blame the readers not the journals

Following on the last upwithclimate post by Paulo Olivas

There has recently been a lot of criticism of the super high-impact, prestige journals (e.g., Science, Nature) to the point that some scientists are now pushing for a boycott.  I certainly agree that these journals are not perfect in that everything they publish is not good and they don’t publish everything that is good.  However this is a “hindsight is 20/20” type of argument and more importantly is misdirected blame.  The true problem is not the journals themselves but rather the weight that we as readers and hiring committees place on publishing in these journals.  Having now been on both sides of many faculty searches, I am consistently amazed (and dismayed) by how a paper in Science or Nature can immediately raise the value an otherwise-mediocre applicant. The reason why we place so much value on where papers are published and the impact factors of journals is very simple – we are busy and/or lazy.  Search committees simply do not have the time or the energy to read every publication of every applicant, and even if they could read every paper they certainly don’t have the time or expertise to evaluate the true worth of each publication.  Likewise, as readers, we do not have the time to read all articles in all journals and to choose the very best ones to cite and base our work on.  We must rely on a system of external evaluations to guide our readings and to tell us how “good” articles are.  Right now the best evaluation metric available to us is the impact factor of the journal where it is published (and given enough time the number of times that an individual article has been cited).  In other words, we let the editors and journals’ reviewers do the work for us.  What other option do we have?  I guess we could all just read more – but who has the time for that?


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