More on "shitasse" journals

January 30, 2012

A bit of a Twittstorm was raised today by Jonathan Eisen (@phylogenomics) who posted a (Modest?) proposal that we should respond to Elsevier’s naughtiness over the Research Works Act by

stop helping promote articles published in Elsevier journals.  Don’t blog about papers in Elsevier journals.  Don’t tweet about them.  Don’t use Elsevier papers for journal clubs.  In essence, ignore them – consider them dead – make them invisible.  Not completely of course.  Any work should be considered a contribution to science or math or whatever your field is.  But there are LOTS and LOTS of things to do with your time.   

This is in strikeout because Dr. J. Eisen thought better of his snark. As I suggest above, perhaps he was making a Modest Proposal. At any rate, the original twittstorm was fanned by YHN.

My recent readers may have come to the conclusion that I am one of those Open Access wackanuts. I am not. I am, or have been, rather a skeptic of the more….excessively fervent OpenScienceELEV3NTY111!!!111!! types.

It is my position that the TruBeliever Acolytes of OpenAccess need a firm hand now and again to bring them back down to reality. Think of the responsibility churches have to keep the snake-handlers and speakers-of-tongues within reason. The way regular Christian folks need to point out that Pat Robertson is, in fact, pretty insane with his God’s revenge on the Hurricane-Belt stuff. You take my point.

Anyway, there is one core point that needs to be explicated in this because it segued from (J.) Eisen’s flipping of the bird to the overall notion that it is okay to dismiss / ignore research papers on the basis of where they are published. Some Twitt going by @lightsam1 is of the PhysioProffian opinion that there exist “shitasse” journals in which we will never find anything of any worth, scientifically, so there is every excuse to simply ignore them.

This is unscholarly in the extreme. The argument, in my view, is exactly the flip side of lauding papers that are published in GlamourMags as if they are something special. They are not.

In either case. The science is the thing. There should be no substitution, ever, for making a scientific judgment about the merits of a given paper based on association.

This was the essence of my objection to (J.) Eisen’s original post. No matter how pissed you may be at the publisher, it is not right to overlook the best, most relevant papers. It is not. Similarly, it is not right to overlook the best (or first, or most comprehensive) citation because it was not in a sufficiently Glamourous journal. This runs counter to good scholarship in academic science. I will entertain the debate over priority, if it is the best scholarship to cite the first report that touches on an issue simply because it appeared first. I happen to think an excess of this is a very large part of Glamour problem but…ok. It is always okay to have differences of opinion over what is the “best” or “most comprehensive” or “most elegant” demonstration of a much-replicated effect. Fine. That we can debate.

However. The notion that you are citing (or not citing) a paper based on where it is published is always wrong.

Consistent with what I was saying in a prior post, there was an excuse in the Pre-PubMed era to focus on a subset of the available journals because humans weren’t capable of keeping up with everything. In the PubMed era, however? No excuse whatsoever. Online databases and search engines provide readily available, simple and reasonably* comprehensive mechanisms to sort the literature.

If anything, you should be almost unaware of journal identity and IF and perceived “status” these days. It just doesn’t have any scholarly value.

*remember, not everything relevant to your work is indexed by your favorite search database. Who know when some odd economics paper might be really cool to cite, eh?