18 March 2013

Today in cognitive dissonance: celebrating “landmark” openness in a closed journal

A new editorial in The Journal of Comparative Neurology celebrates a paper that goes the extra mile in making its anatomical data available:

(The authors) provide an unprecedented level of access to their supporting data by publishing their full set of experimental outcomes in the form of virtual slides, or whole‐slide images.

The editorial nicely summarizes why archiving data from brain slices is particularly important. Brains are complex structures, and there is necessarily a lot of interpretation of what you see on microscope slides. (How many beginning students mistake air bubbles for amoeba?). Increasingly, many studies rely on stains that fade over time.

For comparative neuroanatomists, you can’t always guarantee that you will be able to get another brain from some interesting species. You can’t just go get a brain from a whale any time you want. There is a tradition of collecting and archiving interesting brains from all kinds of species in comparative neuroanatomy.

The editorial points out the advantages of archiving these data on the Internet rather than in print:

(A) typical virtual slide in the collection would require over 250 square meters of paper if printed at full resolution.

The irony of all this is that The Journal of Comparative Neurology is a paywalled, subscription based journal. And not just any subscription journal, but one with a breath-taking $30,860 price tag. And that’s for Internet access or print. If you want both, be prepared to add a few thousand to meet the new asking price of $35,489.

Guys, if openness and data sharing is good, and the limitations of print are bad, you’ve just made great argument for journals like PLOS ONE, PeerJ, the BioMed Central family, and their like. Why does your journal continue to exist in its current form?

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Gaillard F, Karten HJ, Sauvé Y. 2013. Retinorecipient areas in the diurnal murine rodent Arvicanthis niloticus: A disproportionally large superior colliculus. The Journal of Comparative Neurology: in press. DOI: 10.1002/cne.23303.

Karten HJ, Glaser JR, Hof PR. 2013. A landmark in scientific publishing. The Journal of Comparative Neurology: in press. DOI:

Photo by topastrodfogna on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.

1 comment:

Richard said...

Irritatingly, this is one journal that my university doesn't subscribe to. For modellers, some of the data it publishes are really useful. It's ridiculous that this kind of data isn't publicly available as standard practice, as you say.