Nobel winning scientist to boycott top science journals

Randy Schekman
Randy Schekman. Credit: James Kegley/Wikipedia
( —Randy Schekman winner (with colleagues) of the Nobel Prize this year in the Physiology or Medicine category for his work that involved describing how materials are carried to different parts of cells, has stirred up a hornet's nest in the scientific community by publishing an article in The Guardian lashing out at three of the top science journals—Science, Cell and Nature.

In the article Schekman claims that is being "disfigured by inappropriate incentives." He maintains that the top are artificially inflating their stature by keeping the number of articles they publish low. He asserts that the practices of the top journals is causing undo difficulties with young researchers who have become convinced the only true measure of success is publication in one of the top tier journals.

He continues by suggesting that because the top tier journals are run by editors, rather than scientists, it's often the flashiest articles that get published, rather than the best or most relevant.

Schekman offered hints of his dissatisfaction with the publication process when he took a position as an editor at eLife, an online science journal that prints research papers—it's also peer reviewed, but doesn't charge an access fee.

In his article he suggests that many researchers and organizations cut corners in order to focus more clearly on the "wow" factor and as a result the number of papers being retracted by science journals is on the rise, which of course includes some very high profile instances, such as by some who are supposedly involved in the cloning of human embryos.

Schekman also takes issue with the concept of paper quality being linked to impact factor (a metric that describes how often a paper is cited)—suggesting it might be as much of an indicator of a hot topic, or even an article that is simply wrong, as it is for describing good science.

He concludes by adding to the chorus of supporters of open-access journals and suggests that those that offer funding for research join the effort, as they are jointly responsible for the maintenance of the flawed status-quo due to continuing to base decisions on article representation in high profile journals, rather than on overall quality of work or appearance in lower tier journals.

Editors from Nature, Life and Cell have all responded to Schekman's accusations, and for the most part have denied that their articles are popularity based—insisting that acceptance is based strictly on science and quality.

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Journal information: Science , Cell , Nature

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User comments

Dec 10, 2013
It's causing "undo difficulties"? That sounds like a problem with the coding of the editing software.

Dec 10, 2013
He maintains that the top science journals are artificially inflating their stature by keeping the number of articles they publish low
I'm not so sure about it. I've read the study, in which the average length of scientific articles in peer-reviewed journals decreased recently, as it enables to stuff each journal issue with more articles. While it's true, many Nobel prize valued articles were rejected by mistake, such a rejections aren't systematic trend of the recent past. IMO the reason of this controversy rather is, the scientists are valued by impact of journals - so that everyone wants to publish in high impacted journals and nowhere else. And these journals aren't inflatable.

Dec 10, 2013
these journals aren't inflatable.

Umm.. Why not? We have got the internet now.
Doesn't Peer Review imply crusty conservatism? The Wright Brothers got extremely short shrift from the "experts", whose names I can't seem to recall.
Before someone jumps down my throat- that's a metaphor. Go look the word up.

Dec 11, 2013
Why not? We have got the Internet now

All these high impacted journals are printed ones. Currently the peer review is the only working approach, how to maintain quality and feedback for articles submitted - but its slow and laborious. We have many Internet journals, but the scientists don't want to publish in them just due to their lack of quality.

Dec 13, 2013
I have no idea what Journal Boards, Editors etc have in mind when they are presented with a paper but in my 'childish' view I thought that publications were aimed at scientists, who in a similar field of study, note whatever they found useful. Any research uses results etc from other studies so shouldn't it be the journal's aim to print as many articles as possible, without letting in non-associated material.
As I say, just an opinion.

Dec 16, 2013
I am glad that more scientists are starting to realise that jounals like Nature, Science, APS journals, IOP journals, Proc. Roy Soc. etc. have become mediocre owing to their editorial policies.

In the interest of the future of science, we must make a list of such journals and encourage scientists to stop submitting to these journals. The editors of these journals think in the same manner as the Vatican has thought in the time of Galileo: God ordained them to have superior insights.

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