'Policies flawed by sexy papers'

April 12, 2002

The editorial policies of the two most prestigious scientific journals - Nature and Science - have been criticised by scientists.

Experts are asking whether competition between the two is occasionally leading to the publication of flawed or ethically compromised work.

Many welcomed Nature 's withdrawal of a paper that last November claimed to have found transgenic DNA in non-GM Mexican maize.

The paper sparked criticism and a letter of protest signed by 100 leading figures who were concerned that its conclusions were not borne out by data - a position the journal has accepted.

At the same time, 20 scientists, including Sir Aaron Klug and Sir Paul Nurse, put their names to a statement attacking the decision by Science to publish a paper on the rice genome without the data being open to full public access.

The research was carried out by the Swiss company Syngenta, which wanted to retain some commercial advantage.

Michael Ashburner, professor of biology at Cambridge University, and one of the signatories, said: "They ( Science and Nature ) are in competition for the sexiest and most newsworthy papers," he said. "I think that distorts their judgement on occasion."

Klaus Amman, director of the Bern Botanical Garden, said it seemed that some flawed research was published in order to stir up debate.

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