Thursday, 02 February 2017 09:02

A Zika Paper

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Published in Zika Diaries

Zika veroOur tiny Zika laboratory has been working on the virus since the middle of 2016, and we are ready to write a paper describing some of our findings. We are very excited about what we have discovered about Zika virus infection of embryonic mice, and believe that the paper describing this work will have substantial impact the field. Where should we submit the paper for publication?

The two individuals in my laboratory who have done the Zika virus work, Amy and Audrey, would love, no need, to have a paper in a "high-impact" publication: Nature, Science, or Cell. A publication in one of those journals would help them enormously in obtaining their next positions.
I would rather not submit our paper to one of those journals. Today, I feel that the "luxury" journals have corrupted science publishing and I do not wish to support this activity. However, I admit to having benefitted from publishing in these journals in the past.

Luxury journals are in the business of selling subscriptions. The Cell and Nature journals are owned by for-profit publishing companies, and the drive for profit is not necessarily compatible with the need to publish high-quality science. Editors know that controversial or prominent (e.g., Zika) papers will drive advertising revenue, but this should not even be a consideration when deciding what to publish. Science magazine, which is published by the nonprofit AAAS, seems to be driven by the same corrupting influences.
Decisions at the luxury journals about what papers get published are typically not made by working scientists, but by full-time editors. A professional editor cannot possibly know the field as well as a working scientist, who spends his or her days in the trenches of science: designing experiments, interpreting data, guiding students and postdoctoral fellows, reviewing manuscripts, writing grants, going to meetings, and much more. The result is that the working scientist is fully immersed in science every day, all year, and is in the best position to know what work is significant, biologically correct, advances the field, and should be considered for publication.
I mean no disrespect for the professional editors at these journals: I understand that they need to make a living. But I do not think that their work always benefits the field.
Many of us have had the experience of submitting a paper to Cell, Science, or Nature, only to be told "it’s not of sufficient interest." But the real reason is that the paper won’t sell advertising, or subscriptions; or perhaps the editor who made the decision simply doesn’t understand the field.
It’s no secret that publishing controls our scientific careers. Decisions about hiring, promotion, tenure, and grant funding revolve around what you have published and where, not only the quality of science you do. I’ve also been on many tenure or grant review committees, and it’s common to count the number of Cell, Nature, and Science publications as a metric of quality.
These luxury journals are controlling the careers of scientists. Journals motivated by profit, run by professional editors who are not scientists, are deciding who is hired, promoted, tenured, and who gets grant money.
Unfortunately, this system has been created and nurtured by scientists, and most seem willing to support it because changing it is very difficult.
I prefer journals run by scientists, who act both as editors and reviewers. These include journals of scientific societies, like the American Society for Microbiology and The Microbiology Society; the open-access Public Library of Science (PLoS) Journals, and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. But these aren’t the highest-impact journals, and publishing in them is not sufficient for getting a job, promotion, or grant support.

My lab wants to publish their Zika virus paper in a high-impact journal, and I can’t deny them that wish. My job is to nurture their careers, not jeopardize them because I think that these journals are damaging science.


Last modified on Thursday, 02 February 2017 09:44
Vincent Racaniello

Vincent Racaniello, Ph.D. is Professor of Microbiology at Columbia University Medical Center. As principal investigator of his laboratory, he oversees the research that is carried out by Ph.D. students and postdoctoral fellows. He also teaches virology to graduate students, as well as medical, dental, and nursing students.

Vincent entered the world of social media in 2004 with virology blog, followed by This Week in Virology. Videocasts of lectures from his undergraduate virology course are on iTunes University and virology blog. You can find him on WikipediaTwitter, Facebook, and Instagram. His goal is to be Earth’s virology professor. In recognition of his contribution to microbiology education, he was awarded the Peter Wildy Prize for Microbiology Education by the Society for General Microbiology. His Wildy Lecture provides an overview of how he uses social media for science communication.