More news from the scientific publishing front

I’ve written a number of things about this issue, both in journal articles and in this blog. I won’t link to everything, they should be easy to find.

I think it is safe to say that a reaction to the prevailing state of affairs is mounting, and although it may take a while, and the direction may be still unkown, it seems that things will change in the publishing arena.

The most recent case is that of Randy Schekman, a Nobel prize winner who has vowed that he and those in his lab will no longer publish in the flagship scientific journals: Nobel winner declares boycott of top science journals.

In his own words: How journals like Nature, Cell and Science are damaging science. It was reported in that same day in another piece in the same journal:

A blogger called out what he sees as Schekman’s hypocrisy, since his call for arms came after having attained a comfortable position in Academia (Nobel included) which, in turn, certainly had a lot to do with publishing in such journals: I think you might be a hypocrite.

Schekman has created a new, open-access journal, eLife, which "for the moment" (sic) will not charge authors for publishing.

PZMyers commented on the whole brouhaha, criticizing the new journal for its concessions to personality cult (my words), but welcoming it nevertheless: A new journal.

Regardless of the merit (or lack thereof) of the critique, I have to agree with Schekman on one thing, having written very similar things myself; as he wrote in his Guardian piece, "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."

Even more so, the current system gives publishers an undue degree of control over our work, to the extent that allows them to veto the dissemination of articles by their own authors, as was reported, for exemple, recently by another blogger: Elsevier is taking down papers from Academia.edu.

I believe we are getting to the point that something’s gotta give. I hope it’s not us, who produce knowledge, but rather the parasitic behemoths that rose to power feeding on our own labour, and now control it.

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