Everywhere in twitter, bioinformaticians appear to be in shock over Springer- owned BMC’s arbitrary decision to retract Gangolf Jobb’s paper for his political protest over the refugee crisis. A small subset of exemplary tweets are shown above. Additional details about this developing crisis are posted here and here. The second link includes an interview with Gangolf, the courageous author of Treefinder, who continued to make the software useful for academics using his own money many years after publishing the original paper that is being retracted for no reason.
There are several implications of Springer’s decision.
1. Given that Springer owns both BMC and Nature, many bioinformatics papers are at risk.
2. It is safe to say that a large fraction of published bioinformatics programs from 2004 are not available anywhere. That means those papers are due for retraction.
3. If Springer/Nature/BMC claim that they will not apply the same standard to other papers, that will only prove the political and arbitrary nature of their current decision.
4. One can say that Gangolf got punished, because he continued to improve his program over the years and make it useful for academics eleven years after publication. Otherwise, nobody would have cared about his decision on license change. That factor also has major implications for continued development of bioinformatics programs, and people who have long term plans to do so.
5. This move by Springer will damage bioinformatics badly, and many authors interested in maintaining high-quality of their programs will choose not to publish about their software in journals at all, or take the good versions closed-source. Retraction used to be a rarely used tool for punishing scientific fraud. If the same tool can be used by journals to arbitrarily remove scientific papers a decade or two after publication for flimsy political reasons, what is the point in paying them big fee for nothing?
6. Speaking of fraud, the same Springer journals already bent over backwards to allow Manolis Kellis to change his supplement, when Lior Pachter made a well-argued case of real scientific fraud.
5. Larger social implication - if you publish scientific paper with Anglo- Saxon franchises, you will also have to sell your soul to their political corruption. The message is clear. Be like Sean Eddy and you will be rewarded. Protest scams inside or outside science, and you will be punished.
Anyone being able to connect the dots and extend with some imagination will see the following prediction come true sooner rather than later.