Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Fresh Nobelist Schekman boycotts glossy journals

Various media have discussed the decision of the 2013 Medicine Nobel Prize winner Randy Scheckman of Berkeley (prize for the vesicles: public transportation within cells)
Nobel winner declares boycott of top science journals (Guardian)
His lab will no longer send articles to Nature, Science, and Cell. Schekman is the editor-in-chief of eLife and PNAS, "competing" journals.

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.


  1. it's a pity that these valid points are raised by schekman, who imo has little credibility on this issue. just consider the number of publications from his lab in the two journals (pnas and elife) where he is/was editor in chief. hardly ethical

  2. Klaus and many on his side talked a good game but still turned out to be statist in nature. We need to stop looking for angels to rule us and start looking at ways to remove power from the political elite and the bureaucracy while allowing free individuals acting in the free markets to determine what happens.

    "Druhou možností je svržení model z piedestalu, které ovšem má pro společenskou organizaci určité následky. Pokud lidé získají (oprávněný) dojem, že je jejich poslanci, ministři, prezident, ústavní soudci, centrální bankéři atd. vlastně nijak nepřevyšují – ani intelektuálně, ani morální integritou a ani nějakými životními zkušenostmi – tak zde vzniká otázka, proč vlastně poslouchat to, co nám tihle lidé přikážou? Proč se řídit paskvily, které chrlí Sněmovna a kterým říká zákony? Proč projevovat úctu prezidentovi, co opilecky vrávorá nad tradičními symboly státní moci? Proč věřit centrální bance, jejíž představitelé nás přesvědčují, že oslabením koruny nám vlastně udělali dobře a o nic jsme nepřišli?

    Co je nakonec větší utopie? Že do těch centrálních úřadů jednoho dne voličstvo přece jen navolí ty správné lidi, nebo že se o své záležitosti nakonec každý postará nejlépe sám, když se bude řídit vlastním rozumem a vlastním morálním cítěním, protože si ve volbách nedovede vybrat žádného zástupce, který by měl oboje na lepší úrovni?"

  3. Even in communists era, the prescription was not free; there was a fee 1 Kčs for prescription, that rose to 2 Kčs in the late 80s. That is comparable with the 30 Kč today.

  4. A very good point... I vaguely remember that and your translation of the money is realistic.

  5. It’s curious how different Poland and Czechia remain nearly 25 years after the end of communism.

    With the exception of the brief period of “Prague Spring”, Polish communism tended to be more liberal both economically and politically than the Czechoslovak version. After the fall of communism things seemed to return to the pre-war norm, with Czechia having a more solid democracy and freer and wealthier economy (today the Czech Republic is ranked 29th in the Heritage Foundation “economic freedom” ranking, in the category “mostly free”, while Poland is 57th, in the category “moderately free”). Yet the political situation is very different. For a start, there is no significant party in Poland that calls itself communist, marxist or even socialist. The former communists, now “The Union of Democratic Left”, have still not shaken off the memory of extreme corruption with which they became almost synonymous the last time they were in power. Today they vie with another party founded by a multi-millionaire (who made his fortune on producing vodka) as the most gay-friendly, anti-catholic and “politically correct” party. Economically, however, this party is quite liberal.

    The ruling party, Citizens Platform (which I used to support), was once a pro-business, pro-free market liberal-conservative party, but many years in power have turned it into a typical european party of the establishment, which resembles the left of the German Christian Democratic Party. The government’s decision to, basically, steal private savings located in private pension funds (following the example of the supposedly right wing government of Hungary) in order to temporarily patch up a gap in the budget has eliminated any chance of my voting for it again.

    It’s coalition partner, The Polish People’s Party (once translated as the Polish Peasants’ Party) is a typical Polish party representing the interests of peasants (well, after the interests of the party leaders and activists, of course ;-) ). This is the oldest existing party in Poland (it used to be represented in the Parliament of Austro-Hungary) and it existed even during the communist period (under a slightly different name) as a puppet of the Communists. It’s moderately conservative in social matters (as you would expect of a party that relies on the support of peasants) and with still strongly socialistic and statist tendencies which are being somewhat moderated by the emergence of successful export oriented Polish farmers.

    And finally there is the catholic-nationalist Law and Justice Party, lead by Jaroslaw Kaczynski. It is soft-euro sceptic, opposed to most political-correctness (except it’s own king which it calls “patriotism”), and so on. In fact, on many issues I agree with it, but it impossible for me even to consider voting for it, for on economic matters it is the most left wing party in the Polish parliament (even more so then the former communist) and it’s leader recently had the bright idea of introducing a special tax for companies that to not pay enough to their employees. It’s a good thing president Obama is not reading the speeches of Mr. Kaczynski, or he might start getting ideas.

    So right now there is no party in the current Parilament that I can vote for. Actually, that’s not quite true: a new liberal-conservative catholic party has just been formed by Jaroslaw Gowin, (ław_Gowin) the former justice minister in the current government and I will almost certainly vote for it, but I consider it’s chances of success as slim. I still think I would have more choice in the Czech Republic.

  6. "We select research for publication in Nature on the basis of scientific significance". They carry a pocket-size scientific significance meter and apply it to every manuscript received. Surprise - it works! A paper gains a scientific significance simply by being published in Nature. How many times did I see good people being mocked for not publishing in peer reviewed journals.

  7. Dear Lucretius, thanks for your comparisons. Well, even Slovaks whom we understand well have a very independent and uncorrelated political life (and unlike Czech ones, Slovak parties also want to avoid at least the words "socialist" and "communist"). Poland and the Czech lands have been spiritually isolated for almost 1,000 years; the overlaps are coincidences, sort of.

    The openly communist and socialist parties are connected with the progressive image of Czechia that used to be positive and pro-freedom and pro-capitalist in the past, too, so it's my guess that Poland will sometimes also "enjoy" such things. The attitude to social conservative issues are very different due to the very different roles that churches play or don't play in our countries, very different respect to very different authorities, and so on.

  8. One suspects under-qualified diversity physicists will object to the new Phys. Rev. format, above. I for one look forward to what string bikini theory reveals - and especially Phys. Rev. Lett. letters.

  9. Actually, politically they were separated only for 700 years: since king Václav II (Wacław II Czeski in Polish, Wenceslaus II in English), the Přemyslid king of both Bohemia and Poland. The treatment of Václav in Polish history books is kind typical of the general attitude in the past to the Czechs: it is admitted that he was actually a very successful king, who unified Poland, improved the security and the economy and also created the strongest power in Central Europe, able to match Germany, but still he is disliked and considered an “occupier”, because he usually spoke German and the capital was in Prague ;-).

    (On the other hand, the rule of the Polish-born Wladyslaw the Jagiellon, who was the son of a Polish king and ruled over Bohemia and Hungary, is viewed as a “good thing” ;-) )

    Had the joint state survived longer the history of Europe might well have been quite different but Václav’ IIs 16-year old son and successor, Václav III was assassinated almost immediately after taking over the crown and the union of the two countries collapsed.

    There is an interesting comment on the attitude of Poles to Czechs in the memoir of Sir Adrian Carton de Wiart. He was a truly amazing man: if you found a character like that in a novel probably you woud not believe it:

    (in fact there is a very well known novel with a character based on de Wiart: )

    De Wiart was the British military attache to Poland just after the creation of the Polish state, during the time the Poles where fighting 5 wars simultaneously, one of them against the Czechs. This is what he wrote:

    “The war against the Czechs proceeded equably, and more or less on a domestic basis. The Poles have a natural aversion to the Czechs, partly because they are neighbours and therefore prone to quarrelling, and partly because the Poles look down on the Czechs for being, like the British, ‘a nation of shopkeepers”. To the agrarian Pole, commerce is a despised occupation to be left to the Jew, and they had great contempt for the Czechs who thought otherwise. Their chief bone of contention was the cole mines at Teschen, but there was never any serious fighting between the two nations and we could cross the Czech lines more or less at will.”

  10. Uncle Al - String Bikini Theory sounds like a wonderful interdisciplinary project - but maybe not. I fear that if the strings turn out to be light-years in length, this will qualify - indeed, far more than qualify - women's swimsuits of the 1800s as "bikinis." To be sure, there is a possibility that present-day bikinis would be qualified, but only if they are as dense as neutron stars, crippling - indeed, far more than crippling - the women wearing them. The only hope is that there may be countless alien races whose females - or whatever - wear bikinis.

  11. If I remember correctly, "Mike's Nature Trick" was actually in Science? Phil Jones misremberbed - not unlike me :-)

  12. heAah, now I know why bad stuff, in particular about fundamental physics dominates in the glossy journals, such Nature, Science etc ... The editors are mostly dilettants and nonexperts who simply select what has the highest probability to become popular among the largest in numbers audience possible ... :-/

    Philip Campbell seems to confuse popularity with scientific significance ...!

    Seems the Glossy journals are equally detrimental for science as the darn hotlists of Stack Exchange are: In these hotlists, questions from every site in the network choosen by some popularity criteria (not by quality!) get promoted in the whole network and therefore upvoted by non-experts who can only understand popular and basic stuff and therefore only vote up popular questions, and these upvotes in turn trigger the popularity criteria etc ... The whole hot list thing is a positive feedback mechanism with the very negative impact of dragging the level of each site down by making popular, basic, down to crappy stuff the most upvoted whereas serious high-level content gets ignored if not even persecuted now ....

    Ok the best thing to do with Glossy journals is to do what I and serious people do with these darn hot lists: simply ignore them, so I agree with Lumo and Dr. Schekman ...

  13. Hi Luboš,

    I'm in agreement with your following statement: "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."

    I'm curious, given the sentiment of this statement, why you don't consider it bizarre that you, with training in and a PhD in theoretical physics, are able to adequately critique and dismiss various findings and consensuses of a field of science that you are similarly (in the professional sense of the word) unfamiliar with, that is, climatology?

  14. Because it's a completely different situation.

    I am more properly trained in atmospheric physics, thermodynamics, statistics, and all the things that are relevant for these questions than 99% of the IPCC members and 99.9999% of the advocates of the champions of the climate alarm in the world. It's all physics and mathematics, stupid. On the other hand, cancer is not really physics.

  15. I'm not really familiar with the IPCC in particular, but I was under the impression that there was something along the lines of a large majority consensus regarding climate change among the relevant professional climate scientists (Wikipedia mentions the World Meteorological Organization, Royal Meteorological Society, the Canadian Meteorological and and Oceanographic Society, The Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences, Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society, American Meteorological Society, Geological Society of London, Geological Society of America, European Geosciences Union, European Federation of Geologists, and the American Geophysical Union), whom I am presuming are also competently trained in the relevant atmospheric physics, thermodynamics, statistics, and tools of scientific analysis for studying climate science.

    I'm in sympathy with your comment that "it's all physics," but I hope you can also empathize with my perspective as a layman: I have essentially no recourse but to consult relevant professional consensuses when forming opinions regarding scientific matters. Unfortunately one of the constrictions this places on my thinking is that I am forced to accept the word of professional climate scientists over that of professional theoretical physicists when it comes to matters concerning the behavior of Earth's climate system, being that I have no objective means of judging one versus the other on merit.

    Let me make a concrete example: I would trust Linus Pauling when he talks about the nature of chemical bonds, because this is his area of expertise, but I have really little to no reason to trust him when he tells me that megavitamin therapy cures cancer and the common cold, for the simple reason that it is in disagreement with the apparent majority consensus of those who have devoted their lives to studying the matter of the effectiveness of various anti-cancer and anti-cold agents, namely biologists and medical researchers.

  16. What do you think makes one better qualified to write about "climatology":

    1. having a proven understanding of all the relevant physics and a good knowledge, (acquired over many years) of the publicly available climate data (Lubos), or

    2. having a Nobel prize of the kind Michael Mann has "got"?:

  17. The consensus on the Wikipedia and elsewhere is achieved by simply ignoring or suppressing dissenting voiced and by using "strong arm" tactics of the kind revealed by the "climategate".

    Talking to real scientists reveals a completely different picture, e.g.

    or a wider analysis

  18. Perhaps some regular TRF reader can give web links to FAQ pages on so-called Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW) and the many holes in it.

    Let me just contribute a few remarks.

    The vaunted "consensus" (97 percent or whatever the latest claim is) does not hold up to scrutiny, Look up names of climate scientists with impeccable credentials giving reasoned arguments very different from the alarmists currently holding sway. Richard Lindzen, Roy Spencer, there are many others.

    CO2 is a greenhouse gas (we'll ignore the fringers who deny that). Hence some portion of the rise in global mean temperature since the start of the 20th century must be man-made but we don't know how much. The relationship of atmospheric CO2 content to temps is not linear but logarithmic, i.e., for every doubling of CO2 you get approximately a 1 degree kelvin increase. What this means is that there is absolutely no danger of a "tipping point" or "runaway warming" or "Venus-like conditions" or the "Statue of Liberty submerged to her neck in rising ocean waters", to name a few of the nightmare scenarios the alarmists trot out. The more CO2 you add, the less every consecutive temperature rise from it becomes.

    Discussion among scientists mostly concern so-called positive feedbacks that would amplify the temp increase for every CO2 doubling. (This is known as "sensitivity".) Based on their computer models, nearly all climate scientists have been predicting huge positive feedbacks that would raise sensitivity from ~ 1 degree kelvin to ~ 3.5 degrees or even more. The past decade and a half has proven all these predictions to be false.

  19. Exhibit A: Michael Mann this year promoting a “vindication” of his notorious hockey stick temperature chart,

    Exhibit B: A simple plot of the input data temperature proxies of the paper that show no hockey stick blade,

    Your comment comes off as phony activism in the face of such easily understood fraud.

  20. Luboš,

    oh well. You obviously think there is a fundamental difference between "left" and "right" political orientation. in fact, it almost does not matter, which "governement" is screwing public affairs, since BOTH parties support growing (i.e. suicidal in the long-term) economy.



  21. Dear Alexander, I largely agree with you. Whether one agrees with elementary propositions such as "the growth is good" isn't determined by one's being left-wing or right-wing but by one's being a sane person or a psychopath.

  22. I seem to recall that the politically correct term "reality challenged". However, it seems to be not quite fitting Alexander who, although he has the opinions of someone from one of those universes that do not support intelligent life, somehow manages to make a living out of them.

  23. Apropos Benjamin Franklin, in 1778, while serving as Minister of the Continental Congress to the
    French government, he received an insulting anonymous letter from some British “gentlemen,” expressing contempt for the American Revolution. An excerpt from his reply:

    The weight, therefore, of an independent empire, which you seem certain of our inability to bear, will not be so great as you imagine; the expense of our civil government we have always borne, and
    can easily bear, because it is small. A virtuous and laborious people may be cheaply governed, determining, as we do, to have no offices of profit, nor any sinecures, or useless appointments, so common in ancient or corrupted states. We can govern ourselves a year for the sum you pay in a single department, for what one jobbing contractor, by the favor of a minister, can cheat you out of in a single article.

    Times have changed in the USA as well as Czechia.

  24. Dear Luboš
    You are not alone. We in Slovenia have the same or even worse communist scum in the current government. They succeeded to raise the government foreign debt from 22 to 75% in just 4 years. And we have majority of voters, among them many young people, who dream about "democratic socialism!"

    In the meantime, the clever and industrious youth is leaving the country in droves.

    Oh, yes, there is another thing we did not have. Unlike in all other ex communist countries there happend no lustration in Slovenia.

  25. Thanks for your understanding, Lucijan, similar conditions.

    The lustration law was here but it will probably be violated big time - after all, Babiš, the boss of ANO and the food industry mogul, which got 20% in the elections and is almost as strong as the social democrats, has as dirty a lustration receipt as you can get. The president wants to respect the lustration law but he will probably be circumvented.

    The spirit of the lustration law has surely been pissed upon entirely as Babiš, former agent codenamed Bureš, became one of the most powerful people in the land.

  26. Well, we had a unique transition experience; ex General secretary of the comunist party became the first president of the democratic Slovenia and was two times reelected. Together with him, all his followers and ex secret policemen (UDBA) became or remained leaders of miriad new left wing parties, bank directors, managers of state owned companies, media etc. All the main media, education, justice system culture are in their hands. It is even surprising that in spite of such brain washing machinery around 50% of people stil vote for non communist parties. (I can not say right wing parties, since they are all socialist! ) But even when they succeed to form a government, the ex party secretary and ex president with his network organize scandals, court perecutions or even so called "popular uprisings" to dislodge them.

    As a result, Slovenia has the highest percentage of state owned economy in Europe, a very unfriendly business environment and very soon all other ex comunist countries will overtake us.

  27. Lol. Nice move though. You can't be an outsider to do an inside job ;-)

  28. That's funny. Climatology is not a scince; it is a cult.

  29. Personally, I find Thong Theory much more interesting as well as more revealing about the true nature of its subjects. ;-)

  30. Enter the strawman.

  31. Hi Eugene, thanks for clarifying the issues for me. I was under the mistaken impression that Luboš disagrees with the two current consensuses that a) the average global temperature is currently rising, and b) there is a causal link between atmospheric CO2 content and global temperatures. From what I understand from your remarks, his disagreement is rather with the degree of sensitivity of temperature to CO2 fluctuations, and also with future temperature predictions being made by currently employed computer models.

  32. Congratulations that the consensus is "rising". There used to be one consensus, now there are multiple "consensuses", nice. ;-)

    I have no doubt that the greenhouse effect exists and I have no doubt that the temperature somewhere or a global average has increased and will increase between the year X and Y if X and Y are appropriately chosen. For other choices of X and Y, we get nearly zero or negative numbers.

  33. I was actually worried for a second that the proper plural of consensus was "consensi," but a quick perusal of Google disabused me of this notion.

    I agree that temperature readings or average temperature readings are liable to change from measurement to measurement, and that arbitrary collections of these readings can be combined in arbitrary ways to produce arbitrary results, but I hardly think that this property is unique to temperature :-)

  34. Yes, Thong Theory is provocative, but really it's just a repackaged Twistor Theory. :-)

  35. And I was going to comment that Alexander Ac must be feeling better now that the left-wing government is sadly coming to Chzechia. But even this does not make him happy!

  36. I believe that in a way, part of the discussion misses the point. Theses publications are just what they are. Their content may vary in quality, diversity, focus for a variety of reasons, some voluntary (management, yield, whatever), and this shouldn't really matter.

    You can always tell your local shop that you'll go elsewhere buy the product they are no longer offering, or the quality of which has dropped below your standards. You may also decide not to supply your brand to a shop ill-fitted to the level of quality your production requires. The same is true for theses publications.

    The real issue is with the peer review/publication system used to qualify and foster one's work and directly impact the funding of the research/er's future.

    In other words, replacing trust (of a community) by the institutionalization of judgment.

    As such, what Schekman has done publicly has silently been done by many others (including our host) but the consequence of their dissent hasn't had the obvious effect it should have had, because these publications have become institutions in a system which requires them to exist and be maintained at all costs as such, if nothing else because it represents a change, to which TPTB always resent when it is not of their own volition. It is about control and predictability.

    Scientists should oppose forcefully to have their work being judged and rated by this court of sorts, "judges" immune to the consequences of their decisions, whose motivation has no direct or obvious relation, and in a way rightly so since they are economic ventures and not scientific undertakings, to the "mission" they purpose to defend, and most of all, because of this set position, removed from the necessary adaptation to the needs of the scientific community.

    These publications have become a vector of sanction, promotion and agenda fulfillment. Let them pass, find or fund new ones. Reduce the scope, narrow the fields, hold conferences using what the internet has best to offer and claim what is yours.