Scientists seeking the spotlight are adversely impacting the quality of scientific research, says a recent article in Nature magazine. Scientists are increasingly falling prey to the modern craze for publicity which leading journals are ready to satisfy by distributing their work widely and issuing copious press releases.
Recent trends in selection for research funding, or jobs in scientific fields, are also contributing to this development. Journals are ranked according to their 'Impact Factor', which is the average number of times a journal's articles have been cited over the previous two years. Since publishing in top journals scores highly on evaluation charts, these magazines are facing a barrage of submissions from scientists seeking their share of the spotlight.
Nature magazine reports receiving about 9,000 manuscripts annually, which is twice the amount it used to get ten years ago. It ends up rejecting almost 95 per cent of the research papers, as editors play secure and choose fashionable items over the unexpected, resulting in a lack of originality.
The potentially disruptive combination of impact factors and funding is forcing top journals to compete for the trendiest scientists and their papers. Some editors seek to break this debilitating cycle by asking scientists to cool their fixation with journals. Others call for established authors to use open-access web sites and specialised magazines to publish their material to help reduce the pressure on top journals.
Australian scientists have criticised the Impact Factor system as fundamentally flawed. They contend it is a fallacy to assume that an article is good just because it appears in a leading journal. They request journals to publicise only a few articles which they consider among the year's best, to ensure that only top quality work gets due recognition.