Archive for: February, 2016

A reply to Michael Eisen

Feb 19 2016 Published by under Careers, Life, NIH

Michael Eisen, strong proponent of open access and preprints, stopped by and left a comment on my previous post. You can read it in situ here. This is my response.

"There's a simple solution ... don't do it that way. Don't think anyone thinks it's a good idea to have journals run pre-print servers. This is something to be done by the National Library of Medicine and NSF in US and by comparable organizations internationally who share preprints and create a resource where anyone - researchers, healthcare works, teachers, students, interested members of the public - can get access to any paper published by anyone, anywhere. You really think that this is a bad thing?"

I absolutely agree that it's a bad idea to have journals run preprint servers. But who or what is going to stop them? Federal mandate? That hasn't worked so well for PubMed Central. Community pressure? It's certainly growing with OA, but preprints are a significantly greater shift from the cultural norm, so it will likely take much longer.

As we've seen with predatory OA journals, any git with a PC and internet connection could, in principle, set up a preprint server. They likely won't because, unlike OA, it would be hard to make a profit. But the point is it's ridiculously easy, and if journals see some advantage to doing so, they will. Glammagz will respond to anything they perceive as a threat to the glamhumping culture their empires are built upon. Will that response take the form of preprint servers? Who knows. Just don't underestimate them.

Do I think preprint servers are a bad thing? I noted in my post I was considering using them, so no, I don't think they're a bad thing. I do have concerns though and I'll discuss those below.

"Yes, it's possible to corrupt such a system if we don't make sure it's structured and run fairly. But the solution is to do it well. And you really think complaints about science publishing are a fad? You really think a system that costs billions of dollars, is deeply biased and is structured to all but ensure that the rich get richer, takes longer to publish papers than it does to send rockets to Mars, and which denies 99.99% of the people on the planet, including over 99% of teachers and students, and well over 50% of practicing scientists access isn't borked?"

I would love to see a system that's run fairly. And done well. But who's going to enforce that?

My fad comment was not to do with complaints about science publishing. It was aimed at preprints. They can be called a fad in the same way many things can. Some fads disappear, some go on to become mainstream (rock and roll was once considered a fad). At this point I don't believe preprints have gained sufficient traction in the biosciences to know which way they'll go.

I'm a supporter of making the results of research available to all, and I do believe there are issues with publishing. Not necessarily all the same ones you do. For example, the journals I submit to take way less time to review and publish manuscripts than it takes to get to Mars.* Perhaps people should try submitting to places with more reasonable turnaround times. And I believe in peer review, warts and all.

But let me ask you, will widespread adoption of preprint servers cause a new set of problems? I like the idea of making research results available to all, but without prior review? Not so much. What's to stop deposition of pseudoscience in preprint servers?** Sure practicing scientists are capable of judging the science or lack thereof, and should be doing so. But the public? Don't give me some bull about post-deposition, pre-publication review. That relies way too much on people bothering to record their thoughts (PubMed Commons hasn't exactly been a runaway success). And how are the public to judge any such comments that are recorded? >98% of all climate scientists agree climate change is an urgent issue bordering on disaster, yet large swathes of the public remain skeptical. Paid much attention to what's going on in Britain? Homeopathy is a part of their national healthcare system. Put there by college-educated people, some of whom have MDs. All of this will be made worse if preprint servers are run by the NLM and/or NSF (as I've agreed they probably should be) and have the associated implied stamp of government approval. The public isn't stupid. They just don't necessarily have the tools required to judge the science (and pseudoscience) that would become available. Shouldn't that be a concern?



* As I was typing this I got reviews back for a submitted manuscript. Three weeks from submission to reviews.

** Yes, I am aware that some pseudoscience slips through the current peer-review process. Addressing a slow drip by shearing the faucet off the wall doesn't seem terribly sensible to me.





5 responses so far

One simple trick to Glammerficate #pr33ps

Feb 18 2016 Published by under Careers, Life, NIH

The twits have been all abuzz over the latest "science publishing is borked!!!!!!" fad. Preprint servers. I have nothing against this - I may well try it out someday soon.* But let's face it, just like Open Access, it's only a matter of time before the Glammagz find a way to turn this to their advantage.

How would glammagz glammerficate a preprint server? Turns out it's stupidly simple.

Step 1: Set up a preprint server (e.g. Cell's Repository of Archived Preprints).

Actually, that's probably enough. There are an awful lot of people desperate to have some form of publication (or in this case pre-publication) with glammagz cachet that such servers will quickly become the depositories of choice. We've already seen that with glam open access. But...

And here's the simple trick...

Step 2: Make the suggestion that deposited preprints have some possibility of becoming actual (or semi-) glammagz publications.

It doesn't even have to be real. Hint that depositing there opens some kind of pipeline to the editors. Kind of, sort of (but not really) encourage authors submitting to the glammagz to deposit the associated preprint. Tell the desperate throngs your editors will occasionally trawl though the server looking for items to highlight on an associated website. Use your imagination, it's not hard to come up with something.

And BAM!, there you have it, a glammificated preprint server. One that helps to perpetuate the glamhumping culture.

So what? They would still be free and the science would be available sooner, right?

Free, yes. Sooner? Maybe. If you're hoping to snag a glammagz pub out of this, maybe not. You'd want to put your best diamond-encrusted, gold-plated boot-covered foot forward, wouldn't you? That takes time.

And then there's the control issue. The glammagz would control the server and its contents. And how they're presented (ReadCube anyone?). They could highlight those deposits that best suit their need to reinforce the unseemly glamhumping so many feel is essential to stay alive in the current funding environment. Do we really want the glammagz to have more control over science?



Preprint servers. A solution to the wrong problem.




* For better or worse, I've never been one to hide what I'm working on. If I'm scooped, I'm scooped. I'd rather get the feedback from my people in my sub-field and forge useful relationships with them.

8 responses so far


Feb 15 2016 Published by under Life

The Republican establishment needed something like a death on SCOTUS, although I'm sure they would have preferred it be someone - four someones come to mind - other than Scalia. It is looking like their nominee in the upcoming Presidential election will be less than palatable to many in their party. Voter turnout may suffer as a result. Throw in a SCOTUS appointment - assuming they can filibuster it until then - and there you have the ultimate get out the vote incentive for the right. Especially the religious right.


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Feb 09 2016 Published by under Careers, Life

The only time I've had an issue with replicating someone else's experiments has been with stuff published in glam magz. This is something we're struggling with now. Perhaps we should rename the "replication crisis" the "glam magz crisis".



3 responses so far