He says that these glossy journals are artificially restricting the access in order to increase the competition and that forces the researchers to cut the corners, follow the trends, and focus on work that is interesting for the stupid people such as the journalists instead of focusing on the important work.
To summarize, these journals are corrupt, superficial, and Sean-Carroll-like slick and they largely suck. These "luxury journals" exert a "toxic influence" on science, he adds.
Your humble correspondent obviously agrees. These journals have morphed to represent the politically correct group think of the average and mediocre scientists in which the kind of results that may get published (and the right kind of "decoration" and "spin" that improves the chances of publication) – and attract attention of the media – has become predictable.
I applaud Dr Schekman although in the field close to my heart, high energy physics, Science and Nature are just "better popular journals" that wouldn't publish any actual technical advance by the top HEP experts (be sure that this is not just my personal opinion, it's a fact that pretty much any HEP physicist will confirm). They're not quite as low-brow as what has become out of Scientific American, for example, but they're still low-brow and they would only publish popular reviews on some topics in state-of-the-art theoretical physics.
But I appreciate that these journals are much more important for experts in other disciplines.
Biochemist Sebastian Springer sympathizes with Schekman:
The system is not meritocratic. You don't necessarily see the best papers published in those journals. The editors are not professional scientists, they are journalists which isn't necessarily the greatest problem, but they emphasise novelty over solid work.He says that funding committees have to acknowledge this problem.
Philip Campbell, the boss of Nature, replies:
We select research for publication in Nature on the basis of scientific significance. That in turn may lead to citation impact and media coverage, but Nature editors aren't driven by those considerations, and couldn't predict them even if they wished to do so.Why do these sentences sound as jokes rather than the truth?
I find the very idea that Campbell himself may be able to pick the high-quality papers in biology to be bizarre. His training is astrophysics (MSc) and atmospheric physics (PhD) – radio waves in the ionosphere was the theme of his PhD thesis – and his being a trustee of cancer research institutes is already a sign of non-experts controlling these institutions via superficial, politically correct criteria.
Glossy journals force scientists to adjust and optimize their work according to the basic instincts of the broader public instead of the scientific considerations. That doesn't mean that e.g. Miss Czechia 2007 Kateřina Sokolová isn't attractive. I just say that this attractive force – and similar attractive forces – isn't what should determine the propagation of scientific results.
He embodies much of the bias that the average, glossy-journal-based scientists represent these days. For example, in February 2010, he was appointed a member of a team tasked to whitewash the villains in the Climategate scandal. At the end, he didn't become just "one of the folks" who committed the atrocious whitewash, claiming that a gang of self-evident fraudulent researchers is as saint as Jesus Christ. In fact, he resigned immediately after a Chinese radio host who was interviewing him "dared" to question the integrity of these climate alarmist bastards, he performed an insane defense contradicting all the known facts, and some climate skeptics pointed out that he just wasn't impartial enough to serve in such a committee (recall "Mike's Nature trick" and other events through which Nature pretty much co-operated with the misconduct by the folks around Michael Mann and Phil Jones). Everyone including himself had to agree so he went away.
You're not an honest person, Mr Campbell. You are a pretty canonical example of the tyranny by the intellectually limited, hypocritical, self-serving folks who are close to the PLM complex, to use an acronym by Michael Crichton.
Monica Bradford, the executive editor at Science, says that there are economic reasons why the number of papers has to be limited. I sympathize with that. She says that they're selected by professional peer review. Too bad that her own and only PhD is in management (University of Maryland). It's unfortunately possible to "manage" the reviewers so that you get the predecided results. The influence of executive editors is huge even if the work is "microscopically" done by experts.
Emilie Marcus of Cell said some neutral, meritocratically sounding words about her journal which I am not familiar with. She's worked as a real neuroscience postdoc so I am confident that she is much more science-based than the bosses of Nature and Science – something you should expect given the narrower specialization of the Cell journal.
At any rate, it's good that Schekman has at least ignited the debate about the bastardization of science done with the help of the glossy journals.