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I'm starting to think that the plodding careerists who always raise the "but I have to publish in X journal for my career" criticism just need to be routed around. You shouldn't be in science because you want a stable career, you should be here because you can't fathom doing anything else.
William Gunn's profile photoAnand Patel's profile photoTim Pritchett's profile photoOroszlany Balazs's profile photo
With the sheer number of journals out there, I cannot understand why anyone would feel compelled to publish in any particular one.
In the life sciences, Zen, there's historically been a strong "brand preference" for Nature, Science, and Cell based on the idea that it's too hard to judge an applicant on his merits, so a practice arose in some of the less responsible quarters of just looking to see if someone's published in one of the journals that have the highest rejection rates and to use that as a proxy of quality. Despite the serious problems with such as approach, documented extensively by people such as +Björn Brembs, news of this practice has circulated and led to some people thinking they have to publish in those journals in order to get tenure, and in fact, at some institutions you do.

What I don't understand is why these institutions get away with such irresponsible behavior when there are better ways even of making lazy decisions. In their defense, some of these systems are fairly new. I particularly like
Totally agree, if science doesn't fit with your entire life as a whole your're not an autentic scientist.
Disagree vehemently with the sentiment that only obsessive fanatics are Real Scientists™. What the fuck is wrong with wanting a stable career? If we want to attract capable people to research, we are going to have to offer a career structure that does not resemble a lucky dip, which is what we currently have.
Nothing's wrong with wanting a stable career, but any profession depending on grant writing its by definition uncertain. If you want more stability, work in the private sector. Admittedly, plenty of pharma employees have had anything but stable careers over the past few years, but I do think the careerist, hyper competitive, gotta publish in a "top" journal mentality is harming science, creating retractions, and not generating good science. I do wish people were more idealist about their science.
We agree on the deleterious effects of a hypercompetitive environment (we already knew that). I don't wish for more idealism though; I'd like more pragmatism. I'd like to see a real career structure, one that makes room for people who aren't and don't want to be "rockstars" (how I hate that term). I think a system that made it possible to be a journeyman scientist with no intention of joining the guild would actually be better placed to identify genuine standouts than our "Nature paper in first 3 years or you're crap" current model.
That's a good point, Bill. I just want people to think of how things could be different and then act accordingly, as opposed to the whole "I'm just a victim of the system, I can't change it" mentality.
When science become just a corporation of people seeking only for stability and making them own career than the objective of science get lost. Science aims to the development of mankind in general and not to the increment of power from parties or groups with small interests. I'm not talking nonetheless about the dilemma between pragmatist vs. idealists. That's not the question. The problem is actually if the science is useful to major quantity of people beyond the interests (genuine or not) of corporations.
Scientists have bills to pay too. Pretending that being unable to fathom doing anything else immunizes you against those bills oversimplifies the conversation.
+Bill Hooker -- I disagree. Allowing the journeyman to participate for 3 years just gives the mentor the opportunity to exploit the journeyman for 3 years, without the risk of them wanting to develop an independent career in the same area of science, and does nothing to improve the situation in terms of how many people there are competing for less money.
Having to worry about paying bills as opposed to how to investigate the burning question is part of the problem with science today. I selfishly want scientists that don't care about their income.
and I want a system that takes care if them so they don't have to. I said I was being idealistic. People need to dream about possibilities and act accordingly.
Everybody (except in this thread, lol) keeps saying that this is a complex issue - it isn't, at least not in the biological/biomedical field. If you don't get any CNS papers in this field, you face only few job options, none of which mean that you'll be able to spend much time on doing the research as you're used to: 1) a teaching position at a small liberal arts college (and good luck with that with most of your time spent on research, but not getting a CNS) 2) salesman for the pharma industry 3) pipetteer for hire 4) flipping burgers. Which simply means that if you can't fathom doing anything else but science, you better get published in CNS.

Just take my example, which, from my experience and some statistics, is quite representative: In the last 6/7 years I have applied to about 120 tenure-track positions world-wide (i.e., North America, Japan, Australia, Europe), most applications went out before 2008, everything from small liberal arts to research one - basically I applied to anything that had 'neuro' somewhere in the description. Until then I had 1 Science paper, and 2-3 papers in the 7-10 IF range, approx. an average of about 1.2-1.4 papers per year, productivity wise. In total, I received less than 10 interview invitations and with very few exceptions, the other invited candidates had also all published in CNS. Informally, I was told that some positions I wasn't invited for interview, this happened because I had to few hi-rank papers. With 60-600 applicants per tenure-track position, virtually everybody simply makes a cut at 1 CNS paper or so and then looks at the remaining candidates for a fit. Only now, after I have been struggling for nine years with my lab of one (i.e. myself), being unemployed on and off for months at a time, on contracts as short as two months in some cases, almost facing down social security on occasion, do I have an offer for the first position without an end-date in my whole life - and I'm turning 41 this month. If, for some reason, this doesn't pan out, I'll be on social security either this summer or two years from now when my current fellowship runs out.

In other words, nobody even looks at you if you don't have any CNS papers and the rare and commendable exceptions prove that rule.

Thus, it's very simple: get published in CNS or forget about the science as you know it.
+Anand Patel I take your point, but what if the PI didn't exploit the journeyman, but simply recognized his/her wish to continue doing that job without the pressure to produce a masterwork (CNS papers) and join the guild (become a PI)? Not everyone can be or wants to be a PI, and PI's need staff. Why do we pretend that those staff must be on their way to running their own lab, and turn them over every 2-3 years?-- when we know (a) that's bullshit and (b) even if they all wanted such a career, there's room for less than 10% of them.
+Björn Brembs "if you can't fathom doing anything else but science, you better get published in CNS" -- agree that this is the case, and quite apart from being ridiculous on its own face, it's unfair not to tell prospective grad students so. I don't know how it is now but when you and I were grad students, the clear expectation was that if you worked hard on interesting problems, and weren't a complete fuckup, there'd be a career for you in science. That lie has produced more than one generation of bitter ex-postdocs, and will go on producing them until we change the system.
+Björn Brembs I'm a bit envious. Here in the US, we don't have a social security that is active at 41 years of age.
+William Gunn I know the aim is idealism, but barring a utopia where funds are shifted from bonuses and income earned without work to security for all citizens and rewards for work and discovery, how can the scientist be the idealist in an island of cynicism, greed, and selfishness?
+Anand Patel -- Bjoern means unemployment benefits, not "social security" as understood in the US. We do have unemp. benefits although at least here in OR they last only 12 months. Took me 5 months to find my current position (biotech) after losing job in academia.
Yeah I have to agree that pragmatism isn't selling out. Certainly scientists are disappointingly pragmatic about data sharing.
The answer is a good credit system so that the postdoc who is happy as a back roomer who is solid and trains many others getstall metric to brandish in their defence. Think also of 'careers' like curator. There's a calling with few prospects. A general credit mechanism should account for all kind of value adding and background work. My heart is with you WG, but but but...
Like many other walks of life, science is an ego-system, and the coin of the scientific realm is citations. Having a paper in one of science's glamour mags is a bit like having a job at an investment bank. It comes with a bonus. Not necessarily earned on the basis of outstanding work, but more often than not because these glam mags are attracting attention, and with it, citations to them. ('Received' would be a better verb here than 'earned'). Those citations are often just to a few articles, but translated into the averages known as Impact Factors, they look impressive and they equally 'stick' to the below-par articles published in the same glam mags, articles to which there are very few citations. Such is the simplistic way the ego-system works. I agree with Bill Hooker that there is a need for more pragmatism. Pragma over Dogma, please. And it's not so much the publishers that are to blame for the current situation; it's the reward system in science. Publishers are just following the fashion, and the money.
That's what frustrates me, Jan. We could have the system we want tomorrow. Someone just has to make the first move.
William, many things in life are limited. Human inertia doesn't seem to be one of them. I think it is somewhat of a missed opportunity to boycott one prominent publisher, whereas it is the system that needs to be attacked. And the system definitely includes all those career-deciding committees and gremia that perpetuate the current situation (quite possibly inadvertently and naively).
The boycott makes sense because boycotts have to be focused to work. The change will come from whoever can break the detente between researchers, librarians, and publishers.
All I know is that sitting around discussing why it can't change can only have one outcome.
I'm convinced it can change. And will change. And the boycott initiative certainly focuses the mind, even it it should not be effective as a boycott.
+Bill Hooker I actually was talking of social security. The fellowship I'm on doesn't come with unemployment benefits. Social security here means a room and barely enough money to buy food. Everyone gets that, no matter their age. Doesn't always work out that way, but in principle nobody needs to live on the streets here.

+Jan Velterop Only partly true that GlamMag papers always get the most citations. Mine certainly didn't and I'm no exception there either:
In fact, there's more 'negative' correlated with journal rank than 'positive':
Fully agree, Björn. That's why I said the glamour magazines, as journals, get more citations, but those are mostly to only a few very highly cited articles. You completely confirm what I said. It is the vagaries of the Impact Factor, a straight average, that make those journals stand out. And those averages are the result of a minority of very highly cited articles and a majority of 'normal' ones.
What I'd love to be able to find is a small group of researchers in a narrowly focused field and get those people to somehow all start blogging openly about their research. If done right, that group should be able get work done and published online (under CC-BY) so much faster than the others in their little niche that they essentially suck up all the oxygen and make it impossible for anyone not working with them to publish anything novel going the slow way. There would be lots of protests about unfairness and cheating and so on, lots of moaning about the lack of traditional peer review, but the people threatened by them would check their stuff so closely looking for evidence to say "proper peer review would have caught this" that their stuff would be effectively post-publication peer reviewed.
Relevant and encouraging - but also validating the notion that, statistically, you decrease your odds in a game already skewed against you if you forgo the GlamMagz. He's basically also saying: there are commendable exceptions. But if these exceptions are not looking for someone like you, you're stuck with the CNS rule. Thus, publishing in GlamMagz is still your best option and even then it's a crap shoot!
I think Michael Eisen's point is that CNS pubs don't help as much as some people think they do.
Excepting the cases where institutions flat out tell people that they need X number of CNS publications for tenure. Which happens.
+Anand Patel I concede the fact there are some institutions that make that mistake, OK? As I have said repeatedly, if you are at an institution where that is the case, and most people aren't, no one is going to judge you for doing what you have to do. If you're not at such an institution, then don't worry about what someone else is doing, do what you feel is right and will move science forward.
"and most people aren't" -- come to think of it, I have no idea whether that's true. For myself, I've never worked at an institution where the CNS requirement was not clearly and universally understood, though it's not always available in writing. Are there any systematic studies of tenure/promotion decision processes? Actually a study of revealed preferences (who did they hire, not just how do they claim to have made the decision) would be better.
I only have the anaecdata that Michael Eisen presents in his post. Maybe there is a survey of hiring practices out there, but even if that were the case, it wouldn't be the final word. What matters is what the grant funders want. No administrator or department head is going to raise too big of a fuss as long as the indirect costs keep coming in for the university.
Given the number of applicants, I'd say in most cases it's almost impossible to not go by journal rank in any shape or form. How would you start tackling a 600-strong list of applicants with a committee of usually less than ten people?
What about using something like to get a sense of what the broader scientific community thinks about their work? This would be especially useful for new faculty whose work hasn't had much time to accumulate citations.
I think we're starting to get the technology to replace journal rank. we're not far off and total-impact is one good path in this direction.
total-impact is definitely still a work in progress -- researcherID did a better job, as did scopus at finding cites in my experience. but I agree -- time's coming when we won't need to look at the journal so much.
+Anand Patel I think that time is now. I think judging articles by the company they keep is lazy. Total-impact isn't about finding citations, it's about creating the true picture of your impact, beyond just citations. What about young researchers whose work hasn't had time to accumulate citations but who have been enormously productive? Those are exactly the people you don't want to boas the system against.
+William Gunn We don't have a disagreement on whether or not one's fate should be decided based on the journal. I was just pointing out that total-impact is not quite up to its task in its current version.
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