Archive for September 1, 2011

Monbiot’s critique on academic publishers

September 1, 2011 3 comments

Last Monday (2011-08-29) in the Guardian, George Monbiot wrote a critique on academic publishers. He was shocked that this branch of the industry seems to fairing rather well in the current economic crisis (dip 2 and counting). Elsevier had an operating profit margin of 36% and charges a university library over $20,000 for Biochimica et Biophysica Acta. More surprisingly, Elsevier’s operating profit margin now is the same as it was in 1998. It is not these actual numbers that are the biggest problem (although the subscription money is decimating libraries’ budgets and thus the service they can provide). It is where they get the money from.

In short, researchers pay to publish in journals, where their peers perform quality control for these journals for free, and subsequently the journals demand money from everyone who would like to read these articles that passed the quality control.

The money the researchers use to pay for this (directly for their publication or indirectly through their institutions library to read their colleagues’ work) comes from their grants. Most of these grants come from public sources, such as the NIH and NFS grants. For individual and less fortunate universities (especially smaller and foreign ones) have to pay per individual article. How much do Elsevier, Wiley, Springer, NPG, etc. charge per article? Between $20-$42! There are exceptions such as Open Access journals (PLoS, BioMed Central, etc) or other forms of free pre-print (non peer-reviewed) sharing such as arXiv, but as the most prestigious journals: Nature, Science and Cell are not Open Access. The hard labor done by researchers with public money remains hidden behind corporate pay-walls. Why would companies be allowed to make so much money from public funds, while the People cannot access what they already paid for through taxes? It is not that these publishers are adding something to the acquired knowledge, as they ask the same people who write the article to review their colleagues work for free. Or so Monbiot argues.

Apparently Monbiot hit a nerve as this article went viral in the blogosphere. Below you can find some of the links to several responses to Monbiot’s article.

Original article.

Some of the responses: WEIT. Gigaom. Noah Gray. The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Also, Jonathan Eisen, a UC Davis professor is trying to make his dad’s publications freely available, but he also encounters these very same problems.


Edit 1: SciELO (Open Access papers available)

Edit 2: A second article in the Guardian on academic publishers by Ben Goldacre.

How Cilia Do the Wave

September 1, 2011 Leave a comment
Categories: Interesting link

‘Grad student improve lab skills through teaching’

September 1, 2011 Leave a comment

Most of us graduate students are encouraged by our PIs to focus on our bench work in order to produce results. That is what we are primarily trained for. Being a good scientist entails more than just being able to do good, reproducible bench work. This is reflected in our requirements: all of us must do at least 1 quarter of TAing (TA = teaching assistant).

But how useful is it being a TA? According to a new study published in Science, teaching helps graduate students be better at the bench.

“… students who both taught and conducted research demonstrate significantly greater improvement in their abilities to generate testable hypotheses and design valid experiments.”

This sounds like that graduate students should teach more than just 1 quarter (and many do). Trying to explain a scientific concept and your own research to motivated undergraduate students can ask some interesting questions that seem obvious to you if you ask them yourself but are less obvious if you have to explain it to someone else. How useful would it be to try to explain your research to your non-research friends and family? Not just trying to exhaust them with the details of what you are doing, the one you thing you probably think is actually worth while, but the larger picture in which your research fits. To explain it in such a way that your non-research friends and family can ask you questions, rather than that they say that they understand what you are doing (just so you will stop talking some foreign jargon language). Would this be helpful in improving your skills in generation testable hypotheses and design better experiments? It is tempting to think this.

Link to original paper.

Link to related news article about the original paper.

Reacquiant Yourself With Your Favorite Element!

September 1, 2011 Leave a comment

This website offers a dynamic, easy to use interface that allows the user to look at properties of elements in a whole new way. This is fun to play with, and could be a great teaching tool for those of you TAing during the upcoming year.

Categories: Interesting link