A couple of people were asking me the other day why it is that I post some comments that we receive on this blog that are frankly bizarre. I must confess I don’t know. I guess I must have a soft spot for people who are “out there”, if you know what I mean.
Come to think of it, it must have started back when I was a student and needed to read the print edition of Nature, as there simply was no internet. After the classifieds, at the very end of the book, there was a section called “Scientific announcements”. And every month or so, a man called D.B. James, based somewhere in Wales, would publish his scientific ideas, which, presumably, didn’t meet with much support from the Nature editors. Does anyone else remember him? This is a sampler of his work, collected from issues of Nature as recent as late 2001.
When I lived in Britain, I met a scientist from the MRC who had the intention to create the D.B. James Appreciation Society, but I don’t think his plan prospered. Or at least I think so, as I never got an invitation to join, and soon after that Nature decided to stop publishing James’ snippets. Too bad.
At around the same time, during my stint at Nature Reviews Neuroscience, I had a closer interaction with an author whose writings were also difficult to categorize. Based somewhere in Georgia, in the US, and signing under the pseudonym Ken Al Sifr, our correspondent used to write to us every month. His letters were always flawless, even though he wrote them in a typewritter, and I seem to recall that he was particularly fond of using green ink whenever he needed to make a note on the margins of his text. In his letters, which he also sent to Nature, Nature Neuroscience, Nature Medicine, and surely to Science and Neuron, he would criticize in no uncertain terms many of the papers published by said journals, pointing us in the direction of findings published decades ago, which, according to him, compromised the novelty of the new contributions and showed that we had no idea about what we were doing running the journals.
I now regret the fact that I didn’t keep any of his letters; I destroyed all of them when I move to my current job at Nature Medicine. I do remember, though, that some of them had drawings that could be construed as sexually explicit. Others included pictures of the NRN editors (which, as per the style of our reviews journals, continue to appear in every print issue). In yet others, he would paraphrase famous poems such as Marvell’s ‘To his coy mistress’:
“The brain’s a fine and private place
But none, I think, do there embrace.”
However, not all is lost. Ken Al Sifr is the author of two books, “Too many neurons” and “Your brain glossary for the brain decade”, published by Vantage Press. I managed to purchase both of them, and can share with you two of his definitions from the second book. I hope they give you an idea of the content of his letters. Enjoy!
P.S. Incidentally, as far as I know he continues to write to the NRN editors. Hopefully they don’t make the same mistake I made, and choose instead to keep such jewels.