American biologist Randy Schekman, winner of this year’s Nobel prize in physiology, has written an editorial in the Guardian announcing that his lab will no longer submit articles for publications in what he calls ‘luxury jounals’ (he names Nature, Cell, and Science as examples) because he feels that they are creating an unhealthy climate in the science world. He explains:
These journals aggressively curate their brands, in ways more conducive to selling subscriptions than to stimulating the most important research. Like fashion designers who create limited-edition handbags or suits, they know scarcity stokes demand, so they artificially restrict the number of papers they accept. The exclusive brands are then marketed with a gimmick called “impact factor” – a score for each journal, measuring the number of times its papers are cited by subsequent research. 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.
Shekman says that the impact factor causes ‘bubbles’ in fashionable fields of science and influences the type of science that researchers conduct — essentially leading people to write articles that they hope will be published in these esteemed publication. He recommends that scientists publish in open access journals which are free for anyone to read, and where there are no artificial caps on the number of papers published — thus eliminating the ‘scarcity factor.’ He also calls on funders of research and university not to favor proposals or candidates because of where their work has been published, but rather make judgments on the quality of science produced.
This call will be echoed, I am sure, by many people who feel that the field of cold fusion has been ignored or undervalued because it hasn’t been featured in the big name publications. To my mind good science should be considered good science, no matter where it is published.