The journals built their reputation by finding good science and publishing it first, becoming the “name brand”. But a brand can throw away its hard won status by lowering quality, raising quantity, and cashing in its capital. By itself, this avarice doesn’t depend on a big shift in culture or in publishing. But when you detect an edge of desperation that seems unnecessarily crass, it’s a sign that there is something very rotten in the state of science publishing.
Normally, a publisher will wine and dine its best customers–and Nobel prize winners are certainly of that sort. So if Science or Nature has ticked off a Nobel prize winner, one can only imagine that some VIP higher up is picking the tune. And given the unholy marriage between leftist politics and big science, that would be some political hack who might not know the difference between a quantum mechanic and a car mechanic, but might know how to get a government loan.
Scientists can be just as irascible as the rest of us, so one irritated scientist is nothing new. But now there are whole communities that are estranged from the gatekeepers at Science and Nature. The brand is taking a major hit, and the bottom line is starting to get affected. The presence of internet data aggregators is making hard copy subscription less and less necessary. Open access publishing seems to be flourishing. I use the New York Times as my classic example. The stock value of the NYT dropped abruptly in 2007 when NYT came out so strongly for the Democratic candidate that it was running opinion pieces on the front page above the fold. At about the same time, the U Penn faculty started buying copies of the NYT for all its students. Desperate tactics like that could hide the fact from its stockholders that circulation was taking a big hit. But the students were mostly uninterested in the paper, and the scheme was a stopgap measure. Nature and Science are showing all the same desperation as the NYT, and like the NYT, blaming it all on the internet. But it is more than the internet. Is the ground shifting under the feet of the gatekeepers?
That ground shift they hear, Rob, is a bunch of trains that have all left the station at once and are heading far, far down the line.
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