Categories
Analysis Scicomm Science

Another controversy, another round of blaming preprints

On February 1, Anand Ranganathan, the molecular biologist more popular as a columnist for Swarajya, amplified a new preprint paper from scientists at IIT Delhi that (purportedly) claims the Wuhan coronavirus’s (2019 nCoV’s) DNA appears to contain some genes also found in the human immunodeficiency virus but not in any other coronaviruses. Ranganathan also chose to magnify the preprint paper’s claim that the sequences’ presence was “non-fortuitous”.

To be fair, the IIT Delhi group did not properly qualify what they meant by the use of this term, but this wouldn’t exculpate Ranganathan and others who followed him: to first amplify with alarmist language a claim that did not deserve such treatment, and then, once he discovered his mistake, to wonder out loud about whether such “non-peer reviewed studies” about “fast-moving, in-public-eye domains” should be published before scientific journals have subjected them to peer-review.

The more conservative scientist is likely to find ample room here to revive the claim that preprint papers only promote shoddy journalism, and that preprint papers that are part of the biomedical literature should be abolished entirely. This is bullshit.

The ‘print’ in ‘preprint’ refers to the act of a traditional journal printing a paper for publication after peer-review. A paper is designated ‘preprint’ if it hasn’t undergone peer-review yet, even though it may or may not have been submitted to a scientific journal for consideration. To quote from an article championing the use of preprints during a medical emergency, by three of the six cofounders of medRxiv, the preprints repository for the biomedical literature:

The advantages of preprints are that scientists can post them rapidly and receive feedback from their peers quickly, sometimes almost instantaneously. They also keep other scientists informed about what their colleagues are doing and build on that work. Preprints are archived in a way that they can be referenced and will always be available online. As the science evolves, newer versions of the paper can be posted, with older historical versions remaining available, including any associated comments made on them.

In this regard, Ranganathan’s ringing the alarm bells (with language like “oh my god”) the first time he tweeted the link to the preprint paper without sufficiently evaluating the attendant science was his decision, and not prompted by the paper’s status as a preprint. Second, the bioRxiv preprint repository where the IIT Delhi document showed up has a comments section, and it was brimming with discussion within minutes of the paper being uploaded. More broadly, preprint repositories are equipped to accommodate peer-review. So if anyone had looked in the comments section before tweeting, they wouldn’t have had reason to jump the gun.

Third, and most important: peer-review is not fool-proof. Instead, it is a legacy method employed by scientific journals to filter legitimate from illegitimate research and, more recently, higher quality from lower quality research (using ‘quality’ from the journals’ oft-twisted points of view, not as an objective standard of any kind).

This framing supports three important takeaways from this little scandal.

A. Much like preprint repositories, peer-reviewed journals also regularly publish rubbish. (Axiomatically, just as conventional journals also regularly publish the outcomes of good science, so do preprint repositories; in the case of 2019 nCoV alone, bioRxiv, medRxiv and SSRN together published at least 30 legitimate and noteworthy research articles.) It is just that conventional scientific journals conduct the peer-review before publication and preprint repositories (and research-discussion platforms like PubPeer), after. And, in fact, conducting the review after allows it to be continuous process able to respond to new information, and not a one-time event that culminates with the act of printing the paper.

But notably, preprint repositories can recreate journals’ ability to closely control the review process and ensure only experts’ comments are in the fray by enrolling a team of voluntary curators. The arXiv preprint server has been successfully using a similar team to carefully eliminate manuscripts advancing pseudoscientific claims. So as such, it is easier to make sure people are familiar with the preprint and post-publication review paradigm than to take advantage of their confusion and call for preprint papers to be eliminated altogether.

B. Those who support the idea that preprint papers are dangerous, and argue that peer-review is a better way to protect against unsupported claims, are by proxy advocating for the persistence of a knowledge hegemony. Peer-review is opaque, sustained by unpaid and overworked labour, and dispenses the same function that an open discussion often does at larger scale and with greater transparency. Indeed, the transparency represents the most important difference: since peer-review has traditionally been the demesne of journals, supporting peer-review is tantamount to designating journals as the sole and unquestionable arbiters of what knowledge enters the public domain and what doesn’t.

(Here’s one example of how such gatekeeping can have tragic consequences for society.)

C. Given these safeguards and perspectives, and as I have written before, bad journalists and bad comments will be bad irrespective of the window through which an idea has presented itself in the public domain. There is a way to cover different types of stories, and the decision to abdicate one’s responsibility to think carefully about the implications of what one is writing can never have a causal relationship with the subject matter. The Times of India and the Daily Mail will continue to publicise every new paper discussing whatever coffee, chocolate and/or wine does to the heart, and The Hindu and The Wire Science will publicise research published in preprint papers because we know how to be careful and of the risks to protect ourselves against.

By extension, ‘reputable’ scientific journals that use pre-publication peer-review will continue to publish many papers that will someday be retracted.

An ongoing scandal concerning spider biologist Jonathan Pruitt offers a useful parable – that journals don’t always publish bad science due to wilful negligence or poor peer-review alone but that such failures still do well to highlight the shortcomings of the latter. A string of papers the work on which Pruitt led were found to contain implausible data in support of some significant conclusions. Dan Bolnick, the editor of The American Naturalist, which became the first journal to retract Pruitt’s papers that it had published, wrote on his blog on January 30:

I want to emphasise that regardless of the root cause of the data problems (error or intent), these people are victims who have been harmed by trusting data that they themselves did not generate. Having spent days sifting through these data files I can also attest to the fact that the suspect patterns are often non-obvious, so we should not be blaming these victims for failing to see something that requires significant effort to uncover by examining the data in ways that are not standard for any of this. … The associate editor [who Bolnick tasked with checking more of Pruitt’s papers] went as far back as digging into some of Pruitt’s PhD work, when he was a student with Susan Riechert at the University of Tennessee Knoxville. Similar problems were identified in those data… Seeking an explanation, I [emailed and then called] his PhD mentor, Susan Riechert, to discuss the biology of the spiders, his data collection habits, and his integrity. She was shocked, and disturbed, and surprised. That someone who knew him so well for many years could be unaware of this problem (and its extent), highlights for me how reasonable it is that the rest of us could be caught unaware.

Why should we expect peer-review – or any kind of review, for that matter – to be better? The only thing we can do is be honest, transparent and reflexive.

Categories
Op-eds Scicomm

Confused thoughts on embargoes

Seventy! That’s how many observatories around the world turned their antennae to study the neutron-star collision that LIGO first detected. So I don’t know why the LIGO Collaboration, and Nature, bothered to embargo the announcement and, more importantly, the scientific papers of the LIGO-Virgo collaboration as well as those by the people at all these observatories. That’s a lot of people and many of them leaked the neutron-star collision news on blogs and on Twitter. Madness. I even trawled through arΧiv to see if I could find preprint copies of the LIGO papers. Nope; it’s all been removed.

Embargoes create hype from which journals profit. Everyone knows this. Instead of dumping the data along with the scientific articles as soon as they’re ready, journals like Nature, Science and others announce that the information will all be available at a particular time on a particular date. And between this announcement and the moment at which the embargo lifts, the journal’s PR team fuels hype surrounding whatever’s being reported. This hype is important because it generates interest. And if the information promises to be good enough, the interest in turn creates ‘high pressure’ zones on the internet – populated by those people who want to know what’s going on.

Search engines and news aggregators like Google and Facebook are sensitive to the formation of these high-pressure zones and, at the time of the embargo’s lifting, watch out for news publications carrying the relevant information. And after the embargo lifts, thanks to the attention already devoted by the aggregators, news websites are transformed into ‘low pressure’ zones into which the aggregators divert all the traffic. It’s like the moment a giant information bubble goes pop! And the journal profits from all of this because, while the bubble was building, the journal’s name is everywhere.

In short: embargoes are a traffic-producing opportunity for news websites because they create ‘pseudo-cycles of news’, and an advertising opportunity for journals.

But what’s in it for someone reporting on the science itself? And what’s in it for the consumers? And, overall, am I being too vicious about the idea?

For science reporters, there’s the Ingelfinger rule promulgated by the New England Journal of Medicine in 1969. It states that the journal will not publish any papers with results that have been previously published elsewhere and/or whose authors have not discussed the results with the media. NEJM defended the rule by claiming it was to keep their output fresh and interesting as well as to prevent scientists from getting carried away by the implications of their own research (NEJM’s peer-review process would prevent that, they said). In the end, the consumers would receive scientific information that has been thoroughly vetted.

While the rule makes sense from the scientists’ point of view, it doesn’t from the reporters’. A good science reporter, having chosen to cover a certain paper, will present the paper to an expert unaffiliated with the authors and working in the same area for her judgment. This is a form of peer-review that is extraneous to the journal publishing the paper. Second: a pro-embargo argument that’s been advanced is that embargoes alert science reporters to papers of importance as well as give them time to write a good story on it.

I’m conflicted about this. Embargoes, and the attendant hype, do help science reporters pick up on a story they might’ve missed out on, to capitalise on the traffic potential of a new announcement that may not be as big as it becomes without the embargo. Case in point: today’s neutron-star collision announcement. At the same time, science reporters constantly pick up on interesting research that is considered old/stale or that wasn’t ever embargoed and write great stories about them. Case in point: almost everything else.

My perspective is coloured by the fact that I manage a very small science newsroom at The Wire. I have a very finite monthly budget (equal to about what someone working eight hours a day and five days a week would make in two months on the US minimum wage) using which I’ve to ensure that all my writers – who are all freelancers – provide both the big picture of science in that month as well as the important nitty-gritties. Embargoes, for me, are good news because it helps me reallocate human and financial resources for a story well in advance and make The Wire‘s presence felt on the big stage when the curtain lifts. Rather, even if I can’t make it on time to the moment the curtain lifts, I’ve still got what I know for sure is good story on my hands.

A similar point was made by Kent Anderson when he wrote about eLife‘s media policy, which said that the journal would not be enforcing the Ingelfinger rule, over at The Scholarly Kitchen:

By waiving the Ingelfinger rule in its modernised and evolved form – which still places a premium on embargoes but makes pre-publication communications allowable as long as they don’t threaten the news power – eLife is running a huge risk in the attention economy. Namely, there is only so much time and attention to go around, and if you don’t cut through the noise, you won’t get the attention. …

Like it or not, but press embargoes help journals, authors, sponsors, and institutions cut through the noise. Most reporters appreciate them because they level the playing field, provide time to report on complicated and novel science, and create an effective overall communication scenario for important science news. Without embargoes and coordinated media activity, interviews become more difficult to secure, complex stories may go uncovered because they’re too difficult to do well under deadline pressures, and coverage becomes more fragmented.

What would I be thinking if I had a bigger budget and many full-time reporters to work with? I don’t know.

On Embargo Watch in July this year, Ivan Oransky wrote about how an editor wasn’t pleased with embargoes because “staffers had been pulled off other stories to make sure to have this one ready by the original embargo”. I.e., embargoes create deadlines that are not in your control; they create deadlines within which everyone, over time, tends to do the bare minimum (“as much as other publications will do”) so they can ride the interest wave and move on to other things – sometimes not revisiting this story again even. In a separate post, Oransky briefly reviewed a book against embargoes by Vincent Kiernan, a noted critic of the idea:

In his book, Embargoed Science, Kiernan argues that embargoes make journalists lazy, always chasing that week’s big studies. They become addicted to the journal hit, afraid to divert their attention to more original and enterprising reporting because their editors will give them grief for not covering that study everyone else seems to have covered.

Alice Bell wrote a fantastic post in 2010 about how to overcome such tendencies: by newsrooms redistributing their attention on science to both upstream and downstream activities. But more than that, I don’t think lethargic news coverage can be explained solely by the addiction to embargoes. A good editor should keep stirring the pot – should keep her journalists moving on good stories, particularly of the kind no one wants to talk about, report on it and play it up. So, while I’m hoping that The Wire‘s coverage of the neutron-star collision discovery is a hit, I’ve also got great pieces coming this week about solar flares, open-access publishing, the health effects of ******** mining and the conservation of sea snakes.

I hope time will provide some clarity.

Featured image credit: Free-Photos/pixabay.

Categories
Scicomm

Are the papers behind this year's Nobel Prizes in the public domain?

Note: One of my editors thought this post would work for The Wire as well, so it’s been republished there.

“… for the greatest benefit of mankind” – these words are scrawled across a banner that adorns the Nobel Prize’s homepage. They are the words of Alfred Nobel, who instituted the prizes and bequeathed his fortunes to run the foundation that awards them. The words were chosen by the prize’s awarders to denote the significance of their awardees’ accomplishments.

However, the scientific papers that first described these accomplishments in the technical literature are often not available in the public domain. They languish behind paywalls erected by the journals that publish them, that seek to cash in on their importance to the advancement of science. Many of these papers are also funded by public money, but that hasn’t deterred journals and their publishers from keeping the papers out of public reach. How then can they be for the greatest benefit of mankind?

§

I’ve listed some of the more important papers published by this year’s laureates; they describe work that earned them their respective prizes. Please remember that my choice of papers is selective; where I have found other papers that are fully accessible – or otherwise – I have provided a note. This said, I picked the papers from the scientific background document first and then checked if they were accessible, not the other way round. (If you, whoever you are, are interested in replicating my analysis but more thoroughly, be my guest; I will help you in any way I can.)

A laureate may have published many papers collectively for which he was awarded (this year’s science laureates are all male). I’ve picked the papers most proximate to their citation from the references listed in the ‘advanced scientific background’ section available for each prize on the Nobel Prize website. Among publishers, the worst offender appears – to no one’s surprise – to be Elsevier.

A paper title in green indicates it’s in the public domain; red indicates it isn’t – both on the pages of the journal itself. Some titles in red maybe available in full elsewhere, such as in university archives. The names of laureates in the papers’ citations are underlined.

Physiology/medicine

“for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm”

The paywall for papers by Young and Rosbash published in Nature were lifted by the journal on the day their joint Nobel Prize was announced. Until then, they’d been inaccessible to the general public. Interestingly, both papers acknowledge funding grants from the US National Institutes of Health, a tax-funded body of the US government.

Michael Young

Restoration of circadian behavioural rhythms by gene transfer in Drosophila – Nature 312, 752 – 754 (20 December 1984); doi:10.1038/312752a0 link

Isolation of timeless by PER protein interaction: defective interaction between timeless protein and long-period mutant PERL – Gekakis, N., Saez, L., Delahaye-Brown, A.M., Myers, M.P., Sehgal, A., Young, M.W., and Weitz, C.J. (1995). Science 270, 811–815. link

Michael Rosbash

Feedback of the Drosophila period gene product on circadian cycling of its messenger RNA levels – Nature 343, 536 – 540 (08 February 1990); doi:10.1038/343536a0 link

The period gene encodes a predominantly nuclear protein in adult Drosophila – Liu, X., Zwiebel, L.J., Hinton, D., Benzer, S., Hall, J.C., and Rosbash, M. (1992). J Neurosci 12, 2735–2744. link

Jeffrey Hall

Molecular analysis of the period locus in Drosophila melanogaster and identification of a transcript involved in biological rhythms – Reddy, P., Zehring, W.A., Wheeler, D.A., Pirrotta, V., Hadfield, C., Hall, J.C., and Rosbash, M. (1984). Cell 38, 701–710. link

P-element transformation with period locus DNA restores rhythmicity to mutant, arrhythmic Drosophila melanogaster – Zehring, W.A., Wheeler, D.A., Reddy, P., Konopka, R.J., Kyriacou, C.P., Rosbash, M., and Hall, J.C. (1984). Cell 39, 369–376. link

Antibodies to the period gene product of Drosophila reveal diverse tissue distribution and rhythmic changes in the visual system – Siwicki, K.K., Eastman, C., Petersen, G., Rosbash, M., and Hall, J.C. (1988). Neuron 1, 141–150. link

Physics

“for decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves”

While results from the LIGO detector were published in peer-reviewed journals, the development of the detector itself was supported by personnel and grants from MIT and Caltech. As a result, the Nobel laureates’ more important contributions were published as a reports since archived by the LIGO collaboration and made available in the public domain.

Rainer Weiss

Quarterly progress reportR. Weiss, MIT Research Lab of Electronics 105, 54 (1972) link

The Blue BookR. Weiss, P.R. Saulson, P. Linsay and S. Whitcomb link

Chemistry

“for developing cryo-electron microscopy for the high-resolution structure determination of biomolecules in solution”

The journal Cell, in which the chemistry laureates appear to have published many papers, publicised a collection after the Nobel Prize was announced. Most papers in the collection are marked ‘Open Archive’ and are readable in full. However, the papers cited by the Nobel Committee in its scientific background document don’t appear there. I also don’t know whether the papers in the collection available in full were always available in full.

Jacques Dubochet

Cryo-electron microscopy of vitrified specimens – Dubochet, J., Adrian, M., Chang, J.-J., Homo, J.-C., Lepault, J., McDowall, A. W., and Schultz, P. (1988). Q. Rev. Biophys. 21, 129-228 link

Vitrification of pure water for electron microscopyDubochet, J., and McDowall, A. W. (1981). J. Microsc. 124, 3-4 link

Cryo-electron microscopy of viruses – Adrian, M., Dubochet, J., Lepault, J., and McDowall, A. W. (1984). Nature 308, 32-36 link

Joachim Frank

Averaging of low exposure electron micrographs of non-periodic objectsFrank, J. (1975). Ultramicroscopy 1, 159-162 link

Three-dimensional reconstruction from a single-exposure, random conical tilt series applied to the 50S ribosomal subunit of Escherichia coli – Radermacher, M., Wagenknecht, T., Verschoor, A., and Frank, J. (1987). J. Microsc. 146, 113-136 link

SPIDER-A modular software system for electron image processingFrank, J., Shimkin, B., and Dowse, H. (1981). Ultramicroscopy 6, 343-357 link

Richard Henderson

Model for the structure of bacteriorhodopsin based on high-resolution electron cryo-microscopyHenderson, R., Baldwin, J. M., Ceska, T. A., Zemlin, F., Beckmann, E., and Downing, K. H. (1990). J. Mol. Biol. 213, 899-929 link

The potential and limitations of neutrons, electrons and X-rays for atomic resolution microscopy of unstained biological moleculesHenderson, R. (1995). Q. Rev. Biophys. 28, 171-193 link (available in full here)

§

By locking the red-tagged papers behind a paywall – often impossible to breach because of the fees involved – they’re kept out of hands of less-well-funded institutions and libraries, particularly researchers in countries whose currencies have lower purchasing power. More about this here and here. But the more detestable thing with the papers listed above is that the latest of them (among the reds) was published in 1995, fully 22 years ago, and the earliest, 42 years go – both on cryo-electron microscopy. Both represent almost unforgivable durations across which to have paywalls, with the journals Nature and Cell further attempting to ride the Nobel wave for attention. It’s not clear if the papers they’ve liberated from behind the paywall will always be available for free hence either.

Read all this in the context of the Nobel Prizes not being awarded to more than three people at a time and maybe you’ll see how much of scientific knowledge is truly out of bounds of most of humankind.

Featured image credit: Pexels/pixabay.

Categories
Scicomm

Are the papers behind this year’s Nobel Prizes in the public domain?

Note: One of my editors thought this post would work for The Wire as well, so it’s been republished there.

“… for the greatest benefit of mankind” – these words are scrawled across a banner that adorns the Nobel Prize’s homepage. They are the words of Alfred Nobel, who instituted the prizes and bequeathed his fortunes to run the foundation that awards them. The words were chosen by the prize’s awarders to denote the significance of their awardees’ accomplishments.

However, the scientific papers that first described these accomplishments in the technical literature are often not available in the public domain. They languish behind paywalls erected by the journals that publish them, that seek to cash in on their importance to the advancement of science. Many of these papers are also funded by public money, but that hasn’t deterred journals and their publishers from keeping the papers out of public reach. How then can they be for the greatest benefit of mankind?

§

I’ve listed some of the more important papers published by this year’s laureates; they describe work that earned them their respective prizes. Please remember that my choice of papers is selective; where I have found other papers that are fully accessible – or otherwise – I have provided a note. This said, I picked the papers from the scientific background document first and then checked if they were accessible, not the other way round. (If you, whoever you are, are interested in replicating my analysis but more thoroughly, be my guest; I will help you in any way I can.)

A laureate may have published many papers collectively for which he was awarded (this year’s science laureates are all male). I’ve picked the papers most proximate to their citation from the references listed in the ‘advanced scientific background’ section available for each prize on the Nobel Prize website. Among publishers, the worst offender appears – to no one’s surprise – to be Elsevier.

A paper title in green indicates it’s in the public domain; red indicates it isn’t – both on the pages of the journal itself. Some titles in red maybe available in full elsewhere, such as in university archives. The names of laureates in the papers’ citations are underlined.

Physiology/medicine

“for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm”

The paywall for papers by Young and Rosbash published in Nature were lifted by the journal on the day their joint Nobel Prize was announced. Until then, they’d been inaccessible to the general public. Interestingly, both papers acknowledge funding grants from the US National Institutes of Health, a tax-funded body of the US government.

Michael Young

Restoration of circadian behavioural rhythms by gene transfer in Drosophila – Nature 312, 752 – 754 (20 December 1984); doi:10.1038/312752a0 link

Isolation of timeless by PER protein interaction: defective interaction between timeless protein and long-period mutant PERL – Gekakis, N., Saez, L., Delahaye-Brown, A.M., Myers, M.P., Sehgal, A., Young, M.W., and Weitz, C.J. (1995). Science 270, 811–815. link

Michael Rosbash

Feedback of the Drosophila period gene product on circadian cycling of its messenger RNA levels – Nature 343, 536 – 540 (08 February 1990); doi:10.1038/343536a0 link

The period gene encodes a predominantly nuclear protein in adult Drosophila – Liu, X., Zwiebel, L.J., Hinton, D., Benzer, S., Hall, J.C., and Rosbash, M. (1992). J Neurosci 12, 2735–2744. link

Jeffrey Hall

Molecular analysis of the period locus in Drosophila melanogaster and identification of a transcript involved in biological rhythms – Reddy, P., Zehring, W.A., Wheeler, D.A., Pirrotta, V., Hadfield, C., Hall, J.C., and Rosbash, M. (1984). Cell 38, 701–710. link

P-element transformation with period locus DNA restores rhythmicity to mutant, arrhythmic Drosophila melanogaster – Zehring, W.A., Wheeler, D.A., Reddy, P., Konopka, R.J., Kyriacou, C.P., Rosbash, M., and Hall, J.C. (1984). Cell 39, 369–376. link

Antibodies to the period gene product of Drosophila reveal diverse tissue distribution and rhythmic changes in the visual system – Siwicki, K.K., Eastman, C., Petersen, G., Rosbash, M., and Hall, J.C. (1988). Neuron 1, 141–150. link

Physics

“for decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves”

While results from the LIGO detector were published in peer-reviewed journals, the development of the detector itself was supported by personnel and grants from MIT and Caltech. As a result, the Nobel laureates’ more important contributions were published as a reports since archived by the LIGO collaboration and made available in the public domain.

Rainer Weiss

Quarterly progress reportR. Weiss, MIT Research Lab of Electronics 105, 54 (1972) link

The Blue BookR. Weiss, P.R. Saulson, P. Linsay and S. Whitcomb link

Chemistry

“for developing cryo-electron microscopy for the high-resolution structure determination of biomolecules in solution”

The journal Cell, in which the chemistry laureates appear to have published many papers, publicised a collection after the Nobel Prize was announced. Most papers in the collection are marked ‘Open Archive’ and are readable in full. However, the papers cited by the Nobel Committee in its scientific background document don’t appear there. I also don’t know whether the papers in the collection available in full were always available in full.

Jacques Dubochet

Cryo-electron microscopy of vitrified specimens – Dubochet, J., Adrian, M., Chang, J.-J., Homo, J.-C., Lepault, J., McDowall, A. W., and Schultz, P. (1988). Q. Rev. Biophys. 21, 129-228 link

Vitrification of pure water for electron microscopyDubochet, J., and McDowall, A. W. (1981). J. Microsc. 124, 3-4 link

Cryo-electron microscopy of viruses – Adrian, M., Dubochet, J., Lepault, J., and McDowall, A. W. (1984). Nature 308, 32-36 link

Joachim Frank

Averaging of low exposure electron micrographs of non-periodic objectsFrank, J. (1975). Ultramicroscopy 1, 159-162 link

Three-dimensional reconstruction from a single-exposure, random conical tilt series applied to the 50S ribosomal subunit of Escherichia coli – Radermacher, M., Wagenknecht, T., Verschoor, A., and Frank, J. (1987). J. Microsc. 146, 113-136 link

SPIDER-A modular software system for electron image processingFrank, J., Shimkin, B., and Dowse, H. (1981). Ultramicroscopy 6, 343-357 link

Richard Henderson

Model for the structure of bacteriorhodopsin based on high-resolution electron cryo-microscopyHenderson, R., Baldwin, J. M., Ceska, T. A., Zemlin, F., Beckmann, E., and Downing, K. H. (1990). J. Mol. Biol. 213, 899-929 link

The potential and limitations of neutrons, electrons and X-rays for atomic resolution microscopy of unstained biological moleculesHenderson, R. (1995). Q. Rev. Biophys. 28, 171-193 link (available in full here)

§

By locking the red-tagged papers behind a paywall – often impossible to breach because of the fees involved – they’re kept out of hands of less-well-funded institutions and libraries, particularly researchers in countries whose currencies have lower purchasing power. More about this here and here. But the more detestable thing with the papers listed above is that the latest of them (among the reds) was published in 1995, fully 22 years ago, and the earliest, 42 years go – both on cryo-electron microscopy. Both represent almost unforgivable durations across which to have paywalls, with the journals Nature and Cell further attempting to ride the Nobel wave for attention. It’s not clear if the papers they’ve liberated from behind the paywall will always be available for free hence either.

Read all this in the context of the Nobel Prizes not being awarded to more than three people at a time and maybe you’ll see how much of scientific knowledge is truly out of bounds of most of humankind.

Featured image credit: Pexels/pixabay.