“In this issue of Cortex Huber et al. recount their experience in attempting to update the scientific record through an independent replication of a published study (Huber, Potter, & Huszar, 2019). In general, publishers resist issuing retractions, refutations or corrections to their stories or papers for fear of losing public trust, diminishing their brand and possibly ceding their market share (Sullivan, 2018). Unfortunately, this is just one way that market logic – retaining a competitive advantage among peers – explicitly or implicitly influences editorial priorities and decisions more broadly….
There’s the well-known tautology that news is what newsrooms decide to cover and what’s “newsworthy” is influenced by market logic. That news organizations, charged with relating truth and facts, are subject to market-based decisions is a major source of contention among the discerning public. It should be even more contentious that the stewards of scientific knowledge, academic publishers, are also beholden to it….
Although top journals are loathe to admit they ‘chase cites’ (Editorial, 2018), market forces make this unavoidable. One example is a strategy akin to product cost cross subsidization such as when in journalism profitable traffic-driving, click-bait articles subsidize more costly and in-depth, long-form investigative reporting. In order to attract the ‘best’ science, top journals must maintain a competitive impact factor. If the impact factor strays too far from the nearest competitor, then the journal will have trouble publishing the science it deems as most important because of the worth coveted researchers place on perceived impact….
Although publishers tout the value of replications and pay lip service to other reformative practices, their policies in this regard are often vague and non-committal….
Most professional editors are committed to advancing strong science, but however well-intentioned and sought in good faith reforms are, they are necessarily hamstrung by market forces. This includes restrained requirements for more rigorous and responsible research conduct. Journals do not want to put in place policies that are seemingly so onerous that authors decide to instead publish in competing but less demanding journals. Researchers need incentives for and enforcement of more rigorous research practices, but they want easier paths to publication. The result is that new policies at top journals allow publishers to maintain a patina of progressiveness in the absence of real accountability….
The reforms suggested by Huber et al. are welcome short-term fixes, but the community should demand longer-term solutions that break up the monopoly of academic publishers and divorce the processes of evaluation, publication and curation (Eisen and Polka, 2018). Only then may we wrest the power of science’s stewardship from the heavy hand of the market.”