Dear Dr Worms,
I write this letter in a personal capacity to express my views on the letter you sent to Dr Amaya Moro-Martin on behalf of the ESF, regarding her opinion piece in Nature. Note the word “opinion” and refer to Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (on page 11, it is only two very short paragraphs)

I made some brief comments on Dr Moro-Martin’s blog post earlier today,but thought it best to express my opinions directly to you – I appreciate that as a busy person you may not have the time to read blogs.

I do not know you, but I gather from your title, “Dr”, that you have had the benefit of considerable education – either a PhD or a medical degree. Also, from your first name, I would imagine that you have some links to francophone Europe. You must, therefore, be aware of fascism, often masquerading as nationalism, which is making political inroads in a number of European countries. In the UK, this is highlighted the promotion of UKIP by the British media and their candidate being elected to Parliament on Thursday this week. This side of politics lies and invents incidents to stir up xenophobia towards people and institutions. European institutions are a favourite target. One such target is the European Convention on Human Rights, the work of the Council of Europe. Your letter to Dr Moro-Martin will provide such people with ample ammunition and, for once, they don’t have to invent anything, they have a fact. Given the history of Europe from 1933 to 1945, one positive outcome of which was the European Convention on Human Rights, and the fact that ESF is a European institution, this is careless, to say the least. I note that if the matter is sub judice, it is a matter for the court to determine if an individual is in contempt, so the motive for the letter must lie elsewhere.

Your letter to Dr Moro-Martin is an act of pure cowardice. Why didn’t you send the letter to the publisher, Nature Publishing Group? Was it because they have deep pockets, because you didn’t want to upset one of the “glam” publishers in science or were you overawed by their impact factor? Did you think you could scare Dr Moro-Martin into silence, because she is just an individual?

This is contemptible. My view of the matter is unlikely to change until such time as you apologise and formally withdraw your letter to Dr Moro-Martin. MEanwhile, I will withdraw my labour from the ESF and urge all scientists across the world to do likewise – we too are somewhat busy and give that which is most precious, our time, to numerous extramural organisations. We should no longer give our time to the ESF, when it bullies other scientists.

My advice to Dr Moro-Martin in this matter is to follow the precedent of a famous “case” in British law – a “case” in quotes, because it never came to court. It is the letter sent to the legal representative of one Mr Arkell by the Pressdram legal team, following the receipt of a letter by Private Eye that is not so different from the one you have received from ESF.

Dear Sirs,

We acknowledge your letter of 29th April referring to Mr. J. Arkell.

We note that Mr Arkell’s attitude to damages will be governed by the nature of our reply and would therefore be grateful if you would inform us what his attitude to damages would be, were he to learn that the nature of our reply is as follows: fuck off.


Private Eye”

Update 15 October 2014 on the blog De Rerum Natura: ESF backs off for now but fails to rescind the threat of legal action or apologise

There are many prizes for cultural activities, of which science is one. This week has seen the announcement of the Nobel prizes, a little earlier the IgNobels were awarded. There are, of course many other prizes. I have decided to set up my own.
A question that bugs me and which loomed large while I read the excellent review by Ding Xu and Jeff Esko from UCSD on “Demystifying Heparan Sulfate–Protein Interactions” is how many extracellular proteins are there?

This is an important question, since the interaction of extracellular proteins with heparan sulfate is absolutely central to cell communication, development, homeostasis and many diseases (cue: read that review). Experimental data take a good while to acquire and then be reproduced and validated. The field is extremely welcoming and inclusive socially, so I thought there is another way: open a book and award a prize.

Rules of entry
1. Deadline for entries is that date in the future when we agree on the number of heparan sulfate binding proteins in Homo sapiens.

2. To avoid argument over the actual number, a protein will be defined as the product of a gene, and encompass all splice variants, posttranslational modifications, etc.

3. To avoid further argument over the number (knowing the field, we love an argument, in the best sense of the word), an extracellular protein is a protein (see 1) that is demonstrated to at some time, in some tissue of the human body, in development, health or disease, to occur outside the cell. This is a geographical definition, not topological, so a protein exclusively in an intracellular membrane compartment is classed as intracellular.

4. The interaction of the protein has to be demonstrated directly. This may be done by biochemical means in vitro or by analysis of cells/tissue using mass spectrometry, advanced microscopy or the technique we would all happily flog our souls for, but has yet to be invented.

5. ANYONE can enter, even the organiser. This is a truly Open Access science prize. However, only one entry per individual is allowed. NSA, GCHQ, KGB Black Hats et al. will be employed to check that there is only one entry per person – they have your MAC addresses, IP addresses, etc., are paid by the taxpayer and so are responsible to you. Therefore, you can be certain that this will prevent any cheating.

The Prize
A beer. If you don’t drink alcohol, St Christopher or similar, if you do, then what I consider to be the lead beer of your country. You may suggest and the organiser will agree, on a singular output of a specific brewery, only if this is a small (≥250 employees) outfit.

Verification of the quality and value of the prize
I accept that it may be a while before the prize can be awarded. Therefore, I will undertake the onerous task of checking periodically that the prize is worth winning, through a process of random sampling.

The entries
I reckon that the number is around one third of extracellular proteins, and after a huge number of calculations I have come up with: 1757 heparan sulfate binding proteins encoded in the genome of Homo Sapiens.

What is your number?

Rest assured that I will be soliciting entries at every forthcoming meeting on the subject that I attend, and unlike the Ancient Mariner, I will stop everyone, not just one in three. You may, wisely, decide to avoid my “glittering eye” and enter your number below in the comments section. Your choice.

A recent post at Retraction Watch revealed that Fazlul Sarkar of Wayne State University is behind the attempt to lift the anonymity of commenters at PubPeer
The Spectroscope has posted The REAL threat to PubPeer is a real threat to science communication.

I agree entirely. Continue Reading »

Dan Nieves’ paper on an easy and accessible method to covalently conjugate proteins, sugars and indeed pretty much any biomoleucle onto nanoparticles has just come out in Chem. Commun. Continue Reading »

On December 31 2013 I posted my New Year’s resolution: to only review manuscripts from open access or learned society journals.

My reasoning was that open access will only be the norm if we stop giving that which is most precious, our time, to closed access journals. I really think the wider community needs to start to be selective in reviewing. It is far easier to implement than the radical re-alignment of library journal subscriptions. Continue Reading »

This post is entirely inspired by a Tweet that appeared in my stream via @stuartcantrill, a request for ideas on the future of chemistry. My (instant) response was that we have to replace everything with materials derived from waste biomass. After finishing my morning check of information systems and my coffee, it was time to get on my bike and cycle to the university. This set off the lateral neuronal activity that my brain engages in when I cycle – the worse the traffic, the more lateral activity… Continue Reading »

The sadly predictable hyping of things nano reached a nadir recently with the promotion of silver nanoparticles (aka “silver bullet”) as a treatment for ebola virus. There has been a great discussion of this and other aspects of silver nanoparticles by Andrew Maynard (here, here for ebola and here for the essential Risk Bites video).

It may surprise some, but until a few weeks ago, there was no simple, direct published method to quantify non-destructively silver nanoparticles. Yet, the non-destructive quantification of silver nanoparticles is essential to any experiment that aims to prepare and use these in a biological context. Without it any experimental work is likely to be qualitative and simple things, such as determining the stoichiometry of functonalisation, become difficult. Indeed, so important is simple quantification of nanoparticles that we validated and published a method for gold nanoparticles in 2007 that has been very well received by the community and which we use daily in the lab. Continue Reading »


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