Scrap "luxury journal" system, says Nobel Prize winner

Michael Cook
14 Dec 2013
Reproduced with Permission

One of the recipients of this year's Nobel Prize for Medicine has used it as a platform for a blistering attack on the whole system of publishing research in science and medicine.

Randy Schekman, a US biologist who received his prize in Stockholm on Tuesday, said his lab would no longer send research papers to the "luxury journals", Nature, Cell and Science. Schekman works at the University of California, Berkeley, and is former editor-in-chief of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In an op-ed in The Guardian, he makes several telling points.

The reputations of the big journals are inflated:

"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. But the big journals' reputations are only partly warranted. While they publish many outstanding papers, they do not publish only outstanding papers. Neither are they the only publishers of outstanding research."

The impact factor is a gimmick:

"Better papers, the theory goes, are cited more often, so better journals boast higher scores. Yet it is a deeply flawed measure, pursuing which has become an end in itself - and is as damaging to science as the bonus culture is to banking."

The journals are too interested in making headlines:

"they accept papers that will make waves because they explore sexy subjects or make challenging claims… In extreme cases, the lure of the luxury journal can encourage the cutting of corners, and contribute to the escalating number of papers that are retracted as flawed or fraudulent."

Schekman argues that the way forward is open-access journals which can be read by anyone. He edits one himself, eLife.