PLoS Requires PIs to Cut and Deposit a Finger during Each Submission

In a new policy, PLoS requires PIs to cut and deposit one of their fingers every time they submit a paper, or at least that is the sense you get after reading the reactions about ‘new policy’ online.

JATdS commented -

Jerry, I though this was quite a new and extremely important point that I think very few have actually thought about carefully.

[text removed]

Go ahead, use your imagination, and feel that cold chill creep up your spine

DrugMonkey wrote -

PLoS is letting the inmates run the asylum and this will kill them

and

Unfortunately PLoS has decided to listen to the wild-eyed fanatics and to play in their fantasy realm of paranoid ravings.

This is a shame and will further isolate PLoS reputation.

-——————————————————————-

We decided to check what the ‘fanatic’, ‘shameful’ and ‘insane’ policy that gives ‘cold chill up spine’ is and found it to be rather mundane. PLoS now requires researchers to deposit supporting data needed to arrive at the conclusions of their papers, such as - deposit the unicorn genome, if your paper is on genome analysis revealing why unicorns have long horns. Oh the horror of backing your claims with data !!!!

Typical fears -

i) Big labs will ‘scoop’ small labs post- publication

The problem with data sharing is that is favors disproportionately big laboratories (big gets bigger model), though the extent of this may depend on the field. Lets say you are the head of a small laboratory, competing against big laboratories with lots of manpower. One of the valuables you have are your datasets, which you can mine for more than a single paper. If you publish a good study, typically there is residual value in your dataset that you can publish later on. If you share your data, big labs can always parasitize your data andscoop you. Given that there are more small labs than big labs, I dont see this idea gaining in popularity.

[summary: they will steal my unicorn]

ii) Small labs will ‘scoop’ big labs post- publication

Jerry, I though this was quite a new and extremely important point that I think very few have actually thought about carefully. I have noticed in several journals that alot of supplementary files are added online. Many of these files are raw data sets in Excel, Word, PowerPoint and other simple file formats. Indeed, these datasets would allow for the verification and reproducibility in the hands of a RESPONSIBLE researcher, and that, I believe is the main drive by PLOS, i.e., to increase accountability. The objective is bold, the dream is noble, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with what PLOS is trying to achieve, despite the anti-PLOS crowd out there. BUT, I personally believe that Jerrys last point is going to be the serious thorn in the side of science, not only of PLOS if this policy is actively pursued. There is a serious, very serious risk that unethical scientists will pick up on those raw data sets and manipulate or abuse them to create new data sets. Just the actual thought of it is scary. Think about it, what is stopping an individual from a poorly stocked lab coming to a high class journal, picking up the raw data that has been set there originally to implement transparency, and then manipulate it to create new data sets that are then sent to other medium or high class journals? I think PLOS and the scientific community had better stop dead in their tracks to re-think the risks, not only the benefits. As I say, this idea hadnt even crossed my mind until Jerry suggested it. You may think that my ideas are radical, or folly, but please put this into a realistic context. Put aside the excellent journals for one moment, like Nature, or PNAS, or JBC, PLOS, BMC (whatever). Now, pick up any journal in Marsland Press selection (http://sciencepub.net/), and see how open access files of raw data may be extremely dangerous. Go ahead, use your imagination, and feel that cold chill creep up your spine

[summary: they will repaint my beloved unicorn and call it a zebra]

iii) Neuroscience is special

Im trying to think of more ways to frame this. heres another try:

There is no answer to the question what is rat behavior in response to X? in the sense that there is an answer to what is the structure of rat myoglobin? There is only what some particular group of rats did when some version of X (as understood and applied by a given experimenter under lab conditions that they can only partially control) happened to them. The data are everything those rats did that the experimenter chose to observe/measure after they did X to them. (Youve already made important choices in deciding what to measure.) Many information-reducing and analytical steps later, there is a summary of what you decided was important and quantifiable about what the rats did.

This approximate, mediated, interpreted, judgment-based, tentative kind of conclusion is what neuroscience (and many sciences) lives with.

[summary: neuroscience researchers create unicorns like nobody else]

iv) Others will try to reproduce your results and fail because they use different software

[summary: Windows-based unicorns behave differently from Linux-based unicorns]

v) Others will try to reproduce your results and fail because they are not as skilled as you

[summary: raising unicorn needs special skill]

vi) Third-worlders are too inferior to touch your data/code

So, now it will be the responsibility of the authors to make online available huge datasets like tomography data that can easily reach tens of TBs? Or upload the used software, that alone can make a mid level laboratory into cutting edge?

If this gets pursued, it will actually hurt the big labs that do science from a big budget. Those who will benefit will be the institutes with insane amount of manpower but still low funding (second class institutes in developing countries). If human workforce is cheaper than research it will be quite tempting to re-use the available real data to squeeze more out of it without spending a dime on actual experiments. As the know-how is not uploaded, journals should be prepared for a storm of papers with misinterpreted experiments.

[summary: unicorns cannot survive in those crowded developing countries]

We wonder whether the reaction would be this strong, if PLoS indeed asked for deposition of fingers instead of data.


Do not forget to check our new membership site with a lot more information on bioinformatics.

Written by M. //