Open Channels

Published June 29 2016

Re: President’s Message, May issue

Nothing new here. Maxwell’s equations of electromagnetism didn’t hit the big time overnight. Having said that, a short while ago a paper showing specific molecular stoichiometry (and challenging prior dogma) was published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry and received little attention. A year later a similar paper on another member of the same family of proteins reiterated the JBC observations. Here’s the clincher: the second paper was in Cell and did not even refer to the earlier JBC work. The authors were either negligent or dishonest to claim novelty. The reviewers were clearly negligent. The senior author in the Cell paper is a superstar. The JBC author was told by the National Institutes of Health reviewers that he didn’t publish in “high profile” journals, and he lost his funding. So, among other things, journal impact factors clearly matter.

– Little Shot

I fully concur with Steven McKnight’s analysis on the untoward effect of journal impact factor, especially for our younger colleagues. The amount of time wasted on trying to send a particular work to some very high-impact-factor journal is beyond crazy. If one is going to use citation analysis for a given paper, the only thing that counts is not where the paper was published but how many times it was cited. If you take a look at your plot of citations versus year for the Konopka & Benzer paper, it seems to me that the number of citations for the first 20 years (up to 1991) is well over 100, which already make it a very high impact paper (never mind the mega-citations even further on). Even for the first 10 years up to 1981, I would estimate that the paper had reached either over or close to 50 citations, which again is really very good.

– Marius Clore

I agree with both Steven and Marius. Long ago, when I was chasing my first academic job and eventully tenure, all that was expected was that I publish solid papers in strong peer-reviewed journals such as JBC, the Journal of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry. This is still pretty much the policy of the University of California. Whatever “fame” I have achieved has come from being in science for the long term and working on basic problems that I was curious about. As for the Konopka/Benzer paper, a long time was required for the embedding of my papers in the literature. (I’m still waiting for some of them to embed!) I’m disgusted by journal publishers chasing the almighty impact factor. If publishers were to ignore it altogether, science would still prosper. And I think it would be more fun.

– Stephen White