A vanity publication

Current Biology used to be an independent outfit until, probably due to its relative success, was taken over by Elsevier. Nevertheless, Geoff North, its seasoned editor, managed to keep some autonomy from the better known sibling journals, particularly the Cell family, in the way it is run and the topics it picks up for publication. It is not a bad journal and is much appreciated as part of the second tier to which many authors turn when their papers are rejected from the higher end of the market we have created. Geoff North has some things in common with other editors but others, most notably his long experience in the trade, are different. However, it is clear that as in many facets one has to defend the realm and a few days ago he published, in his own journal, a signed editorial saying, amidst much food for thought, that blogging is ‘vanity publishing’ (http://bit.ly/13KavrE). I do not know what he was reacting to (though I have been told that some internet criticism of some Current Biology papers might have been a trigger for this) but this was surprising and, perhaps, one step too far in a direction which we must redress. Who are these people?

It is not the first time that an editor writes an editorial or a review on their own journal (G. North does it regularly in Current Biology) and while there is nothing wrong with this (other than the small fact that if you tried to publish the same thing in that journal you might have a hard time), it is what he says and the manner in what he says it, that is alarming and dangerous. He is using his own journal, with all the power that we have given him, and it, through our work, to criticize our right to express ourselves in the media that technology and the times have created for us. The act of blogging, which is by now well established in all aspects of life is being called ‘vanity publication’ by someone who is using, as Casey Bergmann put it in Twitter, his own pulpit –which is not open to people- to criticize, denying others the use of an open pulpit. This is more serious than it sounds because it shows to what degree we are allowing journals to run our professional lives. Not all journals are the same, not all editors are the same but perhaps people should realize the degree of trouble that is in here. We are already patronized in the editorial rejection letters that come back 24/48 hours after submission to those journals, we are patronized when our papers are rejected after two or three rounds of review because we have failed to do one more experiment suggested by a fourth reviewer, we are patronized at meetings when we are told how good or bad our work is, how many more experiments we need to do for a submission, we are patronized on how to present our data, write our papers, do our experiments, carry out our work………..increasingly journals are telling us how to do Science and what science to do. And now we are told that the only vehicle for our thoughts and science is The Journals, Those Journals. How much more of our intellectual independence are we prepared to give up?

I do not believe in a Science without Journals. At this moment such thing is a Utopia which would be foolish to try to implement as it would break the community into two: those who will go for it because either intellectually or economically have to (remember that, increasingly in order to publish you need to pay for which you need grants which you only get if you publish…….in the right journals) and the others which are the same i.e. the rich get richer. What can we do? This is food for thought but maybe we need to teach the journals whose show is it. We need to start educating the journals and reverse the process which they have inadvertently established over the last twenty odd years. How? Think carefully where you submit your papers, refuse to undergo more than one round of reviews, remember DORA and use it.