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Publish and Perish
Nobel Prize Winner Criticizes Leading Science Journals

Randy Schekman, a Nobel-prize winning biologist, is refusing to publish in Nature, Cell, and Science as a protest agains the way top science journals push shoddy, flashy research. The Guardian reports on this latest flare up over how scientific research is published:

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.

We’re glad to see experts in the field calling attention to this problem. The race for immediately exciting or actionable science has lead to lots of “bunk science” that other scientists are often unable to later verify. The costs of this are enormous. It sends us down a lot of false alleys, fueling flashy but superficial headlines in the popular press and giving cover to bad politics. But most importantly it means resources and energies are been subtly but surely directed away from research that makes for less click bait headlines but is nevertheless vitally important to innovation and scientific progress.

Ultimately the peer review system appears fundamentally good, so any reform of these practices will probably have to come from within the field and within current mechanisms. Sheckman’s protest might just be a flash in the pan, but if it’s indicative of any sort of wider frustration in the field, other leading scientists might be able to bring some collective pressure on journals to tighten publishing standards. That would be a huge service not only to their field, but to America as a whole.

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  • Andrew Allison

    “Ultimately the peer review system appears fundamentally good, . . .” Surely you jest? As exemplified by all the climate pseudo-science published, peer review has degenerated into “you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours”.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    The paper’s authors are going to have to face criminal charges of fraud, before this abuse of the scientific system can be fixed. Since, most research is paid for by grants, those who are sponsoring the research are going to have to start seeking restitution through the legal system.

  • Reticulator

    Recently at my workplace I helped put together some materials for a 50-year celebration of research done there. We were calling special attention to some of the significant papers that have come from our people. At one point I asked, What about those papers that have been published in Science? I was told that if we used publication in Science or Nature as the criteria, there would be too much clutter for our purpose. So except for one early paper, we didn’t single those out for special honor. There were other papers that our people thought were more worthy of special attention at this time.

    This was a surprise to me, and was the first inkling I had that publication in Science wasn’t as prestigious as it was decades ago when I was a grad student.

  • rheddles2
  • Anthony

    The issue may or may not redound to shoddy research as impetus for standards review; but culture of publish or perish in professional circles currently dovetails with overall media coverage of what “splashes”…

  • Joseph Blieu

    You mean I can’t depend on the volumous research that an individual’s chance of being a paedophile is significantly associated with sympathy for the Republican party on a scale of 1 to 5 at a P value of 0.048?? Surely the Journals are correct.

  • Corlyss

    Well! He’ll never eat lunch with peers again . . .

  • qet

    I have to agree with Andrew Allison on this one. This latest broadside against the modern practice of science is just that–the latest. Complaints like this one are being published an an accelerating rate nowadays. There is no reason that academics and scientists ought to be considered as exempt from human shortcomings, which include the pursuit of interest rather than truth. The utter necessity of frequent publishing to the maintenance of a career has absolutely become what AA says. Any equivocation on this point is willful blindness. We note that Via Meadia itself is an academic and thus practically bound by the same rules of chivalry responsible for the current mess, and we sympathize–up to a point.

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