Gene Tools
Gene Tools


For his article "Shame on You, Mrs. Thatcher" (The Scientist, March 9, 1987, p. 9) Eugene Garfield deserves the gratitude of the British scientific community. His article, sympathetic to the impoverished state of British science, highlighting some of its failings, and proposing solutions to its problems, demands attention. It should be compulsory reading for scientists and politicians. Even Harvard humanities professors should be forced to study it. Yet, although Garfield has provided an accurat

June 1, 1987

For his article "Shame on You, Mrs. Thatcher" (The Scientist, March 9, 1987, p. 9) Eugene Garfield deserves the gratitude of the British scientific community. His article, sympathetic to the impoverished state of British science, highlighting some of its failings, and proposing solutions to its problems, demands attention. It should be compulsory reading for scientists and politicians. Even Harvard humanities professors should be forced to study it.

Yet, although Garfield has provided an accurate description of the symptoms of the malaise, he has overlooked its origins. English society is introverted, class-ridden and conservative. Attitudes are parochial, excessive respect is given to titles, and change is resisted. For example, consider this observation: "What? Call an academic staff member a professor? Then we would become like America. There you don't know who it is you're talking with, and that's a hopeless state of affairs." A British professor recently said that to me.

The subgroup English science is, in its sociology, a microcosm of the society in which it is set. I refuse to admit to two cultures and I emphatically reject the possibility of two societies. Except, that is, for dimensional corrections. The smaller group is less susceptible to the burly-burly of elections, but alters its hierarchy by nomination and discreet invitation. The maintenance of the status quo is of paramount importance. What is needed for the improvement of British science is a radical reassessment of its own values; that, in combination with enhanced funding, could halt the decline Garfield outlines.

—David Williams
Dept. of Physics,
Loughborough University of Technology,
Loughborough, Leicestershire LE11, 3TU

Author Challenges Reviewer to Debate

When I declare that Rae Goodell does not seem to have understood the meaning of my book The Science Critic (The Scientist, March 9, 1987, p. 21), I lay myself open to the traditional charge—what else can the author say if the review is not pleasing? But Goodell's review is pleasing: it makes clear to me that I have failed to convey to her my basic concerns.

Through a semi-biographical statement, expressing 40 years of endeavor, I have come to the conclusion, as Eugene Garfield puts it (The Scientist, January 12, 1987, p. 9) that "Science Needs Critics." I assert that we are at the beginning of the age of public participation in science. The once widespread feeling that scientists alone should rule over the scientific enterprise is being challenged, and participation will increasingly take place as it becomes clear that science is not a private game for scientists but a vital part of society that involves us all.

What is required is for science to be incorporated into everyday consciousness and behavior as an intimate part of our "one culture." I see the science critic as performing a key role in this necessary and inevitable development. Goodell's statement that the public will pay no more attention to the science critic than it does to the art or literary critic is not relevant. The fact that most people do not receive a university education does not mean that the university is irrelevant.

"Who would qualify as a science critic?" asks Goodell. I have indicated (p. 83 of my book) a possible curriculum for the creation of such a person. But anyone is free to hang up a shingle as a science critic if one feels competent to do so. "Who would pay them?" asks Goodell. Come, come, the answer is obvious: those who use the services.

The examples of my own writing were deliberately included because I sought to express my own development and to show how I arrived at my current way of thinking. Science critics would seek to help our under-standing of the world by changing our mode of perceiving it. Their criticisms would be made using the language and conventions of our culture that limit understanding and contribute to the perpetuation of intolerance and ignorance.

Finally, a proposal to Goodell: I am prepared to debate you—at MIT if necessary— on the case for the science critic.

—Maurice Goldsmith
International Science Policy Foundation,
29 Craven St., London WC2N 5NT, UK

My concerns about Goldsmith's book are not at all about its thesis. I agree that science criticism is important to the welfare of both science and society.

Rather, my concerns are about the book's effectiveness in making its case. Many scientists have doubts and misunderstandings about the role of science critics. Their questions and objections demand answers at a level of clarity and sophistication not achieved in Goldsmith's book.

Furthermore, I do not agree that the kind of institutional changes that Goldsmith proposes would come easily. The concept of science critics is not new. Among the more widely known contemporary critics are Stephen Jay Gould, Douglas Hofstadter, June Goodfield, David Suzuki and Samuel Florman. With notable exceptions, however, the efforts of science critics are poorly understood and poorly rewarded by the scientific community and the larger society. Achieving Goldsmith's objectives would be far more difficult than his book acknowledges.

Therefore, I welcome Goldsmith's interest in debating his ideas as a means of developing further the issues involved in science criticism. I will be happy to participate if the occasion arises.

—Rae Goodell

The Politics of U.K. Science

Steven Rose's review of my book The Politics of British Science (The Scientist, April 6, 1987, p. 24) is most welcome as an introduction for non-U.K. readers to the Byzantine world of U.K. science funding and policy. But I should like to raise a few issues not fully developed in his review.

My book makes only three points. The first is that science is a vital part of what goes on in modern Britain—even the United Kingdom's low level of R&D spending adds up to several billion pounds per year. The second is that this money is not buying enough science or innovation, especially because of the high level of science spending accounted for by the military. Rose mentions this point, but he omits to mention my strong feeling that this overemphasis on weapons spending is only part of a wider problem—the fact that science spending is not carried out within any kind of overall U.K. science policy. The Department of Energy puts money into fast reactors, the Department of Trade and Industry pays for satellites, and so on, but there is no general way of comparing the benefit these different categories of departmental spending are likely to bring.

But to accentuate the positive, it does seem that there may soon be some movement. Only in the last few years has a coherent annual report on science spending begun to be published. Now that it has, senior science policy figures are starting to look for overall coordination, which may well be exercised by the prime minister's chief science adviser, who is to get a new Center for Exploitable Science and Technology as a source of advice on key areas for science and technology funding. And it is becoming generally acceptable—where until recently it was regarded as subversive—to regard the Ministry of Defense dominance of the science budget as excessive.

Third, I lament the lack of public control over science in the United Kingdom, and the low level of industrial democracy among people working in science. I am delighted that Rose thinks my "agenda has been touched by the demands made by the radical science movement," in which I have been working for 14 years. Here, things show less improvement, with low pay and poor job security general in British academic life and no machinery for public involvement in decisions about even those areas of science and technology that most affect everyday life.

—Martin Ince
17 Brenda Rd.,
London SW17 7DD, UK

Paid Referees Are Not the Answer To Poor Reviews

I'd like to comment on the article "Should Journals Pay Referees?" by Leon J. Spicer (The Scientist, March 9, 1987, p. 13).

Most referees regard the evaluation of manuscripts as a professional responsibility and an honor for which they will receive no remuneration. When a professional is invited to serve as a referee, a journal acknowledges his or her high standing in the general academic community.

Spicer's statement that "delays in publication [are] brought on by apparent referee apathy to meeting the three- to four-week deadline of most journals" is not correct. In many cases, delayed publication is caused by an abundance of copy to be published in limited editorial space. Other delays are caused because some articles are more timely or academically superior. Moreover, an author's procrastination in meeting a request for revision can mean postponement of publication.

Would paying referees improve the quality of their reviews, or would it act as a bribe? Spicer suggests a fee of $5 per page. Many scientific manuscripts are 20-40 pages long.

A monetary system would surely complicate the already-complex manuscript-flow system. Who will keep the records, write the checks, and pay the postage?

There are many other important reasons for not paying referees. For example, a referee is under no obligation to make an evaluation, and can always return the manuscript unreviewed.

Most studies of journal peer review have been methodologically weak, and most have focused on process rather than outcome. There is a need for a thorough analysis of journal peer-review policy and of relevant research needs. Until that time, paid referees are not the solution.

—Ann Brierly
Military Medicine,
P.O. Box 104
Kensington, MD 20895

Pseudorabies Vaccine Not the First

Just for the record, the new pseudorabies vaccine is not the "first genetically engineered vaccine to reach the market" as Seth Shulman reports (The Scientist, February 23, 1987, p. 3), although it may be the first licensed vaccine to be produced using recombinant DNA technology. Since 1971, most influenza vaccines have contained reassortant viruses derived from the genetic interchange of high-yielding laboratory donor strains with newly isolated field viruses.
—Edwin D. Kilbourne
Mount Sinai School of Medicine
One Gustave Levy Place
New York, NY 10029


Follow The Scientist

icon-facebook icon-linkedin icon-twitter icon-vimeo icon-youtube

Stay Connected with The Scientist

  • icon-facebook The Scientist Magazine
  • icon-facebook The Scientist Careers
  • icon-facebook Neuroscience Research Techniques
  • icon-facebook Genetic Research Techniques
  • icon-facebook Cell Culture Techniques
  • icon-facebook Microbiology and Immunology
  • icon-facebook Cancer Research and Technology
  • icon-facebook Stem Cell and Regenerative Science
The Scientist
The Scientist
Life Technologies