Scientific Publishing in The NY Times

Yesterday, The New York Times had two articles on scientific publishing. The first, titled, “Beyond Publish or Perish, Scientific Papers Look to Make Splash” actually made the cover page! The second, “What Happens When Scientists Cheat,” was a short “left-hand column” editorial. Both deserve a comment here.

The article is a bit of bash on Science for being quick in their review process and intent on “bringing more visibility to the work it publishes.” I don’t actually see a problem with either the speed of Science‘s reviewing and decisions or the goal of visibility. Science is published by AAAS, an organization focused on raising awareness about science among the general public. For JGR Space Physics, I am not swayed by pretty pictures and neither, I think, are the other editors or the vast majority of the reviewers. It’s okay to include it, but it doesn’t really help publication. However, I’ll gladly take your “splash” for potential cover artwork for the issue in which your paper appears. So, please be thinking about this. We’re getting some great submissions.

The article concludes with an example of a coding error that wasn’t caught by either the authors or the reviewers prior to publication in Science. I agree with the research article’s author: I don’t think peer review would have caught the error. Unless, of course, the journal enforces open code as part of its Data Availability Policy. It is examples like this that justify AGU’s inclusion of code in its Open Data Policy. At JGR Space Physics, code availability is optional but I strongly encourage it. Code output, however, is “numerical data,” and must be made available to readers.

AGU_Data_Policy_Header

The editorial is an additional testament to the correctness of AGU’s Open Data Policy. It laments the perceived rise of cheating in scientific papers but goes on to say that cheating by authors cannot be caught by peer reviewers when the data behind the study is not open and available. The main recommendation at the end of the editorial is exactly what AGU is doing (and, it should be noted, what AAAS-Science already does, also).

An interesting side point: the front-page article was continued on a page within the Business section (hmm?!) and under a different title, “Beyond Publish or Perish, Journals Seek Big Splash.” The change from “papers” to “journals” is significant because it completely shifts the focus from the research paper authors to the editors and publishers of the paper. To be fair, both points were addressed in the article. Online, it has yet another title, “Academics Seek Big Splash,” a title that is devoid of a reference to publishing. Finally, the editorial also had a different online title, simply “Scientists Who Cheat,” which isn’t an accurate description of the content, in my opinion. Neither title is good for space physics, though, because they both closely link the words “scientists” and “cheat.” Ugh.

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