Gene editing controversy, #MeToo movement in academia, citizen science, and more! (Good reads, November 2018)

Gene editing controversy, #MeToo movement in academia, citizen science, and more! (Good reads, November 2018)

It’s that time of the month, when we bring you some of the most interesting discussions from scholarly publishing world. The idea is to keep you updated about some of the topics that people in academia and publishing circles are talking about and to help you build a more well-rounded perspective. This month, we have a very interesting selection of posts for you to read through – a unique disobedience award for scientists, a very different perspective on the story that created ripples in academia – the birth of the world’s first genetically edited babies, a journal that gives researchers a chance to publish papers on controversial topics without the risk of social ridicule, a perspective on citizen science, and the pros of cons of a journal editorial boards having an academic editor. What an interesting mix! Enjoy reading!

1. Does Jiankui’s gene editing work deserve the backlash it received? One of the biggest news this month was Chinese researcher He Jiankui’s announcement of the world’s first genetically edited twin babies’ birth. He claimed to have disabled CCR5, a gene that allows a cell to get infected with HIV, so that they do not get infected with HIV like their father. Jiankui received severe backlash since the effects of germline editing in humans are still unclear and it is banned in most countries, though not in China. Several bioethicists and mainstream researchers around the world, including some Chinese biomedical researchers, have criticized Jainkui’s work. However, in an interview, geneticist George Church at Harvard University said the criticism toward Jiankui has been too harsh. “But let’s be quantitative before we start being accusatory,” Church added. While Church agrees that germline editing is risky, he says that it boils down to whether this work is a step toward helping mankind or not, and that there is a need to view this experiment objectively and scientifically.    

2. The #MeToo movement in academia: Several women around the world shared their stories about harassment and tried to change the social trends and perspectives as part of the #MeToo campaign. Women in academia too took the opportunity to advance this movement. LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman launched the “Disobedience Award to honor people “who engage in ethical, nonviolent acts of disobedience in service of society.” This prize was awarded to women scientists who came forward to express their dissent in the #MeToo campaign in science. The $250,000 prize money will be shared by BethAnn McLaughlin, a neuroscientist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, biologist Sherry Marts and Tarana Burke, the founder of the #MeToo movement. Each of the winners has brought about some changes in the way sexual harassment in academia is perceived and dealt with.

3. Enabling researchers to publish papers on controversial topics: Researchers are often hesitant to work on topics that could be considered controversial. This could be because of the fear of journal rejection or public criticism in academic circles. Aiming to give academics a chance to work on such topics, the Journal of Controversial Ideas claims to allow academics “to publish papers on controversial topics under a pseudonym.” The idea is to encourage authors to feel free to take up critical scientific topics that could be controversial, without the fear of professional and social disapproval as authors would be able to publish their work under a pseudonym. Discussing this concept, authors of the post, Haixin Dang and Joshua Habgood-Coote share their views about why this might not be a great idea.

4. Do citizen science papers “burn more brightly and fade more quickly?” The uptake of citizen science has increased over the years. In fact, a recent analysis found that the papers involving citizen science have a greater impact than those that do not involve the public. Sten Odenwald, a NASA astronomer, studied 143 published papers in the field of space science and astronomy, which were a result of 43 citizen science projects. He found that these papers had “an annual citation rate four times higher than the typical paper produced using conventional methods of data collection and analysis.” Odenwald feels that his findings would encourage more citizens to get involved in science projects. An interesting observation he also made was that the citations for these papers peaked three years after they were published and then dropped, suggesting that these papers “burn more brightly and fade more quickly in interest compared to traditional research results,” in his words. With the right guidance and attention to participation learning, these projects are likely to produce more high-quality findings.

5. Whom do you favor – academic editors or professional editors? Recently, an interesting article published in The Times Higher Education (THE) discussed the pros and cons of a journal having an academic editor versus a professional editor. Academic editors, as we all know, are strapped for time since they serve as a journal’s editor apart from fulfilling their other duties as an academic. Moreover, they are usually underpaid for their job as an editor. Therefore, it is likely that their own projects will take precedence over their editorial duties. On the other hand are professional editors who take on editorial work full time and may have a more impartial view when it comes to conflicts of interest. However, they “typically have PhDs and perhaps some postdoctoral or industrial experience, but are unlikely to have run their own labs,” so many believe they may lack scientific judgement and be more interested in boosting the journal’s impact factor. Which category would make for a better editor? In a poll conducted by THE, with 72 respondents, 56% believed that academic editors serve academia better than professional ones. Many, however, believe that professional editors will “play an ever more crucial role in the future.”  

Well, we hope you enjoyed our top picks for this month. If you have something you’d like to share, please do so in the comments section below.  Do browse through our previous Scholarly Communications Good Reads collections where we have featured more such interesting discussions from the scholarly publishing world. 

And if you’d like to stay tuned to important happenings in the journal publishing industry, visit our Industry News section.

Happy reading!

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