Pressure to publish in select journals results in distortions

Randy Schekman, Nobel prize winner, says his lab will no longer send papers to top scientific journals Nature, Cell and Science because of his belief that the pressure to publish in such journals distorts science. More and more, legal academics are coming under the same kids of pressure to publish in particular “prestigious” journals. As is the case in science, such pressure distorts the kinds of legal scholarship that academics choose to pursue. Since prestigious journals only rarely overlap with practitioner journals, for example, there is a risk that engagement between academia and the profession will decline. Is this simply a game we all accept we have to play for career progression, do we believe that it is ultimately of benefit to the legal academy to go along with this, or is it something on which we should, like Schekman, take a stand?

By Lyria Bennet Moses

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2 thoughts on “Pressure to publish in select journals results in distortions

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  1. Hi Lyria
    One of the issues here might be generational. Up till now most journals were only available via print or online subscription and practitioners tended to not look beyond the practice oriented encyclopedia type publications. With the push by universities to require open access publishing – and the fact that most prestigious law journals are themselves products of universities – much of what is now published should be available freely online – eg via SSRN, Austlii, BePress. The challenge for academics is to make the writing accessible enough for practitioners to read beyond the abstract, and to inculcate in undergraduate students an appreciation of how much research is freely accessible. When they graduate they can transfer that knowledge to the profession.
    Blogs could also play an important part of this. We should probably start to expect everyone who publishes an academic paper to also produce an 800 word summary of the key issues for wider consumption – if the courts can now do it with their judgments, we should be able to do it with articles. That is likely to appeal to busy practitioners (and academics!)

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  2. Lyria, a provocative shot over the bows given the increasing trend for institutions to “measure” quality. I am sympathetic to Schekman’s argument, but the trouble with ‘taking a stand’ is that unless you are emphatic about doing so, people might just assume you haven’t written stuff that is much good…

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