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Elite Group of Researchers Rule Scientific Publishing 123

Posted by samzenpus
from the publish-or-perish dept.
sciencehabit writes Publishing is one of the most ballyhooed metrics of scientific careers, and every researcher hates to have a gap in that part of his or her CV. Here's some consolation: A new study finds that very few scientists—fewer than 1%—manage to publish a paper every year. But these 150,608 scientists dominate the research journals, having their names on 41% of all papers. Among the most highly cited work, this elite group can be found among the co-authors of 87% of papers. Students, meanwhile, may spend years on research that yields only one or a few papers. "[I]n these cases, the research system may be exploiting the work of millions of young scientists," the authors conclude.
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Elite Group of Researchers Rule Scientific Publishing

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    And since when does "consensus" mean anything in science?

    Well, outside of subjects where it's heresy to even attempt to falsify any claims, anyway...

    • by bunratty (545641) on Sunday July 13, 2014 @05:48PM (#47444839)
      All that stuff in science textbooks has been the consensus of scientists for years. How else are you going to decide what to put in a textbook beside consensus? Just put in your textbook things you would like to believe are true?
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Consensus is something the vast majority (of experts in a field, in this case) agree on. For instance, there is consensus among biologists that the organisms of today evolved from organisms that existed in the past.
      Falsifying claims is the worst thing a scientist can do. Once they're caught their career is over. That's why it's news when it happens but you never see a politician or CEO caught lying making the news since it happens all the time

      This is a non-news article. Of course the top x% of anything are

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Some economists at Harvard got busted publishing fake crap that support hokey rightwing anti-tax ideology and nothing happened, they just said "oops, gosh, we just made a mistake using Excel" and it blew over. The lamest part is it was published in a supposedly peer reviewed journal yet their fraud was only exposed by an undergrad a public university. I have a lot of respect for physical sciences but these "human sciences" like economics and psychology are full of shit.

        • by mpe (36238)
          Some economists at Harvard got busted publishing fake crap that support hokey rightwing anti-tax ideology and nothing happened, they just said "oops, gosh, we just made a mistake using Excel" and it blew over. The lamest part is it was published in a supposedly peer reviewed journal yet their fraud was only exposed by an undergrad a public university.

          Most likely "peer reviewers" only checked that the paper is consistent with "economics" (or whatever the specific "science" in question is). How often do the
      • ... attempt to falsify any claims...

        Falsifying claims is the worst thing a scientist can do. Once they're caught their career is over.

        This a misunderstanding of the the term "falsify". Unfortunately, there are two well-understood meanings [oxforddictionaries.com] for the word:

        In the sciences, we use the second meaning of the word a lot. It is considered a good thing. We propose an idea, or make a claim, then find ways to test the idea/claim. A useful idea in science is

  • by Anonymous Coward

    .... “In many disciplines, doctoral students may be enrolled in high numbers, offering a cheap workforce,” ....

    Well, yeah.

    College is expensive. You need experience.

    And in the US, I wonder how many are foreign who are stuck in those positions.

    And a cheap workforce flies in the face of there being a shortage of scientists.

  • No sh*t (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DerekLyons (302214) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .retawriaf.> on Sunday July 13, 2014 @06:01PM (#47444903) Homepage

    Junior guys in [field] aren't as well known as senior guys and do most of the grunt work.

    Film at 11.

  • flawed methodology (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tommeke100 (755660) on Sunday July 13, 2014 @07:03PM (#47445169)
    They took a publications database between 1996 and 2011, which contains about 15,000,000 authors.
    There they found only 150,000 published every of those years.
    Of course not all of those 15 million have been working in research for 16 years. Most graduate/PhD students are in research for 5 years and then they need to find another job.
    Actually most people at my company were author or co-author of a paper at some point, and we only published because of some grants that required it.
    So if you take out the people who really only have a couple of publications, or published for a small period of time, the picture will be completely different.
    Take into account that you need people who's career actually span the 1996-2011 period (which filters out probably like 30% of people genuinely having a successfull academic career), and they actually paint a realistic picture of who the profs are or research leads.
    • by Goldsmith (561202)

      There's a concept in your post that doesn't quite come across as clearly as it should:

      People who are very successful academic scientists are only publishing for a few years, because they're able to go get significantly better jobs outside of academia.

      The 1% of folks who are publishing for 16 years strait are very good at getting grants and publishing papers, but have failed during that 16 years to do anything sufficiently interesting or important to distract them from the academic grind for even one year.

  • by dlenmn (145080) on Sunday July 13, 2014 @07:17PM (#47445245) Homepage

    I'm surprised the "dominating group" is that large. There aren't a ton of _senior_ scientist out there (i.e. professors or researchers with the funding for graduate students and postdocs), and those are the people whose names appear most frequently. A senior scientist will probably have been doing research for years, have lots of projects going on at once, have many students and postdocs, have a number of collaborators, and the senior scientist's name will go on every paper produced by that group (even if it's as a middle author -- which means next to nothing). New guys will often want to collaborate with the big names, which means the big names get on even more papers. If you're working on your own (i.e. you don't have the funding to hire others), then you won't publish as frequently.

    What did you expect? Why is this an issue?

    Sincerely,

    A graduate student who has been working on a project for two years (and who should be working on a paper)

  • Probably every student will have the name of their professor on their paper. And almost every researcher will have the name of their manager or even the name of the director of their research institute on their paper. At least this is how it was while I was working at a research institute. The bosses will almost every time end up getting named as co-authors on every publication.

    On the other hand, the bosses will have to study and approve so many research papers that they will be short on time to write their

    • Probably every student will have the name of their professor on their paper. And almost every researcher will have the name of their manager or even the name of the director of their research institute on their paper. At least this is how it was while I was working at a research institute. The bosses will almost every time end up getting named as co-authors on every publication.

      On the other hand, the bosses will have to study and approve so many research papers that they will be short on time to write their own papers. Getting named as co-author will be their consolation in return.

      This may still happen, but I think it's gotten much rarer, and I've seen little or none of it. Most of the better journals frown heavily on it and some even require that you list who did what. For university research, the professor leading the project is usually last author. The student or post-doc who did all the work is first. Second (if not alphabetical) might go to someone who did a similar amount of work to #1, but didn't write the paper (or you might even see a footnote that "author 1 and author 2

      • by sdack (601542)

        I do not see it as a problem at all. I find it is rather a positive sign and one should focus less on the names on a paper, but more on the content of it. When the bosses are listed as co-authors then because there was a cooperation that benefited all. If bosses are being reduced to "admin" then this can be a sign of too little or no involvement into the research that is going on. So it is rather good to see it happening.

        You get this kind of problem with many social networks. If this is a network of scienti

  • by Alopex (1973486) on Sunday July 13, 2014 @08:02PM (#47445417)

    Knowing that you could be putting in 70-80 hours a week, and potentially stumble across some major discovery (imagine: cure a kind of cancer discovery). That discovery would be published by your boss, who, adding to his life's work, would cumulatively take most of the public credit for the work. Meanwhile, it doesn't matter if you had some amazing insight or designed the actual experiment to solve the problem.

    Look at Nobel laureates and their age and their contributions. How many nameless people enabled them to win that award?

    All you can hope for is that you publish a couple papers in top journals that will enable to you to get a solid job in industry, or jump onto the tenure track treadmill, so that one day you can be in a position of exploiting others' work and creativity, potentially in a field completely unrelated to your PhD.

    The young have no power to change, and the old have no reason to give up their advantageous position.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Good thing then that the old retire & die, and the young get old then, right?

      That old geezer has been successful enough at writing the grant aplications,, hobnobbing an developing his or her reputation, thus securing the $ that pays for the lab and equipment you're using, etc. Might as well bitch about the univerity or organization you're working at taking a commercial interest in any patentable/commercializable ideas you may come up with from "your" hard work and research too.
      Waaahh.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Wow, no sense of history there.

        No, the senior guys today did not have it as hard as the junior ones do now. Not even close. Most of the senior researchers today got their jobs during the education boom in the 80s-90s, back when it was normal for every PhD to end up with a job in academia. Now it's more like 1 in 10, and that's after a longer PhD, several postdocs and more pressure during the tenure track.

        The old geezers do almost nothing to help research. They eat up grant money, stick their names on everyt

    • Who gave you the idea to work on? Who gave you advice and guidance on approach to work an experiments? Who commented on your write up? If this is all worthless, why go to grad school? Or are you just trying to collect a certificate to get a job?

  • by gwstuff (2067112) on Sunday July 13, 2014 @08:20PM (#47445505)

    99% of review committees for conferences and editorial boards on journals are made up of that 1% of elite scientists. So the guys who decide which papers get published and which get crumpled and tossed into the bin are from the one who, by the way, do most of the publishing.

    Having been in research for 15+ years, everyone knows that it's one big collusion of people promoting each other and excluding the rest. *Everyone* knows this. If a researcher pretends not to understand this or dismisses it then he's bullshitting you. Yes. It is depressing. Oh, and while I was actively publishing I was in the 1%...

    • by c6gunner (950153)

      Having been in research for 15+ years, everyone knows that it's one big collusion of people promoting each other and excluding the rest. *Everyone* knows this. If a researcher pretends not to understand this or dismisses it then he's bullshitting you.

      Totally. That's why that Einstein guy never got to publish. Goddamn Newtonians had it out for him, and I don't have to tell you the kind of grip they have on the community!

      Yes. It is depressing. Oh, and while I was actively publishing I was in the 1%...

      Oh, wow, me too! I mostly wrote about Heisenberg flux matrix compensators. Weren't you the guy who kept publishing about the time cube?

      • by gwstuff (2067112)

        Totally... BS. You're using a counterexample that is a complete outlier in every way. It's like saying dropping out of college is a good thing, look at Bill Gates, Steve Jobs...

        Academic publishing would be a much fairer process of reviews would be truly double blind, and if there were a severe penalty for breaking the rules. In the absence of that, people win Nobel prizes and will continue to do so. But that's because those people are outliers, not because the system is sane.

        • by ttsai (135075)

          Academic publishing would be a much fairer process of reviews would be truly double blind, and if there were a severe penalty for breaking the rules. In the absence of that, people win Nobel prizes and will continue to do so. But that's because those people are outliers, not because the system is sane.

          Outstanding papers for the most part will continue to be published. That's not the issue. The problem is that the overwhelming portion of submitted papers are not seminal papers, and it's these papers that are subjected to the defects in the review process, including the following:
          (1) Not all reviewers are equally competent for their assigned papers.
          (2) Not all reviewers are equally committed to spending the minimum amount of time needed for a thorough review. I have seen reviews submitted by well-known

          • by mvdwege (243851)

            Option 6: Submitted papers really aren't that good.

            Especially in subjects with a lot of politicisation in the popular press, it is a common tactic for third-rate or worse researchers to go crying about the establishment suppressing their papers; a closer look often turns out that these papers are in fact very shoddy work.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        It might not always be as bad as you might think (and the way gwstuff put it does leave some open to the imagination). I do not get the feeling that I am being actively discriminated against because of my name (although, having peer reviewers that I've personally met and clicked with would of course help). What I have noticed though, is that scientists react very strongly to criticism of their work, and I've had people try to suppress my publications essentially on the basis that we showed previous work to

        • by mpe (36238)
          Some of the papers in the field are highly cited, yes, because well, and here's the problem, everyone keeps citing each other in circles regardless of the actual impact.

          Which can create a sort of positive feedback when it comes to citation. There will also be people who will take the amount of citations as being a measure of "quaility". Even when what they actually have is a "circular argument".
          Then there's the issue of what happens if someone, especially an "outsider", discovers a problem with the origin
      • by Anonymous Coward

        Goddamn Newtonians had it out for him, ...

        Interesting that you should mention Newton. Depending who you believe, Robert Hooke wanted credit for Newton's work on gravitation. But then after Hooke died Newton became President of the Royal Society and got some revenge (on Hooke's reputation).

  • by Xac (841406)
    Wasn't this the point of cosmos? to get more of these exploitable kids into the system?
  • Elite scientists? In that 1% group we will find heads of labs that sign the papers of any of their underlying. They also file patents and have stocks in statups. This kind of "elite" is the parasite kind.

    Now I find no way to find in publication data who are the really exceptional scientists. We would have to look at paper quality to tell that.

  • My experience (Score:4, Interesting)

    by felixrising (1135205) on Sunday July 13, 2014 @10:29PM (#47446101)
    I (BSc) was assisting a PhD student on a project, a project the student was having difficulty with and became very demotivated. Although his supervisor was doing all he could to keep the research going (including bringing me onboard to help), eventually the PhD candidate pulled out. The end result, a paper has been published with my name and his supervisor's name on it, because we ended up finishing the study. So yeah, I can see how his supervisor having yet another paper with his name on it published might seem like the 1%, but reality is, the supervisor had the work ethic to finish off the study and have it published when the student did not.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I had a conversation about this with a guy at work 2 days before this article was posted. With the professor I had this was not the case, however some of the other professors at my school had this kind of attitude. Most professors\scientists write grants and spend most of their time doing that and the students do most of the work, as long as the students get credit on the paper for it and get paid (cash or stipend), it doesn't matter. If your a student and not getting paid, find something else to do. I have

  • Most of these 'researchers' who get their names on every paper are actually the managers who don't have a clue about the actual research. Their name is only there because they force the real researchers to include it in the papers. Been there, done that, quit the job.

  • by HuguesT (84078) on Monday July 14, 2014 @06:57AM (#47447463)

    Grant money is given preferably to teams that already publish a lot. Even "starting grants" in the EU require a single principal investigator (PI) with a lot of well-cited publication under their belt. This can only be achieved if the PI has done their initial research in a well-heeled lab, with a well-known head of the lab who is well-connected, and so on. This encourages a pyramidal structure with a lot of grunt students at the bottom, supervised by post-docs, supervised by assistant professors, and so on. Success encourages visibility, which encourages grants, which ensures money, which ensures good grunt students can be hired, and so on.

    This is not the only possible successful structure, but one of the most common. A single researcher, however brilliant, cannot usually keep up with the outpouring of landmark papers the pyramidal structure can achieve. On the other hand, if everybody does their job, meritocracy in the pyramidal structure ensures that the best grunt students get promoted to post docs, and so on, usually in a different pyramidal structure.

    The big drawback of the pyramidal structure is that the prof at the top usually doesn't know exactly what is going on at the bottom, even though they put their name on most of the papers that the structure produces.

    Disclaimer: I'm a tenured prof. I do have a reasonable number of students, but I work with them directly. All my students are co-supervised with at least one other prof. Occasionally I do have a few post-docs but the structure is always collaborative. This is not the standard but this works well enough also as long as there isn't any ego-driven fights in the lab. This means choosing your collaborators well. I've made a few mistakes, but so far so good.

  • by janoc (699997) on Monday July 14, 2014 @10:02AM (#47448195)

    This is "news" only to people who don't have a clue how research works - and usually the ones setting the publication criteria - like "you have to publish 2 journal papers per year" for an assistant professor (fresh post-doc or a PhD student), along with all the teaching load, of course. I was teaching 10 different courses (!) one semester and was still expected to actually do research half of my time and to publish those 2 journal papers.
    Never mind that shepherding a journal paper through the review process and publication takes a year or two on average alone, plus you have to actually have something to publish to begin with. Even conference papers can take 6 months to publish and you must attend them as well (but nobody wants to pay for that!).

    The prolific "publishers" are mostly professors that are heads of labs. They are not actually doing any of the work themselves. It is the young PhD students and post-docs who are slaving away in the lab, writing the papers and then put the name of the prof on the paper as a coauthor. It is a very common practice, basically giving a nod to the prof for paying their salary and letting them graduate. If you have a large lab with 20 PhDs who write 1-2 papers a year, that's alone 40 papers for the prof's CV annually. Then you get invited to contribute to various book chapters (again PhD students write that), you get invited lectures and what not - all that counts as publications.

    The young researchers have absolutely no chance to break through in such competition where the number of publications is a criteria. You can have two very good papers but when you apply for an academic job, you have no chance against a guy with 40+ (no matter that most of them are the same thing publishes under different names or it isn't really their work). Unfortunately, that often leads to BS publications - like doing few minor changes and publishing the same work several times in different venues, publishing obvious, non-interesting "results" in minor, often in-house workshops or conferences, in the worse cases even scientific fraud and various misconduct - all for the sake of getting that number of publications up. It is only your job and chance for tenure that is at stake.

    I have left university pretty much because of this - with no/not enough publications no chance to get a permanent position, but no chance to get those papers published if all you are doing is teaching teaching and more teaching (even though I love teaching). And when not teaching you are doing paperwork and trying to justify your own existence to various clueless bureaucrats every few months so that they don't cut your funding again. That's not exactly a situation where you can do research.

  • So, I wonder how much information is shared between scientists, peer reviewed, and never submitted to a journal? If you know the ipython notebook that is a way to do what people used to do, correspond via mail. now via web-page or e-mail. You can distribute results along with the data that were used and the programs that processed it, how your data got reduced, how the images were drafted. You guys know about this. Is the paper journal and the publishing paywalls a thing of the past?

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