Friday, July 22, 2011

More sad commentary

Today we received a mass email from an outfit called ACCDON.  They are searching for editors to help non-native English speakers to write their papers so they can be published.  The service, like ones we've discussed before, includes advice from 'experts' on study design and other aspects of the paper the client has sent in to the company for help (unfortunately, the ad itself isn't even in good English).

It is not unreasonable for good scientists who aren't native speakers to want writing help.  For the last decades, this was routinely offered by journal Editors if the paper was being accepted, or by friends in the author's department.  It was part of mutual help that faculty provided.

But we're in different times.  First, a much higher fraction of researchers are from Asia (seemingly the main target of the message sent around) or other countries.  But English is the current lingua franca of science.  That can be a real challenge.  No problem there, but it is sad that help from colleagues is no longer sufficient.  That may be a sign of the competitive times. 

More importantly, the same desperate competition for limited but (if you're lucky) very bountiful resources, has led to parasite companies who will sell an implied promise to get your work in premier journals, or even help with your study design  (presuming the paid readers really are sufficient experts--a doubtful premise, since legitimate researchers are already overwhelmed by reviewing requests, and reviews rarely actually provide the kind of assistance being promised).  It is like test-prep companies,  taking advantage of peoples' desperate need to get their kids into Yale. And of course they're also selling promised income to those who sign up to be their reviewers (again capitalizing on under-employed scieintists?).

There is no magic to getting research published.  Indeed, there are so many journals that almost anything can be published (and there's a very rapid explosion of for-fee online journals, new ones nearly every day). But if the needy customers who hope that this service will lead to grants or publication even do get published, unless it's in a major journal, it won't help their careers much anyhow.  And of course most papers are in the proliferating minor journals.  Money spent, little gain.

Do your taxes that pay for research also pay for publication and for these crib-services?  If so, should they?  If not, is it right or just anti-social to bleed young researchers of their private funds to feed their hopes for success?

Of course, all careerism aside, it is demonstrably true that most published research is hardly cited by anybody, and that because of the haste and proliferation and hyperbolization, much of it contains errors and is not replicable.

This hypercompetitive system that leads to the commercialization of fear should be cooled down.  But that's not likely.

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