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October 03, 2013

"I confess, I wrote the Arsenic DNA paper to expose flaws in peer-review at subscription based journals"

I confess, I wrote the Arsenic DNA paper to expose flaws in peer-review at subscription based journals
In 2011, after having read several really bad papers in the journal Science, I decided to explore just how slipshod their peer-review process is. I knew that their business depends on publishing “sexy” papers. So I created a manuscript that claimed something extraordinary - that I’d discovered a bacteria that uses arsenic in its DNA instead of phosphorous. But I made the science so egregiously bad that no competent peer reviewer would accept it. The approach was deeply flawed – there were poor or absent controls in every figure. I used ludicrously elaborate experiments where simple ones would have done. And I failed to include a simple, obvious experiment that would have definitively shown that arsenic was really in the bacteria’s DNA. I then submitted the paper to Science, punching up the impact the work would have on our understanding of extraterrestrials and the origins of life on Earth in the cover letter. And what do you know? They accepted it! My sting exposed the seedy underside of “subscription-based” scholarly publishing, where some journals routinely lower their standards – in this case by sending the paper to reviewers they knew would be sympathetic - in order to pump up their impact factor and increase subscription revenue. Maybe there are journals out there who do subscription-based publishing right – but my experience should serve as a warning to people thinking about submitting their work to Science and other journals like it. OK – this isn’t exactly what happened. I didn’t actually write the paper. Far more frighteningly, it was a real paper that contained all of the flaws described above that was actually accepted, and ultimately published, by Science. I am dredging the arsenic DNA story up again, because today’s Science contains a story by reporter John Bohannon describing a “sting” he conducted into the peer review practices of open access journals. He created a deeply flawed paper about molecules from lichens that inhibit the growth of cancer cells, submitted it to 304 open access journals under assumed names, and recorded what happened. Of the 255 journals that rendered decisions, 157 accepted the paper, most with no discernible sign of having actually carried out peer review. (PLOS ONE, rejected the paper, and was one of the few to flag its ethical flaws). . . .

September 13, 2013

Voyager 1 Has Left the Building, Entered Interstellar Space

(Cross-posted from my Snip, Burn, Solder Blog, since I thought...

Continue reading "Voyager 1 Has Left the Building, Entered Interstellar Space" »

August 29, 2013

The conditions that characterize social recession

Here are the conditions that characterize social...
Here are the conditions that characterize social recession: 1. High expectations of endless rising prosperity have been instilled in generations of citizens as a birthright. 2. Part-time and unemployed people are marginalized, not just financially but socially. 3. Widening income/wealth disparity as those in the top 10% pull away from the shrinking middle class. 4. A systemic decline in social/economic mobility as it becomes increasingly difficult to move from dependence on the state (welfare) or parents to the middle class. 5. A widening disconnect between higher education and employment: a college/university degree no longer guarantees a stable, good-paying job. 6. A failure in the status quo institutions and mainstream media to recognize social recession as a reality. 7. A systemic failure of imagination within state and private-sector institutions on how to address social recession issues. 8. The abandonment of middle class aspirations by the generations ensnared by the social recession: young people no longer aspire to (or cannot afford) consumerist status symbols such as autos. 9. A generational abandonment of marriage, families and independent households as these are no longer affordable to those with part-time or unstable employment, i.e. the “end of work”. 10. A loss of hope in the young generations as a result of the above conditions. Charles Hugh Smith, writing about social recession (“the social and cultural consequences of a permanently recessionary economy”), primarily through the example of the Japanese.