This post is part of a series called _Is Academia Broken?_ It relates the experiences of Jeff, Authorea’s Community coordinator, and weighing the options on pursuing a PhD. Be sure to check out Alberto’s first blog post, on the perils of early career interdisciplinary research, and his second, on the overabundance of PhDs and dearth of academic positions.
In recent coverage of a massive meta-analysis of the Google Scholar archives, the top-ten “elite” journals are compared to “the rest” in several broad disciplines. For papers published from 1995 to 2013, there was a 64% average increase of top-1000 cited papers coming out of non-elite journals (here, “elite” = top-ten most-cited journals for a given category; “non-elite” = the rest). Lest you worry these represent the _only_ cited articles in non-elite journals: the total share of citations going to non-elite articles rose from 27% to 47% over the same period. Part of the reason for this sudden shift is digitization. In the conclusion to the paper the team responsible for Google Scholar (released 10 years ago in November 2014) state: Now that finding and reading relevant articles in non-elite journals is about as easy as finding and reading articles in elite journals, researchers are increasingly building on and citing work published everywhere. With the introduction of exactingly searchable databases, the playing field is indeed leveling for access and awareness of all tiers of journals, splashy-high-impact or otherwise. This naturally leads to faster and more efficient scientific endeavors. (Imagine getting even closer, accessing new developments and discoveries in near-real-time. If you think the rate of progress in science is dizzying _now_...) Not mentioned, however, is the fact fields have grown more specialized, and publishers have responded by producing more specialty-specific journals. This may in part account for the increased share of non-elite citations: the publication of a groundbreaking article in a lower impact specialty journal will become a necessary citation in many subsequent papers in that and related fields. Another interesting point to consider in future studies is how open access journals measure up in citation rate. It has also been documented that high impact, elite journals have higher rates of retraction . Do the high impact works from non-elite journals show comparable rates of retraction? Given their high impact, many of the same explanations high impact journals give for higher retraction rates should still apply (i.e. increased exposure and thus increased scrutiny). Regardless, it is clear that new considerations must be made and changes are underway with respect to academic publications. Hopefully scientists return to their roots of open discourse and dissemination of their data SO WE CAN GET FURTHER, FASTER, TOGETHER.
SO YOU ACTUALLY WANT YOUR RESEARCH READ... Every year in science, tech, and medicine, on the order of 2 MILLION PAPERS are published. That’s a lot of papers. To remain current with their field, physicians must read about 20 PAPERS A DAY. Given the growing “scourge” of cross-disciplinary science and the interconnectivity of life, our world, and everything, 20 papers honestly seems low. How, then, is an average journal article only read by 10 people, or only 20% of _cited_ papers actually read? Maybe it has to do with the overextension of researchers (see Alberto’s post above for massive discipline-spanning course lists). Or maybe it has to do with the way papers are presented. They’re long, in archaic formats, and only accessible with a background in the given discipline (and, critically, freedom from paywalls). Why can’t we - scientists/communicators of knowledge/sharers of discoveries - agree to write clearly, concisely, and for broad impact and appeal? Many universities and other research institutions have press offices that interface with the public for just this reason. This is critical, as institutions’ research and resources help attract more funding and, nobly, should be shared with the world. The problem? You, as the person who did the research, probably know it better! And you (hopefully) won’t oversell it!
A recent article in Nature Communications is extremely informative. Like many good studies, it takes assumed fixtures or mainstays of a field (in this case isolated culturing in microbiology), flips them in some way, and arrives at novel observations and conclusions. Bacteria have usually been studied in single culture in rich media or in specific starvation conditions. These studies have contributed to understanding and characterizing their metabolism. However, they coexist in nature with other microorganisms and form consortia in which they interact to build an advanced society that drives key biogeochemical cycles. Briefly, the authors showed co-cultured bacteria (i.e. two different species from the same environment were grown together) formed physical connections with each other to allow ONE SPECIES TO HARNESS THE OTHER’S UNIQUE METABOLIC CHEMISTRY WHEN THE FORMER COULD NOT SURVIVE UNDER THE GIVEN STARVATION CONDITIONS. In turn, the donor species growth was elevated compared to isolation due to accessing it’s partners’ own metabolites. The researchers got some great pictures.
_NOT EXACTLY DICTIONARY-STYLE DEFINITIONS, BUT IDEALLY MEANINGFUL, THESE ARE WORDS THAT EVERY SCIENTIST, RESEARCHER, AND SCHOLAR SHOULD BE FAMILIAR WITH AS THEY RELATE BROADLY TO KNOWLEDGE AND ITS ACCUMULATION. CLICK AROUND, LET US KNOW WHAT YOU THINK, OR WRITE YOUR OWN THOUGHTS ON WORDS AND LET US KNOW – WE’LL ADD THEM TO THE LIST!_ FALSIFIABILITY HYPOTHESIS EXPERIMENT CONCLUSION EQUIPOLLENCE DOUBLE-BLIND I.M.R.A.D. Is IMRAD Rad?