Science Magazine rejects data, publishes anecdoteIn: science politics
Yesterday, Science Magazine published a news story (not a peer-reviewed paper) by Gonzo-Scientist John Bohannon on a sting operation in which a journalist submitted a bogus manuscript to 304 open access journals (observe that no toll access control group was used). Science Magazine reports that 157 journals accepted and 98 rejected the manuscript. No words on any control groups or other data that would indicate what the average acceptance rate for bogus manuscripts might be in general.
As Michael Eisen points out, this story is merely the pot calling the kettle black, when Science Magazine is replete with bogus articles (such as that on #arseniclife, for instance) and the magazine has one of the highest retraction rates of the entire industry. Which brings me to the main point of this post: it should come as no surprise that Science Magazine publishes a news story on an ill-conducted sting operation, an anecdote without proper controls – that’s what glamor magazines like Science, Cell or Nature do. The data that we have on this fact are quite unequivocal: hi-ranking journals like these retract many more papers than any other journal and a large fraction of these are retracted because of fraud. There is not even a single quality-related metric in the literature that would confidently express any advantage, quality-wise, of hi-ranking journals over others. However, there are a number of metrics which suggest that, in fact, the quality and reliability of the science published in these GlamMagz is actually below average.
To make things worse, when we submitted this data to Science Magazine, they rejected it with the remark that “we feel that the scope and focus of your paper make it more appropriate for a more specialized journal”. Obviously, Science Magazine values anecdotes more than actual data. No surprise their retraction rate is going through the roof: rejecting data that make them look bad and publish anecdotes that make them look good.