Jan 062014

Dear Reader,

With the very issue you are currently reading, volume 4, issue 1, the fourth year of JUnQ is dawning. The past year started with a transition of editorial responsibility from the ‘old veterans’ to eager apprentices and it is for you to judge, whether this transition was a successful one. Do you think, we deliver high quality articles? The reader’s interest was and is a major indicator for quality in scientific publishing: A subscription based journal only survives, if it is able to ac- quire a sufficient amount of readers. Your current thought may be “But the pdf I am currently reading on the internet did not cost me anything! (or if you bought the printed version you just balanced the printing costs) and you are right about that! JUnQ is not a subscription-based journal but open access, meaning free to read (and, lucky you, also free to publish in our case). The fact that Open Access journals, which live on author fees, do not depend on the apprecia- tion of their readers for their revenue brings us to an intrinsic enigma of scientific publishing: How do we assure the quality of our merchandise? This is the very question we want to address in the present issue’s journalistic part.

THE accepted measure of publication quality is the so-called impact factor, an index which describes the “mean-citedness” of an article. Although widely applied, the impact factor is a rather ill-suited tool for quality assurance, as Prof. Konradin Metze already pointed out in JUnQ al- most two years ago.[1] As a matter of fact, the journals with the highest impact factor are also the ones that are best known outside the scientific community. If there are now more and more voices that criticize the main quality indicator of these very journals, a general plight of scientific quality assurance becomes apparent. Days before I was writing this editorial note, one of the 2013 Nobel Price laureates in medicine, Randy Schekman, called for a boy- cott of “the big brands of publishing”, that “accept papers that will make waves because they explore sexy subjects or make challenging claims”. According to Schekman such a publishing policy can “encourage the cutting of corners” in extreme cases, meaning it makes the authors prone to submit fraudulent papers to the “big brands”.[2] It seems almost like some fly on the wall told Prof. Schekman of our next topic! To put one thing right: We, JUnQ, do not charge the “big brands” with any wrongdoings, it is just quite satisfying how a Nobel Price laureate picks up the main idea of our journal: Science is not always flashy, it also consists of digging for dull-thought diamonds in the junk. Schekman sees “inappropriate incentives” in scientific career paths where “the biggest reward often follows the flashiest work, not the best”, while admitting that he himself followed this very incentives out of pure rationality.[2] Although Schekman admits that the “big brands” publish “outstanding research” (they published his own papers after all), he sees not all big brand papers as outstanding and reminds us that there are other “publishers of outstanding research”. So in summary, we end up with the call for a new quality benchmark in scientific publishing. Since Mr. Schekman is editor-in-chief of the open access journal eLife (sponsored by the main biomedical funding agencies Howard Hughes Medical Institute (US), Wellcome Trust (UK), and the German Max-Planck Society) his solution is, of course, open access: Since they do not have to promote expensive subscriptions, as Schekman puts it, open access journals could “accept all papers that meet quality standards with no artificial caps”.

Although Schekman’s model has an undeniably pleasant feel, its mere suggestion does not solve any problems: Even if future journal’s are to be “edited by working scientists” as Schekman suggests,[2] these editor’s will need a high performing measure of quality in a fast growing publishing business. We want to provide you with further insight into this topic by presenting a possible future of scientific publishing, an article by Prof. Michael Schreiber on the impact factor’s younger brother, the “h-index” (page 5), and an interview with Jo?rg Meidenbauer from the academic publisher Peter Lang Verlag (page V). But we do not want to restrict assurance of quality to science, since it is of equal importance in teaching, a task met by the center for quality control (ZQ) of Mainz University. Its head, Dr. Uwe Schmidt, was interviewed by the editorial board (page XI). In addition Andreas Neidlinger and myself tried to shed shome light on the current publication behavior in our essay “Open Access and Public Peer Review – The Future of Scientific Publishing?” (page III). What may be rather uncontrolled in the German system is what qualities a doctoral candidate has to possess and how he is to be advised, a question addressed from the perspectives of the humanities by Prof. Jo?rg Meibauer in his essay “How to become a Scholar without a Lighthouse” (page VIII).

Before you, dear reader, miss JUnQ’s usual qualities: This issue contains again articles of science, be it on the above mentioned “h-Index” or on the puzzling fact that liquid crystalline elastomers without a shape change at the phase transition do exists (page 1). But the feel of change that, hopefully, was not to apparent last year shall remain part of JUnQ: With this issue we want to fuse Open Questions and Articles to general scientific articles and introduce a new type of contribution that is thought to address the humanities in particular, but also any researcher that hatches interesting thoughts or opinions on a (controversial) subject. With our new category called “Views on life, the universe and everything” we want to invite YOU, dear reader, to write us about anything that you always wanted to elaborate on. We are looking forward to your submissions!

Enjoy the present issue of JUnQ and have a nice start into 2014!

—Felix Spenkuch

[1] K. Metze, JUnQ 2012, 2, 2, XV–XVIII.
[2] http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/dec/09/ how-journals-nature-science-cell-damage-science (last access on 15.12.2013).

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