More Editorial Board Fun: Is the Journal of Neuroscience Interested in Behavioral Pharmacology Again?

It is no secret (although a much ignored fact) that journals will have a certain "type" of article that they are looking for that has little to do with objective scientific quality. Certain topics are "hot" while others that are not obviously different (from a detached scientific perspective) are not. Even "general" science or sub-discipline general (such as "general neuroscience") journals will experience trends in which a certain technique or set of techniques are acceptable and others are not. For example RPM at evolgen has an observation about Tyrannosaur papers being published in Science (one of two top general-science journals). These trends are independent of the real scientific quality or potential for impact and change over time. For example, it was not so long ago that knock-out-gene-and-vaguely-describe-mouse was a killer C/N/S publication strategy.
Oftentimes the structural preference for a certain type of manuscript translates as HotNewTechnique = Publishable and OldSkoole = AutoReject, but not always. Sometimes it is OldSkoole Technique A = Publishable and OldSkoole Technique B = Teh Suckzzs. Which brings me to The Journal of Neuroscience.


The Journal of Neuroscience is the society journal of the gignormous Society for Neuroscience. As such it is the "neuroscience" journal for many people, regardless of impact factor or other pseudo-objective measures of journal status and quality. And for a very long time I noticed a curious fact: J Neuro hates behavioral pharmacology!
Most readers are aware that my major scientific focus is in the realm of behavioral pharmacology. Which can be described as "give 'em a drug and see how they behave" (that's my barstool version, like it?). The experimental subjects can be anything from Homo to Drosophila and C. elegans but in the vast majority of cases we are talking about rats and mice and an unending array of behavioral (and physiological) assays. The "drugs" I focus on in this blog are recreational drugs of abuse, sure, but more generally there are an array of compounds which are used simply as tools to manipulate the chemical signaling systems of the brain. With a good deal of creativity in experimental design, access to selective chemical "tools" and validated behavioral assays, the behavioral pharmacologist can explicate a great deal about the way the brain manages to accomplish many of its fascinatingly complex tasks. This latter, btw, is "neuroscience", in my view.
Over the past few decades that I've been involved in research that in most cases falls under the general description of "neuroscience" I've noticed that J Neurosci has a fairly high threshold for behavioral pharmacology papers. Naturally this is by way of contrast with other types of papers. The easiest targets are single-unit brain recording and brain lesion studies. I find these to be reasonably comparable techniques with respect to the scope of what is determined and what is left to "caveat". Not the same caveats or levels of description but on the whole behavioral pharmacology, single-unit and lesion studies seem to occupy a similar level on the hierarchy of scientific depth/generalizability.


[ As a very brief sidebar on what I'm talking about here, with behavioral pharmacology experiments you are frequently giving drug in a way that the whole brain (and body) gets exposed. So you have a lack of specificity to brain region. In a lesion study, you might have very good control over the brain region, but these regions are inhabited with a diversity of neuron types which use different neurochemical message systems, sometimes several within a single neuron. Single-unit recording tells you about the electrical signaling properties of a specific cells but you can only sample a tiny minority of the neurons in a given region. Etc. ]


I found it very curious for at least a couple of decades that the most seemingly pedestrian and scope-limited lesion-and-memory-assay and single-unit-and-sensory-task papers appeared endlessly while the only behavioral pharmacology papers that appeared in J Neurosci were very involved indeed.
Now it would be one thing if all journals were held to be equal and everyone was able to be evaluated on the more objective nature of their work. How high-quality are the experiments, how replicable, how much has been explicated and how much has the paper further muddied the waters. Are the experiments likely to be useful and applicable, how much theoretical ground has been covered, now much description of the natural world has been provided. Feel free to generate your own standards of scientific quality that do not focus on fascination with technique or bogus self-referential and circular arguments that you have drilled down to "biological mechanism" or some such dodge. (After all there are always the chemists and fizzycysts to hand you your "mechanism" hat...) If this were the case, one might simply point to a journal focused on behavioral pharmacology neuroscience and say, "well, that's your journal".
As we all know, this is not the way the world works. The way the world works is that bioscientists tend to be evaluated as much (if not more) on the basis of the journal in which s/he has published as on the basis of what they have actually accomplished scientifically. Herein lies a problem if a journal that occupies a unique standing in the field (which I argue J Neurosci does) is sort of categorically opposed to certain types of work. Naturally, I am arguing here that the acceptable/unacceptable OldSkoole techniques are scientifically equivalent, other issues being equal; I am sure disagreement will erupt in the comments!
This is why it is with great interest that I read over the Editorial Board for J Neurosci and found people that I would describe as being as much behavioral pharmacologists as anything else. People such as Marina R. Picciotto, one of the three Senior Editors for Behavioral/Systems/Cognitive neuroscience. As well as Jane R. Taylor, one of the Reviewing Editors. Additional Associate Editors such as Adrian Owen, Linda Porrino, Yavin Shaham and Charles Bradberry also caught my eye.
Obviously these are relatively senior investigators who have published a broad array of work using a diversity of techniques, otherwise they would not be editors for such a journal. My point is that they are investigators who have been involved with behavioral pharmacological investigations in a substantial way and might be presumed to have an understanding and appreciation of what such paradigms and models can contribute. Click on the links and review their works on PubMed- you will see what I mean.
This is good news for behavioral pharmacology and for behavioral pharmacologists.

8 responses so far

  • blehhh says:

    that can't be the reason why there's so much crap in j. neurosci these days...

  • Fred says:

    Do you "use" a lot of "quotes" in your "grants" and "manuscripts"?

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Fred, it is well "established" fact that editors and grant "reviewers" ♥ the liberal use of quotes (and not to mention parenthetical "diversions") in grants and manuscripts. What's the problem?

  • blehhh says:

    To be honest, I hardly noticed DM's usage of quotation marks until you pointed them out. Maybe I've been too long in the business.
    I refrained from using quotes in this entire comment.

  • JSinger says:

    For example RPM at evolgen has an observation about Tyrannosaur papers being published in Science (one of two top general-science journals). These trends are independent of the real scientific quality or potential for impact and change over time.
    In all seriousness: if you can't get a paper on comparative protein sequencing of mammoth and T-Rex fossils into Science or Nature, what the hell is the point of being a scientist? I only regret that the author felt it necessary to show up to defend the flimsy premise used to turn that project into a paper.
    Well, that, and also it always irritates the hell out of me when researchers blame "the press" for uncritically repeating things out of their own press releases.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I think at least one of RPM's points was that a similar paper that described some obscure medium sized sauropod and a similarly obscure Ice Age mammal it wouldn't have been worthy of a GlamourMag. Nor would a scientifically more interesting one focused similarly on species which do not capture popular attention. The fact that people are fascinated by certain huge or otherwise charismatic species has exactly zero to do with scientific quality.

  • JSinger says:

    I think at least one of RPM's points was that a similar paper that described some obscure medium sized sauropod and a similarly obscure Ice Age mammal it wouldn't have been worthy of a GlamourMag.
    Yes, of course not. I have no problem with Nature and Science running a flashy story or two like this in every issue -- it reminds me of why science is fun, and pushing some earnest new finding that I couldn't care less about down to, God forbid, Cell (or its equivalent in other fields) is a price I can live with.
    I forget if it was you or Physioprof who was holding forth a while ago on how first authorship was important because it showed how the person was capable of somehow snagging first authorship. Well, Dr. HowDareTheMediaRelyOnMyPressRelease managed to snag this, no? You and RPM could have done the same.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I have no problem with Nature and Science running a flashy story or two like this in every issue -- it reminds me of why science is fun,
    Oh, don't get me wrong. I love big-ass-carnivorous-dinosaur articles in S/N too. No doubt. What I have a problem with is our tendency to evaluate the scientific quality of contributions on the basis of where it is published. To start to value novelty over importance or quality just because novelty is what is valued by Science or Nature.
    first authorship was important because it showed how the person was capable of somehow snagging first authorship
    I hope I do not come across as criticizing individual scientists for trying to maximize their outcome under the systems we have in place. If I am every quoted suggesting someone should sneer at the opportunity to get their work published as "highly" as they possibly can, look for signs of early dementia.
    I criticize those who intentionally conflate flashy, novel, exclusive, expensive and/or marketable with "quality". To whit the GlamourMagz and those with a vested interest in pumping that circular line of argument. and yes, I realize this last conflicts with the point about individuals maximizing their success but I think you can see the difference between trying to get your best stuff into the viewed-as-best journal and actually believing that where you manage to get your stuff published tells you how good it is....

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