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Thank you Liverpool

Liverpool, like some, but not all Northern cities, voted to Remain. My adopted city for 28 years has once again stood up against fascism. Remember, this is the part of the country that was most heavily bombed in WW II, not Coventry not London. Liverpool, Bootle…. Continue Reading »


My late father was a Desert Rat. He didn’t have to fight, the South African army was comprised entirely of volunteers. He recounted how in the 1930s, listening to Hilter on the radio gave him more than sufficient evidence as to the deep evil of fascism. So when South Africa declared war on Germany (itself an interesting political event), he left his job as a primary school teacher for the uncertainty of life as a soldier. There were hundreds of thousands like him across the world. The monuments on Liverpool’s waterfront to the sailors of different nationalities who died in the merchant navy during the battle of the Atlantic provide an everyday reminder to these volunteers. Continue Reading »


I made my first New Year’s resolution on December 31, 2013: to only undertake reviews for open access and learned society journals.  This I have stuck to well, as I noted a year later for the simple reasons that it makes sense and it frees up my time.

Today I had a request to review a manuscript for Nature Publishing Group’s Scientific Reports, and I realised that I need to clarify my position.

I am on strike. Continue Reading »


Changye Sun and Yong Li, who successfully defended their PhD theses in November have published a paper each in Open Biology on the interactions of fibroblast growth factors (FGFs) with glycosaminoglycans:

Heparin binding preference and structures in the fibroblast growth factor family parallel their evolutionary diversification

and

Selectivity in glycosaminoglycan binding dictates the distribution and diffusion of fibroblast growth factors in the pericellular matrix.

Continue Reading »


This is a question raised at the end of the excellent article by @Amy_Harmon regarding Open Access and preprints is can biomedical scientists evaluate each other without journals?

The short answer is a resounding yes.  Physical scientists and mathematicians have been posting much of their research as preprints on arXiv for a few decades, with no prejudice to their ability to evaluate the quality of work or of individuals.

The counter argument raised by many in biomedical sciences, from scientists to some journal editors can be boiled down quite simply: We are special and cannot possibly do this.

Various arguments are put forward, from competition (=fear of scooping) to intellectual property. These arguments are heard in many biomedical/biology departments, sometimes leading to quite heated discussions. It is also interesting to note that the defenders of the status quo are not necessarily the older members of the community.

There is a simple answer. Yes you are special, but not in the good sense of the word. Continue Reading »

We are afraid


A tweet brought me to a PeerJ blog post on the uptake of open peer review. The post is worth reading. At PeerJ open review is an option – authors and reviewers can opt in or out, and only if both opt in is the reviewing history of a paper published.  One thing that caught my eye was that while 80% of authors opt in, the total number of paper with open reviews is just 40%, which indicates that reviewers are more reticent. Continue Reading »


This post assembles various comments I have posted and other thoughts on sci-hub and access to the scientific literature. It finishes with some ideas about what we should consider keeping and some of my better experiences, as a consumer and producer of the scientific literature.

Some time between clay tablet and the PDF

Once upon a time manuscripts were hand written, double spaced (fountain pen as ever outperforming all other tools), graphs transferred to tracing paper using a rotoring pen and Letraset (also alive and well) used for symbols. Continue Reading »