Thursday, 24 April 2008

WHO renames bird flu viruses

The World Health Organisation has standardised the nomenclature for H5N1 avian influenza viruses. The group of “Fujian-like” viruses should be referred to as “clade 2.3.4,” for example. WHO says the reason for the change is scientific and that it was already in progress when China complained that the name stigmatises its province. Clade 2.3.4 viruses are not restricted to Fuijan—they have caused cases of bird flu in humans in Laos, Burma, and Vietnam. “The geographical naming system [is] rather confusing and unspecific; this more precise numbering system is far more rigorous,” said Edward Holmes, a flu genomicist. See (Nature 2008 Apr 23; doi: 10.1038/452923a)

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Editorial boards lack women

Women made up only a fifth (21%) of the editorial boards in 2005, although they were far worse represented in 1970, with just 1% of positions, a 35 year study of 16 prominent biomedical journals has shown (Arch Intern Med 2008;168:547-8). Seven per cent of the journals' chief editors have been women, but having a female editor made no significant difference to the sex distribution of the board. Women were better represented in specialty clinical journals, such as the Pediatrics, and general medical journals, such as the BMJ, than in biomedical science journals, such as Cell. In an accompanying editorial (p 446) Nanette Wenger calls for journals to “explore their ranks for gender diversity.”

Spanish portal opens access

A national portal for Spanish open access scientific publications, Recolecta (, has been launched. The project is a collaboration between the Spanish network of libraries REBIUN and the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology (FECYT) to provide a national search service for open access publishing in science. Recolecta seeks to stimulate open access publishing in Spain; to coordinate the creation of a national infrastructure of institutional repositories; and to serve as a central point of information on all topics related to open access. The search engine will find open access documents in journals, institutional repositories, and disciplinary repositories. (
Thanks to Emma Campbell

Publishers confirm authors' rights

Advocating authors to add copyright postscripts to journal publishing agreements is a call for needless bureaucracy, said the International Association of Scientific, Technical, and Medical Publishers in March. The publishers’ group says that its statement clarifies authors’ rights: “Standard journal agreements typically allow authors to use their published paper . . . for educational purposes . . . and to post some version of the paper on a preprint server, their institutional repository, or a personal website.” Michael Mabe, head of the association, said, “Policy debate should be . . . based on evidence and consultation.” ( and
Thanks to Joan Marsh

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Web ability declines with age

People’s ability to use websites declines between the ages of 35 and 60 by 0.8% a year, says the web usability specialist Jakob Nielsen. This is because they spend more time per page, and they visit more pages to find what they are looking for. This age group represents half of the population of the United States, has the best jobs, and spends the most money online. Nielsen advises to “test participants across the entire age range you’re targeting” and not to “believe everything your 25 year old web designers tell you about what’s easy.” (

Students plagiarise plagiarism code

Students at the University of Texas at San Antonio drafted a code to discourage plagiarism, but they took sections from Brigham Young University’s plagiarism code, which they found online, a Nature blog reports. They even copied the definition of plagiarism. Both codes say, “Inadvertent plagiarism involves the inappropriate, but non-deliberate, use of another’s words, ideas, or data without appropriate attribution.” The student in charge of the project said that the lack of credit was an oversight. The entire Nature blog entry was copied from other (referenced) sources. (

Blog till you drop

Two fatal heart attacks in the United States may have been a result of stress caused by excessive blogging, an article in the New York Times suggests. Other bloggers complain of weight loss or gain, sleep disorders, and mental health problems. Bloggers are “toiling under great physical and emotional stress created by the around-the-clock internet economy that demands a steady stream of news and comment,” the article says. In some sectors blogging is highly competitive. Financial rewards are often low and based on the number of posts written or the hits an entry gets. Some journalists have been fired for not meeting hits targets. ( and

Email damages productivity

The three billion emails sent a day in the United Kingdom are “leaving us tired, frustrated and unproductive.” A third of office workers suffer “email stress. ” And dealing with pointless messages may cost UK business £39m a year. These are the conclusions of a BBC2 Money Programme in March called “Email is ruining my life!” Some firms are trialing email-free days and hiring consultants to solve the problem. To reduce the burden, get a good spam filter, choose your email's recipients carefully, write more clearly, and reduce automatic interruptions from email software, experts suggest. (

Le bloc replaces the blog

The English words “blog,” “email,” and “podcast” have been banned by French government, to be replaced by the more French sounding “bloc,” “courriel,” and “diffusion pour baladeur.” The French ministry of culture is worried about the anglicisation of the French language and has listed French replacements for 500 English words in common use in France. Football commentators have been asked to use “entraineur” and “coup de pied de coin” instead of “coach” and “corner.” A spokesman said, “French is a living language rich enough to speak for itself without the need for hundreds of English expressions.” ( and

Peer reviews stay private

The New England Journal of Medicine has been told by a federal magistrate that it does not have to hand over peer reviews to the drug company Pfizer. The company issued subpoenas to try to force journals to disclose confidential peer reviews and other materials relating to studies of its painkillers Celebrex (celecoxib) and Bextra (valdecoxib), which are the subject of lawsuits. Three weeks ago an Illinois judge ruled against Pfizer after it issued almost identical subpoenas to JAMA and the Archives of Internal Medicine. (Nature 2008;452:677; doi: 10.1038/452677d)

Save the semicolon?

France is debating the future of the semicolon, according to a Guardian blog. The “point virgule,” the writer Fran├žois Cavanna is reported as saying, is “a parasite, a timid, fainthearted, insipid thing, denoting merely uncertainty, a lack of audacity, a fuzziness of thought.” But defendants cite Hugo, Flaubert, and Voltaire as writers for whom the mark was essential. Writers such as George Orwell, Lynne Truss, and Will Self give their views. Meanwhile, in New York the sign “Please put it in a trash can, that’s good news for everyone” has been revised to include a semicolon, but the Financial Times reports that "Americans see the semicolon as punctuation’s axis of evil." ( and and
Thanks to Margaret Cooter

Monday, 14 April 2008

Vigilante copy edits America

An illustrated blog ( has been started to document errors in public signage and their correction by the Typo Eradication Advancement League, in a three month trip across the United States, reports Andrew Mueller in the Guardian. Armed with marker pens and correction fluid, Jeff Deck aims to correct as many typos in signs, posters, and restaurant menus as he can. Deck, a former editor for an academic publishing house in Washington, DC, said “I had internalised the Chicago Manual of Style . . . and thought it would be a good thing to go around raising awareness.” (Guardian 2008 Apr 14;

Friday, 11 April 2008

Enough conflicts of interest?

In March the BMJ asked whether the hunt for authors’ conflicts of interests had gone too far. Thomas Stossel argued that restrictions on academics’ interaction with commercial companies damages research because they exclude qualified experts from writing in some journals. They also limit financial rewards that professionals can receive from private companies or even ban corporate consulting, he said. Kirby Lee, however, believes that competing interests “require management to prevent potential bias, or the perception of bias, in medical decision making or research.” Of 443 voters in an online poll 45% agreed that the hunt had gone too far. (BMJ 2008;336:476-7 doi: 10.1136/bmj.39493.489213.AD and doi: 10.1136/bmj.39491.391215.94)

Ghost management must stop

The drug industry manages trials, analyses data, has papers written, finds academic ghost authors, and pays communication companies to get published in the best journals, says Sergio Sismondo in PloS Medicine. All this leads to bias that influences medical practice and ultimately affects patients. Universities should prohibit contracts that allow sponsors to draft, edit, or suppress articles or that allow sponsors to keep data from authors. They should even prohibit sponsors from facilitating publication and should also take disciplinary action against investigators who serve as authors on ghost managed articles, he says. (PLoS Med 4(9):e286; doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0040286)

Book publishers think environment

To promote environmental sustainability in the book publishing industry, the Association of American Publishers published The Handbook on Book Paper and the Environment in February. The handbook covers governmental, commercial, and environmental matters that relate to the production of paper for books. It reflects more than two years of discussion with organisations that represent environmental advocacy groups, forest certification and standards bodies, environmental industry consortiums, economists, paper mills, and publishers, including Cambridge University Press, HarperCollins, Wiley, Macmillan, and McGraw-Hill. An executive summary is available from Tina Jordan ( (
Thanks to Emma Campbell

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Nature holds online conference

Nature Publishing Group held a conference in December on Second Nature, its part of Second Life (, an internet based virtual world. The talks—on climate change—coincided with the UN conference in Bali on replacing the Kyoto protocol. Avatars attending Second Nature knew that their carbon footprint would be the smaller. George Monbiot, author of Heat: How We Can Stop the Planet Burning, spoke at one of the events, which were all free to everyone. Avatars produce an estimated 39 kg of carbon dioxide a year; a round trip from London to New York produces 1200 kg. Each event attracted about 50 attendees, and the audio recordings have been made available. Speakers and audience members gave positive feedback about the event. (