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Alberts move to Science hailed

Bruce Alberts' colleagues are -- not surprisingly -- celebrating his decision to be the 18th editor-in-chief of Science, which the journal announced Monday (December 17). "I don't think [the journal] could have picked a better person," Peter Walter, chairman of the department of biochemistry and biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco, told The Scientist. The announcement followed months of speculation, during which Alberts' name linkurl:emerged;http://www

By | December 18, 2007

Bruce Alberts' colleagues are -- not surprisingly -- celebrating his decision to be the 18th editor-in-chief of Science, which the journal announced Monday (December 17). "I don't think [the journal] could have picked a better person," Peter Walter, chairman of the department of biochemistry and biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco, told The Scientist. The announcement followed months of speculation, during which Alberts' name linkurl:emerged;http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/53603/ as a candidate. Alberts is a well-known figure in science, who served as president of the National Academy of Sciences and was one of the original authors of the classic textbook Molecular Biology of the Cell. He is based in the department of biochemistry and biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco, and is president of the American Society for Cell Biology. Over the years, he frequently entered policy debates -- in March, 2003, he linkurl:challenged the chairman;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/21223/ of the President's Council on Bioethics for penning an Op-Ed that urged a ban on both reproductive and therapeutic cloning. As editor-in-chief of a journal, Alberts will be communicating science to a wide audience -- old hat to Alberts, who spoke about a wide range of topics as president of the NAS, Walter said. "He's pretty capable of talking about anything." (Alberts was unable to speak before deadline.) Tim Formosa, now at the University of Utah, worked in Alberts' lab from 1980 to 1985, and said the experience opened many doors for him. When he was looking for a faculty position, "everyone had a happy story about Bruce," he recalled. Alberts has become an "ambassador" of science, Formosa noted. Despite all of his work on policy and education, Alberts is very much up-to-date with the state of research, said Formosa, who sees his former mentor about once per year. When Formosa tells Alberts about issues in his current research, Alberts is "still two steps ahead of me" -- saying he's already considered the problem, and suggesting experiments that might work around it. Alberts is "tireless and formidably intelligent, " Nobel laureate Tim Hunt at Cancer Research UK said in an Email. Alberts is also well-versed in the "culture of science," Keith Yamamoto, executive vice dean at the UCSF School of Medicine, told The Scientist -- such as the way scientists communicate with the public. "I'm delighted he's doing this." The biggest challenges Alberts will face stem from the journal's linkurl:overtaxed peer review;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/23061/ system (with NIH grant success rates falling, getting into Science can make a scientist's career), and the ongoing tension in science publishing between traditional models (including Science's) and open access, said Yamamoto, a former grad student of Alberts who's known him nearly 40 years. During Alberts' tenure, he, like every journal editor, will face the question of whether it's possible to provide more access to data and remain economically sustainable, Yamamoto predicted. Currently, scientists who submit to PNAS (the publication of NAS) can pay $1100 extra to make their study freely available right away. All of the journal articles become free online six months after publication. Alberts, 69, was born in Chicago. He earned his undergraduate and PhD at Harvard and held faculty positions at Princeton and UCSF. He served as chairman of UCSF's department of biochemistry and biophysics from 1985 to 1990. Alberts' linkurl:most highly-cited paper;http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?Db=pubmed&Cmd=ShowDetailView&TermToSearch=4908735&ordinalpos=2&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum (more than 1200 citations) was published in 1970 in Virology, and describes a technique related to large-scale virus purification. According to ISI, Alberts has coauthored nearly 150 papers, which have collectively accumulated 11,200 citations. Until 2009, Alberts will serve as the cochair of the InterAcademy Council, which is made up of presidents from 15 science academies. Some cited the strain of traveling between Stanford and Washington, DC, in Kennedy's decision to step down as Science head. (Indeed, when I called him for a comment, Kennedy's representative said he was on a plane from DC to California most of the day.) Travel won't be an issue for Alberts, Walter predicted: Alberts "lives on an airplane," Walter joked. "It's not a big change in his life. I never know where he is."
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