Friday, 20 February 2015

Why I will never trust Science again.

On the 7th of December I submitted a paper about the spread of H5N8 bird flu via bird migration to Science. A pdf version of the file can be found here. Then I waited and went off for my Christmas vacation. That is why I did not see the final reply from Science until the beginning of January.


Biomedical Science
University of Westminster
Westminster None W1W 6UW

Dear Dr. Dalby

Manuscript number: aaa3940

Thank you for submitting your manuscript "The European and Japanese outbreaks of H5N* derive from a single source population that has been dispersed along the long distance bird migratory flyways. " to Science. Because your manuscript was not given a high priority rating during the initial screening process, we have decided not to proceed to in-depth review. The overall view is that the scope and focus of your paper make it more appropriate for a more specialized journal. We are therefore notifying you so that you can seek publication elsewhere.

We now receive many more interesting papers than we can publish. We therefore send for in-depth review only those papers most likely to be ultimately published in Science. Papers are selected on the basis of discipline, novelty, and general significance, in addition to the usual criteria for publication in specialized journals. Therefore, our decision is not necessarily a reflection of the quality of your research but rather of our stringent space limitations.


Caroline Ash, Ph.D.
Senior Editor

That was fine but the timing was a bit unfortunate and so delayed the paper being sent out to another more specific journal. I was happy with the paper but it was borderline in significance and Science has a lot more important manuscripts to publish.

So I sent it to Emerging Infectious Disease on the 9th of January in a modified form with some typos removed and a switch of emphasis on the epidemiology as that is what they need. The new manuscript for EID I sent is here. Again the paper was rejected on the 30th of January because it does not really fit with EID which wants manuscripts that are about diseases that affect human health and in this case it looks like it will only be an avian disease.

I was reading the Science weekly e-mail and saw that they were going to publish a paper on the spread of H5N8 by migratory birds in their Insights column. It is available here. This was even reported by the BBC. So it seems it was a more important story than I had thought.

Reading this I was rather angry that this was published and that my paper had been rejected as it comes to the same conclusions and so I wrote a short and quite angry e-mail to the editor of Science complaining about ethics and precedence. This was the reply which is in the name of Caroline Ash.

Dear Dr Dalby
Thank you for your message. I understand your concern that we should publish an item on the same topic as yours shortly after having  rejected your report. However, I should clarify. The Verhagen piece is published in the Insights section of Science and is therefore intended as commentary without data. Your paper was submitted as a formal research report with data that would normally be subject to peer review.
We receive many excellent papers, but we are limited in the number and subject areas we can pursue in each section of the journal and find ourselves rejecting the majority. Although we decided against in-depth review of your paper we enjoyed reading it and unless you have submitted elsewhere would encourage you to try our new journal Science Advances:
I hope this information is of some help and I am sorry your experience at Science was disappointing.
Kind regards
Caroline Ash
Caroline Ash
Senior Editor, Science;
ASI Science International, 82-88 Hills Road, Cambridge, UK, CB2 1LQ
+44 1223 326500;

So therefore anything we read in the Insights section of Science should be taken with a pinch of salt because it does not contain data and it is only a commentary. Anyway I went through the Science paper with a fine toothed comb and found a few errors that raise concerns. First there is s a different lineage in circulation in North America and more seriously the reference cited to support the figure and in fact the main conclusion about migration was wrong. So I submitted a letter to Science pointing out these faults. 

So I expected them to take this seriously as the error in the reference fundamentally undermines the paper and there is no alternative reference that collects the data that supports the figure and conclusion other than my own paper which is in PeerJ preprints. So I was fairly astounded by their reply.
Dear Dr. Dalby,

Manuscript number: aaa8769

Thank you for sending a Letter to Science. We have read your contribution but will not be able to publish it.  We invite you to leave an online comment instead.  To leave a comment, go and find the published paper to which your comment refers.  Then click Leave a Comment to submit.  Online comments should be no more than 300 words.  Excerpts from comments are occasionally published in the print Letters section of Science.

Note that we will post a correction to the reference you mention.

Please do not reply to this email, as it will not be read by Science. Unfortunately, the volume of submissions precludes specific discussions about individual submitted letters.


Jennifer Sills

I had asked for Caroline Ash to act as Editor on the letter submission as she had been the one who responded to my earlier e-mail and had been the signatory on the original rejection. I would say that my experience with Science goes beyond disappointing.  I would say that at this moment I am extremely angry with their behaviour. I would encourage anyone reading this to only support open access publication and transparency in peer review.