Monday, October 7, 2013

Is Science Broken? Part 8: "Science’s Sokal moment"

An interesting experiment:

"John Bohannon, a biologist at Harvard with a side gig as a science journalist, wrote his own Sokalesque paper describing how a chemical extracted from lichen apparently slowed the growth of cancer cells. He then submitted the study, under a made-up name from a fictitious academic institution, to 304 peer-reviewed journals around the world."

But it doesn't really demonstrate that something is wrong with institutional Science, per se; unlike the other examples in this series.

"The publications Dr Bohannon selected for his sting operation were all open-access journals. These make papers available free, and cover their costs by charging authors a fee (typically $1,000-2,000). Policymakers have been keen on such periodicals of late. Since taxpayers already sponsor most academic research, the thinking goes, providing free access to its fruits does not seem unreasonable. But critics of the open-access model have long warned that making authors rather than readers their client risks skewing publishers’ incentives towards tolerating shoddy science."

Bohannan demonstrates that most of the "open-access" journals shouldn't exist, and that the policymakers, as usual, are doing more harm than good. I agree that science paid for by the public should be freely available to the public, but too many of these open-access journals seem to be simply viewing this as a gold-rush-style business opportunity; quality be damned.

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