Tuesday, February 23, 2010

How Nature selects manuscripts for publication

Nature actually devoted an editorial (doi:10.1038/463850a) explaining its publication process.

Exploding the myths surrounding how and why we select our research papers.

Really? I thought the explanation's pretty weak on the statistics given that it is a scientific journal. Drug Monkey and writedit have more on commentary about this particular editorial.

...we make the final call on the basis of criteria such as the paper's depth of mechanistic insight, or its value as a data resource or in enabling applications of an innovative technique.

There you have it. The core principle of its modus operandi. Good science, bad science, and whether it will lead to publication or not all rests on the decision of the editor. The gatekeeper.


On a side note, do you know that Watson and Crick's landmark 1953 paper on the structure of DNA in the journal was not sent out for peer review at all?

The reasons, as stated by Nature's Emeritus Editor John Maddox were:

First, the Crick and Watson paper could not have been refereed: its correctness is self-evident. No referee working in the field (Linus Pauling?) could have kept his mouth shut once he saw the structure. Second, it would have been entirely consistent with my predecessor L. J. F. Brimble's way of working that Bragg's commendation should have counted as a referee's approval.

And Maddox's correspondence was titled: How genius can smooth the road to publication

The whole business of scientific publishing is murky and sometimes who you know counts more than what you know in order to get your foot into the 'club'. Even Maddox alluded to the existence of such an 'exclusive' club:

Brimble, who used to "take luncheon" at the Athenaeum in London most days, preferred to carry a bundle of manuscripts with him in the pocket of his greatcoat and pass them round among his chums "taking coffee" in the drawing-room after lunch. I set up a more systematic way of doing the job when I became editor in April 1966.

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