Thursday, 12 December 2013

Does playing the publishing game make us hypocrites?

As I'm sure any scientist or academic who spends any time on the internet will know,   Randy Schekman (recent nobel prize winner) wrote an article in the guardian about how we shouldn't be publishing in 'Glamour mags' like Nature, Science and Cell.  Of course his caveat is that we should all publish in his not quite glamour mag (because its open access) e-Life.

Obviously, there's been a lot of talk on twitter about this...

I've seen a lot of "Hurrah!" responses and a lot of re-post with out much comment. But there's also an undercurrent of people who aren't as happy as might be expected.  Mick Watson wrote a really good blog post explaining why some people are annoyed at Schekman and feel he's a hypocryte and that we shouldn't be praising him for something that will ultimately help him out (i.e. get us to publish in his new journal instead).

While I really respect this position, I have to disagree.  While maybe he doesn't deserve praise exactly, we need these people.  He's won a nobel prize, he's published lots in these closed-access journal, his credentials are sorted. So now he has both power and nothing to lose, he can say what he likes.  

I know from trying to persuade my former Boss to go with PeerJ, that people in this position (not that he's won a nobel prize!) aren't always interested in change, they know the system, they've worked out how to do well in the system and while they don't have much to lose, they also don't have much to gain by changing it.  Those of us without much power (Phd student, postdocs, ECRs), we may be idealistic and really want the paradigm to change, but we can't do it on our own, we need the senior people.  I know I have pressure from colleagues and bosses to publish in these journals if I can. Committees for fellowships and future jobs lap these things up, and I'm not in a position to change that.  But Schekman is one of the lucky few who are.

I think on our way up, all of us play the game to some extent.  As long as we know that we're playing the game and doing all we can to change the rules at the same time, I don't think that makes us hypocrites.  We just have to not end up believing in the game if we manage to win it.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Sharing too early or just early enough?

I've been seeing a Guardian article around twitter this week which has kind of hit a nerve.  It was this post about having your blog plagiarised. Not because I've had the same thing happen to me, but because I've been known to be a bit worried about telling people too much, too early about what I'm working on.

This is the second year that I'm going to Popgroup (The UK population genetics/evolution conference) and not talking about the work that I'm hoping to publish in the near future, because we're too worried about plagiarism (Last years work ended up in this paper).  This was due to the fact that both analyses were fairly simple to do, they just hadn't been done that way before, and someone could pretty easily have gone and replicated the study and beaten us to the punch.

But would they?

Although I, along with my colleagues, wanted to protect against competitors, is it actually that likely that anyone would have gone and replicated it?  After all, there would be a room full of people who saw me present the work, it'd be pretty obvious if someone who was there then went and published it a couple of months later.

Science is littered with examples of people 'borrowing' bits of other peoples data (the whole Watson, Crick, Franklin debacle being the main one we think about in genetics).  But, maybe we should give people the benefit of the doubt more.  There are lots of advantages of talking about your science as it progresses, people can pick you up on mistakes and pitfalls and you can get new ideas to improve the work.  So, in the spirit of open science, I think I'm going to try to be a bit more open in the future, I hope it doesn't come back and bite me.