Athel Cornish-Bowden

Directeur de Recherche Emérite, CNRS

Research Interest


FEBS Constituent Society

Spain (SEBBM)

Other Expertise/Interests

Journal publishing

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FEBS Network special areas

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Recent Comments

Feb 26, 2019

Carsten has mentioned a point that I could have mentioned myself: "backed by the "table of contents" on one side of the slides". He is referring to the use of a stripe about 20% of the width of the slide to list the main topics, with the ones not being discussed on that slide greyed out. This allows the audience to gauge where they are in the whole presentation, and how much longer they're going to have to sit there. I didn't invent this myself: I saw it first in a doctoral presentation about 20 years ago by a student  and decided to adapt it for my own use.

How do you grey out part of the text? The least laborious way is to cover the parts to be greyed out with rectangles of the same colour as the background with an opacity of about 40%. That avoids the need to do anything to the text itself.

Feb 12, 2019

You have it exactly right. The principal beneficiaries of open access are the companies that depend on academic research but don't publish their own results.

Jul 09, 2018

This recommendation worries me, because the book revives some misconceptions that were found in most biochemistry textbooks when I first started teaching biochemistry, but which have gradually faded in the past half-century. For example, in the 4th edition of White, Handler and Smith (1968) the authors make it clear that they don't really believe in dipolar ions (zwitterions): they introduce amino acids with wrong (neutral) structures. After several pages of wrong structures they include a brief mention of dipolar ions, perhaps put in at the pedantic insistence of a physical chemist, and then return to wrong structures for the rest of the book. This was very common in 1970, but is relatively rare now, found only in the least satisfactory textbooks. Unfortunately the book recommended in the post perpetuates the misconception. Why does it matter? If students think of glycine, for example, as a molecule that combines the properties of acetic acid (a strongly smelling and reactive liquid) and ethylamine (a strongly smelling and reactive gas) how can they understand why it looks and behaves like a salt?

As a different example, in 1970 most textbooks showed the curve representing the rate of an enzyme-catalysed reaction obeying Michaelis-Menten kinetics as "reaching" the maximum velocity at about 5Km, though a simple calculation shows that 5/6 is much less than 1. Most authors have learned better since then, but the author this book is not one of them, and even shows the curve reaching saturation at about 3Km.

Jul 09, 2018

Another point to mention is the inflation in the number of authors per paper, which is sometimes (not always, of course) a way of padding the CVs of people whose actual contribution to the work has been negligible. I have looking at the numbers of authors of papers published in the European Journal of Biochemistry  and FEBS Journal at ten-year intervals from 1967 to 2017, in each case looking at the first issue of each year. In 1967 60% of papers had one or two authors, and in 2017 there were 9%, with a more or less steady decrease over the intervening years. The median numbers of authors tell the same story: two in 1967, three in 1977 and 1987, four in 1997, five in 2007 and 2017. In biochemistry we are still far from the 3000 authors one can find with papers in particle physics; even genome sequencing papers fall far short of that. Nonetheless, the trend is there, and I for one would be very suspicious of an "author" unable to justify the Discussion and main conclusions of a paper.

Jun 26, 2018

Nothing about enzymes, except for incidental mentions when discussing more fashionable topics? How the world has changed.

Jun 26, 2018

This is a very important topic, and anyone concerned about pseudoscience should do all they can to combat it. So far as quackery (mainly, but not exclusively, in the USA) is concerned is a useful resource.

Feb 28, 2018
I agree, of course, with your main point, which applies far more widely than to structural biology. Even though one might think that fraud would always be detected quickly if people were interested in the topic, that isn't always the case. An example is a paper by J. Sudbo et al. (2001) New Eng. J. Med. 344, 1270-1278. It was a high-profile paper, cited in more than 100 papers over the next five years, during which time no one noticed (or if they did they didn't say so) that it contained an obvious fraud: two panels of a figure purported to refer to two different patients but were actually different magnifications of the same photomicrograph. When I read about this, I thought that one might need to be an expert in photomicrography (which I am not) to spot the fraud, but not at all: it leaps out at the eye, as the most prominent feature of both is a part that looks like a goose's head. Published in 2001, the paper wasn't withdrawn until 2006.