Hello TWiV Team,
Attached find an image of a mall storefront. A sad sign of our times.
Rancho Cucamonga, California
On TwiV665 listener John asked whether NCBI was demonstrating its sense of humor by including this publication in the PubMed database: “Origin of new emergent Coronavirus and Candida fungal diseases—Terrestrial or cosmic?”. I know several people who work at NCBI, and they do have good senses of humor, BUT I don’t think any of them are amused that this publication found its way into PubMed. As Alan Dove pointed out, PubMed automatically imports science publications; it’s a computer doing this, not a person, so there is little opportunity for vetting at the NCBI level. Quality control is supposed to happen at the sources—the journals and publishers who are mostly peer-reviewed. This standard does keep out some questionable material (note, for example, that the Sasquatch genome publication in the 2013 issue of the ‘journal’ DeNovo didn’t make the PubMed cut, nor is the Sasquatch ‘genome’ in the GenBank database). So how did the cosmic COVID source publication find its way into PubMed? At first, I thought that Alan had the right idea: that the source journal/book would turn out to be questionable like DeNovo, but I was surprised to learn that the source here is Advances in Genetics, an Elsevier publication. Elsevier!! Publisher of Cell, The Lancet, the Trends in X,Y.Z series, etc.. Advances in Genetics is a book series published once or twice a year since 1947, and it purports that its chapters/articles are peer reviewed, a claim that seems questionable in this case (see below)
The cosmic COVID AiG chapter attracted the attention (https://retractionwatch.com/2020/09/08/covid-19-arrived-on-a-meteorite-claims-elsevier-book-chapter/) of the staff of Retraction Watch, a service provided by the Center for Scientific Integrity, a 501(c)3 non-profit group (https://retractionwatch.com/the-center-for-scientific-integrity/). The RetractionWatch staff contacted the science editor for the AiG edition and asked about the review process for this chapter and received this response (copy/pasted
from the ReactionWatch website):
“Please note authors’ views are not based on any experimental work or data that needed external peer review or any other form of validation. In this context, I fail to understand how external review by some one else could have altered the decision to share this innovative idea with the genetic/ genomic scientific community. Contents of the article were internally reviewed between all of us including me as the serial editor. We did not find it necessary to seek any other view or opinion. Since the article is now available online, all reviews, comments and reflections would be open to all.”
Here are a couple of the other chapters in this special-theme issue (list price $145.35):
The Efficient Lamarckian Spread of Life in the Cosmos
A Cosmic Virosphere
This doesn’t inspire much confidence in Elsevier, but beyond that I wonder if it is worth spending any time and effort to think about stuff like this? On one hand, many people have the same ‘Primary Affiliation’ that listener Rob cited (Common Sense) and so can evaluate the publication’s merits. But after just a few Google searches, I realize that this AiG edition is already widely disseminated even before its official publication date and that in many of the citations it carries the NCBI.NLM PubMed association that non-scientists could easily interpret as a stamp-of-approval. And the RetractionWatch website lists >30 retracted Covid-related papers. About half of these are pre-prints, and so you could say the peer review system worked. But the other half were allegedly peer reviewed, so the system failed at some point.
Getting all of this miasma back in the bottle is going to be difficult. Thank you, TwiV team, for doing your part and for your efforts to keep us informed and connected to the real world.
Rick in Maryland (where it is cloudy with a 50% chance of cosmic viral rain)
Thank you to the TWI team for my favorite podcasts!
I’m a Research Scientist at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, TN. I got my PhD in Chemical Engineering and am now doing research and production in a genome engineering lab. My lab creates gene-edited cell and animal models using CRISPR Cas9 technology. These models are used throughout the hospital to study childhood diseases and develop better treatments for our patients. I have a long commute to work, and listening to your TWI podcasts makes it a much more enjoyable drive.
I discovered TWIV around 2010 while I was in grad school, and in the last few years got into TWIM and Immune as well. I have listened to every episode. I love tuning in because I always feel like I am listening to my buddies getting together to chat about a cool paper they found. I finally donated to Microbe.tv this morning, I’ve been meaning to for so long.
I can’t thank you enough for producing these podcasts. I love listening to scientists talk about science, I love that you are normalizing non-scientists learning about the intricacies and uncertainties of science and the scientific method, and I love that you aren’t afraid to say “I don’t know the answer” and “I thought I knew the answer but actually I was wrong and here’s why”. I can only imagine how much time and effort you all devote to producing these amazing podcasts, and I want you to know I appreciate you!
P.S. Fall has begun in Memphis, (60 F/16 C and cloudy today) and though my coworkers and friends are delighted, Vincent, I’m with you and I’m sad summer is over!
P.P.S. I love Alan and Dickson’s terrible puns, keep them coming!
I’m “just” a structural biologist/biochemist at University of Toronto studying bacterial pathogenesis, mechanisms of antibiotic resistance and inhibition of novel antimicrobial drug targets. My lab received funding to provide free purified SARS-CoV-2 proteins which we have distributed to nearly 200 academics and companies in the past 6 months. We are also working on structure-function studies of various SARS-CoV-2 proteins including N, Nsp3 (various domains therein) and Nsp10-Nsp14, working closely with the NIAID funded Center for Structural Genomics of Infectious Diseases.
I haven’t taken a virology course in my life nor wasn’t too interested in viruses, until the pandemic began when I started listening to TWiV religiously. I have since started Vincent’s virology course (thank you so much for this amazing service). Thank you to the TWiVers for all that you do, the show is incredible and has really helped me and my lab enter the fray of SARS-CoV-2 research.
I just have a couple of comments about the show.
First, I wanted to thank Vincent for publicly apologizing in TWiV 665 for his words to Dickson in previous episodes. I too felt Vincent was being too antagonistic to Dickson and it was very classy of Vincent to acknowledge this and to apologize publicly.
Secondly, I wanted to make a comment about Alan Dove. I appreciate his involvement in TWiV and his comedic relief really adds to the show, however, he has some behaviours that make it very difficult to follow the flow of conversation between the TWiVers. He has a habit of (a) interrupting the other TWiVers (he does this perhaps 20 times per show and in one episode Vincent even commented on this!) and (b) controlling/directing the flow of conversation by always having a comment which prevents the other TWiVers direct the conversation, including the host Vincent.
I would respectfully ask Alan to please stop interrupting the others and let them finish their sentences and make their points.
I would also respectfully ask Alan to sit back a little bit and don’t always control the flow of conversation – respect the presence of the other TWiVers and their desire to direct the conversation in their desired directions.
Thank you all once again for everything that you do and keep up the amazing work!!
Peter Stogios, PhD, Senior Research Associate
BioZone, Dept. of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry
University of Toronto
Hello Doctor Spindler,
I’m an American teaching English here in Prague. I found TWiV early in the pandemic and have been an avid listener ever since. You and your fellow TWiVsters have kept me informed and calm and I truly appreciate all the work you’re doing to educate, inform and debunk the firehose stream of information about the pandemic.
I wanted to share this cool pick with you. This cafe in Prague developed a cake of the virus particle that is so popular now that they require reservations for it so they can ensure there are enough each day. Here is the link to the English language website story about it https://www.expats.cz/czech-news/article/coronavirus-shaped-dessert-a-hit-at-central-prague-cafe?fbclid=IwAR0LlVFBOougxBzo5wA9DwImuLJKhp8gzzm-IvcyZ4vs4-Vt_4NSoAEfn7o. Here’s a picture of it:
(dried raspberries for spikes; hard chocolate shell, cocoa powder, white chocolate, filled with pistachio ganache and raspberry puree).
Inside the coronavirus particle
(from the video in the article):