Category Archives: Philosophy

Conflicts of interest

Obviously this has been a problem in the past as nearly all journals now require to sign a conflicts of interest form. Of course I always have conflicts of interest and hesitate what should I report in these forms – that I want to get rich? Or that I want to be famous? Having a pathological interest of self-portrayal? At least the good thing of these conflicts of interest statements is that I finally know how much I can ask for when being invited for a lecture ;-) It seems that some people are even eager to disclose their financial involvement (ebay-like).
On the other hand, what worries me more that the conflicts of interest statement are getting routine now and are rather worthless if not done very carefully. For example lets have a look on two recent nature genetics papers: A paper accepted on 6 Jan 2006 on ichthyosis: “The authors declare that they have no competing financial interest”. Same gene, now atopic dermatitis, accepted on 24 Feb 2006 “The authors declare that they have no competing financial interest”. Same gene, again atopic dermatitis, other population, accepted on 11 May 2006: “A. Irvine has patent shares related with the filaggrin gene. The rest of the authors have declared that they have no conflicts of interest”. Again same gene, ichthyosis and atopic dermatitis, accepted on 23 May 2006: “W.H. Irwin McLean and Frances J. D. Smith have filed patents related to genetic testing for filaggrin and therapy systems aimed at this gene.” Alan D. Irvine and W.H. Irwin McLean are listed as authors on all 4 papers. So, ADI and WHIM may have decided to file a patent following their two nature genetics paper (which would not be possible in Germany, but is probably possible in the UK). BUT – why is the declaration of WHIM missing on the 11 May paper? Why is the ADI declaration missing on the 23 May paper?
Conflicts of interests: I have never met these authors before and I have no commercial interest in that topic, yea, yea.

Link farms

There is an upsurge of so-called “impact augmentation papers” – authors review only papers published in their own journal. Imagine your are an editor. You have published last year 100 articles, 50 are not being cited at all, 45 are being cited 3 times, 4 articles are being cited 20 times. Your papers are being cited 215 times, divided by 99, voila your impact is being 2.17, not too bad (although it would be fair to say that you had picked up only 4 nice papers). Lets go – send out an email to a buddy to write an impact augementation paper – “the year in retrospect in our famous journal”. Lets say, this paper now cites all your orphan papers, in total 85 articles. So your overall impact is 215+85 / 99+1 = 3.0. Wow, an increase of nearly one point by just one paper! Did ICI Thomson notice that? Nay, nay.

PLoS ONE – a wikipedia like publishing system?

PLoS ONE may revolutionize science communication. Have a first look at www.plosone.org. As they write: “Be one of the first to appear in this new Open Access 2.0 online forum—and qualify for a great low pre-launch price. We’ll peer review your work and publish it online as soon as possible so that it can start a conversation within the community that will enhance scientific progress.” Will it still be traditional, 1:1 translated publishing system? Or can we even edit any text? What about lists of open questions? And a true synopsis – like the one theologians use to compare the four canonical gospels? Yea, yea.

Once in a lifetime

You may think twice about participating in a genetic study. Science magazine makes the point: If you have been ever been profiled by a SNP scan that is now (even anonymous) in the public domain, every further study (or anyone else who has access to trace amounts of your DNA) can re-identify you by 20 – 70 characteristic SNPs. This is even problematic as likelihoods for your disease risk can be calculated from SNP arrays of distant relatives, yea, yea.