Manna from Hell

"Manna from Hell"1 is the sort of article that I would love to see more of in the future. What makes it so fascinating? The human disease focus for sure, but also the clear portrayal of how a set of anecdotal observations turned into science - often a long and arduous journey, involving contributions from around the world.

John Collins
Technical University
Braunschweig, Germany

Whenever I see the word Aristolochia, it brings back memories.I worked on the extraction/purification/bioassays of aristolochic acid from 1978-1982 in Northern India. In our insect studies we found that AA, when fed to adult house flies, causes sterility in males due to chromosomal abnormalities. Insects were able to form sperm and fertilize the eggs, but the larvae died just before the opening of chorion.2 In female insects, AA caused reduced fecundity (lower number of eggs laid) but...


1. J.C. Mead, "Manna from Hell," The Scientist, 21(11):44-51, November 2007. 2. A.C. Mathur, et al., "Cytopathological effects of Aristolochic acid on male house flies causing sterility," Experientia 36: 245, 1980. 3. A.C. Mathur, A.K. Sharma, "Resistance of Aristolochia sp. to insect attack: A chemical basis," Ind J Hort, 35:406-8, 1978.

Open access 2.0?

In "Open Access 2.0," I think that the underlying assumption that university and institutional libraries will be able to sustain access to the increasing number of journals is unrealistic. 1 Subscription costs are rising beyond what can be covered. The budgetary space created by discontinuing print copies has been dissipated, making it more difficult to cover subscription increases. When researchers realize the advantage of one-click-access from PubMed, it will begin to affect their choice of where to publish their own work.

Please note that I serve on several editorial boards, now mostly of open access journals, but receive no financial payment for service.

Vernon Anderson
Case Western Reserve University
Cleveland, OH

The natural state of information is open. It can only be contained by constructs like copyright, and even then, those containers are pretty leaky. Scientific information is no exception, and it should be added that the whole purpose of using public money to support scientific research is to add to the pool of knowledge and understanding for the benefit of society as a whole, in economic terms or otherwise. In that line of thought, open is not only the natural state of the information, but should be its preferred state in principle.

"I think that the underlying assumption that university and institutional libraries will be able to sustain access to the increasing number of journals is unrealistic."

What peer-reviewed publishing does is not so much publishing in the sense of making public, as it is attaching a "badge of peer acceptance" to an article. The attaching of the badge is the most meaningful function of scientific publishing, not the dissemination per se.

The quest to find other methods of proper financial support for the service of attaching the badge of acceptance to scientific research information, and of sorting and layering it, is an inevitable consequence of the fact that universal accessibility is possible. If it can be achieved, it would provide a welcome return to the information's natural state.

Declaration of interests: I am employed by Springer to develop pathways to economically sustainable open access models within the context of a large portfolio of established peer-review journals.

Jan Velterop
Guildford, England

It's true that "attention" is the limited resource in scholarly communication. This explains why a very small number of journals receive the vast majority of readership and citations in the market for scholarly attention, while most journals are essentially ignored. The heuristics that readers employ to decide what is worth their time is partially made up of cues from publishers (what Esposito calls branding and advertisement), and partially from recommendations from peers (colleagues, editors, and leaders in each field).

What Esposito forgets, however, is that the journal does more than just disseminate information and build attention. The journal serves to evaluate an institution's faculty for promotion and tenure, grants and awards. This helps to explain why scientists are willing to hold on to the traditional publication system, and why alternative forms of publishing have essentially remained supplementary (or parallel) processes.

Philip Davis
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY

Joseph Esposito makes an interesting case for his open access model. The software needed to catalogue scientific information is not necessarily as expensive as he describes. Looking at open source software, a precursor to open science and open access, you can find technology for a fraction of the cost that he describes. Though there are less bells and whistles, there is the opportunity to not only test the model on the cheap, but to easily expand the software, since it is open source.

Vasus Scientific ( was created and is fully maintained using open access software.

Ian Taylor
Vasus Scientific
Raleigh, NC


1. J.J. Esposito, "Open access 2.0," The Scientist, 21(11):52-8, November 2007.

Celebrating Croatia

I wanted to thank The Scientist for relaying stories about Croatian scientists' efforts to build a fetal brain bank 1 and train bees to detect landmines. 2 I worked for two years in the former Yugoslavia, building the DNA labs to identify the victims exhumed from hundreds of mass graves. The conflicts in the Balkans during the 1990s destroyed a great many magnificent resources and caused a significant "brain drain." Knowing the struggles that Croatia has gone through in the years since its independence, it is nice to know that Croatian science is progressing, and doing so on an international scale.

John Crews
Forensic Anthropology Foundation
Guatemala City, Guatemala


1. J.C. Mead, "Baby brain bank," The Scientist, 21(11):19, November 2007. 2. J.C. Mead, "Buzzing for bombs," The Scientist, 21(11):24, November 2007.

Bringing order to authorship

Re: "Bringing order to authorship," 1 scientists are very good at quantification. I propose doing away with first and last listing of authors. Have all authors listed alphabetically. Prior to the submission of the manuscript, the team of proposed authors meets with an external arbiter and assigns scores for each category and subcategory that constitute a valid contribution to the study. It is conceivable that two or more of the authors could tie for "senior author" position; a practice that could have been applicable in the Jenkins' case, as described in the article.

Nadarajen A. Vydelingum
National Cancer Institute
Bethesda, MD

No one should be a co-author who could not stand up in front of a group of scientists and defend the research, as well as answer intelligent questions in an intelligent manner.

Jack von Borstel
University of Alberta
Edmonton, Canada


1. A. Gawrylewski, "Bringing order to authorship," The Scientist, 21(11):91-3, November 2007.

A Contributors write-up of Jack Woodall on page 11 of our December 2007 issue should have reported that Woodall's career focused on viruses transmitted by mosquitoes, rather than on virulence transmitted by mosquitoes. The Scientist regrets the error.

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