Negative changes in the scientific publication process in ecology: potential causes and consequences

Authors

  • BERNHARD STATZNER,

    1. CNRS, Biodiversité des Ecosystèmes Lotiques, Parcieux, France
    Search for more papers by this author
    • Order of authorship ascertained through a X-country pétanque match, November 2009.

  • VINCENT H. RESH

    1. Department of Environmental Science, Policy & Management, University of California, Berkeley, CA, U.S.A.
    Search for more papers by this author
    • Order of authorship ascertained through a X-country pétanque match, November 2009.


Bernhard Statzner, CNRS, Biodiversité des Ecosystèmes Lotiques, 304 Chemin Creuse Roussillon, F-01600 Parcieux, France. E-mail: statzner@biomserv.univ-lyon1.fr

Summary

1. Increasingly viewed to have societal impact and value, science is affected by complex changes such as globalisation and the increasing dominance of commercial interest. As a result, technical advancements, financial concerns, institutional prestige and journal proliferation have created challenges for ecological and other scientific journals and affected the perception of both researchers and the public about the science that they publish.

2. Journals are now used for more than dissemination of scientific research. Institutions use journal rankings for a variety of purposes and often require a pre-established number of articles in hiring and budgetary decisions. Consequently, journal impact factors have achieved greater importance, and the splitting of articles into smaller parcels of information (‘salami-slicing’) to increase numbers of publications has become more frequent.

3. Journals may prescribe upper limits to article length, even though the average length of articles for several ecological journals examined has increased over time. There are clear signs, however, that journals without length limits for articles will become rarer. In contrast to ecological journals, taxonomic journals are not following this trend.

4. Two case histories demonstrate how splitting longer ecological articles into a series of shorter ones results in both redundancy of information and actually increases the journal space used overall. Furthermore, with current rejection rates of ecological journals (often ∼80%), many thin salami-sliced articles jam the peer-review system much longer (through resubmission after rejection) than unsliced articles previously did (e.g. when rejection rates were ∼50%). In our experience, the increased pressure to publish many articles in ‘high-impact’ journals also may decrease the attractiveness of a future scientific career in ecology to young people.

5. ‘Gatekeeping’ of journal quality has shifted from editors to reviewers, and several recent trends are apparent including: bias about appropriate statistical methods; reviewers being more rigid overall; non-native English writers being criticised for poor communications skills; and favourable reviews being signed more often than unfavourable ones. In terms of production, outsourcing of copy editing has increased the final error rate of published material.

6. We supplemented our perceptions with those of older colleagues (∼100 experienced ecologists) that responded to an informal survey on this topic (response rate: 81%). In the opinion of almost 90% of our respondents, the overall review process has changed and for 20% among them the professional quality of reviews has declined.

7. We, and many older colleagues, are convinced there have been some negative changes in the scientific publication process. If younger colleagues share this concern, we can collectively counter this deteriorating situation, because we are the key to the publishing and evaluation process.

Ancillary