Monday, December 30, 2013

Under the thumb

The following are from or related to Nobel laureate molecular and cell biologist Randy Schekman:

Many of you can recount similar stories where an investment in basic science has resulted in a direct application to medicine and technology. And yet we find a growing tendency for government to want to manage discovery with expansive so-called strategic science initiatives at the expense of the individual creative exercise we celebrate today.


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....

Schekman criticises Nature, Cell and Science for artificially restricting the number of papers they accept, a policy he says stokes demand "like fashion designers who create limited-edition handbags." 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."...

Sebastian Springer, a biochemist at Jacobs University in Bremen, who worked with Schekman at the University of California, Berkeley, said he agreed there were major problems in scientific publishing, but no better model yet existed. "The system is not meritocratic. You don't necessarily see the best papers published in those journals. The editors are not professional scientists, they are journalists which isn't necessarily the greatest problem, but they emphasise novelty over solid work," he said.

Springer said it was not enough for individual scientists to take a stand. Scientists are hired and awarded grants and fellowships on the basis of which journals they publish in. "The hiring committees all around the world need to acknowledge this issue," he said.


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