'The amount of foil needed to wrap five breakfast sandwiches': a new metric for genomics?

Photo by  Robyn Lee  for  seriouseats.com

The journal Genome Research is celebrating its 20th anniversary and has marked the occasion by issuing a number of 'perspective' articles. One of these — A vision for ubiquitous sequencing — includes one of the strangest comparisons that I've ever seen in the field of genomics (or really any field):

Back in 1990, sequencing 1 million nucleotides cost the equivalent of 15 tons of gold (adjusted to 1990 price). At that time, this amount of material was equivalent to the output of all United States gold mines combined over two weeks. Fast-forwarding to the present, sequencing 1 million nucleotides is equivalent to the value of ∼30 g of aluminum. This is approximately the amount of material needed to wrap five breakfast sandwiches at a New York City food cart.

Most people will understand the point that is being made here. Sequencing used to be really expensive whereas now it is very cheap. But is there really a need to explain what 30 grams of aluminum foil amounts to in a more, human-friendly, unit? And even if such a comparison is deemed necessary, is the use of 'breakfast sandwiches' from New York City food carts the most suitable choice?

Viewing online figures in an Nucleic Acids Research article…an exercise in frustration

I found a Nucleic Acids Research article that I wanted to read online. The article in question had — like most articles — some figures. Here's how my web browser displays one of the figures:

I've blurred out the surrounding text so as not to risk any copyright issues (and also to let you focus on just the figure). If your eyesight is like mine, you may feel that the three subpanels of this figure are too small to be of much use.

So I clicked the image…

The white rectangle enclosing the figure increases in size from about 250 x 130 pixels to about 460 x 210. If I squint, I can just about make out some of the figure text, but it remains far from clear.

So I clicked the image…

Now I see exactly the same image as before, but it's in a new webpage which has a wider figure legend. The new legend is acually a little bit harder to read than previously as there are more words per line. I'm really not sure what the point of this page is.

So I clicked the image…

Hooray! Now I can finally see the figure at a decent size where all of the figure text is legible. It only took me three clicks to get there. To make sense of the figure I turn to the legend, only to find that there is no legend!

So you can have your figure at a reasonable size without the legend, or you can have the legend but only with a small version of the figure. It is obviously beyond the journals ability to give you both.

Is it a 'bad idea' to include gratuitous pictures of cleavage on an Oxford Journals website?

In a word, 'yes'.

2015-02-16: Note that this story has been updated after Oxford Journals contacted me about this (see end of post).

I know that journals need to make money, but it seems a bit shoddy when they allow any form of advertising to appear on their websites. Came across an article at Nucleic Acids Research today which featured the following advert:

Given that I have published in this journal before, I suppose that people reading our articles will also have a chance of seeing ads like this. I would ask Oxford Journals to think carefully about whether they really want adverts like this appearing on their site. This doesn't seem a particularly good fit for them as a scientific publisher — for that matter, it doesn't seem a great fit for for the advertiser either.

Update: Oxford Journals reached out to me on twitter with some good news: