Scientist Bans Use Of His Software By 'Immigrant-Friendly' Countries, So Journal Retracts Paper About His Software

from the open-is,-as-open-does dept

Retractions of scientific papers are by their nature quite dramatic — the decision to withdraw recognition in this very public way is never taken lightly, especially given all the work that goes into writing a paper. But the specialist site Retraction Watch, which we wrote about back in August, has a new retraction story that is rather out of the ordinary. It concerns a much-cited 2004 paper about a piece of scientific software called Treefinder. The program is used to create phylogenetic trees, which show the probable evolutionary relationships between species based on comparing their respective DNA sequences. Retraction Watch explains what happened:

Recently, German scientist Gangolf Jobb declared that starting on October 1st scientists working in countries that are, in his opinion, too welcoming to immigrants — including Great Britain, France and Germany — could no longer use his Treefinder software, which creates trees showing potential evolutionary relationships between species. He’d already banned its use by U.S. scientists in February, citing the country?s “imperialism.” Last week, BMC Evolutionary Biology pulled the paper describing the software, noting it now “breaches the journal?s editorial policy on software availability.”

Here’s the official retraction note published by the journal in question:

The editors of BMC Evolutionary Biology retract this article due to the decision by the corresponding author, Gangolf Jobb, to change the license to the software described in the article. The software is no longer available to all scientists wishing to use it in certain territories. This breaches the journal?s editorial policy on software availability which has been in effect since the time of publication.

The editorial policy on software availability is as follows:

If published, software applications/tools must be freely available to any researcher wishing to use them for non-commercial purposes, without restrictions such as the need for a material transfer agreement.

The policy then goes to make an important suggestion:

BMC Evolutionary Biology recommends, but does not require, that the source code of the software should be made available under a suitable open-source license that will entitle other researchers to further develop and extend the software if they wish to do so.

Another advantage of releasing the code as open source is that it would have avoided the current awkward situation, whereby the Treefinder program is no longer available to everyone, and BMC Evolutionary Biology retracted the original paper. Once code is published under a free software license, that can’t be rescinded, although the same or modified versions of the source could be published later under a non-free license by the copyright holder. It’s regrettable that Treefinder was not released under a free software license, but it’s nonetheless good to see an open access journal sticking to its requirement for free availability of software, and retracting the offending paper.

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Comments on “Scientist Bans Use Of His Software By 'Immigrant-Friendly' Countries, So Journal Retracts Paper About His Software”

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David says:

Yes and no.

Once code is published under a free software license, that can’t be rescinded,

Licenses are not per “publication”, they are per copy. If nobody bothered creating, retaining, and republishing one or more copies under a particular license, availability remains in the hands of the copyright owner.

“Unpublishing” of particular releases may even work reasonably well (sometimes even open source projects do their best at “unpublishing” a particular release when it turns out that it contains large blunders stopping the software from working correctly or securely in actual usage). Unpublishing something like a Git archive of the complete development history, in contrast, is pretty hopeless.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Godwin

If I understand him correctly then it has nothing to do with hate for immigrants but how German universities treat their researchers. Especially paying them less and less until it’s not enough to build up a life. Now his problem with immigrants is that universities hire immigrant scientists who stay for a while and work for such a low salary. But the fault is with the universities or their system of how they do things and not the immigrants themselves.

At first I thought he just wants a crazy amount of money and blames immigrants for not getting it but looking at the numbers, $2600-3000 per month isn’t that much for a researcher (with master degree) at a university. Well, when 70% of the Germans earn less than $2100 per month (2013) my guess is that’s a general problem.

About his ‘not enough to build up a life’…
Prices for houses on avg. are at $330.000 so I guess he has a point that it is hard to stop paying rent and financing a house and family.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Godwin

his reasons are in english in his website ?!?!

“The reason: I am no longer willing to support with my work the political system in Europe and Germany, of which the science system is part. There is no genuine democracy, and I disagree with almost all of the policies. In particular, I disagree with immigration policy. Immigration to my country harms me, it harms my family, it harms my people. Whoever invites or welcomes immigrants to Europe and Germany is my enemy. Immigration is the huge corporations’ interest, not peoples’ interest. I am not against helping refugees, but they would have to be kept strictly separated from us Europeans, for some limited time only until they return home, and not being integrated here as cheap workers and additional consumers. Immigration unnecessarily defers the collapse of capitalism, its final crisis. The earlier the system crashes, the more damage can be avoided. Possibly a civil war in Europe. Not to mention the loss of our European genetic and cultural heritage.”

how can people turn this into he is a nazy?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Godwin

“My reasons:
(1) I want to protest against American imperialism, which I regard as the cause of most of all evil in the world: wars, tyranny, poverty, migration.
(2) I want to protest against EU tyranny, which is mostly the result of US imperialism.
(3) I want to demonstrate my sovereignty, something I would welcome to see much more often in science and politics.

In particular, I dislike that the USA and the EU aggressively promote a way of life that conflicts with my own way of life. I dislike the flood of immigrants they caused to come here – come here to replace unprofitable Europeans like me.”

hypocrite (user link) says:

Re: Godwin

It amazes me some people expect the common German to develop, improve and excel craftmanship of cars, motorbikes, trucks, airplanes, ships, trains, weapons, drones, satelites, etc…
as well as to excel in pharma, computing, coding- hacking- spying, medical devices, breeding, genetics, etc…
but at the same time Germans shall not have any opinions on banking, society, or politics…

This guy is obviously interested in the genetic aspects of the evolution of species. That is what the software (his child) is for.
And he looks to have an opinion against the forced European miscegenation system (Coudenhove-Kalergi ; Thomas P. M. Barnett ; etc)

It also amazes me that people tend to ignore opinions on genetics
from Darwin, Bill Gates, Henry Ford, and similar heroes…

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