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Editorial Guides:
Living by the Numbers
Michael B. Yaffe (1 December 2009)
Sci. Signal. 2 (99), eg15-eg15. [DOI: 10.1126/scisignal.299eg15]
Abstract »   Full Text »  PDF » 
Posted E-Letters:

Do Bigger and "Better" Labs Have Easier Access to High Impact Factor Journals?

During our either short or long careers as researchers, we have all come across "sexy" projects. We classify projects as "sexy" if they may appeal to high impact factor journals, striving to publish novelties. Indeed, laboratories working on sexy and tough projects often use state-of-the-art technologies to reveal insights that cannot be addressed with older methods or technology. These studies, in turn, are readily published in high impact journals. We have all heard of laboratories purchasing expensive equipment solely in order to resolve a critique from a reviewer that could not be addressed otherwise. Consequently, laboratories that have succeeded in breaking the editorial and reviewers' barriers and ultimately publish their work are the same labs that have better chances of receiving more prestigious grants, since funding bodies may use the impact factor ranking as a standard screening method. The better the grants, the better the equipment gets, the more students are attracted to the lab, the more technicians may be hired, etc. Finally, these high-tech laboratories now have better chances of reaching, yet again, high impact factor journals, for they are now better equipped than ever before. Moreover, in many fields, time is of the essence, and indeed bigger laboratories accomplish more in less time. And the cycle goes on.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, we find laboratories that lack funding and, therefore, lack the newest equipment and have limited personnel. These labs often seek cooperation with labs that can offer the needed material (either equipment or even working hands), which is a time-consuming process that does not always bear fruit. These labs often do not manage to publish in "elite" journals and may settle for lower-ranked journals despite the potential importance of their findings. The vicious cycle is most acutely felt when laboratories have to abandon "demanding" projects due to their inability to pursue them without adequate equipment or personnel. Even worse is the fact that without high impact publications, some laboratories may have to shut down entirely due to lack of funding.

The real loser in this process is science itself. Once again, non-sexy projects are abandoned, whereas riskier, high-tech projects are pursued instead, for they may better appeal to the high-ranked journals. If we continue to respect and judge laboratories based on their publication dossier only, in the near future we might find ourselves with crowded and overfunded mega-laboratories, bullying their competitors or buying them out...

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