Scientific journals no longer necessary?

The monumental Pubpeer thread about Stirling et al Arxiv article “”Critical assessment of the evidence for striped nanoparticles”, currently submitted to PloS One,  started with some discussions on the theme “Why PloS One and not one of the shiny journals in which the stripy papers have been published?“. Two hundred and forty comments later, it has now taken yet a new turn: “why publish in scientific journals at all?“, asks Peer 8.

Peer 8:
 ( March 8th, 2014 2:05pm UTC )
First of all I apologize for making this thread even longer by getting away from the science and asking this here (it would be nice if PubPeer had some sort of open forum where we could discuss issues like this instead of littering the discussion of these data). Second, I apologize for any aggression perceived in my tone below. It is not directed at the authors.I am interested to know why Moriarty et al. bother with publishing in PLoS at this point. Publishing in journals exists to get the data seen by those who might be interested to see them. However, it seems like most of the relevant people in the field have seen or heard of these data and this discussion by now. The journal is no longer necessary for these data. Are you submitting it to PLoS just so it looks better on your CVs? Or do you feel that it will add some sort of validation of these results, beyond what has been shown here in this thread?

To me it seems like what you have done here should be THE only way to “publish” data. Put it up on a server, invite those who might be interested in it to write a review of it, and that’s it. If we all did it like you have, and as a result took journal names off of our CVs, we would force evaluation committees to EVALUATE our research instead of just ranking us by journal name.

This would eliminate journals (and publishing costs). It would eliminate evaluation of our research by bullshit metrics (e.g. reading the name of the journal on a CV). It would also greatly reduce the boys-club mentality that allowed this striped nanoparticle issue to propagate for so long.

Philip Moriarty:
 ( March 8th, 2014 4:38pm UTC )
@Peer 8.Very interesting points and I have some sympathy with your views. But we are a very, very long way away from being at the point where the scientific community as a whole accepts PubPeer and similar sites as being a “reputable” means of scientific debate.

Francesco Stellacci and a number of his co-workers, for example, have clearly said that the “proper” means of scientific criticism is via the traditional peer-review literature. I have heard the same message from quite a few others who have been following this debate.

I have said elsewhere (see ) that we need to embed the type of online discussion process enabled by PubPeer et al. within the traditional peer-reviewed publication system. Having PubPeer exist in a parallel online universe, disconnected from the journals themselves, is somewhat problematic in my opinion.

Optimistically, it is going to take at least a generation – at the very earliest – before we evolve away from such nonsensical metrics as impact factors and H-indices. What happens to the generation of postdocs vying for permanent academic positions while that evolution happens?

For very similar reasons I can’t, in all conscience, commit to the Schekman boycott of Nature, Science. See this comment for more detail:

Peer 8:
 ( March 8th, 2014 8:34pm UTC )
So it seems that your answer is that you are submitting it to PLoS to make your student’s and postdoc’s CVs look better and that publishing in a journal somehow makes the data more “reputable”. It is really sad that it has come to this and none of us are willing to stand up to it.I believe that you are correct: if we all wait for everyone else to take a stand it will take at least a generation to change.

Peer 4:
 ( March 9th, 2014 1:46am UTC )
@Peer8: The problems of academic publishing are already much in discussion, and many of the arguments can be found online in favour of a gradual transition to newer media. I can say for myself that not publishing in any peer-reviewed journal from now on would be a guaranteed way to kill my career on the spot. Any drastic changes could come only from well-established (dare I say “old”?) researchers, but the younger ones have no such choice.Additionally, I don’t think you can fault Moriarty and co. for publishing this work in a peer-reviewed journal. Particularly as the “opposition” has indicated that they will not take anything seriously *unless* published in a peer-reviewed journal. Failing to publish the critical work in such a journal would then provide another way for the opposition to dismiss the work.

You and I are not alone in voicing our discontent with the world of academic publishing. But this is not the place or the topic to discuss these issues in. All we can do is do our best to provide and use excellent alternatives alongside, and gradually encourage the rest to do the same.

Philip Moriarty:
 ( March 9th, 2014 5:43pm UTC )
@Peer 8.There were two aspects of my response to you. The first of these was indeed the fact that to not publish would mean career death for the PhD students and postdocs in the group.

My second point is just as important, however. It will always be important to write up results and publish them (either online or otherwise) in a “digestible” form. This thread, for example, is virtually unreadable due to the scattered arguments and discussions, and, of course, the “filibustering” of a certain contributor. For anyone trying to understand the multiple flaws in Stellacci et al’s data, they would have to do an awful lot of work to glean that information from this comments thread.

Discussion threads alone will therefore not be enough. They must be accompanied by scientific articles which aim to summarise key findings/ critiques in a readable fashion. This is why I said that the way scientific publishing should evolve is to incorporate “PubPeer”-esque comments threads on papers alongside the more traditional aspects of peer review. See for more.

Peer 8:
 ( March 9th, 2014 8:04pm UTC )
“It will always be important to write up results and publish them (either online or otherwise) in a “digestible” form. “I of course agree with this completely. My point is that you could do that with the arXiv (as you have done up until this point with these data). This discussion thread, although difficult to follow, is a great compliment to those “published” data and adds a layer of validation to the data. I really don’t think publishing them in PLoS One now is going to help your students/postdocs anymore than what you have already accomplished here and with the arXiv.

I agree with Peer 4 that this is not the place for this discussion (…now that I have had the last word 🙂 ).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.