Can The Scholarly Kitchen save itself?

January 3, 2014

The Scholarly Kitchen is the blog of the Society of Scholarly Publishers, and as such discusses lots of issues that are of interest to us. But a while back, I gave up commenting there two reasons. First, it seemed rare that fruitful discussions emerged, rather than mere echo-chamberism; and second, my comments would often be deliberately delayed for several hours “to let others get in first”, and randomly discarded completely for reasons that I found completely opaque.

But since June, when David Crotty took over as Editor-in-Chief from Kent Anderson, I’ve sensed a change in the wind: more thoughtful pieces, less head-in-the-sandism over the inevitable coming changes in scholarly publishing, and even genuinely fruitful back-and-forth in the comments. I was optimistic that the Kitchen could become a genuine hub of cross-fertilisation.

But then, this: The Jack Andraka Story — Uncovering the Hidden Contradictions Behind a Science Folk Hero [cached copy]. Ex-editor Kent Anderson has risen from the grave to give us this attack piece on a fifteen-year-old.

I’m frankly astonished that David Crotty allowed this spiteful piece on the blog he edits. Is Kent Anderson so big that no-one can tell him “no”? Embarrassingly, he is currently president of the SSP, which maybe gives him leverage over the blog. But I’m completely baffled over how Crotty, Anderson or anyone else can think this piece will achieve anything other than to destroy the reputation of the Kitchen.

As Eva Amsen says, “I got as far as the part where he says Jack is not a “layperson” because his parents are middle class. (What?) Then closed tab.” I could do a paragraph-by-paragraph takedown of Anderson’s article, as Michael Eisen did for Jeffrey Beall’s anti-OA coming-out letter; but it really doesn’t deserve that level of attention.

So why am I even mentioning it? Because Jack Andraka doesn’t deserve to be hunted by a troll. I’m not going to be the only one finally giving up on The Scholarly Kitchen if David Crotty doesn’t do something to control his attack dog.

Seriously, David. You’re better than that. You have to be.

Reference

Anderson, Kent. 2014. The Jack Andraka Story — Uncovering the Hidden Contradictions Behind a Science Folk Hero. Society of Scholarly Publishers. The Scholarly Kitchen, Society of Scholarly Publishers. URL:http://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2014/01/03/the-jack-andraka-story-uncovering-the-hidden-contradictions-of-an-oa-paragon/. Accessed: 2014-01-03. (Archived by WebCite® at http://www.webcitation.org/6MLiAaC9o)

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26 Responses to “Can The Scholarly Kitchen save itself?”


  1. You failed to mention the substance of the piece, as usual, taking form over function. Basically, your complaint is, “How rude!”

    Andraka has never published his results. Are you really OK with that? How can anyone evaluate their legitimacy?

    Publication has never been easier. Why has he not published his results?

    That’s just the start of the questions (we then move on to the LLC, the inconsistencies in what he’s said, the promotional edits to his Wikipedia page, etc.).

    If you’re not willing to question people making extreme and unpublished claims, how can you call yourself a scientist?

  2. David Crotty Says:

    Hi Mike,

    I tend to take an editorial stance of inclusion rather than exclusion, and as always, The Scholarly Kitchen offers a wide variety of opinions from individuals who stand at many points along a spectrum. While I have spiked occasional pieces that failed to make a point or that were factually inaccurate, I won’t do so for a post just because it may upset some. I won’t censor a viewpoint just because it may be controversial.

    Kent is being deliberately provocative here, no doubt, but I think it’s important to challenge dogma. I hadn’t followed the Andraka story carefully at all, and had just taken people’s word for it that he had achieved an important scientific result because he could access journal articles. I was very surprised to learn that the results have never been peer reviewed nor published, and that they were not seen as valid by many in the research community. Also that apparently he has patented and locked his results away from the public. Neither seems particularly in the spirit of “open” in which the story is usually presented.

    The question is whether anything Kent has written is factually incorrect or if the problem here is that you’re just unhappy with what he’s saying. If the former, we welcome corrections. If the latter, then the piece has challenged your assumptions and served its purpose.

  3. Bill Says:

    Let’s set aside tone and ask, as David Crotty does upthread: does KA have his facts straight, or not? If the facts are as David has briefly outlined them, then the story has legs.

    I have no doubt there’s another side to it, and a less convoluted way to tell it than Anderson’s. Perhaps someone who is particularly excercised about Anderson’s tone should write that version, complete with transparent fact-checking.

  4. Dan S Says:

    Why are you so angry about this article? Clearly you have some history of not liking the author, as you say yourself. I haven’t read the author’s old stuff. There are a couple of ugly ad-hominems in the article (the “not exactly a layperson” remark and the “a person who could afford to buy information” remark – as if a middle-class 15-year-old is expected to casually hook up daddy’s credit card to elsevier…). Those certainly shouldn’t be in there given that we’re dealing with someone so young. But, those aside, this seems an interesting counterbalance to the inevitable hype of such a story. I am indeed surprised to learn there seems to be no peer-reviewed component to what’s been claimed.

  5. David Prosser Says:

    A quick look at Jack’s twitter stream shows that a few days ago he said that he had just finished writing a paper and has submitted it to PLoS. No idea if it will address all the issues Anderson raises, but it does look as if Jack is walking the OA walk.

  6. Bill Says:

    There’s likely another side to the patent/LLC stuff, too — being in biotech, I have a pretty good idea of what advice young Jack will be getting, and much if not all of it is old-school Lock It Up And Profit From Artificial Scarcity stuff. It will be difficult for him to find development partners for his putative test if he does not lock up the IP. I’d love to see him, and a lot more people, put rec’d wisdom to the test and develop in the open, but that entails a lot of risk and I doubt anyone has even suggested it to him.

  7. Nathan Myers Says:

    Why is it difficult for this Anderson person to understand that what Jack Andraka ends up doing with his work has *nothing* to do with the fact that the work would not have been done at all if he had no access to the information he needed? Jack is not an example. His work is an example. The roadblocks he experiences are the same as for anyone else in his position. The free access he experiences is likewise the same. Where he achieves, or fails, anyone else may also, for precisely the same reasons.

    The value of Jack Andraka’s work as an example comes from the fact that the many cases of failure experienced by his peers attributible to unavailable materials cannot be cited because we never hear about them. His apparent success is, necessarily, the tip of an iceberg of attempted work all too easily sabotaged by spurious restrictions on access.

    Anderson’s pernicious posting is a transparent attempt to change the subject and muddy the water. We should not allow him to distract us.


  8. To clarify above, Andraka’s paper has not been submitted to any journal yet, which I clarified with him via a Twitter question/conversation. He has finished a draft and given it to his mentor to review, but no journal submission has occurred. The tweet alluding to this was more hopeful than accurate.


  9. As to my “pernicious posting,” I’ll wager that few here had any idea about the matters I raised — that no paper had ever been published, that an LLC had been started, and that the premise overall of his claim faces some fundamental logical problems.

    If bringing reality to a situation and examining matters critically is considered to be “changing the subject,” then we should just go back to fire, earth, water, and wind, and stop all this pernicious examination of reality’s fundamental nature.

  10. openvt Says:

    Mike, I stopped reading SK more than a year ago. You should do the same. You do great service to OA through this blog, and reading and interacting with SK and its ginned-up “controversies” is a monumental waste of time. It’s rich that a site so dedicated to the enclosure of knowledge thinks that Andraka isn’t being open enough. At least Andraka is trying to make the world a better place.

  11. Nathan Myers Says:

    I see:

    Brave investigative journalist Anderson penetrates the fog of deception surrounding what might be a 15-year-old con man posing as a prodigal scientist, whose lauded revelations may turn out not to be quite so groundbreaking and consequential as we have learned to expect from authentic 15-year-old prodigies of yore! Open-access journals implicated in lending the might-just-be hoax what would in the case be spurious plausibility! Ignoring grave dangers as he twitters reluctant witnesses, Anderson reveals what might yet turn out to be the truth! Restricted-access publishing satrapy possibly vindicated in some way not rationally explainable!


  12. Kent Anderson, January 3:
    “Andraka has never published his results. Are you really OK with that? How can anyone evaluate their legitimacy?

    Publication has never been easier. Why has he not published his results?”

    Of course, my answers to the above are: “yes,” “by waiting a little bit longer for his published results,” and “because he’s been working on it.”

    Big scary dramatic doubt-raising questions with simple, wind-from-the-sails answers.

    Kent Anderson, January 4:
    “To clarify above, Andraka’s paper has not been submitted to any journal yet, which I clarified with him via a Twitter question/conversation. He has finished a draft and given it to his mentor to review, but no journal submission has occurred.”

    These two statements appear to totally undermine the first two of the four “chastening” bullet points capping the original piece, partially undermine the third (it’s apparently just a matter of time) and leave only the fourth (we may not fully understand the relationship between pancreatic cancer and mesothelin) . . . which I believe was outside the scope of his research.

  13. Matt Wedel Says:

    Kent Anderson: If bringing reality to a situation and examining matters critically is considered to be “changing the subject,” then we should just go back to fire, earth, water, and wind, and stop all this pernicious examination of reality’s fundamental nature.

    Yes, you’re right, it’s completely impossible to investigate reality without being a complete tit about it. Not for the rest of us, though.

    Actually, I’m just proud of you for having the courage to show your face in public after this. And for getting elected president of the Society of People Incautious Enough to Elect Kent Anderson after that happened. Good thing credibility wasn’t a requirement for the job.

    David Crotty: Kent is being deliberately provocative here, no doubt, but I think it’s important to challenge dogma.

    Provocation is not an unalloyed good. It’s usually trotted out as a sophisticated-sounding defense by people who’ve been acting like assholes. As in the current case.

  14. ech Says:

    Kent Anderson: “the promotional edits to his Wikipedia page”—are you implying that Jack edited the Wikipedia article about himself? If so, please point to evidence; he doesn’t seem to have done this, as far as I can tell.

  15. ech Says:

    David Crotty: “The question is whether anything Kent has written is factually incorrect”—The claim that Jack edited the Wikipedia article about himself (repeated above in Kent’s comments) appears to be factually incorrect. When someone like Kent writes an article for SK, does anyone carefully review its claims? This is a highly critical article *about a minor*, and a nontrivial portion of it attacks the Wikipedia article almost as if Andraka were the one responsible for it and accuses him of self-promotion, yet there is not a shred of evidence that Andraka had ever edited it. Kent’s SK article appears to be at least as sloppy as the one on Wikipedia….

  16. Mike Taylor Says:

    Anderson’s recent comments on his own blog post seem to back down from the assertion that Andraka edited his own Wikipedia page, or perhaps to claim that that’s not what he was saying in the first place. His complaint seems to be that someone edited the Jack Andraka page.

  17. ech Says:

    Mike, it still says “There seems to be a good deal of self-promotion involved with the Andraka story, as well, including his own vanity Web site and some deliberate Wikipedia editing”. What has he said that makes you think he’s backed down from that assertion? Or is there some other way to parse that sentence?

  18. ech Says:

    He insists there that I am interpreting this sentence wrong, but I think what it continues to say is pretty clear. He doesn’t seem interested in rewording it—it still implies that Andraka edited the article.

  19. Mike Taylor Says:

    Well, I won’t disagree that that seems to be the plain and obvious meaning of the words. But it does seem that Anderson’s subsequent comments on TSK strongly imply (without quite coming out and stating) that he does not claim these edits were made by Andraka himself. I do wish he’d just say it, one way or the other.

    In related news, I think that getting the TSK and SSP pages deleted from Wikipedia is a completely unreasonable response to Anderson’s article. It’s perfectly clear that those pages describe notable entities that should be on Wikipedia, and that the copyright infringement issue could easily have been resolved much less dramatically. Let me be 100% clear that we at SV-POW! had nothing to do with that, and that we don’t in any way condone it. (In fact, I drew the matter to David Crotty’s attention when I became aware of it.)

  20. ech Says:

    I agree that would be a ridiculous and inappropriate response to the article.


  21. […] correct in what he was doing, even if his motivation and goals were both questionable. In a particularly bizarre exchange on another blog, Haugen admitted deleting the pages would be “a ridiculous and inappropriate response to the […]

  22. Prof D Says:

    It is perhaps too late to make a difference regarding this discussion, but please note the following.

    The Matthew Herper piece at Forbes clearly suggests (and I as a professional with related experience affirm), the media have hyped the work of this award winner to the point of it being near to nonsense. No student’s ISEF award submission should receive this airplay, and certainly not before it is further developed such that it can be published in a peer-reviewed journal. It is not clear who is most responsible—the print media certainly, then his Johns Hopkins mentor, all of whom know better than to promote unreviewed science—but it is least of all this young person, who, after pancreatic cancer patients given false hope, is something of a further victim in this matter. Otherwise, the situation is not helped by SV-POW’s entering the fray on the basis of longstanding issues with another blog or blogger. From this replying expert’s perspective, after the Herper article at Forbes, the Anderson piece is closer to the truth than the vast majority other stories appearing on the matter.

    Bottom line: you are on the wrong side of this issue, for the wrong reasons; do the research, and consider retracting or revising the forgoing affirmation of what has evolved into a scientifically unverifiable “pitch”—not of this clever, motivated, but somewhat naive young man, but from the veritable media circus that surrounds him and his story.

  23. Matt Wedel Says:

    From this replying expert’s perspective…

    Remind me, Mike, what’s our policy on anonymous self-described “experts”? And on people who tell us what we can and can’t use our blog for? I’m not used to having to parse my contempt this finely.

  24. Mike Taylor Says:

    Our policy is:

    1. Anyone who is not spamming or engaging in direct personal abuse is welcome to comment.
    2. They are welcome to do so anonymously or under their own name.
    3. We are not obliged to agree with them.

    In this case, it’s true that Andraka’s work has been hyped beyond what it probably (so far deserves); but we all know that was not why Anderson wrote what he did.

  25. ech Says:

    Prof D, this blog post doesn’t seem to be an affirmation of Andraka’s work. What exactly are you asking for a retraction of?


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