Saturday, March 19, 2011

Changes in Science Publishing.

Recently, Johnathan Eisen and his colleages at UC-Davis published this paper in PLoSOne. The paper deals with shotgun sequencing (breaking up DNA into many small segments and sequencing the pieces, fitting them together where they overlap) of environmental samples from the ocean, and while interesting on it's own merit is not why I bring it up. The very interesting thing about this paper is that the authors have chosen to forgo a press release through the university press office, and have instead used Eisen's professional blog to provide commentary on the article.

I note - we are not doing a press release for the paper, for a few reasons. But one of them is that, well, I am starting to hate press releases. So I guess this is kind of my press release. But this will be a bit longer than most press... releases. I note - my key fear here is that somehow in my communications with the press or in our text in the paper or in this post I will overstate our findings. Here is the punchline - we found some very phylogenetically novel forms of phylogenetic marker genes in metagenomic data. We do not have a conclusive explanation for the origin of these sequences. They may be from novel viruses. The may be ancient paralogs of the marker genes. Or they may be from a new branch of cellular organisms in the tree of life, distinct from bacteria, archaea or eukaryotes. I think most likely they are from novel viruses. But we just don't know.
PZ Myers pointed out just how revolutionary this is, and how it should scare people who are not currently up to snuff on communicating. This is the new model of science, public, accessible, and direct. The obvious advantage is no misinterpretation or distortion occurs as the information moves from authors and journal article through science journalists and reporters to the public. Eisen has made it very clear that he has no explanation for where the strange sequences have come, only hypotheses, and because of this it's impossible for this research to be interpreted any other way (though journalists may still try with hype words). It is very much like giving a seminar on your research for the whole world.

The disadvantage (to those unexperienced with blogging) is every scientist may soon be expected to blog their discoveries simultaneously with publication. In addition, journals will continue to become more open access, so science will be more accessible to the public in raw form, necessitating explanation that the layperson can understand.

In this brave new world, I've decided to become an early adopter. I've changed my profile so this blog has my name and face, and I pledge to blog every single publication from this point on. As I am not yet published (one article nearly in press, two more on the way), this means that I pledge to blog every publication I ever write in my entire life.

In addition, I'm going to be updating this blog more often. I still need to finish the Principles of the ICZN series, which I had forgotten about.

Watch this space; the changes will continue.

1 comment:

Holly said...

Hey hey! Good on you. Can't wait to see more. Get out and about -- shout about your blog so people know you're here. No shame in self-promotion in this arena.