Thursday, April 01, 2010

Self-serving crap from Nature

Ok, this is a bit of a dog bites man story, but IMO it's pretty poor behaviour, one might even say "reprehensible", for Nature to use its editorials to attack rivals. In particular, their repeated attempts to denigrate the EGU journals is nothing more than naked self-interest masquerading as commentary. It also seems pretty short-sighted, since these journals are actually run by and for members of the scientific community that that Nature claims to serve.

Their most recent attempt particularly criticises the on-line publication of submitted articles:
"But the downside of early online publishing is a confusing array of publicly available article types, awaiting print publication in various stages of editorial preparation. Adding to the confusion, interactive journals such as Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics place papers online first for peer review, and then in their final form."
ACP is the most well-established of the EGU journals, increasingly preferred by high-profile (indeed all) scientists over more traditional routes to publication. Could it be that Nature feels a a little threatened by their huge success? One can only hope so. Of course putting the submitted manuscripts online is a bit of a pre-requisite for any open review system, so their unsupported claim that this is "adding to the confusion" is just a handy way of predetermining their preferred conclusion - that open peer review is a bad thing. Perhaps a watermark on the pdfs - "DRAFT" or similar - would be a sensible step, but surely this is a minor point hardly worthy of editorialising.

What's worse, Nature then states that "uncertainity arises regarding the canonical publication date". Oh no, the horror....although they immediately admit: "Given the way the publishing industry is moving, it seems unlikely that print publication dates will play a role in the long run". So that's all right then. Phew.

The article ends with a real WTF moment:
What needs to be decided is how much a preliminary paper published online should be allowed to change before it constitutes a new paper.
Huh? What actually is the problem here that needs solving?

No, really, who gives a shit about this? I'm wondering how such a bizarre non sequitur passed Nature's own editorial review, as it bears no relationship to the rest of the content, and I've never heard anyone suggest that such a thing "needs to be decided" by anyone other than the editor handling the manuscript in question. But of course we'll never know, due to Nature's secretive publishing process :-) What I'm left with is the impression that Nature is desperately and irrationally lashing out at anything that it perceives as threatening its unhealthy stranglehold on scientific progress.


EliRabett said...

Eli takes it that you feel strongly about these matters. Yes, they are making fools of themselves, but allow the dears the opportunity.

Anonymous said...

Hi James

I'd not noticed the Nature editorial so thanks for the summary.

I think that the ACP publication method does require a bit of analysis though. For one thing, is its impact factor artificially high because papers can be viewed on ACPD before they get to ACP. In this case, these papers have more than the 2 years to acquire readers and then citations that contribute to the journal's impact factor.


James Annan said...


Interesting point. But surely in that case one could equally well argue that Nature/Science papers have an artificially high impact factor due to the publicity attracting more readers than would otherwise accrue.

It is also quite common for journals to provide access to articles in press, which may have a long lead time until actual publication.

But bias in citation index or not, I don't think anyone could argue that keeping the work hidden until publication actually helps advance science...

Eli, I don't think my organ really rates as much of a bully pulpit :-)

Anonymous said...

Eli, I don't think my organ really rates as much of a bully pulpit :-)

Don't be too sure!

Steve Bloom said...

That's cute, things, and entirely spot-on other than that N+S would be sure to charge at least double that price to balance the almost overwhelming prestige that would be associated with such a venture.

But speaking seriously of new pubs, I notice that Nurture just announced a new climate change journal.

Brian Schmidt said...

A non-scientist's question: does the scientific literature commonly cite to the early online drafts of papers prior to final publication, or is there a "do not cite" convention that applies to early versions? If the latter's true, I don't see any problem with showing the sausage-making in operation. If the former is true, then you just need to be very clearly as to what version you're citing.

James Annan said...

Brian, IME people *always* cite the final version if available, which often requires last-minute changes to the proofs of the article. Sometimes the "later" paper overtakes the ref, in which case the reference has to be to the submitted or even "in preparation" version - this is not really very different from just saying "personal communication".

TB, funny, though a bit sad perhaps that they actually think that open access is a joke. They can kick and scream but the future will come along with or without them.

David B. Benson said...


James Annan said...

The self-same Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics with D for the discussion phase.

Anonymous said...

Do I read this correctly? This sounds like Nature is not the place to publish Climate Science, as their review-process is not as open as some would want?

Hank Roberts said...

Steve Bloom said...

"I'm wondering how such a bizarre non sequitur passed Nature's own editorial review(.)"

Well, this is after all the same publication that persists in commissioning pieces from RP Jr.

WV omits a key consonant: "eptic"