Monthly Archives: March 2023

On salmon and for-profit journal publishing

It’s hard to go a day without running into an outraged protest at the cost of publishing in for-profit journals – or, more or less equivalently, an outraged protest at the profit margins of for-profit publishers. And it’s true that publishing in some journals is shockingly expensive (I’m looking at you, €9,750 Nature open-access)  and it’s true that profit margins for some publishers are shockingly high (I’m looking at you, Elsevier, with £1.1 billion on £2.9 billion revenue in 2022, or 38% profit). Who, one might wonder, could intervene to make this stop?

Why, us, of course. We could. But we don’t. Continue reading


SOURs: Strong Opinions Unmoored from Rationale

Scientists really value evidence. Or at least, that’s what we all tell each other: we test hypotheses by confronting them with data, and our view of how the world works reflects the results of all these hypothesis tests. We get very, very upset when charlatans push irrational nonsense like intelligent design, ivermectin treatment for COVID, or the supposed dangers of vaccines. After all, in each case we have a well-founded rationale for declaring “nonsense”: there’s a mountain of evidence that all life on Earth has evolved through natural selection, that ivermectin is useless or worse against COVID, and that vaccines are safe and effective.* If we have a belief about the world, we ask if there’s data to support that belief; and if there isn’t, we change it. Right?

Well, surprisingly often, no. Continue reading

“A Gentleman in Moscow” and scientific writing

In a career, how many extraordinary papers might a scientist write?

I got thinking about this, believe it or not, after noticing a copy of Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow in a neighbourhood Little Free Library. That novel is astonishing (in fact, it’s not at all clear why you’re reading this post instead of A Gentleman in Moscow; but thanks.) Since reading it, I’ve read Towles’ other novels (Rules of Civility and The Lincoln Highway); and while both were fine books well worth my time, neither grabbed me the way A Gentleman in Moscow did.*

Towles isn’t the only author to show this pattern. Continue reading