News in a nutshell

Price of peer review
A new report estimates that peer review costs UK universities £165 million per year in terms of the time academics spend reviewing others’ manuscripts (roughly 3 million hours). The Value of UK HEIs’ Contribution to the Publishing Process: Summary Report further estimates that it costs another £30 million to employ editors and editorial boards. The report was commissioned by the UK body that negotiates journal subscription prices for UK research libraries, the Joint Information Systems Committee Collections, and was intended to show how much academia already contributes financially to publishing, on top of subscriptions, Jisc Collections’ chief executive Lorraine Estelle told the Times Higher Education (THE). The new report provides “more evidence of how unjustified the hyper-inflationary journal price rises of the past three decades have been,” Phil Sykes, university librarian at the University of Liverpool and chair of Research Libraries UK, told THE.

Pillar Coral, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

BP effects worse than predicted?
Although many scientists expected this year’s BP oil spill to cause major damage to the Gulf of Mexico, preliminary surveys were cautiously optimistic, causing some to hope deepwater coral “had perhaps dodged an ecological bullet,” according to the New York Times.
No such luck, suggests a submersible robot cruising the seafloor 7 miles southwest of the well, which found widespread devastation. “I have seen many individual dead coral colonies over the years, but I’ve never seen a site full of dead and dying coral colonies,” Charles Fisher, chief scientist on the gulf expedition, told the newspaper. It’s not yet clear whether the oil killed the coral, but Fisher said the circumstantial evidence points to that conclusion. This is only the first nearby coral site he’s surveyed, and he plans to visit others in December.

And the next president of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center is…
James C. Carrington, director of the Center for Genome Research and Biocomputing at Oregon State University.

RIP, brucellosis expert
Margaret Meyer, an early pioneer in brucellosis in animals, died at 87 last month from complications due to pulmonary disease, according to the Sacramento Bee. During her four-decade-long career at the University of California, Davis, she traveled the world to investigate and classify the infectious disease, which strikes cattle, bison, and other domestic and wild animals. “She was a leader in publishing information on brucellosis,” Bennie Osburn, dean of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, told the Bee. “It put her out there as one of the top experts in the world.” Meyer also worked to give women more opportunities in academia, telling stories about how her early professors used to give her twice as much work as male students to try to get her to drop out of science.

Germ-zapper bad for pregnancy?
It’s the start of flu season, causing more people to reach for antibacterial soaps, but new research suggests an ingredient could disrupt the metabolism of estrogen, potentially causing problems in pregnancy. In addition to antibacterial soaps and lotions, the chemical, triclosan, is present in hundreds of other popular products, including socks and toothpaste, but a new Environment International paper shows it can hinder estrogen sulfotransferase, which helps metabolize the hormone and transport it to the developing fetus. “We suspect that makes this substance dangerous in pregnancy if enough of the triclosan gets through to the placenta to affect the enzyme,” author Margaret James, a professor and chairwoman of medicinal chemistry in the University of Florida College of Pharmacy, said in a statement.

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  1. Ellen Hunt says:

    The report is a flat-out lie and in its most charitable analysis utterly misleading.

    First, it costs money to publish, period. Academic articles have a very limited audience. The publishing is extremely intensive in terms of review. That’s just what it requires. “… the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

    But most important is what makes this report a pure lie. Since in my experience, almost all peer review is done outside normal working hours, the “cost” is actually close to zero. Academics are not paid by the hour, so academics are more like a sunk cost than one that can be monetized by part. So the whole thesis is pure rubbish.

    But I’ll close by pointing out that reporting the cost of peer review is akin to reporting the cost of legislation review in the house of commons. As in, “Excuse me?! Isn’t that your, ahem, job?!” As in, “Excuse me you bloated ninny?! But if you aren’t doing that, what on earth ARE we paying you for?!”

    Purified idiocy on the half-shell served with a side order of lunacy. Ninnyhammers R us. I could go on. WHAT IS WRONG WITH THOSE PEOPLE?!!!

  2. Jake says:

    Dial soap made triclosan famous. The facts seem to support an argument that the benefit/risk ratio of this chemical is so minuscule that its use should be severely limited. Also, is there any reason to use any antibacterial compound in dishwashing soap? At least BPA serves a purpose.

  3. Andy says:

    What terrible reporting. What terrible science. The BP spill MAY have caused widespread damage, reporting one report from one site and then generalizing it is really dreadful. Then, to top it off, the reporter makes it seem like the coral in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is being damaged by including a picture of the coral there, without mentioning that the Florida Keys sanctuary is over 400 miles from the spill site, at it’s closest point. The well site and the site reported on that is “7 miles southwest” are both over 5000′ deep, while the Florida Keys are shallow. Is it scientifically valid to draw conclusions across these widely different conditions? Either do a decent job of reporting, or just don’t bother!

  4. Alison McCook says:

    Thanks for your comment. The “news in a nutshell” is meant to draw readers’ attention to other news stories, we typically don’t do much original reporting for these stories. And the image is certainly not meant to imply that coral in the Florida Keys were included in the study — it’s simply the credit for the image itself. The text specifies the region the report refers to. Similarly, the “widespread” damage refers only to widespread damage at that one site they visited, as they didn’t visit any other sites yet, so the results couldn’t describe anything beyond that region.

    Thanks again,
    Alison McCook, news editor

  5. James L. Wilmer, Ph. D. says:

    “Although many scientists expected this year’s BP oil spill to cause major damage to the Gulf of Mexico, preliminary surveys were cautiously optimistic, causing some to hope deepwater coral “had perhaps dodged an ecological bullet,” according to the New York Times.”

    Why would anyone in his or her right mind be cautiously optimistic about the environmental consequences of 206 million gallons of crude oil injected into a dynamic ecosystem? For one thing, over 1 million gallons of benzene would have been in the crude oil. That says nothing about the toxic oil dispersants and the poisonous combustion products produced when the crude oil was burned at the surface. Who are these scientific quacks and for whom do they work?