This is a credible scientific journal?

nature is considered one of the few tip-top scientific journals in the world.  At research-intensive institutions, tenure decisions are made based in non-trivial part on whether a faculty member was able to get articles published in nature and similar.  nature publishes less than 10% of submitted science manuscripts, and it’s that high because most people are smart enough not to  try unless they really think they are onto something big.  Because of the prestige of the journal and “we’re first” aspect of the articles, it is the most highly cited general science journal in the world on a per-article basis.

So, right now there’s yet another kerfuffle regarding journalistic and editorial integrity regarding nature.  It turns out that there’s a scientific editor who has said/written/tweeted things that make him look like a misogynistic, bullying douchebag (allegedly!), and is at it again.  I’m not going to get into the details of the story, if you are in the sciences and finding this out from me, you’ve missed the boat and you need to poke around a little.  (The recent behavior went outside the bounds of the journal and has been remarkably unprofessional.  If the most recent event gains traction, he may very well lose his job.)

This leads me to a problem that I’ve had with nature for a long time; it really isn’t a scientific journal!  It’s a science magazine for professionals that happens to publish breaking science with the same alleged care as a scientific journal.  nature also publishes news and features and opinions and even science-related fiction for Dog’s sake!!  The fact that it doesn’t capitalize itself should be a warning not to take it too seriously.  If something like this is going to happen, I would totally expect it to happen at a “journal” that isn’t focused 100% on actual scientific results.

In my sub-field, journals are where science gets published.  Not bullshit like commentary, news, features, but pure science.  I was never in any danger of being a hotshot scientist so I have an excuse for not knowing the history of such journals, but how in the hell did a magazine become such an influential scientific journal?  WTF?!?!  Publishing in a “journal” that also publishes fiction is supposed to make someone hot shit?  (The editor in question has had his own fiction published in nature; I wonder how that happened?)  I don’t mean to denigrate art at all, but scientific journals should be places where you can’t make stuff up and nature has had some problems in that regard from scientific articles, too.  Hell, I don’t even bother to read nature to keep up with my field, because the real comprehensive science will appear later in a real journal.  nature tends to be dominated by “we’re first” articles on things that potentially have a large impact on the relevant field, so the articles tend to be superficial.

This whole thing does make me thankful for a few things.  First, although issues like familial economic status and racial status often get left out of the “-ism” mix, this does bring home that point that blatant sexism is still present and accounted for.  So, I do have to be thankful that I don’t have to deal with the shit that many female scientists have to put up with.

Second, this is one of the things that makes me thankful (and proud) that I’m not in the research-intensive la-la land!  Yes, this situation seems to be primarily sexism, but it’s also the scientific arms race that has led to “journals” like nature being some sort of fucking holy grail.  I don’t blame scientists too much; gotta eat.  However, whenever there is a hyper-competitive and hyper-exclusive venue of any sort, you can be sure that assholes will be involved, overwhelmingly male.  Throw money (research funding and job security) into the mix, and it can be a war zone.

Just something to keep in mind when I make other posts that are somewhat disparaging of the research-intensive part of academia.  Not that my part of academia is much healthier, it’s usually just sick in different ways.


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