Thursday, December 12, 2013

Science and Nature "distorting the scientific process"

Was too busy to blog this when I first saw it, but it doesn't seem like it's circulating as widely as I would have expected … Nobel Prize winner Randy Schekman has announced he's boycotting Science, Nature and Cell, because they …
are distorting the scientific process and represent a "tyranny" that must be broken.
The original article has this important note:
He also attacks a widespread metric called an "impact factor", used by many top-tier journals in their marketing. 
A journal's impact factor is a measure of how often its papers are cited, and is used as a proxy for quality. But Schekman said it was "toxic influence" on science that "introduced a distortion". He writes: "A paper can become highly cited because it is good science - or because it is eye-catching, provocative, or wrong."
This act alone won't change things, but maybe it's a start?

Image from here.


Anonymous said...

I think there are two very important facets of this story that merit mentioning in any discussion about the current state of scientific research: 1) Randy Schekman even admits that he's receiving a Nobel prize for work published in these journals, so clearly they are being used as a measure of scientific achievement, and 2) Schekman is editor-in-chief of eLife, a new, open access-model online journal that aims to compete with Nature, Cell, and Science for the best publications. While I hesitate to criticize a Nobel laureate, it's probably fair to accept his ambition to effect change and simultaneously question his motivation for doing so at this point in his career. Right now (at least in biology), a publication in one of these journals is all but a prerequisite for a faculty position (and later on, tenure) in a top-notch institute (and whether or not it's an accurate measure of how much those positions are deserved remains debatable). Until that changes, young scientists will not be able to afford the same radical steps that Scheckman is now taking. And naturally, as a young scientist, I'm much too intimidated by the establishment to make this anything other than an anonymous post!

Mr. Verb said...

Thanks. Yeah, I had been wondering about the history of eLife ... . In linguistics, those outlets are a path to stardom, but we're relatively more insulated from the pressure you describe. I've talked to a lot of people in life sciences and physical sciences at Research 1 institutions and am surprised at how little regard many seem to have for these journals.

Maybe one reason that Schekman is doing this now is that he feels like he's free from the pressures you feel!