More on peer review

Your recent article on peer review1 omitted the fact that far too many journals do not report back to their reviewers. Only if a reviewer gets the decision letter plus the other reviews will he be able to learn and improve. Learning about the decision only when the paper makes it - or doesn't - to Medline is not sufficient.

Manfred Gessler
Theodor Boveri Institute for Life Sciences
Wuerzburg, Germany

Your article1 and editorial2 on peer review make it clear that it is probably inevitable that the young, nonworking scientists who edit certain journals will find themselves unable to deal appropriately with a wide range of complex scientific topics, with famous and sometimes overbearing authors, and with equally famous and sometimes unethical reviewers.

Scientists themselves must shoulder some of the blame, however. It is a double embarrassment to modern science, especially biological-biomedical...

When essential genes aren't that essential

In "Making due with the bare minimum" 3 Eric Rubin and others discuss the nature of what are sometimes called "essential genes" in prokaryotes such as Bacillus subtilis and Mycobacterium tuberculosis.They make the important distinction that the organisms being studied are grown on rich medium and imply that growth on minimal medium would require many more genes. That may be an oversimplification, however. For example, the deleterious effects in Escherichia coli (such as filamentation and UV sensitivity) from loss of the lon gene (a very primitive, heat shock gene found extensively in bacteria and many eukaryotes) are not seen on minimal medium. Loss of still more genes, including sul, restores the ability to grow on complex medium.

John Bush
Berkeley, Calif.

Eric Rubin, Harvard University responds: We don't mean to suggest that there are not genes such as lon that are required only in minimal medium. In many cases, genes are not required for growth but rather to detoxify the product of other genes and, thus, are required in a wild type but not a mutant background. Nevertheless, in bacteria where a substantial number of genes are required for prototrophy, I still think that it is overwhelmingly likely that the number of genes required for survival will be far higher on minimal medium than on rich medium.

Fundamentalism and disease

Along with the Aum Shinirikyo, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, and Yazidis perhaps Jack Woodall4 should add US religious fundamentalists who jeopardize lives every day by perpetuating their doctrine of intolerance. Of $15 billion pledged to AIDS programs in Africa by the US, close to one quarter (23%) has been allocated to faith-based organizations, many of which do not promote condom use, but do promote fidelity and abstinence. Aid money would be better spent on organizations that approach the problem of HIV in a holistic sense and not one that is concerned with promoting religious ideologies.

Dave Lourenco
Lakewood, Calif.

A better life for postdocs

As the first university in Europe, the Karolinska Institute founded Junior Faculty in 2002, offering a career development service for postdoctoral researchers with a PhD. We have addressed several of the concerns mentioned by the Postdoctoral Fellows Focus Group.5

These include limiting postdocs to the five years following graduation, in the view that after five years, one should have established one's own line of research and taken the first steps toward an academic career. For those postdocs who find that the academic world does not suit them, we arrange numerous workshops, seminars, and career fairs. For those with academic ambitions, we arrange courses in grant writing and career planning for becoming an associate professor.

An appointed postdoc coordinator works at the Junior Faculty Office with overall responsibility for postdoc issues. The Junior Faculty Steering Group comprises junior researchers who set the agenda for the activities arranged by the Junior Faculty Office.

Sweden has recently established a Junior Faculty network, and we hope to serve as a good example for Junior Faculty offices within the global research community.

Judit Wefer
Johanna BÄckstrÖm, Karolinska Institute


1. A. McCook, "Is peer review broken?" The Scientist, 20(2):26-33, February 2006. 2. R. Gallagher, "Taking on peer review," The Scientist, 20(2):13 February 2006. 3. J. Roberts, "Making due with the bare minimum," The Scientist, 20(1):65, January 2006. 4. J. Woodall, "The hidden dangers of fundamentalism," The Scientist, 20(2):59, February 2006. 5. Postdoctoral Fellows Working Group, "A 10-step plan for better postdoc training," The Scientist, 20(1): 24-5, January 2006.

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