6 Aug 2010

The Scientist has an attack of CNS disease

The Scientist this week tells us that
"Peer review isn’t perfect [who knew?]— meet 5 high-impact papers that should have ended up in bigger journals."
Wait, what? These high-impact papers got those citations despite ending up in "second tier" journals, so I doubt the authors have been crying into their beer about this "injustice". This is an example of CNS Disease, a term coined by Harold Varmus to characterise the obsession with Cell, Nature and Science. Not all high-impact papers must published in one of these journals, and not all papers published in these journals will be high impact. Biomedical publishing is not just a game in which editors sort articles by predicted future impact - at least, I hope it's not.

Authors chose their publication venue for all sorts of reasons, and it's hard to predict which new work will set the world on fire. Take BLAST - it was a "quick and dirty" algorithm that gave similar results to the Smith and Waterman algorithm only much faster, and the gain in speed came at a loss of accuracy. Only use by scientists in practice could decide whether this was a good approach. Focussing on the umpteen thousand citations to BLAST is missing the point: the important thing about BLAST is the millions or billions of hours of computer time saved by using it. As Joe, the other denizen of Journalology Towers, said recently:
"Lord protect us from the idea that an academic publication might have any value beyond its ability to accumulate citations."

1 comment:

raik said...

A case in point is that, reading carefully, most of these high impact papers were accepted to the very journal that they were first submitted to. Only two or so were actually rejected from "higher impact" (read Science, Nature, Cell) journals.