Professor deplores “tyranny” of popular science journals

Megan Hughes 6 February 2014

Cambridge academics and students have criticised the influential science journals Nature, Cell and Science, citing their “tyranny” over scientific research as a major concern.

Professor Roger Carpenter, from the Department of Physiology Development and Neuroscience at Cambridge University, expressed his concern about “the dire effect that journals such as Nature have on the quality and direction of science.”

His comments come in the wake of Randy Schekman’s announcement before his reception of a Nobel Prize in December, when he stated that he plans to boycott Science, Nature and Cell.

Describing these publications as “luxury journals”, Schekman has argued that their influence over scientific research is tantamount to “tyranny.” He also expressed concern that they prioritise papers exploring fashionable areas of science, rather than those which are genuinely worthy of exposure.

Speaking to The Cambridge Student, Carpenter bemoaned “journal editors who seek popularity rather than genuine scientific merit.”

In response to these claims, a Cambridge PhD student in Biological Anthropology agreed with Schekman. She accused these top-tier publications of allowing sensationalism to influence their choices, opting for articles which “will make the biggest splash”, rather than genuine “scientific merit”.

However, Carpenter suspects that only established scientists could “afford the luxury of a boycott”. He is concerned that “disproportionate weight is attached to journal impact factors: a paper in N​ature or Science is going to have a huge effect on how a younger scientist is assessed, employed and promoted.”

When asked whether she thought it was possible for budding scientists to boycott big journals, the PhD student was optimistic. Although she admitted that the exposure was valuable to budding academics, she also maintained that “you can definitely enter a career without using those journals as a foothold.”