Impact factor? More like job ruiner and ego booster

A recent article published April 9, 2013 in Science talks about “interactive peer review” and what different open access journals like Frontiers are doing to make science publishing available to the general audience—that is, the taxpayers. The article explains some of the advantages of open access publishing but derails from good intentions by integrating the low impact factors of several of the open access journals. The authors then go on to mention how significant this metric is by listing some pros and cons to publishing in open access journals. impact2

Like others, I think it’s fair to say that impact factors are NOT and should not be a direct measure of the caliber of a scientist that you are. Yet sadly, this article laces its commentary with the phrase impact factor. As if these two words encompass the entirety of your career/life as a researcher. What if they did away with impact factors? What if it didn’t matter where you published but the quality of the work you published? And don’t tell me there’s a correlation between quality work and impact factor. That’s total bullshit. Reviewers from Science or Nature are not exclusive to those journals and are reviewers elsewhere. Published “top tier” works are debunked all of the time as well. Yet there’s a distasteful air of prestige when your name precedes the stupid word “Science” on a publication. As much as you’d like to think your work is influential, it’s not if no one cites it.

Although I haven’t quantified this, I’m sure there’s a better correlation between cited works and quality. Part of the problem is the HUGE lag time between when your work is finished and when your work is published and available to the community. This isn’t an insightful observation I came up with either. The science community knows this yet no significant changes are made. Check out Leslie Vosshall’s The glacial pace of scientific publishing (notice this wasn’t sent to Science: Lucifer Incarnate). And although this is hard to quantify, science publishing (STEM) is approximately a $10 billion market that’s heavily based on subscriptions. That’s money being funneled into a middleman who is doing very little in terms of actual science. That’s money that could open up academic jobs for Postdocs. In a world experiencing a social media revolution—where information is literally at your fingertips—the publishing companies are syphoning huge amounts of research money and taking longer to publish than before they adopted internet publishing.

It’s also interesting to see this interactive peer review article being published in Science. I wonder how many rounds of editing and scrutinizing revisions it went through. On one hand, this gives the impression that Science mag is interested in the future of science publishing, but on the other hand it is obvious that they plan on maintaining their ruling impact factor (~31) and huge revenues—as academic job prospects plummet and the establishment of science gets financially violated.

-by Alex Padron, incoming MCB student