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Hold science journals accountable – or just scrap the system?


This gets kicked around forever, but from Neuroskeptic at Discover blogs, profiling the thoughts of neurobiologist Thomas C. Südhof:

Südhof says that “as ‘voluntary’ action” by the journals seems unlikely, “we should demand rules that inject accountability into the system.”

I agree that if we want scientific journals to be more accountable, we (the scientific community) need to drive this change. But I’m not sure that demanding rules will be enough. Maybe something more akin to ‘direct action’ will be required. Put simply, we could just start holding journals accountable ourselves.

Suppose, for instance, that you as a scientist are unhappy with the quality or policies of a particular journal. Sure, you could complain and demand improvement. But if that doesn’t work, you could put your money where your mouth is and stop submitting papers there, and maybe even stop reading (and citing) papers published there.

Now, depending on the status of the journal, such a boycott might be easier said than done – boycotting Science and Nature might not be great for your career – but if enough people join your boycott it would really pressure that journal to change its ways. More.

Actually, there have been some moves in that direction already. See, for example, Nobelist Randy Shekman boycotting Nature (2013), Another Nobelist denounces peer review (2014), and Biologists go rogue – and publish directly to the internet (2016).

All these clarion calls for reform are stirring but they dance around the issue: Science need no more depend on journal structure as it is now than newsgathering need depend on the daily paper. What replaces it will be more suited to or times, for better or worse.

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