On Mon, Apr 08, 2013 at 01:55:22PM -0400, John Clark wrote:
> You want to bet? I mean it, I'll bet you that there is a 50% chance that at
> least one of the next Nobel Prizes will be for work first publised in
> Science or Nature and a 0% chance it was for stuff published in PLoS

I will not be taking the bet, for the following reasons:

Firstly, we agree on the latter clause - there is an infinitesimal
chance that any particular named open-access journal (eg PLoS)
will scoop the Nobel prize - approaching zero in limit of an infinity
of journals, so the bet should only be about the first clause.

Secondly, it will take an enormous amount of effort to establish that
the research was in fact published first in Nature or Science, rather
than merely been cited there. It would involve reviewing all of the
thousands of journals out there (as historically, it is often the
second or third guy that thinks of an idea that gets the credit) to
see if anyone has published the idea in any form whatsoever. Its not
impossible - something like a Google Scholar scale of big data
computation will make it feasible, but it will require writing custom
tools, getting both of us to agree on the methodology, and well to be
frank - I have other things to do with my time.

> Those journals have not changed their policy in decades yet it's in them we
> first learned why the stars shine, that DNA contains the information in
> life and told us its shape and how it reproduced, told us about the
> existence of the neutron which led to nuclear bombs and power,  told us
> about the first animal to be cloned,  told us that continents moved, that a
> huge asteroid crashed into Mexico  66 million years ago, that most of the
> matter in existence is made of some strange invisible stuff, that neutrinos
> have mass and oscillate, that the universe is not only expanding but
> accelerating, that a quantum computer could factor numbers mush faster than
> a regular computer. All those big things were first published in Science or
> Nature, why is that going to change now that the world is awash in junk
> science articles?

I don't know that your first claim is correct "Those journals have not
changed their policy in decades", but I do know that if "the world is
awash in junk science articles" now, and wasn't in the past, then it
is highly likely you'll need to change your policy to cope. Just like
we (almost) all use spam filters these days, but didn't 10 years ago.

The policy I'm referring to (editorial rejection based on perceived
interest or status) seems likely to be a reaction to the very "junk
science" problem you mention.

> > > What's somewhat disturbing is that a lot of middle ranked journals are
> > now doing the same
> Because crappy articles vastly outnumber even mediocre articles, and there
> are not enough mediocre outside judges to read all the stuff that is sent
> to mediocre journals.

Yes - and believe it or not, I've seen plenty of articles in Nature
that I would have rejected as obvious crap if I was refereeing the
papers. I don't recall having read much in Science, fo some reason,
and I don't recall having read a Nature article for about 10 years so
- most of the stuff I'm interested in appear in specialty journals,
although usually I read them from arXiv.  Peer review is hardly
perfect, but doing without it would probably be worse.

What I am saying is in this wired world, where journal space is not a
scarce resource, papers should only be rejected for obvious scientific
reasons (which deals with most of the pseudo science rubbish,
actually), or for being off-topic (Science should quite rightly reject
humanities papers, for instance). Other papers, where there are doubts
or confusion, should be subject to the author adequately addressing
the referees' criticisms.

Furthermore, with Google, or Google Scholar, and arXiv, you don't need
the status of Nature or Science to make your article visible or
cited. Good science will get cited, no matter where it is published
(even arXiv articles get cited, where relevant). It does help for
visibility to "network, network, network", of course - present at
conferences, seek out scientific leaders and establish relationships,
and so on - all of which can be hard work, but I seriously doubt a
Nature or Science article will help.

Where it clearly does help is in applying for tenure. Universities
love the prestige that Nature or Science brings. But I don't think
that helps science as a whole to advance


Prof Russell Standish                  Phone 0425 253119 (mobile)
Principal, High Performance Coders
Visiting Professor of Mathematics      hpco...@hpcoders.com.au
University of New South Wales          http://www.hpcoders.com.au

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