Sunday, December 21, 2008

Science Secretary & NIE?

President-elect Obama released his appointees for top science advising jobs. They include names that may be familiar to our blog readers: Jane Lubchenco (NOAA), Harold Varmus and Eric Lander (PCAST),  and John Holdren (Chief Advisor, OSTP). In case you missed it, the Secretary of Energy nominee, announced last week, is Steven Chu. Generally speaking this is great.

A basic understanding of science is increasingly necessary as a basis for informed decisions on a range of economic and environmental issues. Yet there are only four scientists in the House (Boyda D-KS, Ehlers R-MI, Foster D-IL, Holt, Jr. D-NJ, and McNerney D-CA, all physical sciences/math) and zero in the Senate (see here)! The situation in the current Executive Branch could barely be worse (sub-zero?), and the Supreme Court is clearly devoid of scientists. How is this possible in a country that appears preoccupied with science-related problems, like global warming, and is in stiff need of science breakthroughs to fuel another dot-com-like boom? Obama should be urged to push for establishment of a cabinet-level position for Holdren (Science Secretary). 

And in the micro-funding world of ecology and evolution, it may be time to revive our prescient colleagues' (including Hank Howe and Steve Hubbell) idea for the formation of the National Institutes for the Environment, and give it another push in the now-friendlier Congress and White House.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Cost Unrelated to Quality Among Evolution Journals

I just received the latest institutional subscription fees from our librarian. He's expecting a lower budget for next year and looking to drop journals that are no longer relevant to our needs. When I noticed we were paying 20 times more for the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society ($4,950 from Wiley-Blackwell) than for Systematic Biology ($248 from Oxford Press) I thought it might be fun to plot the cost of 21 journals related to evolutionary biology against their impact factor. Turns out there's virtually no association between the importance of a journal and its cost (see simple linear regression in figure).

It doesn't take a genius to see that blood-sucking corporate publishers are taking advantage of us. Although this point has been made many times before (see also Jonathan Eisen's blog where academic publishing and open access journals are regular topics of conversation), I want my fellow phylogeneticists to know that we're being screwed particularly by Wiley-Blackwell, publisher of the three most expensive journals in our field (Molecular Ecology, $8,967, IF=5.169; Journal of Biogeography, $5,826, IF=3.539; Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, $4950.01, IF=2.368). In spite of their middling impact factors, all three of these journals are ridiculously expensive (see the "Wiley-Blackwell Zone" in the figure). Don't get me wrong, I like the science in these journals and have published in two of the three, but is it really worth it at those prices?

I know we're all under pressure to publish in places that get us attention (and hopefully tenure), but there's no time like the present economic crisis to start factoring a journal's fees into our decisions about where to submit. Perhaps you'll also think about the cost of these journals the next time you volunteer your time as a reviewer for a corporate publishing entity.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Bad News for Academic Job Hunters

Citing a financial challenge that is without historical precedent (including the Great Depression), Harvard University has announced some sobering cost saving measures. In a Dec. 15th e-mail, the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences notes that all "originally authorized tenure-track and tenured searches have been reviewed and most have been postponed until a point in time when our financial situation has improved." You know things are bad when an institution that had 34 billion dollars in the bank just a year ago is canceling job searches. They're expecting a 30% reduction in their endowment and a $100+ million dollar budget gap. Here at the University of Rochester we're moving forward with one scheduled search for a cell/developmental/molecular biologist, but I've heard searches in other Departments have been canceled...