bioinformatics, genomes, biology etc. "I don't mean to sound angry and cynical, but I am, so that's how it comes across"

Five things Randy Schekman should have done

My post about Randy Schekman being a hypocrite received over 4000 visitors in two days, and is now my second most popular post ever (behind my guide for the lonely bioinformatician).

My views on Schekman clearly struck a nerve.

However, not everyone agreed with me, and amongst other things, the most salient point seems to be that, whilst Schekman may be a hypocrite, his message is still a good one.  I cannot and do not disagree with this point; Schekman is right, but firstly he could have said it better, and secondly, it would have been better coming from someone else – someone with credibility in the field of open access publishing.

My argument is a simple one, and it’s that an important message can be diluted, and indeed damaged, if the messenger has little credibility.  It’s possible that Schekman did more harm than good given his preference for glamour journals.

So here are five things Randy could have done better:

1. Apologise

This was a glaring ommission from the piece in the Guardian.  Randy Schekman is at least partly responsible, along with all of the other professors and senior PIs who publish in the glamour mags, for the situation being as bad as it is.  When you are responsible for something bad, it is common to apologize. Here is a quote from the article:

Those of us who follow these incentives are being entirely rational – I have followed them myself – but we do not always best serve our profession’s interests, let alone those of humanity and society.

Firstly, Randy is admitting to harming the scientific profession, society and humanity.  I’m glad he can admit it – so where is the apology for doing so? Secondly, not only is there no apology, but he justifies his actions as “rational” i.e. “don’t blame me, everyone was doing it”.

I really fail to see what’s so rational about the current scientific publication set up…!

2. Not prevented his post-docs and students publishing in Nature, Science and Cell

This may sound like an odd one, but the simple fact remains that a N/S/C publication can open doors that were previously closed.  Randy has no right to ban his group from taking advantage of that.  None of us do.  We all have a duty of care to the careers of our group members, and we should not ban any activity that advances their careers.  Randy should ask and recommend and persuade;  but he should not ban.

3. Actually publish in open access journals

Here’s the thing: Schekman has a couple of PLOS ONE papers.  He has no BMC papers.  I haven’t checked the rest, but this message would have been so, so, so much more powerful had Schekman been publishing in open access journals for a few years before he said it.  The co-ordination with his move to eLife seriously dilutes the message.

4. Actually changed something

A tough one this, but arguably Mike Eisen changed the world of publishing; perhaps Peter Binfield will do the same.  There are others.  These people believed and acted and changed the World.  Schekman has done nothing for open access publishing – so far.

5. He should have gone further

There is more wrong with scientific publishing than the results being open access; we need preprints and we need open peer review too.

That’s about it for now.  I am sure I will think of others.  I hope the open access movement benefits from all of this, I really do.


  1. #2. Banning is appropriate, but only for future postdocs (who could decide to not join the lab based on this decision). Current postdocs, who joined with the presumption of SNC should be allowed, though discouraged.

    Banning Grads/PDs/others is critical- this is how the next generation of OA proponents is born. When they go on to get jobs, and many of them will, without SNC, they too will be likely to enact similar policy. This will never work, never, if people have perceived benefits from glam in one stage of their career, even if they then give it up later.

    I think the potential power in Sheckman’s promise is NOT in how his behavior will change, but instead in how his decision will change the worldview of his lab members. Hope that all of them (and there are many) will go on to be OA proponents. IMO, this has been one of the largest effects Mike Eisen has had on the OA community- Many of his grad students and postdocs have gone on the get TT positions, and run fully OA labs. Students from these labs will form a second generation of OA labs, and so on.. If Eisen students and PD’s were publishing in SNC, the story would be much different, as would Mike’s credibility on this issue.

  2. The word hypocrisy only applies to *simultaneous* double standards/behaviour, not to change of mind

  3. Are you sure about that?!

  4. He´s an hypocrite. If he wasn´t one, he would have stood during the ceremony and said: “I am grateful to the Committee for considering me for the award. However, Nobel prizes must go for those people whose contributions are open to all mankind and not to a selected group of people/institutions who can afford subscriptions to magazines such as Cell or Nature. I am receiving this award after publishing in these magazines and the knowledge I created was not made public and free to mankind, this is why I think I do not deserve it and also consider that Nobel prizes and all awards should be given to those who made the effort in sharing knowledge with all the world”.

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