The Opposing Thumb

An opinionated digit leafs through the biological literature
Media Roundup

Thymely Thoughts

If you love the thymus, few speakers compare the the Max Planck’s Thomas Boehm.  Me, I love the thymus. It’s my favorite organ (my current infatuation with the Zebrafish swim bladder notwithstanding). So it was a real treat to hear Dr Boehm speak at the IGC this Friday on The Life and Times of the Thymus. Incidentally, if you don’t, for some inexplicable  reason, already love the thymus, it’s a great seminar to introduce you to it- because in presenting his lab’s work on the evolution and development of the organ, Boehm has to start from first principles. What common features should we look for (and why) when we scan vertebrates from lampreys to mammals- and more speculatively, what do we expect to find in more distant relatives like the amphioxus?

A consequence of this concentrated effort on fundamentals is that when someone starting out in immunology, be it a student or a colleague who has only recently seen the light, asks for some references to introduce them to the field, I always include at least one review by Thomas Boehm. About half the time, within a couple of days, I get polite emails requesting a PDF file. This shouldn’t happen. It’s a good occasion to remember that open access matters. I send the files along. But you shouldn’t have to know someone or pay exorbitant publisher prices to pay for research that you and your taxes have paid for. The articles in question cost 35$ each. That’s more than the price of a spanking-new hardcover book for 12 pages that you have already paid for. None of that goes to the authors, by the way, or to the reviewers who painstakingly (stay with me, jaded professional, some of them- many- really do) evaluate each submission. In fact, most of the money goes to nothing other than lining the publisher’s pockets. Drug lords, software companies (that actually do make the product they are selling), and close personal friends of Vladimir Putin are the only entities that post profit margins similar to publishers like Elsevier. Elsevier takes no violent personal risks, generates no new code, and does not spend many uncomfortable hours in the company of a shirtless KGB officer.

The need for open access is most clear to me with in depth reviews. The primary data is of course the heart of science. But if you know what you are looking for here, you will almost certainly be able to get it, via your Institute or University, or through your colleagues. But great reviews are a way in. New students, people you met when teaching at locations that have precarious internet access, science teachers willing to put in the effort to catch up with science, and pass that on to their students. They are all locked out.


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