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From: TSS ()
Subject: Re: USDA TO DISPATCH TECHNICAL TEAM TO JAPAN
Date: March 22, 2006 at 6:51 pm PST

In Reply to: USDA TO DISPATCH TECHNICAL TEAM TO JAPAN posted by TSS on March 22, 2006 at 6:18 pm:

CORRESPONDENCE NATURE|Vol 440|23 March 2006

408

Scientists must be able to

report without censorship

SIR — Government scientists must be able

to research and report their findings to

the public without fear of censorship or

intimidation. We need honest results from

our science agencies that we can count on.

And taxpayers have the right to know

the facts.

But in recent weeks, the press has reported

allegations that scientists at NASA and

the National Oceanic and Atmospheric

Administration (NOAA) are routinely

silenced when reporting their findings on

climate change (“US scientists fight political

meddling” Nature 439, 896–897; 2006). If

true, this is unacceptable.

That’s why I’ve called for the Government

Accountability Office to review the policies

and practices of our federal physicalscience

agencies to ensure openness in

communication of their science results.

This includes not only NASA and NOAA,

but all the federal science agencies within

the jurisdiction of the Appropriations

Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice,

Science, and Related Agencies, on which

I serve as the senior Democrat.

US citizens deserve to know what’s

happening to their environment from the

agencies they rely on to do the research to

keep them safe.

Barbara A. Mikulski

United States Senate, 503 Hart Senate Office

Buildings, Washington DC 20510, USA

Scientists should be heard,

but not expect to set policy

SIR — Your Editorial “Science under attack”

(Nature 439, 891; 2006) and News story “US

scientists fight political meddling” (Nature

439, 896–897; 2006), on friction between

scientists and the Bush administration,

impart a curious and unwarrantedly broad

meaning to the term ‘unitary executive’ with

reference to the US polity. In fact, the term

stems from the first sentence of Article II of

the US Constitution: “The executive power

shall be vested in a President of the United

States of America”. Our president has sole

(‘unitary’) constitutional power to run the

executive branch, and also sole responsibility

for all its actions. As Harry Truman put it

when he was in office, “The buck stops here.”

Unitary executive power does not infringe on

the legislative or judicial powers of other

branches of government.

The problem that has arisen between the

administration and the scientific community

is how the notion of presidential executive

power is to be extended (or not) to scientific

employees of the multitudinous departments

and agencies of the executive branch, and in

particular to their strictly scientific opinions

(to the extent that those can be separated

from policy conclusions). The constitution

does not clarify this point, because its authors

did not foresee how large the executive branch

would eventually become. The issue is neither

easy nor trivial, for government scientists

have many opinions (some opposed or

contradictory), but no independent authority

and no responsibility for public policy.

The climate of the present dispute would

benefit if both sides would tone down the

rhetoric and ease back on the partisan

throttle. No administration can gain much by

ignoring or silencing the best scientific advice

available, either within or outside the

government. On the other hand, unelected

government scientists in the civil service are

not independent political players, and have

no inherent licence to make pronouncements

designed to call established public policy

into question. We govern ourselves

primarily through elected officials and

their appointees, not by scientific consensus

— be it wise or foolish.

William R. Dickinson

Department of Geosciences, University of

Arizona, Tucson, Arizona 85718, USA

Fraud: anonymous ‘stars’

would not dazzle reviewers

SIR — In the current discussion about fraud

(see Correspondence, Nature 439, 782–784;

2006), the important issue of what actually

makes people cheat in the first place has not

been addressed. Whether an individual cheats

and lies is dependent on many factors, but

instant personal advantage is the central one.

Unlike nanotechnology and genetics

research, where lucrative patents can beckon,

my field of Earth sciences has little to offer

but basic research in public institutions. The

pressure on the relatively few permanent jobs

available to a growing number of scientists in

this field is therefore high, and hence the

rewards of publishing in the highest-ranked

journals are extremely significant for one’s

career. The temptation to fumble with the

data a bit for the sake of the story, or to

include a big-shot author as a showcase, is

understandable.

In the most notorious recent cases (the

Korean stem-cell work and Jan Hendrik

Schön’s nanotechnology work), the peerreview

system must be said to have failed,

as the frauds were unveiled by people from

outside the immediate process. Were the

referees the weakest link, and were both the

editors and the referees blinded by the aura

of the authorships?

Despite some disadvantages, anonymous

peer-review remains the fairest way to prevent

publication bias (see “Three cheers for peers”

Nature 439, 118; 2006). But who ensures the

quality of the referees and the refereeing

process? Clearly, it is the editor’s responsibility

to overlook lobbying by authors and referees

alike and to improve procedures if necessary

to ensure fair assessment of all submissions,

not favouring those from ‘star’ authors.

I believe it is best for the publisher not

to reveal authors’ names or affiliations to

the referee until the submitted manuscript

has been accepted or finally rejected. Withholding

the authors’ identities in this way

will not only ensure high quality, but will

stop rejected authors from believing that

their submission had been treated unfairly

compared with those of ‘star’ authors.

Henning Bauch

Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur,

Mainz c/o IFM-GEOMAR, Leibniz-Institut für

Meereswissenschaften, Wischhofstrasse 1–3,

24148 Kiel, Germany

Research skewed by stress

on highest-impact journals

SIR — Emilio Artacho, in Correspondence

(“Reader-appeal should not outweigh merit

of research” Nature 439, 534; 2006), raises an

important point concerning the growing

tension between merit and appeal of

research, and alludes to the increasing

pressure on young scientists to publish in

journals such as Nature. This seems to have

arisen from senior administrators, both at

universities and at funding bodies, requiring

simplistic measures of esteem such as

numbers of Nature papers and citation rates.

It creates problems in appointments, tenure

and promotions, particularly for sciences that

do not traditionally publish in Nature or have

small communities and thus lower citation

rates. As a result, many science departments

are now skewed towards research that appeals

to the more general reader.

I am pleased that a number of the UK

Research Assessment Exercise panels have

stated that they will judge papers submitted

to them, not on the basis of where they have

been published, but rather on their inherent

impact and importance. If we want to relieve

some of the pressures on young scientists and

create a more balanced science community,

then we need to re-educate ourselves, and

our senior university administrators, so that

publishing in journals such as Nature, though

important, is recognized as just one of a rich

variety of research outputs.

Mark Maslin

Department of Geography, University College

London, London WC1H 0AP, UK

Contributions to Correspondence may be

submitted to corres@nature.com. They

should be signed by no more than three

authors; preferably by one.

Nature PublishingGroup ©2006tss




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