The Other Casuality of Scientific Publishing

While there has been a great deal of discussion about open access publishing, in part due to the tragic death of Aaron Swartz, there is another problem with scientific publishing that has receded into the background: who controls how scientists will communicate with each other?

Right now, scientists really don’t have control over how science is communicated, as is seen with the rise of supplemental sections. deevybee notes that the problem is getting worse (boldface mine):

An interesting way to evaluate any study is to read just the Introduction and Methods, without looking at Results and Discussion. This allows you to judge whether the authors have identified an interesting question and adopted an appropriate methodology to evaluate it, without being swayed by the sexiness of the results. For the Current Biology paper, it’s not so easy to do this, because the Methods section has to be downloaded separately as Supplementary Material. (This in itself speaks volumes about the attitude of Current Biology editors to the papers they publish: Methods are seen as much less important than Results)

Methods are not a boring detail to be consigned to a supplement: they are crucial in evaluating research. My fear is that the primary goal of some journals is media coverage, and consequently science is being reduced to journalism, and is suffering as a consequence.

It also appears that glamour magz are determining first authorship policies, even though that is used for the evaluation of academic qualifications and accomplishments.

These are decisions that should be made by scientists to meet the needs of scientists, not publishers. After all, these publications are so dependent on scientists for their product (even as most rake in usurious profits), they’re really not in a position to negotiate. There are never any Marxists around when you need ’em…

What the current publishing model does to science shouldn’t be neglected either.

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3 Responses to The Other Casuality of Scientific Publishing

  1. alwayscurious says:

    When I was a young college student, I focused almost exclusively on the Introduction & the Discussion. Nowadays, I feverishly read the Methods section and only glance at the Discussion after picking through the Results very carefully. The reason? Familiarity with the topics. If I were reading papers far afield from my profession, I would revert back to a lot more Introduction & Discussion reading.

    For this reason, I view Science & Nature as existing in their own category between & distinct from Discover or Journal of the American Chemical Society. Science & Nature are great journals to broaden one’s horizon about what happens in science outside the narrow realm of one’s specialty without going into “ultra-casual mode” –how most media outlets portray science. If Nature & Science want to keep the Methods short & the articles condensed, fine with me–I only read them for recreation.

    To this end, it should be scientists’ daily bread & butter to strive to be published in journals actually relevant to their fields–where full communication of the technical details of methods & results will matter more than a glitzy introduction or definitive conclusions. Publication in Nature or Science should be seen for what it is: a victory lap when something unusual or amazing is found–not a serious communication from one specialist to another. Scientists should regularly remind each other of this & publish the gory details elsewhere.

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  3. jw says:

    i am reviewing a book chapter now, and that has me thinking that books are another place where authors just regurgitate the same words again. often times very clumsily cut and pasted together. i am so over most scientific books–seems to be just resume padding anyway.

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