“Silver Blaze” is one of the most memorable original Sherlock Holmes stories. It involves the theft of a famous race horse just before a crucial race. As Holmes reveals what he’s deduced, there is a famous scene, which goes as follows:
Detective Gregory: “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
Holmes: “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
Gregory: “The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
Holmes: “That was the curious incident.”
An equally curious incident occurred in June 2013 regarding the PubMed Central National Advisory Committee (PMC NAC). It is the curious incident of the oversight body that apparently did not discuss major public perception, management, functional, and conflict of interest problems surrounding the organization it guides and advises.
According to minutes from the June 27, 2013, meeting of the PMC NAC, which only recently became available, there was no discussion of materials ascertained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, information which showed that the PMC NAC itself was kept in the dark about activities at PMC, and was in fact purposefully misinformed by PMC management and guests about how eLife and PMC were collaborating at the equivalent 2012 meeting.
The lack of discussion or apparent concern is surprising, as the PMC NAC has a number of high-powered individuals on it, most of whom certainly know about the controversies surrounding PMC over the past year.
The minutes also provide no indication that these potentially important conversations occurred in a venue outside of the minutes, such as an executive session. In fact, the meeting adjourned 30 minutes earlier than planned. As someone who has read more than his share of PMC NAC minutes, the minutes from the most recent meeting seem more non-descript than usual.
To be clear, the PMC NAC is charged with oversight:
[The PMC NAC] is responsible for monitoring the evolution of PubMed Central and ensuring that it remains responsive to the needs of researchers, publishers, librarians and the general public.
Yet, despite a major controversy surrounding the focus of its oversight and monitoring function, which also implicated how PMC NAC members are appointed, how conflicts of interest are documented and managed, and how the Executive Secretary behaved both in relation to the NAC and in response to public questioning, no discussion was recorded at its most recent meeting.
It is indeed most curious.