Good, Bad and Ugly

Good, Bad and Ugly


We saw this interesting post at the TAIR website. For those who do not know, TAIR is the genome database and website for the Arabidopsis researchers and plant biologists.

Breaking News

TAIR will continue with subscription support[August 31, 2013]

Dear TAIR community,

TAIRs NSF funding is ending soon, but we think that the data we provide is still important to you, and we see concrete evidence of this in the increasing use of TAIR (1). There are plans to build a new informatics resource with a modular structure distributed among many groups and countries (2); although this is a positive development, a mechanism for sustained and stable funding of the intensive data curation and stewardship that TAIR provides is still lacking (3).

We strongly resisted the idea of subscriptions four years ago when the ramp down of TAIR funding was first announced; however, times have changed, and we now believe this option is worth exploring. More of you now pay for access to online information of one type or another, including newspapers and scientific journals. Some of you have expressed willingness to pay a small fee to keep TAIR current, and at this point we see no other sustainable way to continue providing high-quality curated data. For that reason, and with strong encouragement from NSF, we have decided to move to subscription-based support.

We will have a subscription requirement for researchers at companies beginning in October of this year, followed by an academic subscription requirement in the spring or summer of 2014. We will ensure that the subscription price is easily affordable for academic scientists, teachers, and students, and we will allow a limited degree of data access for those who are unable to pay. Details of the subscription plan including the cost will be announced in the coming months. We will keep TAIR available to as many people as possible.

To ensure that TAIR continues to serve the public interest, a new nonprofit entity will manage TAIR with a mission to make scientific data publicly available in a way that is sustainable over the long term – something that cannot be done with government grant funding. We will use all funds from subscriptions to maintain and enhance TAIR to ensure continued public availability of the data. Our new funding plan will provide you with the continuously updated, high quality data you rely on, will let us develop new TAIR pages and tools, and will enable us to provide new kinds of data to help with your research.

Please join us in our effort to preserve and improve this community resource. If you have questions, comments, or suggestions, please contact the TAIR team at, or make your input public by adding it here:

Best regards,

The TAIR staff (Eva Huala, Tanya Berardini, Donghui Li and Bob Muller)

(1) See our usage statistics at

(2) International Arabidopsis Informatics Consortium. Taking the next step: building an Arabidopsis information portal. Plant Cell. 2012 Jun;24(6):2248-56.

(3) Berman F, Cerf V. Science priorities. Who will pay for public access to research data? Science. 2013 Aug 9;341(6146):616-7. doi: 10.1126/science.1241625. PMID: 23929969

That is a very good development for three reasons. Firstly, the subscription process will allow the TAIR developers to get direct feedback from the researchers on whether they are doing useful work. No longer they will have to convince some government panel about their worth based on abstract feedback from people. The feedback will be in terms of renewal of subscriptions.

Secondly, now that the government is out of the way in choosing winners and losers, competition will help the plant researchers get better service. The users will vote with their own money and maybe they will pick TAIR and few other subscription services together as competent database resources on plants. Or maybe TAIR will do kick-ass work and pick up subscriptions and requests from researchers working on other organisms to include their genomic data as well. No matter what, TAIR will live or die based on what it actually does and not based on patronage from the government.

Thirdly, this way will be a lot cheaper for the researchers and society, because it avoids the ‘government overhead’. More on that in the following discussion.

Bad bordering on Ugly

Google founders lose deal to buy cheap government fuel for their private jets

Since 2007, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin have been gassing up their private jets at deep discounts thanks to the federal government. But according to The Wall Street Journal, the jet-fuel breaks are now over. Thanks to an agreement between NASA and an LLC, called H211 owned by Page, Brin, and Google Chairman Eric Schmidt the executives were allowed to fuel up at an airfield located within the Ames Research Center. Ames is located about three miles away from Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California.

The jet fuel agreement expired on August 31st, and a Pentagon spokewoman tells the Journal that NASA opted not to renew it. NASA’s decision to end the jet fuel discounts comes amid an audit by the agency’s own inspector general and questions from the pentagon over whether or not H211 ever broke the agreement by purchasing fuel for non-government flights. H211, a company started specifically to manage the private planes of Google execs, purchased fuel at an average price of $3.19 per gallon, the Journal report says.

When we worked at the NASA facility mentioned above, those two thugs were planning to lease or buy NASA buildings. Little did we know that they were using government facilities to get cheap gas, while giving the government all kinds of access to steal personal data from google users. The NASA facility had discounted gas pumps government cars, but the employees were not allowed to use them for filling own gas. It is outrageous that those two thugs could fill up their private jets using the NASA facility.

Getting back to the first commentary, when the government ‘helps’ organizations like TAIR through research grants, it uses that example for PR purpose to channel much bigger funds to numerous other crooks. That is what we learned by working for NASA for several years and by watching many examples since then. The society has quite a bit of wealth to support productive purposes, but the process of allocation gets disrupted, when the government starts calling winners and losers and offers large sums of money to ‘winners’ like ENCODE. We thank TAIR for showing a better way.

Written by M. //