The Chronicle morning round-up

Waiting for that coffee to take effect but want it to appear you are doing something scholarly?
Have a look at this pair of highly-read posts at The Chronicle of Higher Education:
We Must Stop the Avalanche of Low-Quality Research
The most-viewed article of the last two days at the online presence of the nation’s leading higher ed publication, this team-authored position piece has been a magnet for criticism. The thread of 102 comments (thus far) is as worthy of your time, if not more, and the humorous and insightful payoff by commenter #100 is clever and spot-on, IMHO.
Why ‘Female’ Science Professor?
Written by the Grande Dame of science professor blogging (yes, I used a gendered term but it is one of respect as coined by DrugMonkey), the “midcareer female professor of the physical sciences at a major research university” holds forth on the reasons she uses “Female” in her blog ‘nym and title. So deal.

Nature asks eight “experts” about Venter’s prosthetic genome work

Men. Check.
White. Check.
Grey. Mostly. That dude must use color.
Beards. Only two. Maybe three. Aw, hell, Church’s makes up for the rest.
Article here.
Ed Yong (Asian-British, man, young, dark hair, no beard) also lists a great wrap-up of the week’s commentary on the work.

Nature science writing paywalls are pissing me off

Please forgive me for the cranky. I am still confined to bed and am only writing between fits of coughing that still occasionally drive me near unconsciousness due to hypoxia. I’m stuck at home trying to read some research literature across the VPN and proxy servers from my three faculty appointments that give me access to much biomedical research literature.
However, some journals are now no longer granting access if one’s IP address does not come directly from the university, even if you are using the university VPN server. And then there’s my love-hate relationship with Nature Publishing. I absolutely loved when Nature expanded to Nature Medicine and the Nature Reviews journals have been spectacular, particularly Nature Reviews Drug Discovery and Nature Reviews Cancer. But as each of these came out, it was costing another $199-265/year or so for each of these sources. Still, the content was worth it.
But today, I am cranky. Not because of lack of access to research publications but rather because I have been shut out to a book review and a news review by two of my favorite science writers, Steve Silberman and Melinda Wenner Moyer, respectively. One of these episodes on any other day and I’d probably be fine. But two? On the same day?
Steve just wrote for Nature a review of Rebecca Skloot’s new book while Melinda apparently has a killer article in Nature Medicine on the search for drugs beyond statins to manage cardiovascular disease.
But to gain access to these, I need to pay $32. Each.
This is really just plain bullshit.

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Why do I have to pay $31.50 USD for a 13-year-old article?

My apologies to readers who have been looking for novel content the last few days. I am swamped with all variety of personal and professional issues but when I finally had a moment to write about something of value, I needed a copy of a short review article from a European cancer journal published by Elsevier to which my institution does not subscribe. I patiently went through their process to register for their site, told them who I was, where I worked, what subdiscipline, etc.
So, I logged in clicked on the PDF link for this two-page article and was told it would be $31.50, thank-you-very-much.
A 13-year-old article. By a deceased scientist. Two pages.
As institutions continue to cut budgets for their medical and scientific libraries, the costs of journal subscriptions are falling to individual scientists, many of whom get journals through membership in their scientific societies (membership fees that are now only rarely covered by departments). And don’t even get me started on my domestic and international colleagues who are at institutions with little or no journal access.
So, big publishing houses: how ’bout helping a brother out?
Five bucks, maybe?
Free for articles more than 10 years old?
And if someone can’t get my 13-year-old work for free, rest assured that I will not be submitting my work to your journals.
Oh, but thanks for the impetus to write a post.

Tom Levenson Fan Boi Day: Hear Him With Ira Flatow On ScienceFriday

Levenson Newton bookcover.jpgJust a quick note to dial up Ira Flatow’s Science Friday show on NPR today at 3 pm EDT. Supporting information and the archived show can be found here.
Guy-who-I-would-kill-to-be, Tom Levenson, will be on with Ira to speak about his new book, Newton and the Counterfeiter: The Unknown Detective Career of the World’s Greatest Scientist.
Here is also a link to other appearances Professor Levenson will be having related to the book.
For those of you who don’t know Thomas Levenson, he is currently a Professor, Interim Program Head, and Director of the Graduate Program in Science Writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But he is much, much more than that:

Professor Levenson is the winner of the Peabody Award (shared), New York Chapter Emmy, and the AAAS/Westinghouse award. His articles and reviews have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, The Boston Globe, Discover, The Sciences. Winner of the 2005 National Academies Communications Award for Origins.

Among his lesser known honors, Dr Levenson’s essay, Chateau D’Yquem: Because It’s There, was selected to appear as a Friday Fermentable feature at the Terra Sigillata science blog. And, in all seriousness, Tom writes his own always-excellent musings at The Inverse Square Blog.
Finally, there is no other reason for the following photograph other than my pitiful need to associate with extremely accomplished writers:

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Something to make Bora smile

Awhile back, I was given a PLoS T-shirt by Bora Zivkovic, science blogger extraordinaire and online community manager for PLoS-ONE, the flagship journal of the Public Library of Science. Every time I wear the dang thing, someone says something to me about the Open Access journal movement. Of course, I live in a rather science-dense town so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I guess I’m just surprised at the kinds of comments I get.
Yesterday I took a brief jaunt to our local indy bookstore. To get some ideas for my Tar Heel Tavern post for this weekend (submit your entries!!!), I was picking up Rob Christensen’s, “The Paradox of Tar Heel Politics: The Personalities, Elections, and Events That Shaped Modern North Carolina.” I saw a very nice young couple, probably in their early college years. (“Hey honey, here’s a book about the genome!”)
As I was perusing the stacks, the young man walked by and said:

I respect the mission that your shirt represents.

Not being the typical response I get about my T-shirts, I only muttered some words of thanks as he rushed by quickly. (Note that he said he respected the mission, not that he agreed with it or supported it.)
PLoS has probably given out thousands of T-shirts at scientific conferences – anyone else care to share the responses they get when they wear theirs?

Journal bullying of a grad student

By now you have already heard that my ScienceBlogs colleague, Shelley Batts of Retrospectacle, has been threatened with legal action if she did not remove published figures from a blog post. Shelley had a nifty post on a recent paper in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture detailing how treatment with naturally-occuring volatile compounds (including ethanol and methyl jasmonate) increased the production of antioxidant compounds present in blueberries and strawberries. It was an interesting story but the results didn’t mean that mixing alcohol with fruit mixers was good for you (as represented in some press outlets).
But the story is that Shelley received an e-mail from an editorial assistant for the journal and the London-based Society of Chemical Industry (SCI) requesting that she remove the figures: “If these figures are not removed immediately, lawyers from John Wiley & Sons will contact you with further action.” (Ironically, the tagline for SCI is “where science meets business.” Sounds like it should be “where science gives you the business.”)
So, yes, an agent of the behemoth publisher, John Wiley & Sons, is stomping on a graduate student who has 1) promoted an interesting paper from one of their more obscure journals and 2) corrected some of the press misinformation surrounding the publication.

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