Nobel Prize Winner Rejects Top Science Journals

By on February 7, 2014
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Randy Schekman, a biologist who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work in discovering the mechanisms of vesicle movement, denounced the most prestigious science journals, such as Science, Nature, and Cell, for their alleged role in tampering with the scientific process.

In the scientific community, scientists perform research in hopes of unearthing important discoveries. Whether or not their results are expected, they aim to publish their results in journals so that other professionals in the field can review their work. According to an article the US biologist wrote for The Guardian, the highly selective, competitive, and prestigious science journals, which are generally perceived to target only the highest quality work, twist scientists’ incentives.

“The prevailing structures of personal reputation and career advancement mean the biggest rewards often follow the flashiest work, not the best,” said Schekman.

The effect these journals have on the prevalence of some scientific discoveries over others is similar to how the news media tends towards more interesting and eye-catching stories. Important and pertinent work may not surface in some of these top journals, and for some grants and other funding opportunities, where a scientist has published their work may directly affect funding for her future research. A concurrent survey by the Nature Publishing Group suggests that scientists look for these factors in a journal when publishing their work (in order of importance): the journal’s reputation, how related the journal’s content is to their work, and the journal’s impact factor.

The impact factor, perhaps one of the more controversial aspects of science journals, is a scale of how much scientists cite the journals’ content in their own research. Schekman argues that this measurement may not be truly representative of the journal’s quality, because not all articles are cited because they are good science; some are cited because they have surprising results or are victims of poor science.

The editor-in-chief of Nature, Philip Campbell, asserted that the reviewers do look for scientifically significant research, but they do not look specifically for content that will garner the media’s attention or boost the journal’s impact factor. Those are only potential results of their reviews and selections. Emilie Marcus, the editor of Cell, claimed that “Cell’s raison d’etre” is to aid scientists in their endeavors, and “if we fail to offer value for both our authors and readers, the journal will not flourish.”

Schekman proposes that these typically prestigious journals are not “the only publishers of outstanding work”; there are other outlets for such discoveries. As more and more journals relocate to the internet, the scientific community is shifting to open access science journals, like eLife, an online scientific journal for which Schekman is an editor.

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