When scientists play politics with important scientific papers, suppressing, delaying, or killing them not because of bad science, but because of a perceived breach in established protocol, that doesn’t exactly advance the cause of science, nor is it in the best interests of the general public. Fortunately, Professor Lynn Margulis helped expose some of these secretive submission practices by the National Academy of Sciences.
Does a science peer review system based on secret submission policies benefit the American public who fund science? A review by this author of correspondence between the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America – the print weekly and online daily research journal (paid subscription) of the National Academy of Sciences – and the authors of several recent scientific papers, most eventually published by PNAS, reveals a nasty back story about submission procedures that in some cases work against the best interests of the public as well as sound science.
The uproar had to do with three papers submitted to PNAS several months ago by NAS member Lynn Margulis, a recipient of the US Presidential Medal for Science. One of them, “Destruction of spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi round-body propagules (RBs) by the antibiotic Tigecycline“, the authors say involves an excellent candidate antibiotic for possible cure of the tick-borne chronic spirochete infection Lyme Disease in the US, recognized as “erythema migrans” in Europe and elsewhere. However, the paper was held up because PNAS said it had issues about the way Margulis chose her reviewers on the first (unrelated) paper she presented, that is, Donald Williamson’s “Caterpillars evolved from onychophorans by hybridogenesis”. As a result, all three papers were stuck. The last of the three, also on spirochetes, which Margulis says was properly and favorably reviewed, has not yet been approved for publication as this story goes to press.
Margulis is one of 2,100 US members of the NAS. She does not receive government funding and has further distinguished herself by refusing to take DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Project Agency) money. Margulis admits she is viewed by some within the NAS as “contentious” but says she “only wants to see that real science, open to those who want to participate, is well done, discussed critically without secrecy and properly communicated”.</p