Remember that second-grade science project when you watched bean plants grow toward a light source? Little did you know, you were researching heliotropism. Tropism in plants is turning toward or away from a stimulus such as sunlight, gravity, or water. And now there's a new tropism to investigate, although not for second graders.
It's been nearly a year since an insurgent group of scientists and journal editors gathered in San Francisco at the ASCB Annual Meeting to plot a counterattack on the outsized influence of "impact factor" on scientific assessment. A metric invented in the 1960s by Eugene Garfield to help academic librarians subscribe to influential journals, the journal impact factor had become a misleading measure, the insurgents agreed. In June, they issued the Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), asking the world science community to sign on, endorsing 18 recommendations for new standards of research assessment that would move away from journal-based metrics to individual assessment. The number of DORA signatories is now approaching 10,000. Evidently, scientists are ready for something better than the impact factor, but what?
It was in San Diego and nearly 40 years ago but Randy Schekman still vividly remembers his first ASCB Annual Meeting. George Palade, fresh from Stockholm where he had just received his 1974 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, was there to speak about the innovations in electron microscopy and cell fractionation that earned him the prize. Schekman has no better word for the experience than "thrilling."
Sydney Brenner is, of course, the Nobel Prize winner who brought us Caenorhabditis elegans, the lab model organism. That should make Brenner "a man who needs no introduction" except in cell biology where historical amnesia is as common as Pipetman. As Brenner himself noted last year in Science, "I once remarked that all graduate students in biology divide history into two epochs: the past two years and everything else before that, where Archimedes, Newton, Darwin, Mendel—even Watson and Crick—inhabit a time-compressed universe as uneasy contemporaries."