skip navigation nih record
Vol. LXV, No. 24
November 22, 2013
cover

next story



Nobel Laureate Schekman Offers NIH His First Post-Prize Talk

On the front page...

Dr. Randy Schekman speaks at Masur Auditorium.
Dr. Randy Schekman speaks at Masur Auditorium.

At his first official talk after being named one of three winners of the 2013 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine, Dr. Randy Schekman not only explained his award-winning work to a packed Masur Auditorium on Nov. 4, but also gave the talk he had originally intended to present, before learning of his prize—a detailed investigation of the autophagy pathway, which offers keys to understanding mammalian cellular responses to stress and pathogen infection.

Schekman, professor of cell biology and developmental biology at the University of California, Berkeley, also used his newfound prominence to urge the scientific community to reconsider “where and how we choose to publish our most important work.” The pressure for scientists around the world to publish in just three so-called “high-impact” journals—Cell, Nature and Science—is not only corrupting the nature of scientific inquiry, he argued, but also is a technological leap backward toward an era when magazines, rather than the Internet, ruled academic publishing.

Continued...

“Why rely on the print model, with its limited amount of space, in the 21st century, when most scientists read journals online?” he asked.

Pressure to publish in just a few journals, which offer a dubious quality known as “impact factor,” is harming the scientific enterprise by diverting scientists from the goal of producing quality science to the goal of placing a paper in a top-three journal, where only around 5 percent of submissions are accepted. At that rate, success is “just a lottery,” he said.

Schekman produced a memo published in April by the Chinese Academy of Sciences showing that cash payoffs are being offered simply for getting into prominent journals. A paper in Science is worth about $33,000, which goes into a scientist’s pocket, not his or her lab, he said.

Schekman thanked NIH for supporting him “through thick and thin” since 1976, and expressed gratitude that the recent shutdown of the federal government did not derail his NIH talk.

Schekman thanked NIH for supporting him “through thick and thin” since 1976, and expressed gratitude that the recent shutdown of the federal government did not derail his NIH talk.

Photos: Ernie Branson

“Some scientists in China are making more than half their salaries” in payoffs for papers, he said, labeling this practice “bribery…It is an offensive and alarming trend that reinforces bad behavior.” Schekman was also humorously indignant that payoffs for papers in a journal he used to edit—Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences—earn only $5,000.

He urged the audience to sign the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA, http://am.ascb.org/dora/), which aims to improve the ways in which the outputs of scientific research are evaluated. DORA has already garnered some 9,000 signatures, he said. He also urged scientists to submit papers to online journals such as e-Life, where articles are not restricted by length, incur no page charges, are accessible to all rather than to a paying subscribership and are edited by active investigators.

“Don’t only focus on traditional journals,” Schekman counseled. “Their limitations are artificial by the standards of the 21st century.”

Schekman thanked NIH for supporting him “through thick and thin” since 1976, and expressed gratitude that the recent shutdown of the federal government did not derail his NIH talk. Noting that his Nobel prize was awarded during the shutdown, he quipped, “It’s a good thing the Swedish government didn’t shut down at the same time.”

Schekman’s lecture, hosted by the NIH Cell Biology and Metabolism Program, can be viewed at http://videocast.nih.gov/summary.asp?Live=13289.—Rich McManus


back to top of page