Friday, December 13, 2013

A Shot Across the Bows for SCIENCE, NATURE and CELL

In a recent article in the Guardian newspaper Nobel laureate Randy Schekman castigated the ‘ holy trinity' of prestige journals for their editorial practices (1). He also criticized the academic promotions process for putting too much emphasis on publication is these journals. The journals in turn exploit this for their own ends of increased circulation and profit.  While there is a lot of excellent science published in these venues, the prestige journal system has two major flaws. The first, pointed out by Schekman, is that these journals want articles on timely and ‘sexy’ topics only- other equally good science is ignored.  The second is that the editorial process really isn’t peer review. Much of the decision making for each journal lies with a small cohort of admittedly very bright, usually young, full-time staff editors (sometimes decried as ‘failed postdocs’).  This is especially true of the Nature stable of journals and is quite at odds with the more traditional approach of journals based in scientific societies where the editors are distinguished investigators in their own right and serve on a part time basis.

Schekman advocates publishing in open-access journals and ignoring the prestige journals. The trouble with that is that the expanding universe of on-line journals include a lot of junk, as a recent experiment showed (2). Personally I have more faith in some of the old-line conventional journals in the biomedical field that have a long track record of publishing solid science. Despite the emphasis on publication in premiere journals, my experience is that good science published in good mid-level journals eventually gets recognition. 


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