It was in November 2014 when I first wrote about Diego Gomez. Tomorrow will see a court, in Colombia, decide his fate. (Article in French) He is facing a fine of up to $327 000 and four to eight years in prison for the sharing a scientific article with a colleague. This is something that many scientists do and which is sometimes necessary for our work. This case highlights the need to move to a world where all scientific articles are open access, i.e. free to read. Continue reading
I’ve collected a few weird stories from the world of science that are interesting. They’re not science stories about discoveries and research but they’re science stories about what goes on behind the scenes.
Spam and mailing lists
Let’s start with an amusing tale. We’ve all got spam before and scientists are no exception. Fed up with the constant spam from one particular journal, Dr. Peter Vamplew submitted a fake article, originally written by David Mazières and Eddie Kohler, that expressed his frustration. The article was 10 pages long and merely consisted of the sentence, “Get me off your fucking mailing list” repeated throughout. Continue reading
DIY science seems quite interesting, especially if you have an interest in science but are following a different career path. There are various ways to get by without the usual instruments, although I’m not sure how successful they are, but this guide to turning your smartphone into a microscope seems pretty good. I’ve actually got a busted laser pointer (the battery compartment doesn’t shut) so I might try this at some point.
The following is a story I heard about at the Southern African Society of Human Genetics conference. According to a news article published in Science magazine a series of obviously fake papers were created and sent to 304 open access journals.
By the time Science went to press, 157 of the journals had accepted the paper and 98 had rejected it. Of the remaining 49 journals, 29 seem to be derelict: websites abandoned by their creators. Editors from the other 20 had e-mailed the fictitious corresponding authors stating that the paper was still under review; those, too, are excluded from this analysis.
It’s a worrying result but a useful one. For example, it shows that peer review works at PLoS One and BioMed Central. In addition it told me that there is poor peer review at Dove Press and the OMICS publishing group, which is worrying because I had been getting Dove Press alerts (though never read their articles) and had heard senior scientists mention OMICS as a possible place to publish. Needless to say I cancelled my subscription to Dove Press alerts and will advise against publishing with OMICS.
The main problem with the experiment, and it is at least mentioned in the article itself, is that there’s no control group. It describes this as an open access issue but doesn’t give us the data to say that it doesn’t happen in subscription journals. This issue has been raised elsewhere, like here and here, the latter with further criticisms.
Lastly, we have a sad story about the many problems currently plaguing science. While I would suggest reading at that link and the two articles it references, if you only have time for one I would recommend this one. There are many scary things included, lack of replication of studies, problems with peer review and poor use of statistical significance to name a few. Many I’d already heard of but it’s distressing to see it all laid out in one place. But it’s only if we know about it that we can start addressing it.
It’s (entirely by coincidence) exactly a year since I first wrote about Mendeley and promoted it as a reference manager, something I continued to do when the subject came up. I was of course a bit disappointed to read now that Mendeley and Elsevier have joined together! Elsevier is an academic publisher with a less-than-stellar reputation. The only time I think I’ve mentioned it has been discussing the large boycott of it by various academics. It’s definitely left me feeling a little uncomfortable but they maintain it’s not going to change how they operate so I guess for now I’ll wait and see what happens.
I saw an article on Yahoo! today about the death of Aaron Swartz. Swartz was a computer programmer who co-authored RSS 1.0 (If you subscribe to the feeds for either new posts or new comments it is thanks to a later version of RSS), was co-owner of Reddit, a Wikipedia editor and activist. He committed suicide on 11 January, seemingly due to depression and stress relating to charges against him with regards to his activism relating to the open access movement. Continue reading
I understand to get people to read an article you need a good headline but they should at least reflect the content of the story and be honest. I was rather dismayed when I foundthis headline pop up on my News24 Sci-Tech feed, “Fraud ‘rife’ in science research.” That sounds like a major problem. However I had read the story before, both in Science and Nature, and those titles were not nearly as dramatic, being “Misconduct, Not Mistakes, Causes Most Retractions of Scientific Papers” and “Misconduct is the main cause of life-sciences retractions” respectively. Continue reading
I think as a global society we need to start working together to benefit everyone. Being in South Africa I’m constantly exposed both to sections of society that are incredibly poor and sections that are incredibly rich. One of the ways to move out of poverty and work towards a better world is through education and technology, but that costs money. Sometimes a lot of money, which is why I am supportive of various initiatives for free and open-source software. Previously I’ve expressed support for Mendeley and disapproved of attempts to prevent the public having access to research they funded. I’ve seen a few pieces on the topics recently and thought I’d share them in one convenient post. Continue reading