Wednesday, October 16, 2013

An experiment on open access journals

As you may have already heard, an experiment on open access journals was organized by Science magazine. A spoof manuscript describing a novel cancer drug was submitted to 304 open access journals and had a 70% acceptance rate. The manuscript had many intentional errors that should have been picked up easily by the peer review process.
As a fan of the ideals of open access publishing I do believe this was an important finding. Clearly there are problems with the peer review process in these journals. This needs to be addressed.
What I find strange is that the conclusions of this experiment fail basic logic. This experiment had no controls. There were no submissions of the spoof article to closed access journals, therefore it is impossible to conclude that the acceptance of poor scientific manuscripts is specific to open access journals. This stunt was also not a test of the open access ideology or business model, it was only a test of the peer review process of these journals. No doubt, those open access journals that accepted the article clearly failed the most basic requirement of scientific publishing, however Science magazine has also mistakenly accepted flawed papers. I found a more balanced assessment of the meaning of this experiment at National Geographic.


Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Numberphile - The Enigma Machine

Recently posted praise on the Bayblab was directed at SciShow for its easily digestible science stories. Now it appears remiss not to mention other great sources of science snacks. We'll take some time over several posts to cover some of these entertaining sources. Feel free to make some suggestions in the comments.
One source that we have to mention, despite the fact that it is not strictly science, is Numberphile. Numberphile is a Youtube channel that consists of "videos about numbers and stuff." Again, the host is excellent and there are some very interesting videos.
For example, in these days of revelations of the NSA's activities, the history of encryption seems a relevant topic. The Code Book by Simon Singh is a great read covering exactly this topic. Among other encryption stories, The Code Book explains the detailed workings of the Nazi encryption machine known as Enigma. This impressive encryption machine and the cracking of Enigma encryption played a significant role in the course of WWII. While I highly recommend reading The Code Book if you are interested in this topic, two Numberphile videos covering the amazingly complex encryption arising from a seemingly primitive machine do a very good job. The first video explains how the Enigma machine works and reels you in for the second video explaining the flaw that made the Enigma machine possible to crack. In its historical context it is a very compelling story.
I also found it nerdily satisfying that Simon Singh, author of The Code Book, made an appearance on Numberphile to briefly discuss Fermat's last theorem.