Publishing the most important work in the life sciences


  • Randy Schekman University of California, Berkeley, Howard Hughes Medical Institute



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The assessment of scholarly achievement depends critically on the proper evaluation and publication of research work in scholarly journals. Investigators face a dizzying array of journal styles that include commercial, not-for-profit and academic society journals that are supported by a mix of subscription and page charges. The Open Access (OA) movement, launched in Britain but greatly expanded by the Public Library of Science (PLoS), seeks to eliminate the firewall that separates published work from public access. OA journals are funded by a mix of page charges and philanthropic or foundation support. Most OA journals embrace a more liberal licensing agreement on the use and reuse of published work, favoring the creative commons license rather than a copyright held by the publisher. Some publishers, particularly commercial firms, view the OA movement as a threat to the viability of their business plan. Major commercial publishers, particularly Elsevier, have fought against government mandates for OA publication of publicly funded research.

The most selective and successful journals, Science, Nature and Cell (a life science journal owned by Elsevier), maintain a firm hold on the high end of the scientific literature by appealing to investigators to submit only their most important work. Typically, these journals publish only a small fraction of the papers they receive and for the most part they rely on professional editors rather than active scholars to make key editorial decisions. These publishers, particularly Nature and Cell, reinforce their high standing by relying on a metric, the impact factor (IF) that computes the average number of citations of papers published in the journal during the preceding two-year period. As a consequence, many investigators, who quite naturally seek career advancement, strive to publish in these journals even at the expense of repeated cycles of review, wasteful additional experimental work and ultimately lost time. I will argue that it is time for scholars to reassume authority for the publication of their research work and to eschew the use of IF in the evaluation of scholarly achievement and favor OA publications over what I have called the “luxury” journals.



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Author Biography

Randy Schekman, University of California, Berkeley, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

a Nobel Prize-winner in Physiology or Medicine 2013, Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and Editor-in-chief of the open-access journal eLife. eLife is a new high profile, open-access journal supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Max Planck Society and the Wellcome Trust, launched in 2012. In December 2013, Schekman called for academic journal publishing reform and open access science publication by announcing that his lab at the University of California, Berkeley would no longer submit to the prestigious closed-access journals Nature, Cell and Science, citing their self-serving and deleterious effects on science.




How to Cite

Schekman, R. (2015). Publishing the most important work in the life sciences. Septentrio Conference Series, (5).