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Friday, 17 February 2017 10:00

Publishing Zika

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In response to my last column, "A Zika Paper", in which I discussed my thoughts on the problems with scientific publishing, Kim from Stockholm wrote to the podcast This Week in Virology:

"This Zika Diary post really made me depressed. Vincent, as one of the greatest advocates of bioRxiv, open-access, and non-luxury journals, is now not putting his money where his mouth is. I completely, and 100%, understand the dilemma written in the 'A Zika Paper' post and understand Vincents decision to not jeopardize their careers, but at the same time isn't this action a bit hypocritical?"

"Whose responsibility is it to take this fight against this broken system of publishing and impact factor nonsense?"

Kim, there are plenty of scientists who have the same feelings as I do about the problems with scientific publishing. There are even some scientists who refuse to publish in the luxury journals, and they have my respect. But there will always be many more who continue to publish in the elite journals because their careers depend on them. Indeed, in some countries, one cannot hope to get certain academic jobs without a Cell, Science, or Nature paper!

Changing this decades-old publishing habit will be very difficult, given the size and heterogeneity (with respect to publishing philosophy) of the scientific community. But I think that a recently announced publishing initiative has some promise for breaking the hold of luxury journals on science.

I’m talking about the announcement of a new publishing track by the American Society for Microbiology called mSphereDirect.

The idea for mSpherDirect is that authors will be able to select reviewers of their papers, and then forward the reviews to the journal. The journal will determine if the peer reviews were done well and the results are credible, and decide whether or not to publish the paper based solely on the reviews—not on the opinions of a professional editor.

I like this initiative because it removes the biggest problem with publishing in the luxury journals, which I alluded to last time: they won’t even agree to have your work reviewed!

If you are thinking: this is mSphere, not Cell or Science or Nature, you are correct. But I believe that this new initiative could do very well at mSphere, and I’m hoping that the luxury journals will adopt the same practice in a few years. That might be wishful thinking: these journals likely believe they are doing nothing wrong.

As Stefano Bertuzzi, CEO of ASM wrote about mSphereDirect, "It puts you, the author, in control of your research." If the luxury journals decide that they don’t like this process, we have to conclude that they want to continue controlling our research and our careers.

Last modified on Friday, 17 February 2017 13:21
Vincent Racaniello

Vincent Racaniello is a virologist at Columbia University and science communicator. He is using Zika Diaries to communicate the personal and behind the scenes experiences of his laboratory as it moves from working on poliovirus (for 35 years) to Zika virus.

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