Luxury journals... time for a boycott?

Submitted by Carlyn Zwarenstein on January 1, 2014 - 18:39

This year´s Medicine Nobel Prize-winner, cell biologist Randy Schekman, published a commentary in the Guardian a few weeks ago arguing that the incentives that big journals—specifically, Science, Cell and Nature—offer distort the progress of science. (The author is the editor of an open access journal, eLife, which is funded by the Wellcome Trust, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Max Planck Society).

Schekman warns that what he calls “luxury journals” are so invested in promoting their brands that they create artificial scarcity by restricting the number of papers accepted. Like Open Medicine, Schekman condemns the hallowed impact factor as a gimmick that in the end just becomes an end in itself rather than a measure of journal quality ("A paper can become highly cited because it is good science–or because it is eye-catching, provocative or wrong.") As he says, the impact factor is an average that does not describe the value of a given piece of published research. And it promotes publishing in "fashionable" areas rather than pursuing other, equally or more important lines of research.

Schekman compares the distortion created by the rewards of publication in those big journals to ridiculous bonuses (“inappropriate incentives”) in finance and banking. And he points to the increasing numbers of papers enthusiastically published only to require retraction once it is found that the research has been poor quality or even fraudulent.

He ends with a commitment on the part of his own lab to avoiding luxury journals. Now, if enough other scientists doing good research do the same, open access journals like his eLife or our Open Medicine will be proud to publish their work.  In his highly recommended article, Schekman sets out a vision of an open access and rigorous culture of science influenced less by those inappropriate incentives, and more by the pursuit of knowledge. Which, we heartily agree, is how it ought to be.



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