Randy Schekman, a Big Cheese in the sciences, is right: people use “place of publication as a proxy for quality of science”. Where a paper is often counts more than what the paper is.
This is from Schekman’s “How journals like Nature, Cell and Science are damaging science: The incentives offered by top journals distort science, just as big bonuses distort banking” in Monday’s Guardian.
The prevailing structures of personal reputation and career advancement mean the biggest rewards often follow the flashiest work, not the best.
Or the work that brings in that overhead, baby! Judging by money alone, the major business of colleges are two: squeezing money out of Leviathan and sports. Everything else lags.
While [luxury journals] publish many outstanding papers, they do not publish only outstanding papers.
Steer clear especially of anything hot, current, “sexy”. These papers are likely to be dreck.
The exclusive brands are then marketed with a gimmick called “impact factor” — a score for each journal, measuring the number of times its papers are cited by subsequent research…
It is common, and encouraged by many journals, for research to be judged by the impact factor of the journal that publishes it. But as a journal’s score is an average, it says little about the quality of any individual piece of research. What is more, citation is sometimes, but not always, linked to quality. A paper can become highly cited because it is good science — or because it is eye-catching, provocative or wrong. Luxury-journal editors know this, so they accept papers that will make waves because they explore sexy subjects or make challenging claims. This influences the science that scientists do. It builds bubbles in fashionable fields where researchers can make the bold claims these journals want, while discouraging other important work, such as replication studies.
Amen and amen! Much more time, especially in the vast intellectual backwaters like education and the like, in replicating—to the letter—so-called foundational studies, i.e. those works which everybody believes are true but have never been precisely checked. “Near” checking is not checking, incidentally.
And pay attention: a journal’s “impact” factor—which should measure the force with which it hits the trash can (that’s a joke)—is only a weak, tepid indicator of the quality of its papers. But it’s a pretty good take on how “hot” the journal is. What civilians don’t understand is when a journal’s “impact” factor is on the increase, more scientists start sending papers to it with the mindset, “Hey, might as well try.” It soon becomes the thing to have your work appear in this journal. “Did you hear Jones has a new paper in JASA?” That it appeared in a luxury journal is all that is remembered. What the paper was about is only secondary.
It all goes back to the money, of course. More highly cited papers, the bigger the chance of brining in the overhead. But never mind.
One group I was in scored a paper in JAMA (or was it Lancet?). The egos who run the place not only sent a letter of acceptance but also an invitation to have the front page of the new article bronzed (for a large fee) and framed “suitable for hanging.” I kid you not. Now that’s science.
There is a better way, through the new breed of open-access journals that are free for anybody to read, and have no expensive subscriptions to promote. Born on the web, they can accept all papers that meet quality standards, with no artificial caps. Many are edited by working scientists, who can assess the worth of papers without regard for citations.
This is okay, but what Schekman forgets is that open-access journals are pay-as-you-go: scientists must pay “page charges” for their work to appear. This leaves out folks like Yours Truly who has no grants, no income, and no secretarial support.
Slightly better, and the position adopted (by now by almost 100%) by physicists and mathematicians is to deposit your “pre-print”, i.e. an unedited paper, on arxiv.org. Free to place, free to download, which guarantees a larger readership.
Or one could even launch one’s ideas on some public space, like a blog. About 70,000 people a month drop by here; I’m not even sure 7 people ever read any of the official papers I wrote. Plenty of open, hearty, peer-review here, too: more than from any journal.