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|Conjecture: Watson and Crick’s two papers on DNA were scant on data.|
“I regret to say that we cannot offer publication at this time. While your model is very appealing, referee 3 finds that it is somewhat speculative and premature for publication.”
No doubt most scientists have been on the receiving end of similar comments from journal editors, but surely Francis Crick and James Watson’s landmark 1953 papers on the structure of DNA would be immune to such quibbles?
Not so, according to Ronald Vale, professor and vice-chair of the department of cellular and molecular pharmacology at the University of California, San Francisco, who argues that the University of Cambridge pair's research would have been knocked back by Nature if they submitted their work today.
In a paper recently posted on the bioRxiv preprint service, Professor Vale says that in the past 30 years there has been an estimated four-fold increase in the amount of data required by major journals, largely because of the increased competition to publish in them.
According to the paper, “Accelerating scientific publication in biology”, prestigious modern journals increasingly insist on authors having a “mature” story. Reviewers “fall in line” with such “escalating expectations” and often demand extra experiments, making it “harder to publish just a key initial finding or a bold hypothesis”.
Professor Vale says this means that “crucial results are being sequestered from the scientific community”. This both retards the rate at which new ideas can be “tested and advanced further” and delays early career researchers from gaining independence, as they depend on high-profile publications for grants and tenure. One solution, he says, would be for biologists to publish early versions of their papers as preprints – allowing authors to receive feedback on draft manuscripts before they submit to journals – as physicists typically do.
Source: Times Higher Education