Journal boycott

One of the classes I took this quarter was focused on analyzing articles from the journals Science and Nature, two of the most esteemed science journals. We spent a lot of time asking ourselves what makes an article Science- or Nature-worthy. Although it’s often considered the ultimate scientific achievement to have work published in one of these journals, a lot of the articles left us feeling dissatisfied. Sometimes the consensus was that the findings or methods were not especially revolutionary or that contrary results were swept under the rug. We often felt that factors like an author’s prestige, an individual editor’s interest, or fortunate timing determined whether an article would be published more than the quality of the science presented. By the end of the course, I was a little disillusioned with these journals.

Just as the course was ending, I discovered this article in the Guardian about Randy Schekman, a winner of the Nobel prize in physiology or medicine, announced that his lab is boycotting the top-tier journals Science, Nature, and Cell. According to the Guardian, Schekman said:

Leading academic journals are distorting the scientific process and represent a “tyranny” that must be broken.

He believes that the pursuit of publication in one of these “luxury” journals has driven scientists to cut corners and pursue research that will “make a splash,” as opposed to the topics that are most important. He compared the incentives for researchers to publish in these journals (in addition to prestige and career advancement, the Chinese Academy of Science pays successful authors the equivalent of $30,000 for a publication, for example) with Wall Street’s “bonus culture.” He also criticized the journals’ practice of limiting the number of articles they publish, arguing that this creates a demand “like fashion designers who create limited-edition handbags.” Not really the image scientists are going for, I’m guessing.

Journals like Science, Nature, and Cell have high impact factors, meaning that the articles they published are widely cited by other researchers. This is generally accepted as a reflection of high-quality science, but Schekman challenges this assumption. He argues that good research is not the only science that is likely to be cited, but that eye-catching, provocative, and wrong science might also be widely cited. In the latter case, a high impact factor cannot be said to reflect high-quality work.

One scientist (or even a few) boycotting these journals is not going to have a big impact. An interviewee in the Guardian article points out that researchers are hired and awarded grants and fellowships based on their publication records, so there’s a lot of pressure for scientists to publish in top journals, whether they agree with the practice or not. If the prestige of a publication in a luxury journal is going to decrease, it will need to be a widespread acknowledgment. It will be interesting to see if the discontent with the current top-tier journals will spread.

Advertisements

5 comments

  1. Dr Randy Schekman is 100% right with his reasoning that addresses how magazines such as Nature Magazine undertake their business with regard to highly important work which in many ways they suppress. In this respect Nature Magazine we have found is basically a pawn in the game of big business. They do their biding when the bottom-line is threatened was our finding. The fallacy that a vaccine will come in time to prevent the world’s future most deadly pandemic in terms of Bird Flu et al is just a single example of their power over such magazines such as ‘Nature’. They stop the truth emerging in terms of alternative strategies and scientific solutions when that work affects n particular the big pharma’s vast profit making machine.

    In this respect we have first hand experience of how Nature Magazine operates behind closed doors. A few of countless articles that may be of interest and mind opening are as follows –

    http://worldinnovationfoundation.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/possibly-most-important-keynote-speech.html

    http://worldinnovationfoundation.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/vaccines-will-never-save-us-from-deadly.html

    http://worldinnovationfoundation.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/global-pharmaceutical-giants-have-made.html

    Dr David Hill
    World Innovation Foundation

      1. A pleasure Rose and where the real world is far different to reality unfortunately. I believe Snowden did a great favour for humanity when he partially exposed how governments operate behind the scenes in respect of their own people. Ultimate power corrupts as we know but where governments in particular constantly push the boundaries for their own power and that of the multi-nationals. Indeed it is a fallacy that our political classes rule when a mere 2,000 corporates according to Forbes controls over 51% of the world’s economic turnover and according to Credit Suisse a mere 0.7% of the world’s adults own 41% of the world’s wealth. On the other side of the coin 50% of the world’s adults own a mere 1% of the world’s wealth and where Oxfam’s latest report states that the wealth increase last year of the richest adults ($240 billion) would end global poverty four-times over.

        Warm regards,

        David

        Dr David Hill
        World Innovation Foundation

  2. Sorry it should have said that according to Oxfam’s latest report that the wealth increase last year of the world’s richest ‘100 adults’ ($240 billion) would end global poverty four-times over.

    Sorry about not making this clear.

    Regards,

    David

    Dr David Hill
    World Innovation Foundation

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s