Sci-Hub is necessary but it is not a solution

There is a large and important debate in the scientific community at the moment which concerns access to research publications. Currently, a large amount of research is only available if a researcher or institution is willing to pay, often exorbitant fees, to access it. The debate has focussed on many issues, such as whether it is right for publishers to profit off research that is funded by the public when the researchers receive nothing or how a combination of high costs and funding limitations further the research gap between developed and developing countries.

There is increasing pressure, for example by the European Union and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to move to something known as open access, where authors pay a publication fees but where the research is then freely available to everyone. One player that often comes up in these discussions is Sci-Hub. Continue reading

Profit > Humanity?

This is a bit of a weird post because, in one sense, I’m actually criticising a journal publisher for making articles open access but, the bigger point, is that it is for a limited time and reveals a very troubling mindset. First, let’s talk about what sparked this. Scientific publisher Springer Nature is currently holding its Change the World event. It’s chosen about 180 of the best scientific articles it published in 2016 and is making them available for free. That’s great! But… at the end of this month, those articles will no longer be free unless they were originally published as open access articles.

I am using Change the World as an example but what I’m going to say here applies to all scientists that promise to improve people’s lives then publish behind a paywall. Springer Nature is framing its event as being a huge benefit to the world. I trust science, I’m sure that what is in those papers really can make a difference to the world. But lets just assume we really believe it when they say: Continue reading

Isolation of Ustilago bromivora strains

I published a new article in Bio-Protocol this week describing how to isolate strains of Ustilago bromivora from the spore material that forms on infected plants. It’s certainly not all my work; the protocol is a modification of a published protocol and has been worked on by many people in the Djamei lab, as indicated in the acknowledgements. I just happened to be the one who chose to write it up.

After the publication of our previous paper on the U. bromivora/Brachypodium pathosystem, we were approached by Bio-Protocol to publish certain protocols in full in their journal. You would think that people would be eager. It’s a lab protocol and writing it up takes very little work yet you get an article published. I was the only one that expressed an interest in writing this up. I imagine it’s because it’s not a “sexy” paper but that mindset neglects something very important. Science is not just about findings; it’s a way of discovering how the world works which can be applied to any situation. At the foundation of that is the idea of sharing one’s methods so that, at least in principle, anyone with sufficient skill can repeat what you have done. Continue reading

Was the Red Cross poster racist?

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The Red Cross swimming safety poster.

People are very quick to make judgements, especially in our current society which seems to favour outrage as a response. This happens especially quickly when it comes to topics like sexism, racism and so on. These are all real problems which affect many people but we must be wary about jumping to conclusions without sufficient evidence.

There is an article in Slate magazine which talks about the Red Cross and racism. The starting point of that discussion was a 2014 safety campaign poster which was pulled last year for being “super-racist.” It earned that dubious distinction because:

A “cool” blonde girl waits her turn by the diving board, for example, and a “cool” fair-skinned dad minds his small child. The vast majority of the “not cool” rule breakers, meanwhile, have brown skin: One boy runs through a puddle, another dives too close to a swimmer, and a little black girl pushes a white girl into the pool.

Continue reading