Hiding journal names from your publication list stinks

You can’t convince people of your cause by hiding your publication venues from them.

Michael Eisen recently announced his new website, which features a new publication list that doesn’t mention journal names anywhere:

This idea was quickly picked up by others, e.g.:

I spoke out against this idea, since I immediately had the gut-feeling response that something was wrong with it:

However, at the time, I couldn’t quite formulate what I thought the key issue was. I have now given this more thought, and I’ve found various reasons why I think it’s a bad idea to hide journal names. However, I’ve also realized that most of these arguments don’t even matter. As I’ll argue here, hiding journal names from the publication list is directly at odds with the principles of openness and egalitarianism that people like Michael Eisen so strongly promote. Therefore, to put it bluntly, I think this practice stinks.

We need to realize that in the current world of scientific publishing, removing journal names from the publication list has cause and effect reversed. If we had reached a point where nobody cared about journal names,1 then removing them from the publication list and listing papers simply by author, title, and DOI would be the logical next step. But since, as of today, there are plenty of people in this world who do care about journal names, hiding them is counterproductive. We can state all we want that “people shouldn’t care about journal names,” but hiding these names from publication lists won’t make it so.

Think about it this way: If you want to move towards a world where people care more about article content than journal name, who do you need to convince? Those who already agree with you, or those who disagree? Obviously the latter. What would be a meaningful action towards that goal? In my mind, the most important action is to demonstrate that the publication venue doesn’t matter that much, by publishing your best work in journals such as PLOS ONE, PeerJ, or F1000Research, or even by just posting studies on bioRxiv without submitting them to any journal at all. These actions would demonstrate to the world that you’re putting your money where your mouth is and that you don’t care about perceived journal impact. How would the world notice that you’re doing this? They might go to your website and see that you, the esteemed scholar and noted expert in your field, publish in “low-impact” journals and on preprint servers, validating these publication venues in the process.

By contrast, if you’re hiding the journal names from your website, this important message is not conveyed. At best, people will not notice where you publish. At worst, they may wonder what you’re hiding. And that’s where things are really getting counter-productive. Because, if you are an outspoken proponent of open access, of preprints, of post-publication peer review, of publishing in non-selective journals, then any paper you publish that violates these principles will weaken your message. And if you’re not even stating on your website where you’re publishing, you may be perceived as being dishonest. For example, on Michael Eisen’s publication list, over the last 3 years, I count one pay-walled Elsevier paper (!), two papers in the highly selective journal eLife, and several papers in the fairly selective journals Genome Research, PLOS Genetics, and PLOS Computational Biology. (These papers are easier to find on his Google Scholar page, since it lists journal names, but they’re all on his web site as well, I checked.) So clearly the Eisen lab does not publish everything they do as post-pub review on F1000Research or as eternal preprint on bioRxiv.

To be clear: I have no problems with publishing at venues such as eLife, Genome Research, PLOS Computational Biology, or even Science or Nature. I think that the NIH Open Access mandate solves the majority of the access issues.2 What I have a problem with is publishing in such journals and hiding that fact from your website while blogging about the evils of peer review. As long as you participate in the traditional peer-review system, as author, reviewer, or editor, you should be honest and transparent about where you publish.

There are other reasons why I think hiding journal names is a bad idea, and I may go into them in a future blog post. For now, I’ll just present to you, without further comment, this Google Scholar profile. In summary, hide journal names once everybody agrees that they don’t matter, but not one day earlier.

Update 12/11/2015: This discussion was featured in a Nature News article.

  1. I doubt that time will ever come, but let’s assume it will.↩︎

  2. To the extent possible, I make sure that my own papers get submitted to PubMed Central. The most recent papers on my publication list may not have PMC numbers yet, because it always takes a while until papers make their way into PubMed Central. Also, for papers for which I’m not the corresponding author, I cannot always ensure that they get submitted there.↩︎

Claus O. Wilke
Professor of Integrative Biology


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