Randy Schekman answers questions on his stance against #luxuryjournals

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Last night, our Editor-in-chief Randy Schekman hosted a reddit IAMA (“Ask me anything”), inviting the world to talk with him just two days after he accepted the 2013 Nobel Prize, with James Rothman and Thomas Südhof.

A big focus of the discussion were Randy’s comments from the Guardian earlier this week, in which he calls for scientists to end their dependency “luxury journals” like Cell, Nature, and Science, and on the journal impact factor as a summary measure of the quality of scientific work. Here are some of the most popular questions, along with Randy’s responses. We have also kicked off a conversation on Twitter, asking our followers, “How do you think scientific journals should help advance science and careers?”

Randy has offered a few comments in response, using the hashtag #luxuryjournals. Help us continue the dialogue on Twitter or offer your comments here.

Excerpts from the reddit IAMA with Randy Schekman, submitted December 12, 2013 http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/1sq4vd/im_randy_schekman_corecipient_of_the_2013_nobel/

[–]curlyhairedsheep --- As a Nobel laureate, you clearly benefited from the glamour publications and now have less to lose while walking away from them. What do you suggest to young postdocs who are frustrated with the current system but are concerned about future job prospects being contingent on publication in these luxury journals? How do your current postdocs feel about this decision and their future career prospects?

[–]schekman[S] --- Yes, good and obvious question. Of course, I have nothing to lose at this point but we all are losing because of the current "luxury" journal system that amounts to a lottery system for work makes it into in Cell, Nature and Science. The most crucial point to understand is that these journals base their decision n what can fit into a print version which artificially limits the number of papers they can publish. Why should we have such a limitation in the 21st century? This tyranny must end and my postdocs are perfectly happy to publish their best work in journals such as eLife where all decisions are made by active scientists. More and more PIs are coming to this conclusion and as a group we CAN change the system!

[–]Dumma1729 --- Second what /u/XUONO said. Why not support PLoS journals and PLoS One?

[–]schekman[S] --- Yes, these are fine journals but they have not yet challenged the stranglehold Cell, Nature and Science have on the biomedical literature. Thus, I feel we need a another venue where the decisions are made in an open and consultative manner with experts who are practicing scientists making all the decisions about what to review, what manuscript revisions to recommend and ultimately, what to accept for publication

[–]microbialevolution --- It seems like your substantive issue with the status quo may be the use of professional editors over scientists. Is this true? Why do you think this message has been so hard to see in the press coverage? On a related note, what percent of their working time do you think a junior or senior scientist should spend editing and reviewing papers?

[–]schekman[S] --- The use of professional editors is only one of several crucial differences between the luxury journals and eLife and other Open Access journals. Even more important is the restriction imposed by the print model of the luxury journals. This creates an artificial commodity that should be irrelevant in the 21st century. We will continue to emphasize these distinctions in our press coverage of this issue. A junior scientist can and should spend some time, but perhaps not as much as a senior scientist, in refereeing papers for journals. It is a useful and collegial thing to do.

[–]curlyhairedsheep --- How do you define "important"? At the end of the day, that's the real gatekeeper - the trend-based biases toward what is sexy science at that moment. There's lots of meaningful science that isn't trendy, won't get you news coverage today, but yields a better understanding of biological systems that may give rise to something more "exciting" in the future.

[–]schekman[S] --- I define important by the opinions of the members of my editorial board who are experts in their fields. Admittedly, this is a subjective judgment, but I trust the pinion of my board members because they have a proven and ongoing track record of creative and technically excellent research.

[–]XOUNO --- How do you classify a journal as being 'luxury' and, for example, is PNAS one?

[–]schekman[S] --- Luxury journals are those that limit publication to an artificially low number, just as fashion designers limit the production of particular models of clothing. The luxury journals Cell, Nature and Science do this by restricting articles to those that can fit into a print run. The Executive Editor of Science, Monica Bradford admitted as much in her response to my editorial in the Guardian. I do not classify PNAS as a luxury journal. When I was Editor of PNAS, my policy was to publish everything that met our high standard irrespective of the number of pages we printed.

[–]wellthread --- Dr. Schekman, publications in prestigious journals are often used as the yardstick to measure faculty candidates, which seem to get more competitive each year. If you think that these journals aren't necessarily a great measure of good science (which I would agree), how do you judge faculty candidates? How would you encourage faculty search committees to judge candidates?

[–]schekman[S] --- Have job candidates write a brief - no longer than 250 word - self assessment of their most important discoveries. This is exactly how candidates for election to the National Academy of Sciences are evaluated and not where the work is published.

[–]Unrelated_Incident --- I don't understand how it affects science that luxury journals limit the number of articles they publish. Wouldn't any other good article just get published in a different, less prestigious journal? It isn't like they are suppressing progress by not letting people read articles.

[–]schekman[S] --- The luxury journals delay the publication of much outstanding work by imposing endless cycles of review and re-review.