing,
but some fashionable trends can be detected equally in the methods
used and in the subject of research. When a new method was described,
a new fundamental observation was made, or even when a new theory
was raised, hundreds and hundreds of papers appear within a
short time applying this method or dealing with the given subject.
I feel, this is quite natural or even necessary. The only pity
is that research lines or papers, not following the actual "fashion",
are neglected or "looked down upon."
In recent decades molecular biology and genetics have been the
dominating lines in biomedical research. These branches of sciences,
with their sophisticated methodology, produced fantastically
valuable new results permitting much deeper insight into the
very complicated machinary of the living organisms. These, or
the vast majority of these publications, are "per excellence"
analytical works. The pity is again that some of these papers
or authors forget the entire organism! I have sometimes the
feeling, we "do not see the forest because of the many
trees", as the proverb says. Undoubtedly, we are living
now in the epoch of analytical research in the life sciences.
However, synthetic research, dealing with basic mechanisms,
or relationships of the different mechanisms within the entire
organism, inheres an "equal-right" and is an equally
valuable trend in our branch of sciences.
I was very pleased to notice, I am not alone with my seemingly
"old fashioned" idea. Recently we wrote a short monograph
with my coworker, Dr. Cs. Rúzsás "Maturation
and aging of neuroendocrine functions" (Academic Press,
Budapest). The official referee of the manuscript of this book
has been Prof. P. Rudas (Head of the Dept. of Physiology and
Biochemistry, Veterinary Medical School, Budapest). May I cite
a few lines from this report: "In the years, with the spreading
of cytobiology and genomics, the number of publications dealing
with experiments performed on entire living beings and analyzing
the results related to the entity of the organism, are rapidly
decreasing. The present work always investigates the whole biological
object and shows it in its complexity. Authors do not immerge
themselves in molecular-biological details which allow for the
drawing of only very few or any conclusions concerning the entire
individuum. This book analyzes rather the results of neuroendocrine
experiments dealing with important and evident biological parameters
(reproduction, growth etc.). This represents the real value
of this book. This is the value, why this work will be welcome
by the international scientific community looking for these
type of monographs giving overviews in broader aspects."
(Rough translation from the original referees report in
Hungarian. Personal communication). Sorry for this involuntary
self-advertisement, but these remarks are valid also in context
to any other books or papers of similar type.
Nobody wants to deny, least of all me, the high value and importance
of the analytical research performed with the most modern and
highly sophisticated techniques. However, synthetic research
should equally be accepted and appreciated independently whether
this is performed with the most modern "fashionable"
methods or not. One should never forget, not everything is good,
which is modern, and not everything is bad or obsolete which
is not the most recent or is somewhat older, and vice versa,
I would summarize this sequence of ideas with the following
The existence of "fashions" in scientific research
is quite evident. This is the consequence of the rapid development
of methods. On the other hand, these "fashions"
are initiated also by some basic or important findings leading
to further progress of the given field of research.
The rapid development of modern methods and techniques favours
conducting rather analytical types of research, which produces
quite incredible, reliable new data. No wonder that this type
of research stands in the forefront in our epoch.
Synthetic research style has its important role still at the
present time. The value of this type of investigation (or
investigators) does not depend either on the methods used
(provided they are proved and reliable methods), or on the
subject of investigations. Simple in vivo observations, histology,
classical hormone assays (e.g. RIA) etc. can also produce
new and valuable data even today.
To search interactions, interrelationships or fundamental
mechanisms within the entire organism are equally important
as collecting new, finer or finest details, should they be
of biochemical, molecular-biological or genetic etc. character.
am convinced these statements correspond to the editorial policy
of our journal, Neuroendocrinology Letters.
Finally, the reader surely noticed, there are no citations during
the text, and no bibliography is attached to this brief writing.
This was intentionally done. First of all, this is not a scientific
publication. These were only thoughts of an ageing researcher
who has spent his life time, over half a century, in biomedical
research (Neuroendocrinology). On the other hand, it was not
the intention of the writer to classify papers or publications,
citing them as examples for analytical or synthetic type or
style of investigations.
Prof. Béla Mess