Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Newsflash: scientific publishing is controlled by cliques

14 leading stem cell scientists have written an open letter criticizing the undue influence of small groups of scientists on what gets published in journals. Of course this is not news to anyone in the field, and a pervasive problem in science.

Here are some excerpts and opinions of the letter:

" Stem cell experts say they believe a small group of scientists is effectively vetoing high quality science from publication in journals.In some cases they say it might be done to deliberately stifle research that is in competition with their own. "

" The journal editor decides to publish the research paper usually when the majority of reviewers are satisfied. But professors Lovell-Badge and Smith believe that increasingly some reviewers are sending back negative comments or asking for unnecessary experiments to be carried out for spurious reasons. In some cases they say it is being done simply to delay or stop the publication of the research so that the reviewers or their close colleagues can be the first to have their own research published. "

" "Editors should be able to see when reviewers are asking for unnecessary experiments to be carried out and if it's the difference between an opinion of the referee and a factual problem. But what tends to happen is that the editor takes the opinion of an editor rather than the factual substance," he said. One of the main reasons for this, according to Professor Smith, is that journals are in competition. Editors have become dependent on favoured experts who both review other people's stem cell research and submit their own papers to the journal. If the editor offends these experts, they may lose future papers to a rival. This is leading to the journals publishing mediocre science, according to Professor Lovell-Badge. "


gawp said...

This was nicely addressed in part of a posting by Peter Watts about how science works. Well worth reading it in full.


Yes, there are mafias. There are those spared the kicking because they have connections. There are established cliques who decide what appears in Science, who gets to give a spoken presentation and who gets kicked down to the poster sessions with the kiddies. I know a couple of people who will probably never get credit for the work they’ve done, for the insights they’ve produced. But the insights themselves prevail. Even if the establishment shoots the messenger, so long as the message is valid it will work its way into the heart of the enemy’s camp. First it will be ridiculed. Then it will be accepted as true, but irrelevant. Finally, it will be embraced as canon, and what’s more everyone will know that it was always so embraced, and it was Our Glorious Leader who had the idea. The credit may not go to those who deserve it; but the field will have moved forward.

rob said...

Ideally the hierarchy of the academic science career would just serve as checkpoints and be largely irrelevant to the credit given. However this is obviously not true.

kicked down to the poster sessions with the kiddies
This statement alone reveals alot about the overvalue of hierarchy and career over good science.

One thing I will always remember is a poster session at which a PI examining my poster kept asking me questions about the published work I had cited. He had no idea about first authors on papers and since I had cited them in the format Rob et al., 2010 ect. while he was familiar with the work he had to ask for clarification on many citations. I guess I can understand this as first authors can come and go, while good labs stick around. It struck me at the time, however, that even if I had a Nature paper like one I had cited, PIs in the field wouldn't remember it as my work.

David said...

Thanks for posting this.

I've seen so many corrupt and troubling issues in health and medicine that it makes me cynical at times.

That said, I can't forget reading a book Dr. Avorn wrote a great book on Prescription Medications where he made the point, rather vividly, that most of the time medicine and science is for the good.