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Nobel Winner Schekman Boycotts Journals For 'Branding Tyranny'

timothy posted about 10 months ago | from the no-thanks-you-guys dept.

Science 106

An anonymous reader writes "One of this year's winners of the Nobel Peace prize has declared a boycott on leading academic journals after he accused them of contributing to the 'disfigurement' of science. Randy Schekman, who won the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine, said he would no longer contribute papers or research to the prestigious journals, Nature, Cell and Science, and called for other scientists to fight the 'tyranny' of the publications." And if you'd rather not listen to the sound of auto-playing ads, you'll find Schekman's manifesto at The Guardian.

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crossing fingers. (4, Insightful)

jythie (914043) | about 10 months ago | (#45650525)

I suspect most academics and researchers at this point are fed up with the way journals work, I have yet to hear one of them actually praise the current system of publication. I am not sure how it could be restructured, but what is happening today is retarding research and frustrating a lot of good people who would rather just be doing what they are supposed to be doing, teaching and research.

Re:crossing fingers. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45650553)

This is what happens when Academia becomes beholden to commercial interests.

It ceases to be about good science, and becomes entirely about corporate profits.

Re:crossing fingers. (1)

epyT-R (613989) | about 10 months ago | (#45651295)

This is what happens when Academia becomes beholden to commercial interests.

...or political convictions. It ceases to be about good science, and becomes entirely about reenforcing specific ideologies. Both create bias.

Shenkman (1)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | about 10 months ago | (#45651827)

I preferred him in the Ghostbusters movies.

TFA's beef is with journal "prestige" (4, Insightful)

dlenmn (145080) | about 10 months ago | (#45652115)

IAAPGS

FWIW, while Cell and Nature are both owned by private companies, Science is run by a non-profit (the American Association for the Advancement of Science), and articles in science are made freely available two years after publication.

Having read his manifesto, I don't think his issue with with corporate publishers per se. His issue is with the culture of judging the quality of work by the prestige of the journal it was published in. That allows journals to further exploit the process; they have a large incentive to publish flashy research rather than quality research, because flashy research gets more citations -- thus making the journal more prestigious.

While I agree this is a flawed system, I'm not convinced that open-access journals are the solution; there are already more prestigious open access journals -- like Physical Review X and the New Journal of Physics (both of which are run by non-profits with prestigious, closed-access journals).

To some extent, you need both flash and quality research. I'm sure someone could do quality research on the physics of navel lint trapping, but pretty much no one would care; the research isn't interesting, and it wouldn't be worth the effort to peer review. So, for better or worse, I don't think the flashy factor will or should totally go away, although I agree it should be reduced.

That said, I am a fan of open-access journals, but I need something to publish first. I guess I should get back to research and stop wasting time with Slashdot posts....

Re:crossing fingers. (3, Informative)

Adam Ricketson (2821631) | about 10 months ago | (#45652121)

Commercial interests have nothing to do with this (at least, they are far removed).

Most biology research is funded by the federal government, and grant funding rates have gotten very low (meaning that it is very competitive and reviewers are looking for shortcuts).

Likewise, the big research universities (the most prestigious jobs) are non-profit, or even state run... and they evaluate their faculty in large part on their ability to get grant funding.

Re:crossing fingers. (4, Interesting)

hubie (108345) | about 10 months ago | (#45650705)

I'm not so sure what he is complaining about is a big problem because not too many places can keep chasing the fad topics. To keep your lab alive, you need to establish some kind of expertise. It is after you've set up a self-sustaining lab that you can afford to repeatably chase after the hot topic du jour. In other words, you've most likely got your tenure.

I can't say how familiar I am with the machinations of those particular journals, but I think most of the blame for the things that cause the issues you mention lie with the colleges and universities who put so much emphasis on publication counts and impact factors.

An interesting aside, to me at least, is that I only recently installed Ghostery and when I went to the article linked in the summary, I was notified of 88 different tracking entities that were blocked. Eighty-eight on one web page!

Re:crossing fingers. (5, Insightful)

jythie (914043) | about 10 months ago | (#45650857)

Though that touches on one of the other major problems, the one I would argue is bigger then the publishing one. Setting up labs with expertise is a nightmare since you are not allowed to have a 'war chest'. If you have a 6 month grant, a month gap, then a 6 month grant, you loose all your people between the two grants. Unless you are one of the tenured people who is immune to the gaps, working in university research is riskier then corporate, which causes a significant brain drain and leads to inferior research since keeping experienced people over time is difficult.

Re:crossing fingers. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45651179)

If you have a 6 month grant, a month gap, then a 6 month grant, you loose all your people between the two grants.

Well, there's your problem. You shouldn't be enslaving them in the first place. Get caught and you may someday need to be loosed from jail.

Re:crossing fingers. (4, Funny)

jythie (914043) | about 10 months ago | (#45651289)

But they work so much harder when they can't run away! I mean I got them an exercise wheel and always put down fresh wood-chips... ungrateful bastards.

Re:crossing fingers. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45653759)

Ahhh... Gradschool, sometimes I miss it.

Re:crossing fingers. (2)

Applehu Akbar (2968043) | about 10 months ago | (#45655319)

The Thirteenth Amendment doesn't apply if you call them "interns."

Re:crossing fingers. (1)

Adam Ricketson (2821631) | about 10 months ago | (#45652275)

What field are you talking about. In Sheckman's field (basic biomedical research), startup packages tend to carry you for a few years, and the core funding mechanism is a 5 year grant (NIH R01)

Re:crossing fingers. (1)

jythie (914043) | about 10 months ago | (#45652813)

Most of the funding I have worked with came from NSF or DARPA. One nasty bit we have discovered over the years is that a multi-year grant is not as multi-year as one would hope, and often disappears after the first spiral or even worse the paperwork is slow so there is a gap between the blocks of funding, but without an active grant in the bank the university doesn't fund the lab.

Re:crossing fingers. (1)

s.petry (762400) | about 10 months ago | (#45653349)

Or the results are not what someone wanted to see, so they can the project.

Re:crossing fingers. (4, Interesting)

Adam Ricketson (2821631) | about 10 months ago | (#45652239)

I can't say how familiar I am with the machinations of those particular journals, but I think most of the blame for the things that cause the issues you mention lie with the colleges and universities who put so much emphasis on publication counts and impact factors.

It's a symbiotic network of publications, promotions, and grant awards -- and those journals are one of the core components of the network. Those journals are not just passive beneficiaries of this system, they actively promote their role in the system (by publicizing their impact factor, for instance). On top of that, these journals have made some major mistakes. I could add more examples to Sheckman's list of bad publications. They are not being responsible powerholders, therefore it is urgent that we remove their power.

I think Sheckman's point is to break the link between "high profile" work and those journals, so that universities cannot use publication in those journals as a proxy for work being interesting.

Re:crossing fingers. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45653153)

Part of the point of tenure is to be secure enough to not have to chase after the topic du jour, but to other topics.

Re:crossing fingers. (1)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 10 months ago | (#45650747)

It's pretty simple. Publish online.

Re:crossing fingers. (3, Insightful)

jythie (914043) | about 10 months ago | (#45650817)

That has its own problems. As much as bloggers try to claim otherwise, publishing online has generally been a rather poor substitute for peer review and generally allows for a lot of really bad science to get wide attention. While journals are not perfect, they do (usually) maintain some minimum bars and filters for the material that goes into them.

Re:crossing fingers. (5, Insightful)

garutnivore (970623) | about 10 months ago | (#45652161)

As much as bloggers try to claim otherwise, publishing online has generally been a rather poor substitute for peer review and generally allows for a lot of really bad science to get wide attention.

What randoms unidentified bloggers think about publishing has no bearing whatsoever on what scientists think about scientific publishing. Publishing online does not necessitate that peer review be dispensed with. I've not ever met an academic, be it in the sciences or elsewhere, who ever argued that print peer-reviewed publications should be replaced by online publications that are not peer reviewed.

You're attacking a strawman.

Re:crossing fingers. (2)

the gnat (153162) | about 10 months ago | (#45653347)

I've not ever met an academic, be it in the sciences or elsewhere, who ever argued that print peer-reviewed publications should be replaced by online publications that are not peer reviewed.

Strictly speaking, this is correct, but there certainly are serious scientists arguing for peer review taking place after publication, not before - under this scheme, we would simply post our raw manuscripts online (i.e. arXiv or similar server). But the ultimate goal is to have more peer review, not less, with the participation of the entire scientific community.

Re:crossing fingers. (1)

lgw (121541) | about 10 months ago | (#45655289)

That sort of system could work quite well, but you'd need some commonly accepted system whereby you'd know when a paper had been peer reviewed by some reasonable number of reveiwers. arXiv or similar could certainly provide that service easily enough, as well as some way to know that the reviewers were in fact reasonable choices themselves, but it all runs the risk of becoming dependent on a new central authority.

Re:crossing fingers. (3, Insightful)

cranky_chemist (1592441) | about 10 months ago | (#45651715)

The problem is that Schekman's argument is off base.

From the article (yes, I read it):

"These luxury journals are supposed to be the epitome of quality, publishing only the best research. Because funding and appointment panels often use place of publication as a proxy for quality of science, appearing in these titles often leads to grants and professorships."

His argument appears to revolve around these three high-impact journals serving as the gate keepers of "good" science. But his ire is misdirected. If funding and appointment panels are giving undue weight to publications in these journals, then THE PROBLEM LIES WITH THE FUNDING AND APPOINTMENT PANELS, not the journals.

His argument is paramount to "Scientists shouldn't publish in these journals because they're too highly regarded."

Re:crossing fingers. (3, Interesting)

interkin3tic (1469267) | about 10 months ago | (#45651881)

Because it's not set up for the benefit of the researchers or the research. It's set up to benefit the people handing out the grants or hiring researchers, to determine who is good and who is bad. Number of publications in the top journals. It's a terrible metric, but the other ones also have problems.

You can't really determine who is the best researcher by understanding the quality of the research. If you have 50 grant applications and 10 grants to award, how do you decide who to give it to? Are you going to read through the entire research of all 50 to determine who is the best researcher in the weekend you're given to determine who gets funded?

An adjusted citation index would probably be the best option, but that gets back to the top journals, which are more likely to be read and cited than lesser impact journals, so you arrive back at comparing where one has published. Perhaps citation indexes should be adjusted to factor out the journal brand name effect, but that won't ever happen since it would be penalizing the current top researchers who have the reigns. And it's probably a stupid idea anyway.

Cronyism is the preferred alternative to looking at where one has published, but obviously that has it's problems and is worse than simply looking at journal brand name. Although whether you get published in a great journal often depends on cronyism as well.

So all the realistic options are shitty.

Re:crossing fingers. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45653099)

Presumably most of those 50 they will have come across before so there might only be one or two new ones so I think they should at least read a selection of those then decide based on that not how much the Elsevier have made of you

Journals are a symptom, not a cause (4, Insightful)

TWX (665546) | about 10 months ago | (#45650541)

This is just a symptom of college and university boards wanting to attract attention to their institutions, which pushes tenure-track professors and researchers into 'flashier' research to help their cause to get tenure, which then drives what gets submitted to journals.

Either make tenure easier to get so that professors are less likely to pursue fad or headline-grabbing science in order to achieve it, or encourage more grants to scientists that aren't affiliated with particular schools, so that they don't have to dance for their boards...

Unfortunately most major companies aren't conducting basic research like IBM, Xerox, Bell, and other big organizations did fifty+ years ago, so getting grants from big entities is harder than it once was.

Re:Journals are a symptom, not a cause (5, Insightful)

femtobyte (710429) | about 10 months ago | (#45650719)

According to Schekman's argument, journals --- specifically the highest-impact-factor "luxury" journals --- do play a causal rather than merely symptomatic role in the process. Such journals court papers that are "flashy," which will get lots of citations and attention (thus lots of journal subscriptions), possibly because they are wrong and focused more on attention-getting controversial claims than scientific rigor. This provides feedback on the other side of the tenure-seeking "publish or perish" culture to shape what sort of articles the tenure-seeking professors are pressured to churn out. If a scientist wants to establish their reputation by publishing ground-breaking, exciting discoveries, there's nothing a-priori wrong with that; the failure comes when joined with impact-factor-seeking journals applying distorted lower standards for scientific rigor for "attention-getting" work (while rejecting solid but "boring" research papers).

Re:Journals are a symptom, not a cause (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45651523)

Either make tenure easier to get so that professors are less likely to pursue fad or headline-grabbing science in order to achieve it, or encourage more grants to scientists that aren't affiliated with particular schools, so that they don't have to dance for their boards...

Ha! Your first suggestion cuts against the entire university administrative system - based on my experience at a top research school, the administration sees it as their mission to put more pressure on the scientists, and most universities are actively trying to eradicate tenure. The way to apply pressure is to require constant re-evaluation, which requires benchmarks, which in turn inevitably distorts research priorities. Cut tenure, reduce grant periods/availability and you've got yourself a regular social rat race instead of science (as well as professors posting as Anonymous Cowards).

Your second suggestion is somewhat already in place. Most federal grants are assigned to a researcher, and can be transferred to another institution if the scientist decides to move. That type of horse trading does take place (particularly for very well-known, established researchers who can wrangle some money out of this process), but is very difficult to arrange for a normal researcher (due to the scarcity of positions and logistics involved).

Re:Journals are a symptom, not a cause (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45651775)

"...Cut tenure, reduce grant periods/availability and you've got yourself a regular social rat race instead of science..."

Are you saying that to introduce more competition and to introduce more accountability is somehow anti-science?? So scientists should never have to be worried about or be affected by reality the way other mere mortals are?

Re:Journals are a symptom, not a cause (1)

weilawei (897823) | about 10 months ago | (#45654927)

That's not what he's saying. You're attacking something he didn't say. One point of having tenure is that you are shielded from the need to meet benchmarks constructed explicitly to eliminate the possibility of a scientist gaining tenure. If the universities can't eliminate the existing tenured professors, then they can prevent there ever being any more by raising the bar ever-higher. Once tenure can safely be eliminated ("No one meets the standard! We should just get rid of it."), those benchmarks would likely go away. Their purpose is not to promote science--their purpose is to promote the bottom line of a University, an activity inherently tied to corporate politics. Tenure is supposed to shield you from that.

Schools in my state have a similar problem. Even if every single student in the schools were to ace a given standardized test, the bar will be higher the next year (an implementation detail) and, being unable to meet that higher bar, they would lose funding. This sort of ever-increasing bar with no sanity-check simply does not work.

So which prize did he win? (4, Informative)

hubie (108345) | about 10 months ago | (#45650549)

So many people call every Nobel prize the Peace Prize.

Re:So which prize did he win? (2, Funny)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 10 months ago | (#45650655)

The moon in your eye,
like a big Peace-a Prize.

No, I guess not.

Re:So which prize did he win? (1)

mcmonkey (96054) | about 10 months ago | (#45650671)

It's time to start a boycott of Slashdot. These summaries are getting too bad to ignore. Weeklong hours? Peace prize in physiology or medicine?

I might have to resosrt to doing work to pass the day.

Re:So which prize did he win? (0)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 10 months ago | (#45650879)

You could just work on installing a spell checker. That might keep you off the streets for a while....

Don't do anything you would regret for the rest of your life.

Re:So which prize did he win? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45650851)

Maybe it's part of the branding.

Francis Crick once remarked that people who met him for the first time sometimes said, "Oh, I thought your name was Watson-Crick".

Contradiction (5, Informative)

kruach aum (1934852) | about 10 months ago | (#45650559)

I don't know why I need to point this out, but the Nobel Peace Prize and the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine are not the same thing. Schekman has only won the latter, not the former.

Re:Contradiction (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45650673)

For once the error is actually on the original article linked. I guess the journalist learned with the editors at Slashdot.

Re:Contradiction (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45650711)

It's too bad that this site doesn't have paid staff on hand to "edit" the submissions for accuracy before posting them to the front page. I guess such "edit"-ors would be prohibitively expensive to retain?

Re:Contradiction (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45650833)

Only? A nobel prize in just about anything is more deserving of respect than the "peace" prize, which has long been relegated to a marketing vehicle for political agenda.

Re:Contradiction (1)

kruach aum (1934852) | about 10 months ago | (#45651181)

"Only" here limiting the number of Nobel prizes won, not modifying the perceived prestige of the prize.

Re:Contradiction (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45651461)

Since when does a single individual win multiple nobel prizes at the same time?

Re:Contradiction (1)

kruach aum (1934852) | about 10 months ago | (#45651761)

Neither I nor the article's summary imply anything about simultaneity.

Re:Contradiction (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45652875)

Well, that leaves only one possibility: your choice of wording was poor.

Re:Contradiction (1)

kruach aum (1934852) | about 10 months ago | (#45652997)

Or you lack the ability to read.

Re:Contradiction (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45650909)

And I though they just couldn't make up their mind.

Re:Contradiction (1)

Thanshin (1188877) | about 10 months ago | (#45651185)

"One of this year's winners of the Nobel Peace prize"
Taking into account that only about 1/4 of peace prices are shared and that this year's was not, that sentence makes the post wrong from the first one or two words.

I just wanted to point out that this might be a record. A feat deserving 2013's "Fastest Error Award", also called Nobel Peace Price by some.

Re:Contradiction (1)

weilawei (897823) | about 10 months ago | (#45655145)

Exactly how much is the "Nobel Peace Price"? I'd like to mod you Funny, but I'm out of points...

and so it goes.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45650603)

In evidence based medicine, the paper rules; in papers publishing the publisher rules; who rule the publisher...rules.

free the innocent stem cells (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45650651)

who has anything to lose? little miss dna cannot be wrong healthcare.love is the new clear option for billions of us unchosen ones. never a better time to consult with momkind our spiritual centerpeace

Re:free the innocent stem cells (0, Troll)

kruach aum (1934852) | about 10 months ago | (#45650777)

Well, I can't tell whether your a chatterbot or schizophrenic, so I guess you just passed a test for the first time in your life.

Re:free the innocent stem cells (1)

weilawei (897823) | about 10 months ago | (#45655173)

It must be an attempt to one-up the King James Programming Markov chain.

Anybody else... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45650665)

Did anybody else read this headline too quickly, and picture a crossdresser running around with a cattleprod?

Re:Anybody else... (1)

bughunter (10093) | about 10 months ago | (#45655237)

No.

Seek help.

so... (0)

fluffythedestroyer (2586259) | about 10 months ago | (#45650713)

a way to fix this by his own term is to stop contributing ... bravo ??? Shouldn't he contribute more instead...that would be better instead of the "fuck it, I quit" attitude

Re:so... (4, Informative)

femtobyte (710429) | about 10 months ago | (#45650751)

He does continue to keep contributing --- to online, open-access journals without the adverse motivations of the "luxury brand" publishers. This way, alternative journals get to build the reputation of attracting top scientists and publishing good-enough-for-a-Nobel-prize-winner research, which can help change the perceptions that make publication in the "luxury brand" journals necessary for scientific careers.

Re:so... (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 10 months ago | (#45650889)

I'm going to do my part. I promise never to send a manuscript to Nature or Science.

What about you?

Re:so... (1)

femtobyte (710429) | about 10 months ago | (#45651411)

I'm way ahead of you --- I haven't submitted any manuscripts to Nature or Science ever --- I'm decades ahead on this boycott thing! ;)
But, yes, I'll try to take ethical considerations like this into consideration when publishing (so far as I have the ability to convince other co-authors). I also happen to tend more towards "precision measurement" experiments than "big flashy discovery," so my research is usually safely on the "boring but, I hope, solid" side anyways (that wouldn't be aimed at a "luxury brand" journal).

Re:so... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45651503)

So, Nobel prize winner declares, one day before accepting the prize, that we should all boycott the journals that got his research the recognition required to win the Nobel. Instead, he suggests people contribute to open access journals, like eLife, for which he is editor-in-chief

He may have some valid points, and god knows there is something very wrong with academic publishing today, but this could not sound more cynical. Seriously: "these journals were great for my career up to today, but now you should submit your best work to my start-up journal. Honestly, it's going to be great."

Re:so... (1)

hubie (108345) | about 10 months ago | (#45654119)

That, and now that he has won the Prize, he can do whatever the hell he wants with his career, including never publishing again in his life. There are plenty of universities who would love to hire him so that they can claim X number of Nobel Prize winners on faculty.

Re:so... (4, Informative)

the gnat (153162) | about 10 months ago | (#45651109)

a way to fix this by his own term is to stop contributing ... bravo ??? Shouldn't he contribute more instead...that would be better instead of the "fuck it, I quit" attitude

Schekman is the editor-in-chief of eLife [elifesciences.org] , a new open-access biomedical journal (so it's a bit personal for him - not that I disagree with his message). Previously he was the editor of PNAS, one of the better publications by non-profit publishers.

Good on him (2)

umafuckit (2980809) | about 10 months ago | (#45650727)

Obviously it's easy for someone in his position to take this stance (it would be suicide for most early career scientists), but it's still laudable. I've seen instances of this go the other way: Nobel appears and the person turns it into a licence to publish craptacular papers in top tier journals. When this happens it's bad on every level: harms the field, harms the first author, harms the journal.

Re:Good on him -- lets the rest of us have a shot (1)

Adam Ricketson (2821631) | about 10 months ago | (#45652365)

It's not an issue of early-career vs established scientists -- it's an issue of pedigreed vs. self-made scientists.

Sheckman is saying that he won't support a student's desire to submit a paper to SNC. His students will still have the benefit of being associated with a Nobel Prize winner. I see this as a sort of unilateral disarmament from someone whose influence is assured. Sheckman and his people have already been noticed, so he's letting everyone else have a chance at getting noticed too (by publishing in SNC). That may not be his exact intent, but it will be the short-term consequence if other big shots follow his lead.

Re:Good on him (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45656049)

it would be suicide for most early career scientists

That's a gross exaggeration. However, it would be a problem for greasy pole climbers who don't actually care about the quality or otherwise of their work. Publishing decent work in a mid-tier open access journal is perfectly okay. Other scientists aren't stupid - they know perfectly well that a lot of good work is not published in the name journals and adjust their reading accordingly.

Nobel PEACE prize? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45650763)

At first I was surprised why would a Nobel Peace prize be interested in scientific publishing.

And then I realized it's just a Slashdot Fuckup (TM) (C).

Same goes for wider publishing (1)

moorhens (564268) | about 10 months ago | (#45650773)

I have sympathy for Shekman's argument, but it's the same story throughout publishing, not just for science. Publishers build their reputation on brilliant authors, but I don't know a single publisher that only publishes brilliant books/journals. Where his argument wobbles for me is when he mentions elife as being free to view but sponsored by industry. How will he and his sponsors measure success of that venture? The cynic in me suggests that as well as readership figures and brilliance of content, reputation will form a part. It may be softer than the Nature approach, but perhaps that just means it isn't as successful yet.

Fed up with publication pressure (4, Insightful)

bradley13 (1118935) | about 10 months ago | (#45650815)

Not only are many (most?) academics fed up with the big journals, we are also generally fed up with publication pressure. Our school is just now going through a review. The accreditation people want number of publication. It doesn't matter what you wrote about, or whether you had anything useful to say, it's just numbers.

Who read about the University of Edinburgh physicist: He just won the Nobel prize, and has published a total of 10 papers in his entire career. As he said: today he wouldn't even get a job.

I understand that school administrations want some way to measure faculty performance. But just as student reviews are a dumb way to assess teaching quality (because demanding teachers may be rated as poorly as incompetent teachers), number of publications is a dumb way to assess research quality.

Re:Fed up with publication pressure (3, Informative)

umafuckit (2980809) | about 10 months ago | (#45650897)

Who read about the University of Edinburgh physicist: He just won the Nobel prize, and has published a total of 10 papers in his entire career. As he said: today he wouldn't even get a job.

You mean Peter Higgs?

Re:Fed up with publication pressure (2)

Jeremy Erwin (2054) | about 10 months ago | (#45652217)

Names aren't important. What is important is his current academic affiliation.

Re:Fed up with publication pressure (1)

umafuckit (2980809) | about 10 months ago | (#45652903)

Both are important. Believe me, the name matters a lot.

Re:Fed up with publication pressure (1)

hawkfish (8978) | about 10 months ago | (#45655687)

Both are important. Believe me, the name matters a lot.

I think you missed the GPs sarcasm. It was rather dry.

Re:Fed up with publication pressure (2)

supercrisp (936036) | about 10 months ago | (#45650981)

Looking at things like impact factor of the journal or the number of times the article is cited require reading/counting* skills most deans don't seem to have--at least based on how most of them seem unable to read contracts or faculty handbooks. (*It seems skills learned while counting beans do not transfer well.)

Publish or perish must go (4, Insightful)

sinij (911942) | about 10 months ago | (#45650899)

Journals are only partially to blame for dysfunction of scientific publishing. By far the most harmful actor is pressure to publish papers regardless of quality and sometimes even fraudulently.

"Publish or perish" is a unique pressure on mid-career academics to churn out publications. It is administrative metric that when applied can lead to career-ending outcomes for academics that are deemed "unproductive" This highly arbitrary metric looks at a number of papers published and sometimes journal impact factor, but it fails to measure scientific contribution to the field. Application of this metric linked to all kinds of scientific misconduct - from correlation fishing expeditions, to questionable practices in formulating research questions, to outright 'data cooking' and fraud.

Re:Publish or perish must go (4, Insightful)

umafuckit (2980809) | about 10 months ago | (#45651209)

Saying "Publish or perish must go" is great, we all like the sound of that. But then what do you replace it with? Any metric that you come up with will be gamed if the people being measured know how you're measuring them. It's easy to point the finger at journals, funding committees, and hiring committees and say that the publish or perish mentality is their fault. But it's also the fault of researchers who choose to play the game. Researchers choose to break down papers into many smaller ones in order to increase publication count. Researchers choose to waste everyone's time by gambling and submitting to progressively lower tier journals until the paper sticks, rather than being honest with themselves and pitching the manuscript correctly from the start. Researchers choose to publish the shit stuff they barely believe anyway, wherever it'll get in, rather than consign it to the scrap heap and start over.

Re:Publish or perish must go (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45651621)

Saying "Publish or perish must go" is great, we all like the sound of that. But then what do you replace it with?

Number of Nobel prizes ( / Fields medals / Turing awards) won.

Re:Publish or perish must go (2)

MarkvW (1037596) | about 10 months ago | (#45651797)

Properly evaluating other peoples' work is very hard. The comparative evaluation of that work with other people's work is even harder. But in an optimal system, such evaluation is essential. This is one of the fundamental problems of leadership--and universities suck at it.

Publication isn't even the most important category of work output--teaching quality is. But teaching gets shunted aside, because nobody is really taking the time to carefully evaluate the quality of the teaching. Prospective students ought to be able to make informed decisions about their prospective teachers.

The real resources need to be put into hiring and retaining people who will fairly evaluate great work. Those are your most important people.

Re:Publish or perish must go (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45652913)

If I had mod points you'd get them; just because something is hard to do right, doesn't mean it's better to just do it wrong.

Publish or perish must go (3, Insightful)

Atmchicago (555403) | about 10 months ago | (#45651807)

The way it should be is that the metrics for performance are the aggregate quality and impact of the work, not the number of publications or the impact factors of the journals they go into. Why doesn't this work? Because administrators generally don't understand the science that they are "administering." A possible solution would be to make sure that the people running the show behind the scenes are knowledgeable and competent, but we all know that's never going to happen...

Re:Publish or perish must go (1)

Adam Ricketson (2821631) | about 10 months ago | (#45652403)

On the ground, hiring decisions are made by an academic department's faculty (with oversight from deans, etc. who are themselves researchers)

Re:Publish or perish must go (2)

umafuckit (2980809) | about 10 months ago | (#45652873)

The way it should be is that the metrics for performance are the aggregate quality and impact of the work, not the number of publications or the impact factors of the journals they go into. Why doesn't this work? Because administrators generally don't understand the science that they are "administering."

That isn't why it doesn't work. It doesn't work because there's no particularly good objective metric for "quality" or "impact." For "impact" you have number of citations and where the work was published. If you want to get fancy, you can make a metric that takes into account what those citations were. Quality is pretty much impossible to judge objectively, particularly if you want to compare across fields. It doesn't matter how competent or knowledgeable your assessors are--that's not the limiting factor. In fact, what are you are calling for is already being done: when grant applications are judged, it's done by competent people who are knowledgeable in the field. They judge based upon the quality of the application, its novelty, its practicality, presence of pilot data, and, of course, if you have managed to publish this stuff before and what the publications looked like. The system isn't perfect, but I can't see how it can easily be changed to make it radically better.

Re:Publish or perish must go (3, Informative)

Xylantiel (177496) | about 10 months ago | (#45653371)

Have you aver heard of H-index [wikipedia.org] . It combines rate and impact (measured by number of citations) in a way that also de-emphasizes one off flukes. I actually tend to compare H-index per year, which is a useful measure of contribution rate. But, that said, there are massive variations between even sub-fields in the same discipline due to different publishing and citation culture.

Re:Publish or perish must go (4, Insightful)

Prune (557140) | about 10 months ago | (#45652315)

I don't think you can really blame academics. It seems to be, rather, that universities have succumbed to the same general trend that made MBAs and other business/management types infuse institutions beyond just the corporate world with a management style and optimization strategies that look only at narrowly defined metrics (usually revolving around financials, PR, etc.). Academic institutions seem to be run more like businesses these days than places of learning and research, and this is reflected in their employment distribution: in just one example, "employment of administrators jumped 60 percent from 1993 to 2009, 10 times the growth rate for tenured faculty" (source: http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-11-21/the-troubling-dean-to-professor-ratio [businessweek.com] ). I remember reading about this trend of falling faculty-to-administrator ratio quite a few years ago, along with the claim that it's been going on since at least the 1970s; it really struck home, however, when I noticed it affecting very schools I had attended. With the falling powers of faculty associations (like unions in general), I doubt that researchers and instructors could have stemmed this.

Re:Publish or perish must go (1)

umafuckit (2980809) | about 10 months ago | (#45653433)

I blame everyone, including academics. Academics are probably at the bottom of the blame list, but they're still on the blame list. Perhaps there are too many administrators now; but if so, where did they come from and why isn't something being done about it? If academics don't like the way they're being assessed then they need to get together and come up with a viable alternative instead of continuing to play the game.

Re:Publish or perish must go (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45655517)

You can fairly blame the academics. And you can fairly blame the universities. But ultimately, it's still the politicians. They want every once-upon-a-time Normal School now retitled a university to be "research intensive" because that will attract prestige and industry to the neighborhood, and will attract grant money that the university can hive off to replace falling state support.
Everyone wants every institution they are linked with to be above average. Eventually it become clear that somehow doesn't work.
Sending everyone "to College" somewhere seems like a nice egalitarian idea. This is just one of the many far-downstream consequences of that.
- ciao
- a soon-to-retire tenured professor at such a place

Re:Publish or perish must go (1)

epine (68316) | about 10 months ago | (#45654175)

Saying "Publish or perish must go" is great, we all like the sound of that. But then what do you replace it with?

Duh, it's not so hard. The scientists could actually bother to replicate more than a tiny sliver of all results published, and citations of papers not replicated could be treated at damning with faint praise.

One thing peer review can not catch is chance aberration in the experimental data (structural aberration is a different matter).

Without actually replicating the significant results, it all degenerates into he said/she said and the act of citation becomes a political act, not a scientific act.

There is practically no funding made available to replicate past results, other than the biggest and most important. No prestige accrues from taking this work on, either.

Re:Publish or perish must go (1)

mdielmann (514750) | about 10 months ago | (#45655745)

The answer is the same as it always is. Don't measure what's easy - measure for the results you want to see. Do you want the janitor to check the restaurant bathroom every 15 minutes, or do you want the bathroom to be spotless after the janitor leaves every 15 minutes. One is easy; just have him sign a sheet in the bathroom. The other requires actual work, spot checks after the janitor leaves the bathroom for instance. Similarly, a factory worker may be easy to assess. Throughput without errors or injuries seems like a reasonable starting point.

So, what do we want to see from our academics? A large quantity of publications? A large quantity of publications, weighted towards more prestigious journals? Innovative science? Rigorous science? Great teaching skills, engaging the students? Determine what you want to see, measure for that. It may not be a quantitative assessment, which makes the measurement harder, but it will actually get you the results you want, rather than people gaming the system for a positive assessment.

bad news for his students and postdocs (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45651171)

From the TFA:

"I have now committed my lab to avoiding luxury journals"

This is bad news for his students and postdocs who wish to get a job in the future. Publishing in a 'luxury' journal is almost a requirement for getting a permanent position in scientific research. However much I may agree with his point of view, he also has a responsibility to advance the careers of the promising students and postdocs in his group.

Re:bad news for his students and postdocs (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45652479)

I suspect a letter of recommendation from a Nobel-prize-winning researcher, plus having worked in his lab in the first place, will also carry a moderate amount of weight in advancing his students' careers. Coming from a famous lab group at a prestigious university isn't exactly an underprivileged career start. This would be a harder call if it were some Podunk U. professor putting students (who are otherwise capable of doing good science) in a bad position. But, with this move coming from a top researcher, it'll be hard for hiring committees to explain away his students' lack of "top tier" publication as indicating a lack of experience --- important to changing the academic culture to eventually "permit" this for everyone.

Slashdot wins Nobel (5, Funny)

oldhack (1037484) | about 10 months ago | (#45651241)

Nobel editorial prize.

Re:Slashdot wins Nobel (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45652143)

Nobel editorial prize.

You mean the Nobel Peace Editorial Prize?

Don't go back to academe! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45651381)

I worked closely with senior academics for many years and got to know university culture very well. It sucks. I pray I never have to work in that fucked environment ever again. By comparison, working for private sector industry is awesome. My income *doubled* for less work. Now I get treated like a professional instead of a child.

Already doing this in Physics (3, Informative)

Spinalcold (955025) | about 10 months ago | (#45651935)

Pretty much every physics paper is pre-submitted to arXiv and after it is published in a paper the final copy is again resubmitted. The arXiv archive is there for peer review too, so it goes through two rounds of peer review. This has been the case for a decade now, I don't understand why this hasn't been taken up by other fields by now.

Re:Already doing this in Physics (1)

IRWolfie- (1148617) | about 10 months ago | (#45654433)

No. ArXiv papers are generally not resubmitted after being peer reviewed (that would be against the rules of most journals), and no peer review is done on ArXiv.

Grandparent is right (1)

amaurea (2900163) | about 10 months ago | (#45655469)

I don't have statistics on this, but resubmitting after peer review is the standard way of doing things in my field (cosmology). That doesn't mean submitting the version that appears in the actual journal, with its formatting etc, but the version that passed the peer review, with all the reviewer's comments addressed.

As supporting evidence, here is the license of one of the most heavily used pieces of software in my field, camb:

You are licensed to use this software free of charge on condition that:

        Any publication using results of the code must be submitted to arXiv at the same time as, or before, submitting to a journal. arXiv must be updated with a version equivalent to that accepted by the journal on journal acceptance.
        If you identify any bugs you report them as soon as confirmed

Journals would not be in a position to try to fight this - nobody reads the journals, and everybody reads arXiv, so an attempt to prevent this would blow up in their face.

Re:Already doing this in Physics (1)

serviscope_minor (664417) | about 10 months ago | (#45656003)

I don't understand why this hasn't been taken up by other fields by now.

Speaking as a member of another field: a mixture of disorganisation and Stockholm syndrome.

Nobel Peace Prize in Medicine and Physiology? (4, Funny)

Jeremy Erwin (2054) | about 10 months ago | (#45652189)

Shouldn't that be "Peace Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel for Medicine and Physiology"

Publishing in flashy journals is killing quality (1)

Jack Malmostoso (899729) | about 10 months ago | (#45652787)

In my field (electrochemistry) the last 5/10 years caused a great deal of researchers to move away from the "traditional" journals (Journal of the Electrochemical Society, Solid State Letters, Electrochimica Acta) to the flashier, more general publications (ACS and RSC publications, mostly). These journals are more widely read, so their impact factor is much higher. But most of their content is also mostly irrelevant, and since the public reading them is not a real expert in my field, what is important is to show pretty pictures, more than actually advancing the research.
I am lucky enough to do real research in industry, so that IF are not superimportant, but I feel that most journals have a very low signal/noise ratio and it's increasingly difficult finding relevant papers, after scratching a little under the surface of the claims made in the abstracts.

Flip the tables: have journals bid for papers (2)

umafuckit (2980809) | about 10 months ago | (#45653051)

Here's a way of doing it differently:

Articles are submitted anonymously to a central site. Perhaps rough statistics on the author's past work can be included but nothing more. Each paper sits there for a fixed time period, maybe 3 or 4 weeks. Editors scour the site and bid for which papers they want to put through peer review at their journal. The community can assign ratings (1 to 10 stars in 2 or 3 different categories) to papers to help guide editors. At the end of the 3 or 4 weeks, the authors choose which journal of the ones which applied should get their submission. Journal sends paper to reviewers. Reviewers know which journal sent them the paper but obviously don't know the author names. Reviewers aren't allowed to reject a paper due to it being not novel (the journal already made that value judgement). The reviewers can only make objective scientific critiques. If it fails to get in, authors can send their paper and (optionally) reviews to the next journal on the list. That journal is not allowed to ask for new reviewers if the authors have already supplied reviews and addressed criticisms. Adding too many reviewers invariably results in unrealistic demands on authors. The final anonymous reviews are available as supplemental info following publication; this may decrease the incidence of shitty, biased, reviews.

So this is somewhat like arXiv, but papers not accepted get pulled down (they can be resubmitted) and it's intended to be a gateway to publication.

it's all the same people (2)

Goldsmith (561202) | about 10 months ago | (#45653179)

Who are the editors at these journals? They're largely former researchers from popular academic research groups.

Who are the government program managers looking at journal statistics to judge research quality? They're largely former researchers from popular academic groups.

Who are the university administrators creating the publish or perish environment? They're largely former researchers from popular academic groups.

These relationships are the defining characteristic of modern scientific research. Despite the heartache and frustration the system causes, it also produces a huge amount of value for the rest of us.

Over the last 30 years, the commercial labs, defense contractors and government facilities have all become subordinate to university R&D. This has combined the metrics university research has traditionally used with the competition of the private sector. If we want to change things, we need to change the basic structure of how we do research again.

We didn't like using private funding as a success metric. Now we don't like using citations as a success metric. Ok, what else can we use?

Departments, not journals are to blame (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45653879)

The ultimate responsibility for this and a slew of related problems in academia lies with the departments themselves. They have chosen to outsource the task of evaluating their members work. Rather than reading and understanding their colleagues output, they rely on a collection of bureacratic measures such as citation counts/journal prestige and so forth. The only real question is whether they do so solely out of laziness or if the problem of evaluating work is too difficult for them to address.

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