Thursday, October 30, 2014

The publication Hall of Fame

Here's a very cool effort by the people at Nature - to commemorate the 50th year of the Science Citation Index, the first tool to track citations in the scientific literature, they asked the current owners of the SCI, Thomson Reuters, to generate a list of the top 100 most cited papers. Personally, I found the results fascinating, especially for the biology side of things. First of all, the top 100 papers represent a miniscule sliver of all the papers out there:

"Thomson Reuter’s Web of Science holds some 58 million items. If that corpus were scaled to Mount Kilimanjaro, then the 100 most-cited papers would represent just 1 centimetre at the peak."

If someone had asked me what sorts of biology-related studies had made the cut, I would have thought maybe this one, or either of these. Turns out, I'd be totally wrong. The top papers in biology are largely methods papers, outlining a protocol for performing specific procedures - the top three are the papers describing the Lowry and Bradford methods of protein quantification, and a recipe for Laemmli buffer, used to prepare proteins for electrophoresis. While these are workhorse procedures in a molecular or cellular biology lab, explaining the sheer volume of citations, they're definitely not what would first come to mind as candidates for publishing glory.

When I was in grad school, I heard of many instances where so-called "methods" papers weren't considered particularly exciting; you were just building a tool, not discovering a cool new biological phenomenon that could land you on the cover of Nature. This study is conclusive proof that tool-building is exactly the way to go if you want your papers to live on in the literature.

"Still, there is one powerful lesson for researchers, notes Peter Moore, a chemist at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. “If citations are what you want,” he says, “devising a method that makes it possible for people to do the experiments they want at all, or more easily, will get you a lot further than, say, discovering the secret of the Universe”.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Quick links

From The Economist: A new study in Science traces the early spread of the HIV virus in Africa.

From Nature: A modified version of the anti-parasitic drug niclosamide reduces fat accumulation and insulin resistance in mouse models of type 2 diabetes and is a promising new lead for an anti-diabetic drug.

From Science: This year's Nobel Prize in Medicine goes to three scientists who discovered the brain's positioning system.

From Fierce Pharma: The Thiola pricing kerfuffle.

From Forbes: In the wake of the Thiola pricing kerfuffle, an interesting look at the way drug pricing works.

From Businessweek: Retrophin, the company marketing Thiola, and its many troubles.

From Vanity Fair: Tracking the origin of the current Ebola outbreak and why containment efforts have failed.