When Scientists Run Journals

A strange editorial reveals numerous strategic blunders as scientists prove status does not equate to pragmatism

There’s a strange and possibly regrettable editorial in an American Society of Microbiology (ASM) journal, Microbiology Spectrum, in which Patrick D. Schloss, Chair of the ASM Journals Committee, and Christina A. Cuomo, Editor in Chief of Microbiology Spectrum, address what they call “Impact Factor mania” — the focus authors have on IF when submitting papers.

The editorial seems self-righteous and desperate at the same time, evincing the tone struck by people who have painted themselves into a corner yet want to make it sound like it’s someone else’s fault.

Both authors are scientists. Neither is a publishing professional. The tone of the editorial at times is reminiscent of Elon Musk’s recent interview in which he blamed advertisers and not his platform, decisions, or behavior for recent troubles.

The term “Impact Factor mania” was coined in 2014 in another ASM journal. The fact that a pragmatic response to incentives is condemned by smart people only underscores how these same people consistently and even obstinately refuse to understand what the IF measures — the centrality of a journal within a community.

Publication in a high-impact journal means your paper is that close to center stage, which carries a different set of connotations. Shouldn’t scientists want to produce results that experts feel deserve center stage?

But this journal has larger issues to deal with, mainly a set of poor strategic choices: