Nature offers a completely objective and unbiased review of PLoS

Jul 02 2008 Published by under Biology

A recent naturenews piece by a Declan Butler takes a hard hitting look at the business practices of the Public Library of Science (PLoS). PLoS, as most scientists are aware by now is one of the more obvious examples of the open-access-publishing thing. The Nature empire of science publishing, of course, is an even more obvious standard bearer for the pay-access publishing model.
Since they are in science however, we can expect Nature to be totally objective and to eschew blatantly self-serving editorials and news focus pieces that gratuitously bash the competition. Can't we?


Yeah right. Butler opens with:

Public Library of Science (PLoS), the poster child of the open-access publishing movement, is following an haute couture model of science publishing -- relying on bulk, cheap publishing of lower quality papers to subsidize its handful of high-quality flagship journals.

Hmm, nice tone-setting boyo! Well perhaps I am misinterpreting what appears to be a petty, yellow-journalistic screed. Let's go on, shall we?

But its financial future is looking brighter thanks to a cash cow in the form of PLoS One, an online database that PLoS launched in December 2006. PLoS One uses a system of 'light' peer-review to publish any article considered methodologically sound. In its first full year of operation in 2007, PLoS One published 1,230 articles, which would have generated an estimated $1.54 million in author fees, around half of PLoS's total income that year. By comparison, the 321 articles published in PLoS Biology in 2007 brought in less than half this amount.
From the outset, the company consciously decided to subsidize its top-tier titles by publishing second-tier community journals with high acceptance rates that would be cheaper to produce.

PNAS? And gee, does anyone think of Nature Publishing Group's pay-access competitor Elsevier here? Have you seen their bloody stable of dump journals and below 1 IF sub-sub-sub-sub-specialty journals? In short, the model was set (and in spades) by a fee-access publisher long before PLoS hit the scene.

it has launched four lower-cost journals that are run by volunteer academic editorial teams rather than in-house staff.

He says that like it's a bad thing. Geez d00d, do you understand that one of the biggest knocks on the GlamourMagz is the fact that the editorial decisions aren't being made by respected senior (active, working) scientists? Instead of a bunch of wet-behind-the-ears punks who opted for publishing jobs because they were barely hacking it as postdocs, never mind barely making it as junior faculty? sheesh.
Butler then goes plodding on through a series of analyses that basically break down to "PLoS isn't quite as successful as their initial starry-eyed predictions". Ooooh. Gee. Big hit there! Sounds kinda like any startup business that talks really, really big to get their investors excited, draw attention and attract customers. And then goes on to be viable and successful, albeit maybe not so successful as the initial predictions. So what?
Then there's this:

Papers submitted to PLoS One are sent to a member of its editorial board of around 500 researchers, who may opt to review it themselves or send it to their choice of referee. But referees only check for serious methodological flaws, and not the importance of the result.

HA! What are we up to with the GlamourMagz? A retraction/correction/erratum every other issue? How's Nature doing with making sure that error bars are actually described and appropriate statistics provided (no really, I haven't checked lately; the old answer was ..NOT!)? And how is Nature doing with longitudinal analyses demonstrating that their selection criteria do a good job of identifying "importance of the result" based on the whole population of published articles and their longevity instead of trumpeting the highly skewed Impact Factor / citation numbers? (No really, somebody point me to those analyses. Surely they exist and I've simply missed them).
Anyway, nice analysis of the competition Nature. Not self-serving and nasty spirited in the least.
__
Update: Additional and more thoughtful comment on the matter from Jonathan Eisen, Frontal Blogotomy, Greg Laden and Razib.
Update2: More from Mike Dunford, Bill Hooker and Mr. Online Community Manager for PLoS-ONE himself.

41 responses so far

  • neurolover says:

    I too noticed, the shall we say, less than objective tone in that article.
    But, I disagree with you about the "wet behind the ears" professional editors at Nature Neuro & Nature. I think they compare favorably to the unpaid, non-professional, volunteer editors at some other journals. It depends on who you draw, and I think, it depends on how many submissions they are getting. My guess is that J Neurosci (and it's high IF) is getting too many submissions for the unpaid volunteer editors to be able to do their jobs properly, even if they wanted to.
    It also probably depends on the character of the senior folks in the field -- are they "good" people or not?

  • I have decided based on Nature's logic to go out and buy up all the Betamax tapes I can get. VHS. DVDs. Who cares if they succeeded? Success is the new failure.

  • somebody says:

    When was the last time a major publishing house published a piece that claimed to be an "analysis" of the financials of a competitor? When was the last time the ethical standing of a publishing house was measured by how much profit they made, or at least, the comparison was made as though provit = doing the right thing?
    WTF?
    I am signing this post anonymously because I'm writing something on this topic and I don't want anyone to know what I am thinking .... yet....

  • bill says:

    Um, Greg...

  • Mad Hatter says:

    a bunch of wet-behind-the-ears punks who opted for publishing jobs because they were barely hacking it as postdocs, never mind barely making it as junior faculty?
    Now here's an example of a "completely objective and unbiased review"!
    I happen to have worked with one of those "wet-behind-the-ears punks" before he became an editor. He was a fantastic academic scientist and his taking an editorial position had absolutely nothing to do with lack of ability to hack it in academia.
    Seriously, it's because people make sweeping judgmental statements like this that grad students and postdocs have to turn to anonymous blogs to get information on non-academic tt careers.

  • bill says:

    Gotta say, I'm with the Hatter on this one. That comment does not sit well with me. People choose jobs outside of academic research for a variety of reasons, not simply because they couldn't hack it. Other careers have value too.

  • Chris says:

    Another hat tip to Hatter. The jab at editors was uncalled for.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Mad Hatter's taking me to task for this over at Alternative Scientist, y'all might want to go look 🙂
    http://alternative-scientist.blogspot.com/2008/07/same-old-shit.html

  • JSinger says:

    I know one person each at C, N and S; one was a superb grad student and the other two did entirely creditable work in very demanding labs. None would have had any trouble "hacking it as postdocs".

  • neurolover says:

    But, Drugmonkey, you should be taken to task here -- this is in fact one of the biggest problems facing "alternative careers" -- the perception that they are for those who failed in other endeavors, and you slipped into the mindset, as an aside, without even thinking about it.
    The other question you're asking is who makes a better editor/decision maker. The practicing senior scientist, or the more junior professional editor. I think a lot depends on the senior scientist. There are senior scientists who are team players trying to advance the field to the best of their ability, and they can make great editors. I can think of two I've dealt with who I think qualify. They try to do this while doing their real day jobs, though, so sometimes they can't give it as much time as they'd like. But, there are also senior scientists whose main reason to be an editor is to advance themselves, and the people they consider part of their team. So, where do the professional editors fall in this distribution?

  • DrugMonkey says:

    neurolover for the group: But, Drugmonkey, you should be taken to task here -- this is in fact one of the biggest problems facing "alternative careers" -- the perception that they are for those who failed in other endeavors, and you slipped into the mindset, as an aside, without even thinking about it.
    Sure, not dodging, just wanted everyone to go play over on Alternative Scientist too.
    Okay, on reflection and in consideration of Mad Hatter's and the rest of your excellent points- yes, what I wrote contributes to the anti-Alternative Scientist career feeling. This was not my intent and was a BadThing for me to do.
    I know one person each at C, N and S; one was a superb grad student and the other two did entirely creditable work in very demanding labs. None would have had any trouble "hacking it as postdocs".
    "Some of my closest friends are..." Seriously, I'm not completely talking out of thin air here but you'll have to trust me on that.
    The other question you're asking is who makes a better editor/decision maker. The practicing senior scientist, or the more junior professional editor. I think a lot depends on the senior scientist. There are senior scientists who are team players trying to advance the field to the best of their ability, and they can make great editors. ...But, there are also senior scientists whose main reason to be an editor is to advance themselves, and the people they consider part of their team. So, where do the professional editors fall in this distribution?
    Indeed this is my real problem. I don't have any use for professional editors who are making accept/deny judgments. None. And when it comes to CNS, GlamourMagz, etc, well the best analogy I can come up with is that infamous scene where Jon Stewart took that little toerag Tucker Carlson and the punditard Bagalia to task on Crossfire. This Butler piece is very much in the same mold as sniggering Inside-the-Beltway self-congratulatory punditry if you ask me. Stop it. Just stop it, Nature.
    I am not saying all senior or so-called "working" scientists are better. Nor that all professional editor types are incompetent. Not at all. It is the systematic effect to which I object. On the whole I'd rather a real peer-review process. Which requires, you know, actual peers.
    And like it or not, more-junior scientists who go off to a GlamourMag editorial office are going to be more likely to be swayed by "the system" at work. Those that want to change it don't last. So we end up with a clonal system. Who, I would submit, are more likely to still be believers in the Glamour = BetterScience falsity, more likely to GlamourLabPI's shit don't stink, etc. In short less likely to have a realistic view of what is important in the global enterprise of science. I was a big believer in the so-called objective measures of "merit" and "quality" and all that crap at times in the past. I find that part of my maturation process is disabusing myself of much of my prior naive convictions.
    I much prefer a system of rotating academic editors, at least the biases of a journal can be changed for new ones in the course of anyone's career.

  • neurolover says:

    DrugMonkey:
    I disagree with you on the editors at the GlamourMag. I think the problem I see is that peer review is great, if the peers are able to be objective, but I think there's a tendency for folks to loose objectivity when the competition gets fierce (even the more honorable ones). So, although actually practicing in the field means that you are the best qualified to judge the work, it also means that you are most affected by the competition. That's the problem I have with "peer" review.
    The professional editors have the objectivity of playing in a different competition.
    The thing is the main goal is to try to highlight the best science, so that it is easily found by others (right?). It could be that eventually other methods, other than editors making the decisions about the work will be used for academic publishing. For example, PLOSOne, w/ some forms of linkage analysis that get you to the work you find interesting, and that's important for the field.
    But, as long as we have editors, I think you have to balance the deeper knowledge of the working scientist against the lack of competition felt by the professional editor, the lack of detailed knowledge of junior editors against the lack of attachment to any one field or idea.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    The professional editors have the objectivity of playing in a different competition.
    and if this "different competition" is totally and absolutely antithetical to ideals of the scientific enterprise?
    This "different competition" of which you speak is what drives first-over-better, star-farking, competitive publication races, the phenomenon of "scooping" and all kinds of other bad stuff that is very bad or science.

  • neurolover says:

    Yeah, but so is the kind of bias that has you suppressing or discouraging the work of juniors in your field because you don't like the competition. Both are just as antithetical to science.
    I got annoyed at the characterization of the professional editors, who are real people, with real abilities, but I don't disagree with your concern about glamor-mags. My problem is that I don't think the society journals are a solution, either.
    I'm looking forward to the day when people judge the scientific value of work for themselves, and using a broad-based peer review system. I like the post-publication peer review system, and my dream is that PLoS One will one day become something like that. I found 2 interesting manuscripts when I dropped by. And, both have long enough submission v acceptance dates that it suggests to me that they really have been reviewed. Nature's article and it's allegation of "light" review was one of the most offensive parts of their article. It seems to me that that's where the peer should play the most significant role -- in vetting the methodology and accuracy of the science. When that's been done, we should be able to judge the importance ourselves, no? I like neither the peer reviewer, the peer editor, nor the professional editor making that decision for me.
    The old system is going to be broken, I think; the question is how to replace it with something that doesn't break down the concept of peer review for accuracy, too.

  • juniorprof says:

    And, both have long enough submission v acceptance dates that it suggests to me that they really have been reviewed
    PLoS One clearly states on their website that submitted manuscripts will be peer reviewed they just ask that reviewers not comment on the potential importance of the work but review the manuscripts for accuracy and veracity of the claims. Basically the same as any other review you might do minus the comments on how exciting (or boring) the data is. I have reviewed a couple of papers now for PLoS One and the process was no different than at any other journal. There was a back and forth in revisions and now the papers are published. One thing I particularly like is that my peer review comments (for the last revision) are appended to the paper as a comment (and it says that the comment is from a referee. I think that is a good idea and it is also useful to the readers (especially trainees) of the manuscript.

  • juniorprof says:

    ndeed this is my real problem. I don't have any use for professional editors who are making accept/deny judgments. None. And when it comes to CNS, GlamourMagz, etc, well the best analogy I can come up with is that infamous scene where Jon Stewart took that little toerag Tucker Carlson and the punditard Bagalia to task on Crossfire. This Butler piece is very much in the same mold as sniggering Inside-the-Beltway self-congratulatory punditry if you ask me. Stop it. Just stop it, Nature.
    Completely agree. Nothing more to add.

  • bill says:

    Stop it. Just stop it, Nature.
    Great minds/fools. I was going to call my entry "You're hurting science" but I wasn't sure anyone else would make the connection.

  • Art says:

    Regarding PLoS One - a quick and dirty analysis using Publish or Perish (ISI doesn't index PLoS One) shows that PLoS One papers do get cited, at respectable levels. for the 1000 papers that came up for years 2006-2007, the h-index was 16; for 2007-2008, the number was 13. The highest cited paper was a 2007 paper, cited 52 times. For comparison, PNAS gave numbers of 54 and 28 for the same periods, and PLoS Biology (Impact Factor of 14.1) 11 and 6.
    This is quick and dirty - PoP only returns 1000 papers per query, and I don't know how these are chosen when more than 1000 exist. But nonetheless it is very clear that PLoS One papers are read and cited. In fact, it's cited as often as the "higher-impact" PLoS Biology, and I suspect much more often than the second-tier journals associated with Nature Publishing.
    As far as the quality of the reviews for PLoS One, I recommend that readers peruse the reviews that are posted. They don't pull punches, and often contain insights that readers should be privy to.
    Disclaimer - I am a coauthor on a PLoS One paper.

  • Evans B says:

    Drugmonkey, your analysis is spot on. Really in bad taste and shows the fear Nature has of open-access. I guess they gave up on attacking the open-access peer-review head-on at the behest of their lawyers and turned instead to this half-hearted attempt. I'd be interested to see, on the same graph as in their article, Nature's income and expenditures, but that isn't publicly available is it?

  • MarcoW says:

    I've enjoyed reading the comments posted here. I was really quite shocked by the news piece in Nature - was that really necessary? I sent a manuscript to PLoS ONE last year. The peer review process was as rigorous as any jorunal I've submitted to. We had to repeat some experiments and it took 4 months to please the editor/reviewers. I think, we'll see this type of journal flourish over the long run. I thing the time is ripe to de-link the quality of an individual article from the journal it is published in.

  • Becca says:

    *I totally agree that "news story" sounds like absolutely asinine, childish trash.
    *I'm not sure I see how professional editorial staff causes problems with things like "scooping", but if they do, you are right to object to them.
    *I think you are off the mark when you say it isn't "real peer review" because it does get sent out to real peers- usually the best the editor can find. A good editor (in either the professional or working scientist flavor) can help that process immensely.
    *I think you are totally out of line when you describe editors are punks who can't hack it being junior faculty. (I commented over Alternative Scientist about that)

  • DrugMonkey says:

    *I'm not sure I see how professional editorial staff causes problems with things like "scooping", but if they do, you are right to object to them.
    really? when it is a policy of the journal to reject an article solely because something too similar has already been published mere weeks or months beforehand, where the work is obviously so involved and complicated that it could not have been mere copying...this isn't causally related? When journals have a policy of co-publishing related stuff instead of just letting the natural process take it's course? When rumor of competing journals having similar stuff ready to publish alters the acceptance/publication timeline? None of that could possible contribute to the many problems surrounding the "scooped" phenomenon?
    *I think you are off the mark when you say it isn't "real peer review" because it does get sent out to real peers
    who are you talking to here? me? I didn't say anything about this.
    *I think you are totally out of line when you describe editors are punks who can't hack it being junior faculty.
    and I'm amazed at how kindly you put this given your frequently excellent smackdowns, I suppose I should be grateful!

  • bill says:

    While we're piling on DM :-), I have a question related to Becca's third * -- don't in-house editors mostly co-ordinate review between peers? I'm not aware of any journal where mss are routinely reviewed only by in-house staff, unless you count the infamous slam-dunk process at PNAS.

  • TreeFish says:

    Wah, wah, fuckin' wah. Go blow some damn fireworks off you suckholes! (That's in honor of PhysioProf's spiritual mentor, Ben Franklin).
    On issue: I think the peeps at Nature Neuroscience and Neuron are doing an astounding job of editing. Emilie Marcus, now at Cell I think, KICKED-MOTHERFUCKING-ASS in Tom Carew's lab. Go read her string of J Neurosci papers when she was a grad student. Go do it...now. PubMed Carew TJ AND marcus. Then read.
    Maybe neuroscience has been a bit resistant to the editors-are-failed-scientists couture. It certainly seems the case with Katja Brose, Emilie Marcus, and Annette Markus (Noah "Dude, where's my PDZ domain" Gray is still too new to judge...beside the cheap shot. Though he has a wonderful paper on the dynamics of PSD-95 sequestering in dendritic spines).
    Let's face it, though, regardless of who is editing your goddamn paper, you're gonna be pissed when it gets rejected; or some stencil-stached wenker publishes imaging studies of people getting handjobs (J Neurosci). We can't blame it all on the editors, taking them to task with ad hominem attacks. If the paper is a clean spoke in an elaborate wheel, then it goes to Neuron=Nature Neuroscience>J Neurosci. If it truly is a paradigm shifting study, it's more likely to go to CNS.
    Gordon Shepard (the senior Yale-ite) said a great thing a few years back at a lecture at SFN, talking about his career and how the cranky, womanizing polyester suit wearing tea-drinking ballsniffers scoffed at his picture of a dendrite synapsing with another dendrite: "Nobody wanted to believe it. I couldn't publish it. So, under pressure to publish so I could get tenure, I published it in Yale journal for their medical school. *dramatic pause* To this day, that's my most cited and most requested paper. Sometimes, time is the best editor."
    His electron micrograph of a dendro-dendritic synapse turned the field on its head...and it was published in the niche-iest of niche journals. Just publish the goddamn paper and leave your complaints about the editors, the reviewers, and the whole review process in that last half-mouthful of your 10th Boddington's.
    Scientists or alternotists, people who have to make decisions are apt to make wrong ones here and there.
    Happy 4th everyone! Go throw some jumping-jacks up in the air and run like hell! And have a cigarette...

  • Becca says:

    *Do journals reject things that "aren't novel enough" because they have professional editors, or do they have professional editors because they reject things that "aren't novel enough"?
    Generally speaking, I think if you don't get published in a glamor mag because you weren't novel enough, you don't have trouble getting published elsewhere- I don't see that kind of getting scooped as being the most damaging.
    You can argue that scientists put way too much weight on whether you published in a glamor mag, or whether you published first, but I don't think you can pin that on the professional editors. If they're at a glamormag, it's kind of their job to figure out what is most novel.
    I also don't understand your objection to the co-publishing stuff- how is that caused by professional editorial staff, and why is it bad? It seems to me it actually prevents getting 'scooped'.
    *I think the "real peer review" comment was tangential. I was probably conflating "professional editors aren't scientists (my peers) and shouldn't be deciding what gets published!" with "journals with professional editors don't do peer review right".
    *Becca's Excellent Smackdowns (tm). Now, with all the sarcasm of PP, but none of the pottymouth!

  • A former Nature editor says:

    D00d,
    You would deserve a lot more respect if you didn't resort to a horrible and nasty tone yourself. You might have good points to make, but we can't read them through all your flames.
    Here's some actual facts:
    --academia is now the "alternative career." Statistics from the UCSF career center show that by far the majority of PhD's are going into non-faculty positions.
    --you really should have looked at the CVs of some of the editors at these journals before making your rude and inappropriate comments about them. It's comments like yours (I am desperately refraining from saying "people like you") that perpetuate the stereotype of closed-minded academics who only respect people just like them.
    --you know why editors at Nature or Science or Cell can't also be "working scientists" most of the time? Because we get so many bloody submissions and spend so much of our time advising fellow scientists that there's no way we could run a lab too. We have so much more GOOD influence over the way that science comes out in the end than you will ever know. We pick the referees who we know will request specific experiments or steer the paper/authors in a good direction. Then we get feedback that the paper and field were so much more improved as a result. In some cases we work with authors for YEARS before papers are submitted to suggest experiments and lines of thought. The difference between editors at this level and PI's essentially comes down to the fact that we do the same work behind the scenes and don't need to jump up and down taking credit for it.
    --I was an editor at Nature until recently, and I gave a talk that showed why impact factors were not statistically sound, and called for new measures of "impact" to be invented and used by everyone. I gave this talk at over *thirty different scientific institutions* during my time there. Nature itself, and the research journals, have also had editorials on the same topic.
    --You probably know, but don't state here, that by far most corrigenda and errata are extremely minor issues like an author's name misspelled or a figure legend with a slight misprint. To link them with retractions is farcical. And, being the smart person you are, I am sure you know that editors and referees can only do so much to prevent retractions; if people set out to cheat the process, they unfortunately most likely will be able to do so, no matter what journal.
    If you value research as much as you say you do, then I would humbly suggest you do some of it before you spout off.

  • PhysioProf says:

    The difference between editors at this level and PI's essentially comes down to the fact that we do the same work behind the scenes and don't need to jump up and down taking credit for it.

    Dude, put down the fucking crack pipe. Seriously.

  • mad - says:

    @bill: most submissions to glamor-mags are triaged by the in-house professional editors based on their assessment of the paper's impact (and not its scientific soundness)...so yes, the vast majority of yes/no decisions on submissions to say nature/nature neuroscience are performed by in-house editors without any peer-review.

  • Pinko Punko says:

    Just a lot of thoughts on this stuff
    1) Declan Butler has done some absolutely great work in the past, including spearheading international recognition of the plight of medical workers/Libyan HIV controversy, so I would like to be as fair as possible here.
    2) The article in question is quite tough, it is not clear why Nature would want to go there. PLOS when rolled out suggested that they had a workable business model. This is clearly in question from the data. It is not necessarily inappropriate for Nature to report on matters of scientific publishing.
    3) In my graduate school we have had several people I know enter the scientific editing business. Surprise, surprise, they cover the entire spectrum of barely even a failed post-doc to stellar graduate student plus a tough post-doc. Certainly we can see the nature of the power trip of of an editor in some of the comments above from a former editor. Yes, editors go to conferences and troll for papers, and editorial input may be very helpful, but it is a self-determining system, since the editor is the gatekeeper for the journal, the editor's advice will always seem useful because the editor is laying down either conditions for review or acceptance.
    4) Clearly, journals as businesses with full time editors raise questions of conflicts of interest, favoritism, cliquishness, unfair or uneven review, etc. This is the life of a scientist.
    5) On a personal note, I've just had a paper published in a Cell Jr. journal, and on that same day a competitor's paper was accepted with no revisions at a Nature Jr. journal. Would such a decision have been made so quickly if the results of the competitor's paper were not already clearly validated? Some editorial decisions can be questionable in a competitive environment. This can hurt the science. We may have moved beyond the days of one B. Lewin allegedly accepting work the day it was submitted in a desire to move so quickly, but sometimes it is unclear how far.
    6) We've all seen absolutely shitty turds published in Sexy Jr. journals and have come across colleagues who privately admit to reviewing said turds and ripping the shit out of them, yet they still are published. These are clearly editorial decisions, and it is for these things that editors do not have stellar reputations. In competitive fields, things move more quickly and competition leads to erring on the side of incaution. Even though journals have more than enough submissions to fill their pages, provocative and sloppy will win everytime over careful yet boilerplate. The worst being rejected for proving something that had always been assumed to be the case but never really had been shown. Nothing could be more boring for an editor it seems at times.
    I'm a young scientist, I've only ever received reasonable and fair reviews, and have never had too much cause to argue with an editor about my own work. I have however reviewed papers where I've felt other reviewers or the editors decisions on those papers are not necessarily based on the science.
    It is a tough, tough field. And "mad" above is 100% correct- the kids make the decision to even send your paper out for review at the sexy pages- the old school joke was if you could get your paper past Ben Lewin's secretary's desk, you had a shot.

  • DrugMonkey, your comment about professional editors was funny, but as you said yourself, a BadThing. I also loved this comment: Sometimes, time is the best editor. from # 24. This should be taken as a motto for all science publishing!
    I'll abuse this space for a shameless plug of my favorite scenario: Get rid of all journals. Period.
    Have one single, decentralized, open-access database where every scientific primary literature (no reviews) is peer-reviewed by working specialists in the field without any popularity contest involved. Just the scientific methodology, interpretation, controls, the usual stuff.
    After that you still need professional editors with interdisciplinary experience and a "nose" for the public to pick out the most newsworthy articles and prepare reviews for the more general audience. This would get rid of a lot of crap that currently annoys the hell out of most scientists and takes a lot of fun out of science: several search engines for scientific literature, closed-access, impact factors (it's plain to see who cited what on each paper), brown-nosing editors, multiple reviews of the same version of a paper, etc. Just to name a few. I guess you get the picture.

  • Oh, and I forgot my disclaimer:
    Conflict of interest statement: I have published in Science and PLoS One; I volunteer as academic editor for PLoS One.

  • juniorprof says:

    In some cases we work with authors for YEARS before papers are submitted to suggest experiments and lines of thought
    I find this hard to believe. If it does happen, I do not think it is fair and I think it shows how further bias gets introduced into an already biased system. Moreover, it demonstrates a level of power that is not needed. Exactly what purpose would such a practice serve other than giving Nature editors influence over the direction of a field. After these years of influence what are the rejection rates? What if the experiments requested or lines of thought are no longer in vogue? What if you give the same advice to multiple researchers effectively setting them against each other unknowingly?

  • PhysioProf says:

    That "former Nature editor" is either floridly delusional, or just trolling.

  • neurolover says:

    I feel like much of the complaints about the editors at the glamormags seems like the complaints anyone would have about anyone with a lot of decision making power.
    Do people really feel that the volunteer editors at the society journals do a better job? that is, when they're applying the same criterion of "significance" to the work?
    Is it that they're so young? Would it be better if they were like program officers at NIH? A bit further along their career trajectory before being moving to the editor track?

  • George Smiley says:

    The CV's of the glamour editors don't particularly matter; they may have achieved significant success in one or two labs as trainees. They may or may not be "failed scientsits." But there is no way that they can have acheived sufficent mastry of their particular fields that they should then be in a position to substantilly influence the direction of fields in which they never participated. And that is PRECISELY what they are doing.
    And they are, in many cases, incredibly interested in playing politics. One of my advisors routinely socialized with one of the editors at a Top-Three journal. You think that didn't help her success rate with submissions there? Put it this way: I never saw a paper from that lab fail to be sent for review at that journal, where getting sent for review is the "first hurdle."
    It's a power trip. It's a cash cow. The only thingg it isn't is science.

  • Pinko Punko says:

    PP, I don't think so. In my field, at the big conferences we have Nature/Cell editors kind of trolling for papers and stories and doing the "well, we'd love to take a look at your story if you could only..." Obviously, I think things go to people's heads. I love looking at the Cell submitted/accepted dates. Sometimes they are two days apart, sometimes two years. I could see how an editor would take a view of shaping/molding work. However, given the power differential between an editor and an author, as I've already said, this world view is totally skewed. It is an understandable unreality. Certainly a gigantic blind spot.

  • neurolover says:

    "But there is no way that they can have achieved sufficient mastery of their particular fields that they should then be in a position to substantially influence the direction of fields in which they never participated. And that is PRECISELY what they are doing."
    But, who should? The male greybeards? See, I think there are problems with the young people who haven't done the work, but I also think there are problems with the senior guys (and, yes, they are usually guys).

  • PhysioProf says:

    It is an understandable unreality.

    AKA florid delusion.

  • Pinko Punko says:

    OK, agreed. I guess I'm still in kiss ass mode.
    I love it when I write a four page thoughtful review of a paper and see one of the other reviewers give it one line. Why don't I get those reviews?

  • DrugMonkey says:

    former Nature editor @#27: We have so much more GOOD influence over the way that science comes out in the end than you will ever know. We pick the referees who we know will request specific experiments or steer the paper/authors in a good direction. Then we get feedback that the paper and field were so much more improved as a result.
    I keep coming back to this comment in moderately stunned disbelief that an editor would actually let the curtain slip a little like this. And I can't believe people haven't jumped all over this already.
    What this comment betrays is the fact that editors (all of 'em, not just the GlamourMagz or professional editors) can and do select reviewers in advance with full knowledge of their reviewing biases and tendencies. (Not always, the way I hear it from editors of my acquaintance the primary selection criterion is "we know that reviewer will actually get a half-decent review back by the deadline". apparently these online-review things allow editors to keep track of their good and bad reviewers, in case you didn't know that)
    Much as I've pointed out in noting the immense power of SROs to determine your grant outcome, this reviewer selection can be critical to your manuscript review.
    I'd say the degree to which a given editor engages in reviewer selection to manipulate the outcome of review indicates the degree to which s/he is RuiningScience.

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