Question of the day

September 23, 2015

Provocation from Michael Eisen:

Has me thinking… Would you do it? Would you pay $25,000 of your own cash money to secure publication in Nature.

I think I would do that. Have to take out a loan to do it but I think I’d chalk that up to career investment.

30 Responses to “Question of the day”

  1. odyssey Says:

    No way in hell.


  2. Evelyn Says:

    Yes. Without a question. I’ve seen the difference a CNS publication can make in ones career (even if it is later found to be non-reproducible – but that’s a different conversation).


  3. Bashir Says:

    If you’d asked me as a postdoc on the job market and there was a way to get a loan and pay it off later I would say yes without hesitation.

    Now, not so much.


  4. Philapodia Says:

    No way. My spouse and kids should not have to pay for my career more than they already do, that would be selfish. We could pay for a couple of years of state college with $25K!


  5. jmz4 Says:

    Are you asking if I could take a SJ paper and have it automatically published in Nature, or if I could have a “Nature quality” paper, describing some hot, new buzzworthy experiments, that was entirely BS?

    Putting on my Machiavellian cap:

    I don’t think I’d do the latter, since it’s hard to untarnish a reputation like that (also all those poor PDs trying to replicate it). The former, definitely. A Nature paper means 5 more years of funding as a PI, possibly tenure, or 25-50 spot jump in the ranking of the university that hires you, if you’re a postdoc. With any of that comes way more than 25k.


  6. drugmonkey Says:

    Philapodia- you don’t see that as an investment that pays back?


  7. Dr Becca Says:

    Wouldn’t the (hypothetical) fact that a pay-for-play system exists lower the cachet of having a Nature paper in the first place? Or is it like, if no one else knew that you could do this?


  8. DrugMonkey Says:

    The latter, Dr. Becca.


  9. Rheophile Says:

    This is a pretty good question to suss out your beliefs about the relative value of the science you do and where it is published. If I believed that where an article was published was mostly irrelevant compared to what it contained, I’d bid $0 for a Nature article (maybe a little bit more, up to $1000, just to advertise to a broader audience.) In reality, as a postdoc on the job market, I might well invest $10-25k to place my paper in Nature – I think it would guarantee me interviews at all of my top choices.

    Of course, we do small versions of this all the time, especially when a grant is paying. Nature Communications has a $5k APC – why would anyone submit there vs PeerJ or PLOS if it weren’t for prestige? I feel similarly about journals that offer you their cover, then ask you to fund some of the costs of printing the cover. I always feel guilty about this sort of stuff, because it wastes money and it is essentially a vote of no confidence in our ability to evaluate science.


  10. JustAGrad Says:

    How common is it for journals to require payment for a cover pic? I saw that in one journal and thought it was ridiculous. Something like $1350. How the hell could anyone even ethically charge that to a federal grant?


  11. Mikka Says:

    Just wait until they start nickel-and-diming us for things like “express review”, “extraordinary appeal process” and others actually being considered by some publishers as we speak.
    It’s going to be like airlines charging for check-in luggage and seats that don’t suck and soon (according to the onion) cabin compression.


  12. Adam Says:

    I wouldn’t, but I would hope that a lot of other people would: it would devalue publishing in Nature to the point where it wouldn’t be a factor anymore…


  13. Jo Says:

    To the question as posed – no. It would make me feel bad about myself.

    However, if you are asking whether a Nature paper is worth $25k of personal money as an investment, unfortunately, I expect the answer is yes.I’m basing that on my guestimate of the salary differential (assuming you’re gonna stay in academia) over the course of a career for those with and without a Nature paper.


  14. Josh Says:

    If I could pay $25,000 to discover something valuable enough to drastically reduce the burden of a disease? I’d hope Nature would accept that manuscript. And it seems like a bargain investment.

    If I could pay $25,000 to enhance my career by buying a Nature pub without contributing additional value? That’s Faustian.


  15. Dave Says:

    I wouldn’t, but I would hope that a lot of other people would: it would devalue publishing in Nature to the point where it wouldn’t be a factor anymore

    It doesn’t seem to have affected the perceived quality of PNAS


  16. Philapodia Says:

    @DM “Philapodia- you don’t see that as an investment that pays back?”

    I’m not at an ILAF, so I can go my entire career without humping the glam and still do OK. Would it help my career? Sure, but it wouldn’t be worth it to me to get a CNS paper at the expense of other things that are more important to me (i.e. helping the kids through college). Others may differ in opinion, and that’s OK. I just think there are more important things in life than worrying about where you are publishing.


  17. Jonathan Badger Says:

    Does the $25K imply first author? Last author? What do people generally mean by “a Nature paper”?


  18. drugmonkey Says:

    helping the kids through college

    In my experience, the fact of a Nature or Cell or Science paper can mean earlier transition to a real job for a postdoc, earlier tenure for a young PI and earlier Full promotion for an Associate Prof. Obviously this will not be universally true everywhere but it has a meaningful impact that having a dozen society journal papers does not.

    All of those promotions come with large immediate raises and thanks to the virtue of % increments every year or so, a lasting tail of value.

    Getting that one grant just a little bit easier pays back in the amount of time you spend at home with spouse and kiddos instead of writing another grant.

    Recruiting that better postdoc, thanks to the promise of more Glamour, means more time at home not worrying about lab productivity because she has it handled.



  19. Alfred Wallace Says:

    Being a postdoc aspiring to stay in the game, I would snap-accept.
    It is sad, but the world is as it is.


  20. Staying Anonymous Says:

    US journals that have traditionally had page charges have had to place a notice with each paper to that effect. It said something like, “Because the authors have supported the cost of this publication with publication charges, this must be marked “Advertisement” in accordance with US Law.”

    I probably have the wording completely wrong, but that was the sense of it. Would that be needed for a UK-base publication distributed in the US?


  21. Adam Says:

    “It doesn’t seem to have affected the perceived quality of PNAS” -Dave

    I didn’t realize people could buy acceptance to PNAS. What are you talking about?


  22. Dave Says:

    I didn’t realize people could buy acceptance to PNAS. What are you talking about?

    Contributed articles.


  23. Drugmonkey Says:

    Some people do judge PNAS articles poorly b/c of the NAS contribution privilege. They have worked to increase the normal submissions, no? Which presumably increases the journal reputation.


  24. Adam Says:

    But contributed articles are submitted by Academy members, no? Presumably it takes some actual scientific chops to become an academy member, rather than just cash… but then again, maybe you can just buy an Academy membership… what do I know?

    Also, contributed articles are still peer-reviewed, aren’t they? Although I’m sure there’s a bias for them to be accepted beyond the fact that Academy members tend to be good scientists. According to PNAS, 5% of submissions are contributed, but 25% of published articles are contributed, so they’re passing peer review at an enormously high clip.


  25. Noncoding Arenay Says:

    “Some people do judge PNAS articles poorly b/c of the NAS contribution privilege”

    No need to judge PNAS as a whole because of that. I have read some articles that I couldn’t believe were in PNAS. But then I saw that those were direct submissions. That explained it. Not that that all direct submissions need be that way, but separate those from the rest and PNAS is just fine.


  26. Jonathan Badger Says:

    Adam, the problem is that even once brilliant Academy members can go crazy/senile. PNAS has published some of the most awful papers such as Linus Pauling’s quack science on the supposed powers of vitamin C megadoses. While these were supposedly peer reviewed, members could (I don’t believe still) pick their peer reviewers — not just suggest — actually pick.


  27. Adam Says:

    What do you think the effect of the publication of that article was on (1) the reputation of the author and (2) the reputation of the journal?


  28. Joe Says:

    I have reviewed a member’s contribution to PNAS. So yes, they do get reviewed. The review was requested from and sent to the contributor. I don’t know what the rules are from the contributor’s point of view.


  29. Dave Says:

    The contributed thing has gone, but isn’t there still a path for NAS members?


  30. Jonathan Badger Says:

    What was eliminated was the the “communicated” track where a NAS member could do a favor for a friend despite not being on the paper themselves. The contributed track still exists for NAS members publishing their own stuff, although the current Info for Authors stresses that such papers are the minority these days in PNAS.


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