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Dec 10 2013

A new journal

It’s true that science publishing has some serious problems — can you access the latest results from federally funded research? Do you think Science and Nature are really the best science journals in the world? — so it’s good that some people are taking the lead in changing their approaches and developing alternative publishing models.

Leading academic journals are distorting the scientific process and represent a "tyranny" that must be broken, according to a Nobel prize winner who has declared a boycott on the publications.

Randy Schekman, a US biologist who won the Nobel prize in physiology or medicine this year and receives his prize in Stockholm on Tuesday, said his lab would no longer send research papers to the top-tier journals, Nature, Cell and Science.

Schekman said pressure to publish in "luxury" journals encouraged researchers to cut corners and pursue trendy fields of science instead of doing more important work. The problem was exacerbated, he said, by editors who were not active scientists but professionals who favoured studies that were likely to make a splash.

Easy for Schekman to do. He’s got a Nobel, I don’t think he has to worry about getting and maintaining a position, or even getting published where ever he wants anymore. Cutting out the “luxury” (I think they prefer to be called “prestige”) journals doesn’t discomfit him in the slightest.

Schekman is scathing in his assessment of the popular big name journals. But at least he’s also trying to do something to correct the situation: he is promoting a new open-access journal, eLife, of which he is the editor.

I took a look. It was a bit off-putting at first: Schekman’s face is plastered in the middle of the page, and there’s a link up top to “Follow Randy’s Nobel Journey”, and I thought…uh-oh, are we going to replace “luxury” journals with vanity journals? But then I browsed the several hundred currently published articles, and they’re not bad, at least if you’re interested in cell and molecular biology (oh, hey, I am!).

Looks like I’m adding another journal to the list I regularly check.

17 comments

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  1. 1
    richardelguru

    ‘Plastered’ seems a bit of an exaggeration, it’s really quite small. :-)

  2. 2
    mpqq

    In my opinion nobody should publish in Science, Nature or any other journal with high impact factor, since they mostly publish sensationalistic stuff – which then has to be retracted (Arsenic paper, anyone?) Basic science should in my opinion be published in the journals with expertise in the field, and in open access journals if possible/available. The importance of the impact factor as assessment of the scientific career should wither and die…

    PS: Correlation of impact factor with the retraction rate: http://iai.asm.org/content/79/10/3855.full

  3. 3
    peterh

    Al Gore has a Nobel – methinks a cautionary tale. Having such a prize does not elevate anyone to godhood.

  4. 4
    yubal

    I know eLife only by the articles and I must say, I like what I read. The format appears to be less restricted than the NCS journals (Nature, Cell and Science), where all articles read the same. The selection of stories appears to be broader but that is mainly because Science and Nature are very selective on biological topics. After all, they publish everything from sociology to geology, too. The biologist needs to compete not only with other biologist but with all fields of science in order to get published there. Which is (@mpqq) why I like articles in those journals to be groundbreaking and sensational, they need to cater to the general interest of all readers and not only to the special interest of biologist. IF I take the time to look into game theory or astronomy I want it better to be very interesting and novel.

  5. 5
    ChasCPeterson

    Al Gore has a Nobel – methinks a cautionary tale.

    Because–let me guess–AGW is a hoax, is tht right? [insert appropriate insults here]
    Me thinks you need to be reminded that the Peace Prize is an entirely different kettle of fish than the science prizes, for which one has to have actually accomplished something meaningful.
    (Besides, the true cautionary tale for the Peace Prize is Kissinger.)

  6. 6
    franko

    Hmmm. A slight sniff of hypocrisy here. I looked up Shekman’s publications. He has 27 in Cell, most recently in 2011, 10 in Nature, most recently in 2012, and 12 in Science, most recently this year. So what’s been good enough for him until lately shouldn’t be for the rest of us, eh?

    However, I agree with the tenor of his complaints, echoed already in your post and some comments. In my own very tiny neck of the biomedical woods there have been only 8 Nature publications ever, and six of these turned out to be wrong. All were, however, “trendy” at the time.

    You’re definitely a bit OTT grumbling about Shekman’s picture “plastered” on his eLife site though, PZ (see also comment #1). On my browser his pic is markedly smaller than both the cartoon and photograph of your good self on this site!

  7. 7
    Phiknight

    Luxury Journals? Do they have cushy, heated, leather covers or something?

  8. 8
    gussnarp

    One nice thing about being in geography is that geography articles almost never get published in those journals anyway. Everything is in very specific subject area journals that no one outside the field has ever heard of, which is both good and bad. Usually the wider public isn’t much interested in a new statistical technique that accounts for spatial correlation. But when that technique demonstrates that power lines are not actually correlated with cancer, maybe people should be paying a little more attention. Geography also has what I consider to be a very good tradition in which one simply does not pay any journal to run one’s paper. To publish in a journal that accepts payment is considered very poor form in the field.

    Of course, geography is still plagued by many of the same problems as a lot of scientific publishing, so I’m not too disappointed that I never got motivated enough about a research project to do my PhD.

  9. 9
    gussnarp

    @ChasCPeterson, peterh: I think Obama is a better cautionary tale on the Peace Prize than Gore, and if not quite as good as Kissinger, he still has time…

  10. 10
    January

    Please note that eLife is a joint initiative of Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Wellcome Trust, and the Max Planck Society (for which I happen to work). We are internally encouraged to publish there, both by the society and our directors, also for high ranking papers.

  11. 11
    David Wilford

    Is there really a need for peer-reviewed journals anyway? It’s not as if research can’t be put on the internet for all to see and review, comment on, etc. Now I can understand how under the old model of dead-tree publishing why you’d want to have peer-reviewers at the gate keeping the garbage out, but that model is dying, at least as a business model. I see a proliferation of eJournals that will cater more to specialists in their fields than Nature, Science, etc. ever could.

    Of course, I’d be happy to hear from actual researchers what they think about this subject too.

  12. 12
    interpretivechaos

    Chatting with a visiting speaker about eLife (he was an editor), the part I liked the most was the idea that impact get’s triaged immediately, so reviewers can only criticize the validity of the findings, rather than demanding additional experiments on review. The push for a quick review process is the most exciting part about it. Otherwise it looks like PLOS1 with a filter for impact (and the filter is all practicing scientists).

    Of course, it doesn’t change that faculty search committees and grant review will use whatever easy proxy they can find to assess papers in mass, and journal name prestige is the established proxy. Not aiming for the best journals for a given piece of work is shooting your career (or that of your post-docs or graduate students) in the foot.

  13. 13
    Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    @Chas

    Besides, the true cautionary tale for the Peace Prize is Kissinger.

    I have never agreed with you more strongly.
    =============

    As for eLife, well, it’s going to be way, way too technical for me (I’m better at reading physics papers or materials science papers than I am at reading biochem papers – hell, I’m better at reading almost anything than at reading biochem papers, it’s a field that really exposes my ignorance), but i’ll wade through some papers and maybe even remember some of the terms I look up while trying to understand the concepts.

    I’m excited that we have another open source journal trying to do truly creditable work.

  14. 14
    gillt

    I am far more ideologically pure than Schekman, for I have never and probably never will publish in one of those 1 percenter “luxury” journals. There was that one failed attempt at Nature Genetics a few years back, which doesn’t really count of course.

    Here’s an interesting paper in the latest issue of eLIFE.
    “Multiple Knockout Mouse Models Reveal lincRNAs are Required for Life and
    Brain Development”

  15. 15
    David Marjanović

    (Besides, the true cautionary tale for the Peace Prize is Kissinger.)

    His North Vietnamese counterpart also got it, but refused to accept it, unlike Kissinger.

    Geography also has what I consider to be a very good tradition in which one simply does not pay any journal to run one’s paper. To publish in a journal that accepts payment is considered very poor form in the field.

    Not sure what you mean. Many open-access journals, most of which few people have ever heard of, are financed entirely by publication fees; other than that, some journals take page charges for papers that exceed a certain length, and most journals charge mind-boggling sums for color pictures, but that’s all.

    Now I can understand how under the old model of dead-tree publishing why you’d want to have peer-reviewers at the gate keeping the garbage out, but that model is dying, at least as a business model.

    The earlier the garbage is kept out of the literature, the better. You wouldn’t want to need to write this kind of thing about something that actually tried to look like a scientific paper!

  16. 16
    Andy Groves

    In my opinion nobody should publish in Science, Nature or any other journal with high impact factor, since they mostly publish sensationalistic stuff – which then has to be retracted (Arsenic paper, anyone?)

    I take exception to your use of the word “mostly”. A quick reading of the tables of contents of those journals would show you to be mistaken. I would replace it with “occasionally”.

  17. 17
    Hans Zauner

    Best thing about eLife from a reader’s perspective: Usually, you can read the reviewers’ comments on the published articles, which can be VERY instructional, especially if it’s a paper outside your own expertise (They are posted alongside the article unless reviewers object – few do).

    Best thing from authors’ perspective: “Gold” open access, but so far no author fees.

    On the other hand: the idea of a “selective journal” seems quite anachronistic. No lack of space in the internet…

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