Berlin12: closed society at an open access conference

Richard Poynder, British independent journalist and open access (OA) activist of many years, has reported on December 17th 2015 about the recent Berlin12 meeting. This conference took place in its namesake location on December 8-9th 2015 and was the eleventh successor of the seminal Berlin conference in 2003, where the famous OA declaration was drafted, known as the  Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities. Poynder’s key worry was that there was actually not much to report about, since the meeting was by invitation only, while its list of participants and even its specific agenda and minutes were not released to the public by its organisers.

Poynder unsuccessfully tried to obtain these details from the (predominantly German) conference organisers and named his blog post therefore: “The open access movement slips into closed mode”He also contacted the conference Chair Ulrich Pöschl, who is the director of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz as well as chief executive editor at the OA post-publication peer review journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. This is how Poynder quotes Pöschl on the matter of the Berlin12 meeting’s purpose:

“As specified in the official news release from the conference, the advice and statements of the participants will be incorporated in the formulation of an ‘Expression of Interest’ that outlines the goal of transforming subscription journals to open access publishing and shall be released in early 2016”.

Continue reading “Berlin12: closed society at an open access conference”

Optionally transparent peer review: a major step forward, but which direction?

Optionally transparent peer review: a major step forward, but which direction?

A journal of the Nature Publishing group (NPG) has recently announcedTransparent peer review at Nature Communications”.

I was dumbstruck. A journal of the notoriously elitist, secretive NPG, is opening its peer review, after going open access (OA) just one year before? Will Nature Communications be the avant-garde of open science at NPG, transforming the entire institution from the inside? Should all these OA and transparency advocating scientists, who turned their backs on established publishers in disappointment, return and start again submitting their research with the new, open NPG?

Hold your horses. The editorial announcement went on with the sub-headline: “Authors of papers submitted from January 2016 will be given the option to publish the peer review history of their paper”. This means, it is up to the authors to decide whether they want the world to see how their paper got accepted at Nature Communications. To me it looked as nothing but a pretence of openness, exactly because where the peer review history is expected to be most informative it might be unavailable. Straight away, I wrote an angry comment below the article that such “openness” is nothing more than a fig leaf, in fact a subversive move against the entire OA and science transparency movement. I even demanded that Nature Communications should instead follow the example of the EMBO Journal, which according to my knowledge published review reports of all their accepted manuscripts. Continue reading “Optionally transparent peer review: a major step forward, but which direction?”

Post-publication peer review: signed or anonymous?

Post-publication peer review: signed or anonymous?

The post-publication peer review (PPPR) has become a heated discussion topic. Precisely, the issue is not whether PPPR is necessary (the opposition comes only from the most system-entrenched dinosaurs or from those who have their good reasons to fear PPPR). It is the anonymity of PPPR which is under debate. The discussion was kicked-off by Michael Blatt, botany professor at the University of Glasgow, in an editorial in the journal Plant Physiology, where he is editor-in-chief. Blatt’s concern was the perceived lack of responsibility behind the anonymous public criticisms left on the PPPR internet platform PubPeer. Soon enough, his editorial was hotly debated on PubPeer as well, including by myself, and most prominently, by the physics professor from University of Nottingham, Philip Moriarty.  Moriarty has a strong record of promoting research integrity and reproducibility, yet he always does it in the open and is strongly opposed to anonymity in academic discussions. Hence, he lent his support to Blatt by calling for openness at PPPR, decrying the insistence on anonymity behind even the most “innocuous” PubPeer comments.

I have been in personal contact with Blatt and Moriarty, and my initial scepticism gave way to my support of their ideas. Importantly, they both agree on the need for the whistle-blower protection where data integrity concerns are reported. Blatt is convinced that the identity of the whistle-blower should be known at least to the direct recipient of evidence, whose task would be to treat it fully confidentially. Moriarty’s case however is less with the accusations of possible data manipulation and misconduct, but with the scientific discussion, which is exactly what PPPR is about.  He sees no reason to hide one’s identity while expressing objective and thought-through criticisms of a published paper. I tend to agree with him, and will provide below examples on how anonymity in PPPR can become counter-productive or even toxic, while signed PPPR can lead to remarkable results and to personal recognition for named scientists involved therein. Continue reading “Post-publication peer review: signed or anonymous?”

Is EMBO funding misconduct?

This is a NEWS post.

My Twitter feed recently showed that the highly respected European research organisation, EMBO, is funding a scientist directly associated with possible misconduct and data manipulation.

EMBO has announced on December 8th: Nine scientists receive EMBO Installation Grants, each of the nine recipients is also to obtain the prestigious title of EMBO Young Investigator.

The problematic scientist in question is the Portuguese Sónia Melo, with research interest in “Exosomes in intra-tumor heterogeneity”. She is returning to Europe from the MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, US, and is to receive from EMBO the funding of ” 50,000 Euros annually for three to five years” for her new lab in University of Porto, Portugal.

Indeed, Melo’s publication list is stellar, her sheer impact factor justifies every possible research grant. Or does it? Are image duplications any kind of concern for EMBO, especially those strangely rotated and flipped ones, which can very unlikely happen due to negligence or technical error? Continue reading “Is EMBO funding misconduct?”

Stem cell cures for everything, Made in Germany by TICEBA

Stem cell cures for everything, Made in Germany by TICEBA

The Heidelberg-based company TICEBA (abbreviated from Tissue & Cell Banking) is not your ordinary run-of-the-mill cell bank. This German company, scientifically advised by the Harvard professor Markus Frank, claims that our skin contains pluripotent stem cells, which are capable of curing all kinds of diseases. This concept is utterly unsupported by scientific literature, and is widely rejected by stem cell scientists. Nevertheless, there is internet evidence that the company’s founder, Christoph Ganss is already treating patients with these cells, in East Asia and even in EU and in Germany. According to certain (sometimes already removed) internet information, patients are being offered autologous “stem cell” injections not only for beauty treatments, but also as cures for type II diabetes, cardiovascular problems, hereditary degenerative eye diseases, and possibly even cancer.

Stem Cell for Sale

A small price to pay for youth and health

My investigation started with an advertisement in a Lufthansa in-flight magazine, which I was browsing during my return flight from a family visit in Riga in August 2015. The Heidelberg-based company TICEBA advertised to inclined customers on page 41 under the headline “You will age. Your cells won’t” some very exciting service:

“We like a tiny sample of your skin. Separate the stem cells. Store your stem cells in liquid nitrogen. Forever. Then, one day, when old age or illness overtakes you, we re-programme them. Introduce them back into your body. Regenerate you using your younger, stronger, healthier self. It’s not science fiction. Just science”.

Continue reading “Stem cell cures for everything, Made in Germany by TICEBA”

Open Science, Open Scientists

Open Science, Open Scientists

On the evening of December 5th, I participated at the OpenCon Satellite Event in Berlin. It was organised by Jon Tennant and Peter Grabitz, my travelling was kindly subsidised by Stephanie Dawson on behalf of the publisher ScienceOpen.

First of all, I am glad that it is now understood that Open Access (OA) is not a final goal in itself, but the first key step to achieve reliable and transparent academic research. Open Science is about more than just open access to scientific literature. It is even more that openness of published data. It is about the openness of the entire research and the researchers. Academic research is riddled with back-room dealings and hidden conflicts of interests at peer reviews and scientist evaluations as well as with irreproducibility of published results, unacceptably widespread over- or even false interpretation of experimental data and even misconduct. Opening scientific literature without changing what is actually being published, without addressing the way how science is performed and presented, and how scientists are evaluated, could easily result in the OA revolution being hijacked by utterly wrong people. The currently hotly debated issue of predatory publishing and the scientists involved therein is just one example to be named here.

It is good therefore, that Open Science meeting and workshops involving young scientists and activists take place. Continue reading “Open Science, Open Scientists”

Future of PhD: rabid social Darwinism and wicked concepts for more power abuse

Future of PhD: rabid social Darwinism and wicked concepts for more power abuse

Nature News made a survey and asked scientists about the perspectives of PhD. The tag line goes:

“There are too many PhD students for too few academic jobs — but with imagination, the problem could be solved”.

One of the suggestions, by Anthony Hyman, cell biologist and director of the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, Germany, is to “split” the PhD. Nature News reports:

“Students in the academic-track PhD would focus on blue-skies research and discovery, he says. A vocational PhD would be more structured and directed towards specific careers in areas such as radiography, machine learning or mouse-model development”.

To me, this idea, unless Hyman has not thought it properly through, can be only described as wicked, exactly because it is perfectly applicable. All one needs, is the will to actually do something so unscrupulous and nefarious.

The article opens with Paula Stephan, full professor of economics and associate dean at Georgia State University, USA,  demanding “that graduate departments partake in birth control”. I am not sure whether depriving a large number of hopeful, ambitious and intelligent young people from access to PhD education is comparable to the wriggling sperm inside a discharged condom. It seems, the tenured faculty cynicism towards those who wish to make same careers as they did, has reached new, unsavoury levels. It is also a pity that Nature News chose to retain Stephan’s wording about “birth control” unchallenged.

Nevertheless, the problem is there and it needs to be somehow solved. Continue reading “Future of PhD: rabid social Darwinism and wicked concepts for more power abuse”