Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Problems with the big journals, Science and Nature

A recent article in The Guardian is very critical of the journals Science, Nature and Cell. The problem with those journals -- beyond the fact that they won't accept my articles! -- is that they allow journalism factors to displace scientific reasons in article selection. The article, published online in The Guardian Dec 9, 2013, is titled:

"Schekman [Nobel prize winner in Physiology or Medicine] said pressure to publish in "luxury" journals encouraged researchers to cut corners and pursue trendy fields of science instead of doing more important work. The problem was exacerbated, he said, by editors who were not active scientists but professionals who favoured studies that were likely to make a splash."
The article quotes biochemist Sebastian Springer: "The system is not meritocratic. You don't necessarily see the best papers published in those journals. The editors are not professional scientists, they are journalists which isn't necessarily the greatest problem, but they emphasise novelty over solid work."

Schekman also criticizes the increasing emphasis on journal impact factors in hiring, promotion, and other academic decisions.

It is probably not surprising that the one post on this blog that is accessed FAR more than all others is "Rejected by Science!!" Readers may be tempted to think that my criticisms of Science in that post are just sour grapes. Yes, I've had three papers rejected by Science. But I have spoken to many colleagues who agree with my views of the non-scientific nature of the decision-making on what archaeology papers to publish. The earliest this or that and flashy finds are clearly favored. The decisions are made by editors with no expertise in the subject area.

See also my posts, "Rejected by Science, yet Again"

For archaeology, the article selection problem at the journal Science, brings up the issue of just what exactly we mean by "science" in archaeology. Do we mean research that is epistemologically scientific (explicit research design, testing of models or hypotheses, falsifiability, critical spirit, etc.), the approach I call Science Type 1, or do we mean any old epistemology (even anti-scientific interpretivism) that happens to involve the use of "scientific" methods from physics or chemistry or some other "scientific" discipline (Science Type 2)?

See my post on this:  "Science Type 1 vs. Science Type 2."

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