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Which brings us to the meaning of "publishing." In the genome business, what makes "publication" significant is not the data, but the authors' interpretations, which must undergo peer review before receiving the Science or Nature seal of approval.
Peer review is what gives "publication" more credibility than a press release. For example, Celera has issued some very sanguine press releases this year, predicting that the company is on the verge of completing all phases of human genome research and "intends to become the definitive source of genomic . . . information." But these releases typically end with long disclaimers, pointing out that actual results might be at odds with the sunny predictions.
"One of the problems with publication by press release," says Gallagher, "is that there's no system of checks and balances." He says peer review can enormously improve a paper by pointing out gaps and raising problems with interpretations.
Ever the idealist, Gallagher hopes the rivals will publish their conclusions in the same journal because their work is "largely complementary" and the scientific community should be a "model for international cooperation." While financial and political pressures are inevitable, he says, "the scientific community has to make sure those issues don't overshadow the incredible progress here. If this goes in an unfortunate direction, it could end up giving science a worse name than it deserves."