Is science publishing bad for science?

Posted: June 27, 2017 by tallbloke in Accountability, Critique, Education, media, research, solar system dynamics

chickeneditorA long and interesting article about science publishing in the Guardian is largely about the history of Robert Maxwells involvement in science publication, but contains much else of interest besides. A few excerpts:

Many scientists also believe that the publishing industry exerts too much influence over what scientists choose to study, which is ultimately bad for science itself. Journals prize new and spectacular results – after all, they are in the business of selling subscriptions – and scientists, knowing exactly what kind of work gets published, align their submissions accordingly. This produces a steady stream of papers, the importance of which is immediately apparent. But it also means that scientists do not have an accurate map of their field of inquiry.

Suddenly, where you published became immensely important. Other editors took a similarly activist approach in the hopes of replicating Cell’s success. Publishers also adopted a metric called “impact factor,” invented in the 1960s by Eugene Garfield, a librarian and linguist, as a rough calculation of how often papers in a given journal are cited in other papers. For publishers, it became a way to rank and advertise the scientific reach of their products. The new-look journals, with their emphasis on big results, shot to the top of these new rankings, and scientists who published in “high-impact” journals were rewarded with jobs and funding. Almost overnight, a new currency of prestige had been created in the scientific world. (Garfield later referred to his creation as “like nuclear energy … a mixed blessing”.)

It is difficult to overstate how much power a journal editor now had to shape a scientist’s career and the direction of science itself.

And so science became a strange co-production between scientists and journal editors, with the former increasingly pursuing discoveries that would impress the latter. These days, given a choice of projects, a scientist will almost always reject both the prosaic work of confirming or disproving past studies, and the decades-long pursuit of a risky “moonshot”, in favour of a middle ground: a topic that is popular with editors and likely to yield regular publications.

Full article

  1. scute1133 says:

    I’m very much immersed in this problem on two fronts at the moment: astronomy and global warming. But seeing as it comes from such a god-awful publication as the Guardian, which itself exacerbates this very problem, I’m afraid I can’t bring myself to read it.

  2. Tim Hammond says:

    There is a great deal of interest in this sort of problem at the moment, but in just about every case, Climate Change gets a free pass.

    It is quite bizarre that every other part of science has papers retracted for errors, fraud, etc and every other part has scientists whose motives have been skewed by money, esteem or career, but in Climate Science every paper is absolutely correct and every scientist a saint.

    it is one of the things that makes me deeply sceptical of Climate science – there MUST be some errors and some data fudging and some less than scientific behaviour in Climate Science, not because its CAGW but because its done by humans, but the Alarmists just refuse to admit it.

  3. Ned Nikolov says:

    @Tim Hammond,

    You are right about climate science but only in regard to the “status-quo” scientists, who do not challenge the dogma. Once you try to publish results that go against grain, you get all kind of resistance from journal editors including withdrawal of papers for no scientific reason. My colleague Karl and I have experienced this side of publishing in climate science quite vividly … 🙂

  4. oldbrew says:

    ‘all kind of resistance from journal editors ‘ – aka gatekeeping

    Gatekeepers of Science
    Peer Review Controversies at Home and Abroad [2004]

    ‘scientific advances may not always benefit from a secretive system that grants established scientists a veto over new research.’