July 6, 2017: Stephen Buranyi

Guest: Stephen Buranyi

Story: Is the staggeringly profitable business of scientific publishing bad for science?

Publication: The Guardian

Date: June 27, 2017


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There’s only one time in the year when I heard about (and rarely read) scientific journals: when our university professors (journalism in my case) would make us visit the university’s library to meet the librarian who would talk to us (20 disinterested students) about all the information that could be found elsewhere than on the Internet.

Needless to say, I didn’t listen often. Or perhaps I should have. Scientific journals are everywhere in university libraries. You may not notice it because you may search for information in one of them once or twice a year, but it’s a different story for scientists. Journals are where every scientist wants to land.

I spoke to Stephen Buranyi about his fascinating story on the lucrative business of scientific journals and who are the men behind it all. His piece, Is the staggeringly profitable business of scientific publishing bad for science? was published in The Guardian on June 27, 2017.


Buranyi is a Nova Scotia-born, London-based freelance writer. His work has been published in the London Review of Books, Motherboard, Jacobin Magazine.

You can listen to our conversation here and read the most interesting moments below.

Here’s an excerpt of Buranyi’s story that was published in The Guardian:

It is the primary resource of our most respected realm of expertise. “Publishing is the expression of our work. A good idea, a conversation or correspondence, even from the most brilliant person in the world … doesn’t count for anything unless you have it published,” says Neal Young of the NIH. If you control access to the scientific literature, it is, to all intents and purposes, like controlling science.

To read the full story, click here

On Robert Maxwell:

He’s this sort of larger-than-life tabloid baron who was at one time like a rival to Rupert Murdoch in the British press, and a real fixture of British life, and also a notorious because he ended up committing fraud and died under very mysterious circumstances. […] First glance level, it is incredible how people that at one point loomed so large in the public eye are almost forgotten now. […] He’s a one-in-a-million character.

While Maxwell is undoubtedly kind of a bad guy, he also really took the time to learn a lot about science and scientists, and a lot of people, in their written stuff I read, and also the people I interviewed, said that they felt he really cared about what they did. He was, I think, […] he was truly impressed by science and scientists.

The problem with scientific publishing:

Whenever I asked scientists this sort of related problems to scientific publishing which is prestige publishing. Why are some journals kingmakers and indispensable to scientific careers? Every time I asked them, they said “it all starts with Cell press.”

Find the right people to talk to:

The huge mistake I made, I didn’t do the math right in my head. I just thought everybody would still be alive. It turns out everybody in this damn story is dead. I was actually incredibly fortunate. I wanted to get in touch with this man named Denis Noble, who’s quite famous scientist here. He must be in his late 80s, but he’s lucid as hell, still does science, wonderful man. He was able to get me way back there.

Time + love for research=fun:

“Do you want to know exactly how much time [I spent researching]?”

“Yeah sure.”

“I was probably doing research and reading for like three months. […] I think if you’re not incredibly… I think there has to be some part of the process that you’re unbelievably excited to do, and for me that’s the research.”

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Stephen Buranyi’s pick:

-Man v. rat: could the long war soon be over? by Jordan Kisner. Published in The Guardian on September 20, 2016

“[Kisner is] a writer who may not be on a lot of people’s radar, but who is an absolute must-read for me.”

“This piece is a quiet monster. The opening paragraph is irresistible — a mix of half-remembered urban legend, new facts, and asides. The pieces scope is, in theory, enormous, but the story remains tightly focused on characters whose eccentricities are noted but not exploited, and whose actions drive the narrative. I found myself remembering them long after I forgot most of the rat-facts.”

Our picks:

-Justina Pelletier was being held at a Children’s Hospital in Boston after her parents were accused of “medical abuse.” Martin Gottesfeld hacked the hospital’s website and exposed their wrongdoings in an effort to free Justina. For Rolling Stone, David Kushner details the shocking events.

-When you think of New York City, you imagine skycrapers, Wall Street and Broadway. But you also think of eat-in diners, and the city’s rapid gentrification is facilitating the slow death of one of its staple destinations.

-You may not recognize her name, but Dorothy Arzner was a pioneer for female directors in the ’40s. For Hazlitt, Chris Randle explains why.

-This piece in New Republic details a series of allegations of sexual abuse being covered up by members of a Protestant church, which eerily resembles the many we’ve already seen in Catholic churches around the world.

-The consequences of ignoring victims of sexual assault, as reported by Katie J.M. Baker for Buzzfeed.