Thursday, November 17, 2011

Even bigotry has a silver lining

Professor Anne Jefferson has recently been complaining about a banal sexist article that recently appeared in the prestigious scientific journal Nature. While it is understandable that she has been offended by this insipid and thoughtless piece of writing, there is an obvious lesson here for her and other scientists looking to advance their careers. It is so simple that I can lay it out in outline form:

1. Publishing in Nature is good for your career. There is no doubt about this. For better or worse, Nature has one of the highest profiles of any scientific journal. Some prestigious institutions, when looking for high-impact, earth-shaking original research, tally up only papers published in Nature and Science. So there is no doubt that getting a paper into Nature will be good for your career.
2. Nature will publish tripe. This is obvious from reading the article by Dr. Rybicki which has casued this kerfuffle. “Womanspace” contains no original thoughts, no new insights, and no hint of creativity or intellect.
3. Therefore, anyone looking to advance their career should submit anything and everything to Nature for publication. If you can string 700 words together in an incoherent, vaguely offensive story with jokes as flat as an abyssal plain, then you are at least Dr. Rybicki’s equal. And should you actually put a smidgeon of thought into your writing, well then you’re in like Flynn. So don’t hold back! That inconclusive master’s project? Submit it to Nature. Your high school science fair experiment? Nature. Your 7th grade essay on pea horticulture? Fire away.

Nature has sent a clear message to the scientific community that the standards which once gave their publication its prestige no longer apply. Sure, you could spend years leading a major research effort, like scientists Dea Slade, Jessica Altöldi, or Lisa Welp did. And their research efforts deserve major acclaim. But the publisher of Nature has but their gruelling scientific accomplishments side-by-side with:

“I'd been staying with my friend Russell in Canberra, trying to sort out how we were going to get our book on virus structure together, when Russell's wife Lilia decided that their youngest daughter needed new school knickers. She was too busy making supper…”

Nature has sent a clear message to the scientific community. Nature is no longer interested in keen intellectual arguments or brilliant insight. They now want to publish garbage. Submit it to them, and send the good stuff to Science.


Isotopic said...


I think it is useful to point out that this wasn't a scientific article or letter, it was a piece of science fiction published as part of a usual series of short pieces put on the last page of the issue. I don't think that it's a stretch to suggest that the bar to publishing these is much lower and puts a much less impressive "stamp of approval" (whatever that means in this context). Nature is not a journal of literature. I read very few of these because I don't enjoy them. IMO they are usually terrible.

Anne Jefferson said...

LOL. On the other hand, we can all threaten not to publish anything in Nature, but your approach is equally good.

Anonymous said...

Oooh, I love this recommendation. It's up there with the saying no thanks to doing referee reports.