The Prime Evil of Science Accountability

Written by Jordan Anaya

It is said the devil’s greatest trick was convincing us he doesn’t exist. And for a while he succeeded. He told us that he would help distribute our research to the world. He told us he would put a stamp of approval on the work so that we knew we could trust it.

And the devil did us a favor, for we didn’t have the ability to distribute the work ourselves. Tragically, by the time we were given the gift of fire from the heavens, we had grown too dependent on the devil. We needed his stamp of approval to get jobs, to get grants.

Science no longer mattered; all that mattered was pleasing the devil. We worked on projects just because the devil told us they were “sexy”. We tried to appease him before anyone else, regardless of if we believed the results or not. If others asked us for help we shunned them, because their approval meant nothing, only the devil’s did. Being an academic no longer meant being a scientist; it simply meant appeasing the devil.

And the best academics were by far the best worshippers, for they were born in the devil’s image. They ruled their labs with an iron fist, and were empowered by their universities because of the money the devil gave them. They were treated as Gods.

They could commit sexual harassment and no one would bat an eye. If another lab tried to disprove their fraudulent work, their university would protect them to the bitter end while continuing with clinical trials and printing press releases. A few true scientists began to notice the trick the devil had pulled, and they started to promote blasphemous ideas.

They said we should be sharing our work before the devil approves it. But how could we trust the work without the devil? And if we share our work with the world before giving it to the devil, will he still approve it? Will we still be able to get jobs? Because of these concerns the sinners were easily ignored. But as it became more difficult to please the devil and he took longer to approve our work, others started to see the error in our ways.

Groups of true scientists started openly sharing their work, consequences be damned. Feeling threatened, the devil tried to tell us about all the good he does for us, about the value he adds to our work, about how much work he makes freely available. But this didn’t convince anyone. So instead the devil decided to tell his lies behind the mask of the media. And while this may fool the weak minded, it doesn’t fool everyone.

Really guys, come on, you realize most scientists are smarter than you, right? In fact, most of you are just failed scientists. Recently we’ve had an article in The Guardian basically telling us publishers are saints. Who wrote the article? Stephen Lotinga, who is Chief Executive of The Publishers Association, but of course he doesn’t mention that.

Reading that article was vomit inducing. And now we’ve got the CEO of Cell Press discussing preprint servers under the pretense of explaining whether or not Cell Press will accept papers sent to preprint servers. She starts the article off with a very clear “yes”.

Great, glad we can move on, nothing to see here. But then she immediately says Cell Press will have to talk to you about your preprint. Wait, what? You just said it was okay. No takesy backsies. She goes on to explain the policy of Cell Press is vague, and does so as vaguely as possible. Have to give her credit, now we have to hear everything she has to say about preprints. She explains that preprints are still very much only being test driven, and aren’t safe for commercial use. And she is surprised by complaints about publishing, because it has experienced unprecedented innovation recently.

Hmm, that sounds like something the devil would say. I couldn’t help but laugh when she said that although preprints have worked great for physicists we still have to be careful. Does she think we are 5 years old? It’s like me trying to convince kids not to eat their delicious looking meal by telling them how bad it tastes. I know it looks like I’m enjoying my meal, but I’m not, and you won’t enjoy yours. In fact, I’ll do you a favor. I’ll eat your meal for you. You can thank me later.

When she wrote that critical thinking can turn into propaganda she must have been rolling on the floor laughing, or at the very least had a huge smirk on her face. Here she is spewing propaganda and she is warning us about other people who claim to have great new ideas. She should really just go ahead and take a bow. Maybe the devil’s greatest trick actually was convincing us someone else is the devil. Really, her work here could be done and she could finish enjoying her cocktail made from tears of scientists.

But no, she’s not done! She goes on to “objectively” discuss 10 things she thinks we should be discussing with preprints. But really it’s just her giving herself an opportunity to tell us 10 things we should be worrying about with preprints and why we should be scared to preprint our work. It’s like how in high school to promote abstinence they show you pictures of a bunch of sexual diseases.

Did Dis Dude Just Did Dis!?!? Yep, she did.

And I’m not the only one who noticed. Others have already listed their 10 point rebuttal in the comments section of the article. I’m actually kind of surprised Cell let the comments get posted. These readers have already done an excellent job, but I’ll quickly add my two cents.

1. What is the status of a preprint? Is it a publication?

Yes, preprints are citable, which is basically what makes a publication a publication. I’ve had my preprints cited. No, they aren’t used to sneak research through the back door. We already have PLOS ONE for that.

2. Do papers on preprint servers establish priority claims?

Again, what are we, five years old racing to see who gets to sit shotgun? The only people who care about priority are the journals because they will get the most readerships for new articles. And sometimes they don’t even care. Glamour journals have had no problem publishing Feng Zhang’s work after Doudna publishes it.

3. How do we advocate for the importance of peer review while also encouraging the dissemination and promotion of non-peer-reviewed science?

I don’t believe in traditional peer-review, I believe post-publication peer review is far more effective. By self-selecting themselves these reviewers are much more qualified than the random reviewers we currently use. All of the errors and fraud in the literature are enough evidence that our current system isn’t some sacred cow we should be worshipping.

4. Is it appropriate to post a paper to a preprint server after it’s gone out for review?

Is this a trick question? Are you talking about a situation where a journal has a no preprint policy and then the author preprints the paper once it gets past the editor? Because I have no idea how else this could be seen as inappropriate.

5. What problem is a preprint server aiming to solve?

You, the problem is you.

6. Is the motivation for preprints a desire to create a playing field on which all science is equal?

I would say the motivation is to create an even playing field where the best work will be given the chance to show its merits.

7. What are the impacts for scholarship?

Preprints should be cited, get over it already.

8. Are there an optimal number of biology preprint servers, and how is that managed?

Huh, how many scientific journals are there? And how do we keep track of those? Oh yeah, PubMed indexes them. Gee, if only we had a PubMed for preprints. Wait, actually we do, I made it.

9. Do preprint servers help or hurt information overload?

Is this your Steph Curry half court heat check moment? You want to see just how ridiculous of an argument you can make and still have us believe it? Most preprints will end up getting published, so the total amount of literature doesn’t increase by much.

10. What are the expectations of data and reagent sharing for preprints?

Scientists will only share their data if they want to. Journals have been completely impotent in forcing scientists to share data, so I don’t see why preprint servers would be expected to enforce this. Even when a journal has a policy that says data must be made available, a lawyer from the university can just claim that the data won’t be used in good faith. Heck, MiTranscriptome has been in beta for a year and a half with numerous complaints on their user forum and I’m pretty sure Nature Genetics hasn’t thought for a second about retracting the paper.


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