Yesterday I wrote about a problematic new paper from Nature Communications suggesting that trainees are disadvantaged by being mentored by women mentors. This morning, as I try to engage with my laboratory, home school my children, clean the house and do laundry because my physician husband has clinic, and try to eek out some small amount of time for myself, that paper still stings. I still stings because there is no acknowledgment that, despite the reality that women bear more responsibility in other spheres, we are creative and productive. No acknowledgment that our contributions to science are underappreciated. The line from the paper that continues to rattle around in my head relates to their use of citations as their endpoint…
Such an outcome measure allows us to assess the quality of the scholar that the protégé has become after the mentorship period has concluded…
How can citation be a judge of quality when we know that women are under-cited at baseline? Usually, those stings are soothed by spending time in the lab with my students, teaching them, and showing them how to do experiments. I’ve always loved being in my lab and now, because many of us are bearing more home responsibility, that balm is gone. I’ve heard from some of you and know that you’re feeling this pain as acutely as I am. I know that some of you are planning letters to the editor and requests for retractions based on the clearly flawed dataset presented by the authors, no context for the effect size, and no thoughtful consideration of what the data truly show.
Allow me to offer my perspective.
I have been watching the Nature journals be on their bullshit for the last decade. At least once a year they publish some hurtful “science of science” paper or commentary based on flawed science and/or fundamentally dysfunctional thinking. In those 10 years, they have never made a truly concerted effort to change their approach. One might imagine that, if they had come under scrutiny for failure so many times, they might decide not to engage in a space for a while. There are plenty of other potentially retractable papers for them to publish without engaging in this space. I am not interested in dedicating even a single neuron to whether it’s hubris, blinders, or pure evil that keeps them coming back for more.
You’re absolutely right and justified to feel outrage and to want your voice to be heard in the community. Hearing your outrage benefits people outside of science and trainees who may be questioning their own value and potential. Go ahead and write tweets, blog posts, and letters. Let people know it is not ok.
The people I am convinced will never hear it based on their long pattern of behavior? The editors of the Nature Research Journals. They continue to demonstrate that they are incapable of considering the consequences of their actions beyond the splash. Beyond the page views and impact factors. They’ve succeeded in their mission because we’re all talking about them, for better or for worse.
So, those of us who are voicing our outrage owe our community something else – to remove Nature’s prestige from our conversations. We owe it to ourselves to never publish in another Nature journal again. To never allow a Nature paper to be held up as a sign of exceptional achievement. To stop using the same citation metrics this paper was based on as the index of quality.
We’ve got to agree to step off of the merry-go-round that they perpetuate by convincing us that they are the gold ring we should all be reaching for.
There are snakes in the grass. It’s time to cut the lawn.