On Scientific Publishing 2

On Scientific Publishing 2

I have been very surprised about the scant response Jordan Raff’s editorial has generated. The reason is that wherever one goes, one always finds people ready to spend a fair amount of time talking about the issue of publishing and peer review so, the lack of a response cannot be due to a lack of interest in the subject. Yes, the web has –as Peter Lawrence points out- many comments on the matter, but few are from what one could call the grass roots of the scientific community. The Node has opened an opportunity to this community but, there is no response.

I can only think of two possible explanations. The first one is that, as a community, we just do not believe that we have a say in how the system that we depend on works.  Basically, that we are resigned, and thereby accepting, of the current situation. I suspect that there is a lot of this but it is not good and it would be a small achievement if we could begin to speak up. It is a matter of ‘speak up or shut up’. The second possibility is that we have not caught up with the way ‘things’ work today. This is a pity because the journals and the science policy makers have caught up with the web 2.0 and related means of communication and this leaves us without an effective voice against theirs. It would be good if people would see that postings and all the paraphernalia that goes with the internet is a way of bringing a voice to the people and, in science, to the base community  that provides the essence of the system. In any event, very disappointing but this should not stop some of us to try to steer some activity.

Over a year ago Michael Eisen in his Blog (It’s not junk) published a piece (http://www.michaeleisen.org/blog/?p=694) in which he gave his views on the, then emerging, problem. The piece was good but, as some of the respondents said, it became a bit of drum beating for PLoS and, while some of the PLoS journals are fine (nobody will deny the impact of PLoS ONE), others have become competitors and imitators of that which they set out to oppose i.e they do what the big journals do, use the community to develop the PLoS business model rather than serve the original aim. Still, I would agree that some PLoS (and I like PLoS Genetics for reasons that I should explain here some day) do make a good contribution to the community, if not to the debate. But on the issue of peer review, which is very much at the heart of many of the publishing troubles,  they are no better (and are showing all the symptoms of catching up the NSC disease) than their competitors. I continue to suggest that they should look up to and adopt the policies of EMBO J.

All this a long preamble to say that the piece did not go very far. It did stimulate a healthy discussion on Michael Eisen’s views (and this is probably the point of a blog) but it did not go further.

It is time that we find a voice that allows our ideas to change the system.