By Sebastian Arts
We, as scientists, publish a lot of papers these days. It looks like publishing is the primary aim of our research. But what is doing research really about? Is it about publishing articles in order to get a job or promotion? Or is it more old fashioned, like searching for the truth out of curiosity? And what do we want to achieve? Do we want to do research because it increases our job opportunities? Do we do it for international fame? Or do we really just simply want to improve our field of interest through our findings?
These questions should be rhetoric, but they are not. We live in a scientific society in which publication pressure is so high and has such an impact on our career that we have no choice but to publish. We are suffering from publication mania. I don’t want to generalise, but this is the tendency of the scientific field these days.
This overproduction of manuscripts is bringing a lot of work to reviewers and editors, the gatekeepers of our journals. Since everyone is trying to get published in a journal with a high impact factor, this problem is mostly visible in these journals. By the way, a high impact factor is interpreted as high quality, but objectively it is defined as a measure to reflect on the yearly number of citations of articles that were published in that journal. In principle, those two are slightly different. Nevertheless, this overload of manuscripts causes high pressure in reviewers and editors which threatens the quality of their, and our, work. This can result in significant mistakes. Besides, shortcomings in statistical analyses are hard to find for non-statisticians and are mostly not the reviewer’s favorite part of the reviewing process.
In December of 2016 the article of Dong et al. was published in Nature. This article caused a lot of commotion within the scientific society, since the manuscript had methodological flaws and the data analysis seemed poorly performed. These shortcomings were not noticed by the editorial staff. Reviewers didn’t look closely enough at the data-analysis and were very sparing in their comments.
So, there are two problems. The first is that we suffer from publication mania. The second is that peer review does not seem to work as well as we had thought. Nevertheless, I think that we need to start at the beginning. Let’s go back to basic! Do science out of curiosity and it will be fun! And when something is fun you will be more dedicated. Dedication will lead to high quality production without major flaws that need to be taken out by reviewers and statisticians. However, the review process needs to stay intact. Finally, this workflow will result in a nice scientific career. I think that this needs to be the train of thought and not the other way around.
1. Dong X, Milholland B, Vijg J. Evidence for a limit to human lifespan. Nature. 2016 Oct 13;538(7624):257-9.