Good hands for experiments, open access costs and the importance of science

Over at Biocurious Andre and Philip have a few must-read posts!

[1] PhilipJ on Open Access as a strategy to lower publication costs and University library budgets:

Let us imagine that 10% of the publications coming out of U of T are of the premium variety, while 90% are your more run of the mill papers, and that there are open access journals in which to publish them. Using the current costs from the Public Library of Science, 650 premium papers would run around $1.6 million dollars, while the 5850 “bread-and-butter” papers would cost an additional $7.6 million each year. This is already less than the 2005-2006 periodicals budget of slightly over $10 million!

Let’s further assume that the economies of scale would kick in if universities around the world decided to embrace this philosophy. This should lead to an overall lowering of the publication costs, all the while bringing access to academic literature to everyone with an internet connection. It is also easy to imagine the costs being even lower, as the collaborative nature of academic work means many papers now have authors from multiple institutions, all of whom could share in the cost of publishing. (Determining the rules for who-pays-what would be tricky, but should be doable.)

There are probably some key issues I’m missing here (the most obvious one which I’ve even mentioned is that we need open access journals to publish in!), and my idea is prefaced on the assumption that universities are the significant driving force in the academic literature game, but I think the take-home message is reasonably clear, at least using the University of Toronto numbers: we could already afford going entirely open access.

I certainly wouldn’t feel bad if Elsevier and their ilk went out of business given the exorbitant increase in subscription costs and the non-obvious reasoning why, and I’m sure the societies could come to embrace the open access movement, which would bring the majority of high quality journals into the fold.

So, what’s the hold up?

[2] Andre on the importance of science research:

Science is important, and all those seemingly incremental results are important the same way each brick in a building is important.How far down the road of “science shares more with art than engineering” do you want to go? Our society supports the arts because they provide beauty and insight and enrich our lives. We support science because it is inspiring and lets us reach beyond ourselves to see and understand things that didn’t seem possible and because it provides tangible advances that improve the quality of our lives. Those benefits are worth a lot to people. The National Endowment for the Arts has a budget of around $150 million. The National Science Foundation has a budget of around $6000 million. The response to Sarah Palin’s imbecilic attack on fruit fly research would not have been half as effective if it had been only that fruit flies make beautiful experiments possible.

I wouldn’t have the chance to do science for the sake of beauty if it wasn’t also important and scientists and press release writers shouldn’t be afraid of saying that.

and,

[3] Andre on the need for good hands in the lab:

As I mentioned above, I drink a lot of coffee, and while I don’t have a serious case of the shakes, I don’t have a particularly steady hand. Despite this, I would insert the micropipettes into the brown tubing by hand. We had a 20x optical microscope with two-dimensional motion on the microscope stage. I would mount the flow chamber to the stage, centre everything such that it was all in focus, bring a micropipette tip into the field of view by hand, and, once also focussed, try to move the stage so that the pipette tip ended up in the brown tubing.

This would (obviously) often result in disaster, as any time the tip of the pipette would touch the brown tubing it would be ruined, no matter how incidental the contact. For a while I was keeping a log of successful tips to ruined ones in my lab book, and the ratio got so depressing I had to stop. By the end of my Master’s though, despite my regular multiple cups per day, I had developed a couple of tricks to raise
the success rate. The most useful of which was to introduce water into the system.

Flushing the flow chamber with water would produce a large (under the microscope, anyway) bead at the opening aperture of the brown tubing, which, after Kimwiping it away, would leave a slight meniscus of water right at the entrance. When the tip of a micropipette was nearing the entrance to the brown tubing, the pressure difference in the pipette tip would result in rapid suction of water from the meniscus into the pipette. With much practice, rapidly moving the stage once observing water in the pipette led to, near the end anyway, maybe as high as a 50% success rate in getting tips into chambers.

Have fun!

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