Traditional scientific publishers have repeatedly undermined moves towards open access


The Sci-Hub logo.

I recently read a profile of Alexandra Elbakyan and her pirate library, Sci-Hub. Sci-Hub provides free access to a huge number of scientific papers which would otherwise be locked away behind paywalls and only available if you paid a huge fee. The traditional scientific publishers are not happy with that, have sued her several times and continually try to take down her site. I think, given the current realities in science, that Sci-Hub is necessary until the publication process can be reformed.

I have a colleague with whom I talk about publication practices in science and that sort of thing and, while we generally agree, we do differ on our attitudes to traditional publishers. He has often said that he doesn’t want to drive them out of business and would like to work together with them to solve the problems. I have generally maintained that they are antiquated relics from the print age who serve no real purpose, add little to no value to the scientific enterprise and oppose necessary reforms in science. So, it was interesting for me to see some of these issues come up in the profile of Elbakyan. Continue reading


The 2018 VBC PhD Symposium

One little side project I’ve been involved in since last year has been organising the Vienna BioCenter (VBC) PhD Symposium. I’ve attended and helped as a volunteer every year since 2015, though I only wrote about the 2016 symposium on my blog. For those who are not familiar with it, the symposium is held at the Vienna BioCenter in Austria and organised by a group of PhD candidates. We select a theme, invite speakers from across the world, co-ordinate and organise everything. This year’s theme is Metamorphosis – Transforming Science.

The symposium is going to focus on science and change; that includes topics like cutting edge technologies which will change the way science is done, environmental science which can change (and help save) the world we live in and the changing ways that we can communicate in science. So why am I writing about it now? I want anyone who is interested, to hear about it, sign up and attend. Continue reading

I finally finished reading The Fact of Evolution

A long time and still no proper blog post, just a brief summary of a book for my 2018 reading list.

coverThe Fact of Evolution (2011) by Cameron M. Smith

I finally finished this one! I started reading this about four or five years ago and finished four chapters. Then I went to Austria to do my PhD and left it behind in South Africa. After one of my trips home, I brought it to Vienna with me and read a little more before taking a break to read The Adventures of Peter Gray and De Vita Beata. I can now finally say I have finished reading it!

On the negative side, due to the multiple year time lapse and many gaps, I can’t clearly recall all of the book. All I can say is comes from the ending chapters. That is that the book was quite clear and well-written with several illustrations or tables to help explain things. Each chapter covers a particular aspect of evolutionary theory and it should make a good introduction to those who know little about evolution.

Assessing Scientists By Publications And Impact Factor Is One Of The Most Harmful Scientific Practices

I have a blog post titled Assessing Scientists By Publications And Impact Factor Is One Of The Most Harmful Scientific Practices on the OpenUP Hub blog.

OpenUP is a European Commission project for explaining, discussing and sharing information about open access. The website is not very well set out and difficult to navigate, with some information seeming to be missing completely, but it has good intentions. In any case, I decided to enter their blog competition since there’s an opportunity to win a trip to an open science conference in Brussels which could be nice.

My entry relates to just some of the problems in scientific publishing that are due to the practice of evaluating scientists according to publications and the impact factor. But I will direct your attention there to read more.

Cape Town water crisis: My experiences

Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.
-W. H. Auden

When I visited my family in Cape Town a few weeks ago there was one topic which came up every day; water. Even before had I landed there was announcement on the plane that Cape Town was in the middle of a severe drought and that everyone should use water sparingly. This was followed up with posters in the airport and the first tangible signs of how life had changed. I finished up in the airport bathroom but there was no longer the luxury of soap and water. That had been replaced with waterless hand sanitisers, as in my family’s homes.

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Four authors write about the Central Dogma without understanding it

One of the nice things about reading older scientists’ blogs and Twitter feeds is that you get reminded of things you should know and have your own views corrected from their years of experience. One of the things that I’ve seen Larry Moran, professor emeritus at the University of Toronto, write about repeatedly is the Central Dogma of Molecular Biology.

The Central Dogma is a concept that was described by Francis Crick, one of the two scientists who described the structure of DNA, and can be summarised by saying that sequence information can be transferred between nucleic acids or from nucleic acids to protein but never from protein to either protein or to nucleic acid. Or, in graphical form with arrows showing transfer of sequence information:


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