Writing in the Guardian, (Nobel prize winner) Schekman raises serious concerns over some journals’ practices and calls on others in the scientific community to take action. “I have published in the big brands, including papers that won me a Nobel prize. But no longer,” he writes. “Just as Wall Street needs to break the hold of bonus culture, so science must break the tyranny of the luxury journals.” Schekman is the editor of eLife, an online journal set up by the Wellcome Trust. Articles submitted to the journal – a competitor to Nature, Cell and Science – are discussed by reviewers who are working scientists and accepted if all agree. The papers are free for anyone to read.
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.”
Daniel Sirkis, a postdoc in Schekman’s lab, said many scientists wasted a lot of time trying to get their work into Cell, Science and Nature. “It’s true I could have a harder time getting my foot in the door of certain elite institutions without papers in these journals during my postdoc, but I don’t think I’d want to do science at a place that had this as one of their most important criteria for hiring anyway,” he told the Guardian.
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Editors comment: I would have liked to see more evidence that these journals, his competitors, are truly guilty of the behaviour he alleges, but I suspect it is true. I do wonder, however, why he did not take this stand before winning the Nobel prize, but that may well be sour grapes. I don’t think this is much of a problem in our field and I am confident that Injury Prevention chooses papers to ‘stoke demand’.