You Are what you Publish


To continue with a related topic: I would be inclined to conjecture that >95% of scientific individuals are sensitive to their publication record. Of those individuals, I would guess that >80% are insecure about their publication record. Why are so many gripped by manuscript-manufacturing anxiety?

Because we can’t all publish in Science. Or Nature. Or your favorite One-Word Wonder.

There is extreme prestige associated with the acceptance of a manuscript to a Big Journal. Your work will become the subject of press releases and commentaries, and a blurb about your fabulous efforts will probably wind up on the home page of your college or department. Your PI will become giddy (at least for a day or two), and random Important People will stop you in the hallway to congratulate you on your accomplishments. And perhaps most importantly, the Big Paper will go on your CV, where it can impress the pants off of people from now until the end of time.

This is all very nice. But, I think it’s important to keep in mind how the paper was tagged as Top Dog in the first place. Hopefully, some good work was involved. But at the end of the day, maybe 1 or 2 editors thought the paper met some minimum threshold of decency and interest, and then, 2 or 3 (or if you’re lucky, 4) reviewers gave the paper the thumbs up. These reviewers may or may not have been qualified to review the manuscript. And I’m sure we’re all aware of the extreme subjectivity of the peer review process. There is a certain amount of luck involved with getting any paper published in a Big Journal.

People who make a big show of their Big Papers leave a bad taste in my mouth. Given the sensitivities of the general scientific population to publishing-related issues, I think tact and modesty should be involved when discussing publications. Big Papers are relevant to people who want to hire you, and also are cause for celebration with your lab group, family, and friends.

It should not surprise the astute reader that certain individuals at Brilliant University want to boost their image by bragging about their Big Papers, even though bragging is typically unnecessary (not to mention counterproductive). Imagine how *impressed* I was when, 5 minutes into my very first meeting with a colleague, he declared “I have something that you want to see!” I was kind of excited, wondering what it was. Then, my colleague procured an issue of Big Journal and dropped it on my lap, declaring, “I’m on the cover of Big Journal!!!!” I offered congratulations and smiled sweetly, but I wasn't impressed in the least. Put off, maybe, but not impressed.

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