Author Archive

April 1, 2011

Science in China – Quantity over Quality?

by Abi Millar

According to a new report from the Royal Society, China will soon overtake the US in terms of scientific research activity.

Currently the second highest producer of research output in the world, China could reach the top spot as early as 2013 if its current rate of progress continues. Brazil, Russia and India are also working their way up the global league tables, steadily gaining ground on the world’s traditional scientific leaders.

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April 1, 2011

Is the UK Budget Peer Reviewed?

by Abi Millar

The UK budget, announced on March 23, contained some good news for scientists: measures will be taken to streamline clinical trials, along with a £100 million investment in research infrastructure.

Scientists concerned with methodological rigour, however, might be just as interested in the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of the budget as its results. How are such decisions arrived at? Is the budget peer reviewed? Who holds the government’s spending decisions to account?

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March 31, 2011

Nature Climate Change – A Precarious Balancing Act

by Abi Millar

This spring sees a new arrival to the Nature group: Nature Climate Change, a journal exploring climate change from a cross-disciplinary perspective. While most of the Nature journals are dedicated to particular disciplines (Neuroscience, Biotechnology, Chemistry etc.), Nature Climate Change has a wider berth. Spanning everything from anthropology to oceanography, it is designed to appeal more broadly than your average research journal can.

While Nature itself has given a glowing welcome to its youngest sibling, there is mounting cynicism in the blogosphere. Some comments rail against the journal’s interest in the ‘impacts and implications’ of climate change, as opposed to climate change per se. They believe that focussing on policy and ethics will tarnish the Nature Group’s reputation as a ‘hard science’ publisher. Others go further, suggesting that Nature Climate Change is in essence just a trade magazine for the climate change industry.

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March 22, 2011

Intelligent Design and the Sternberg Controversy

by Abi Millar

One of the major all-time scandals within peer review was the Sternberg Controversy. This happened a few years ago now, but it is worthwhile casting our glance back and examining the issues which emerged.

In 2004, journal editor Richard Sternberg published a paper by Stephen C. Meyer which came out in support of Intelligent Design. The journal, Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, has a rigorous peer review procedure, but it appears that when it came to this paper, Sternberg relaxed the usual rules.

Intelligent Design is generally thought to lack scientific credibility, in part because there have been no reputable peer-reviewed papers published in its defence. And although Meyer’s article,”The origin of biological information and the higher taxonomic categories” was in fact peer-reviewed, it is believed that Sternberg may have cherry-picked the reviewers. They are thought to have come from Christian institutions, thus mirroring his own, non-Darwinian, beliefs.

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March 22, 2011

Citation ‘Bias’ in a Small World

by Abi Millar

Image: Breakdown of citations on the KamLAND paper

The Nature paper I was given to analyse, ‘Experimental investigation of geologically produced antineutrinos with KamLAND‘, turned out to have one of the highest rates of citation bias of any of the papers we examined.

 As Debora Miranda puts it, citation bias refers to  ‘a potential influence of choice’. Bias A means one of the authors of the original article was the same as in the citing paper. Bias B means he or she came from the same institution as an author in the citing paper. And Bias C refers to any other known link between the authors.

Hopefully we have made it clear that, although a high level of bias may imply an element of self-promotion or cliquishness, we can’t draw such inferences lightly. This paper is a case in point. Despite the fact that 33% of the citing papers showed some ‘bias’, there are legitimate reasons why this should be the case.

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March 18, 2011

Geneticists top the science hot list

by Abi Millar

Thomson Reuters last week published a list of 2010’s hottest researchers. The list comprises the 13 researchers responsible for the greatest number of ‘Hot Papers’, seven of whom are geneticists.

Thomson Reuters Hot Papers are frontrunners when it comes to science metrics. To quality as a Hot Paper, a work must be less than two years old and have attained a large number of citations on the Web of Science database. Specifically, it needs to fall in the top 0.1% of the most cited papers.

The most cited author of all was the biologist Eric S. Lander who, as president and director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, is highly renowned in his field. Lander contributed to ten hot papers in 2010, and this is his seventh appearance on the list.

Other hot-listers of note include the Nobel Prize winning Andre K. Geim, three researchers from deCODE genetics in Iceland, and Francis S. Collins,  who headed up the Human Genome Project.

So what, if anything, can we extrapolate from this list?

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