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September 23, 2009
PNAS Shuts a Door
I've written before here about how I actually like reading the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS). It's a journal that has published a lot of groundbreaking work, and a fair amount of nonsense, and that mix is largely due to its unusual paths to publication.
Well, one of those paths is drying up. The academy has decided to stop the "communicated by" option (Track III), where someone can approach a PNAS member and ask them to send in a manuscript (each member could do this up to twice a year). Some members seem to mourn the passing of an old tradition, while others are glad that they don't have to pick and choose between manuscripts from their friends. Science has some details, and you can see the PNAS announcement here.
One of the things that may have either sped this along, or at least made people think about the decision more, was a recent paper by Donald Williamson, communicated by Lynn Margulis. Williamson presents an evolutionary hypothesis that is controversial to say the least, the idea that larvae (caterpillars, etc.) are the result of a wholesale gene transfer between completely different phyla. I think that this idea is very likely to be wrong, but in Williamson's defense, he proposes some ways to test it - and if by some chance he's right, he'll rewrite a big chunk of evolutionary theory.
Some people may look at the latest PNAS move and think "Good, now we won't have any more craziness like that caterpillar stuff". But I actually like to see a bit of such craziness, and I worry that there are already too few outlets for it to see publication. It may not have been an appropriate paper for PNAS - but where else would it have been published at all?
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