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Re. Can journals monopolize science?

Tom Schneider toms at fcs260c2.ncifcrf.gov
Sat May 29 14:09:17 EST 1993

Song-Muh Jong contacted me by email and has permitted me to repost it here.

| From SJJ at icbr.ifas.ufl.edu Fri May 28 14:09:12 1993
| Return-Path: <SJJ at icbr.ifas.ufl.edu>
| Message-Id: <9305281809.AA06730 at fcs280s.ncifcrf.gov>
| Date: 28 May 93 13:51:00 EST
| From: "JONG, SONG-MUH J" <SJJ at icbr.ifas.ufl.edu>
| Subject: Re: Re. Can journals monopolize science?
| To: "toms" <toms at fcs260c2.ncifcrf.gov>
| Although it sounds more work if a reviewer gets more than one copy
| of the manuscript from the same authors, it is actually a minimal
| amount of work because a reviewer only reads the manuscript once
| no matter how many copies he/she receives from journals. The only thing
| the reviewer needs is to write comments for each journal according to
| the principles of individual journals, which is expected for the reviewer
| if he/she agrees to review papers for more than one journal. A manuscript
| can be critically reviewed if all the reviewers are doing their part of work.
| The point here is that should journals set up that kind of policy to
| restrict the submission to ohter journals? After all, authors pay
| page charges for most of the journals and are considered advertisement
| regarding their publications.
| This is only my personal view.
| Song-Muh Jong
| sjj at icbr.ifas.ufl.edu

Unless the journals have somehow coordinated their review efforts, a single
paper sent to two journals will generally go to two different reviewers.  So if
I receive a paper for review, I will put a lot of effort into understanding it
so that I can give the most fair review possible.  This is hard to do and takes
substantial time.  I do NOT like the idea of doing this under some kind of time
pressure to compete with another journal.  (I do not necessary have alliance
with the journal, just with supporting the overall system.)  I also do not like
the idea that the author may neglect my effort entirely, though I must admit
that some authors have responded appropriately and others have not in the final

So how would you change the system so that my hard efforts don't go for naught?

| From daemon Fri May 28 17:54:19 1993
| Return-Path: <daemon>
| Message-Id: <9305282154.AA07743 at fcs280s.ncifcrf.gov>
| Date: 28 May 93 17:40:00 EST
| From: "JONG, SONG-MUH J" <SJJ at icbr.ifas.ufl.edu>
| Subject: RE: post
| To: "toms" <toms at ncifcrf.gov>
| Tom,
| I guess you are referring to my previous post about the decision to
| ban a scientist (or many?) from publishing papers for the fact that
| he/she or they send the manuscripts to more than one journal.
| I did not keep a copy of my previous post. However, my point was
| that this seems to be a contemporary view rather than a view that
| can hold for a long time, judging by the similar rules in other
| area such as writers' work, job finders' resumes, students'
| applications, grant applicants' proposals, ... etc. Anyway, I do think
| that the old-fashioned way of thinking about scientific publication
| (which we have been so educated that we instinctively think it is
| the way things should go) may not be totally correct. I propose
| that manuscript submission should be handled the same way books
| are handled by publishers: whoever offers the best publishing
| conditions should be chosen by the authors. I understand that
| many journals are established by scientists who have their own principles.
| Since journals are becoming so commercialized, these scientists
| should stop thinking that they have a superpower to determine
| other scientists' future such as banning from publishing in sister
| journals.
| Hope there is no confusion about this issue.
| Song-Muh
| sjj at icbr.ifas.ufl.edu

I actually like this idea.  The journals tend to reject that which their
editors don't understand.  This is hindering science!  Lewin, of Cell once told
me on the phone that he would not even review our paper on splicing (now J Mol
Biol 228: 1124-1136, 1992, so the quality can't be THAT bad!!) because it
wasn't appropriate.  Yet his journal often publishes papers on splicing, and
just about every other paper in there can benifit by the use of the sequence
logo technique.  He also would not consider using the sequence logos in his
book "until they are accepted" - so he hindered acceptance of a technique that
is far better than the @#)$(*& consensus method people keep using out of
ignorance.  Looks like I'd better get my asbestos suit on!

Getting off the track into a big can of worms, I am quite unhappy with many of
the current journals.  They like to publish popular topics, but if something is
hard to understand or takes effort (information theory!!) then they gloss right
past it and won't even review it.  (You editors can tell who the guilty parties
here are!)  Yet the merit of papers in the major journals is often
questionalble and many are poorly written.  Figures are extremely tough to
figure out and journals have policies that make them difficult to read.  For
example, why must lanes of gels be labeled a b c d rather than with what is in
the lane?  The poor reader has to move his/her eyes back and forth many times
to figure out what the lanes are.  Why are biology journals still 10 years
behind in publishing technology compared to the computer sciences and
electrical engineering?  (IEEE press regularly uses a LaTex format, and it is a
breeze to publish - no glitches possible!)

Onto another topic to get my blood pressure up, why is there still this
emphasis on numbers of (poorly written) papers?  I have worked on some papers 8
years before submission.  Why are we ruining the system by rushing to press
with such stupid papers as ones that report the effect of a single base change
in a binding site?  It is technically possible now to report the effects of
THOUSANDS of changes in a single paper, but folks take literally years to do
the job, and they don't even do it right.


Ok, my suit is on.  ;-)

  Tom Schneider
  National Cancer Institute
  Laboratory of Mathematical Biology
  Frederick, Maryland  21702-1201
  toms at ncifcrf.gov

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