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Nov
05

Why is it difficult to publish on disruptive strategies?

Nearly a year ago a few collaborators had written some ideas down on what we thought could be disruptive strategies to remove bottlenecks in drug discovery. We submitted the paper to Science. As I blogged back in March, the paper was reviewed and rejected. I even posted the email trail. We respectfully did not agree with the review comments. So we posted the manuscript as submitted to Science on the preprint server Nature Precedings and slideshare. Next we made some extensive changes and submitted it to Trends In Pharmacological Sciences. This is a journal I have written several papers for over the years and is highly regarded. Believe it or not, after review and corrections the journal decided to reject it because it was already available at Nature Precedings. So much for a preprint server, obviously pharmacology and related pharmaceutics topics obviously are not yet near to fields like Physics and Mathematics in which the preprint server arXiv.org is the norm. So after a great deal of thought and considerable changes to the original manuscript, addition of an additional author, a figure and clear definitions of what the disruptive strategies are..a new version of the paper was submitted to another Elsevier Journal, Drug Discovery Today. (Disclosure I have been on the editorial board for several years). In recent years I have been fortunate to publish several articles there on data standards and mobile apps for drug discovery as examples. It is now in press and an uncorrected proof is available.

So why does it take so long to get controversial  ideas published, specifically those that are critical of NIH, FDA policy? Do traditional publishers not want to upset government organizations? Yet of course they publish articles from NIH figureheads.

So why was it important to publish the article? For me its about reaching an audience in drug discovery. Unfortunately the now closed Nature Precedings does not appear on PubMed, so it has less visibility. Similarly SlideShare and other file hosting locations are also niche. Drug Discovery Today is very visible in the field.

This year, perhaps more than any has been full of publishing challenges. I have mulled on why this is. Could it be because more of the manuscripts are in areas in which I am not a “known” entity? Could I be challenging the status quo? Could it be just getting harder to publish in quality journals (i.e. those from major publishers)? Could the journal reviewers and editors be so overwhelmed that the review process is failing? Publishing good papers in good journals has never been easy but this year has been the toughest. It is making me think about why I do science, why I publish, and how I could make my observations and ideas available in the future. Everything I do is collaborative, so these publishing difficulties are not just affecting me but those I work with. They have resulted in many revisions, rewrites, resubmissions that probably were unnecessary. We may have wasted time addressing reviewer comments when we could have been doing research. It makes you wonder where the tradeoff is. Are these problems unique to me. I do not think so based on conversations with others. Could this result in a publishing backlash in which scientists think twice about publishing their research? If you cannot publish in your first or second choice journal, why publish in second rate journals which few aspire too. I think this would hurt many constituents.

Do I have an answer you might ask? Well it might help if there was a free preprint server that was accepted by all publishers in the areas related to drug discovery (admittedly pretty broad scope). It might help if there was an algorithm that could access the best journal match for your paper based on the body of the text (perhaps this is doable).  It might help if journals were stricter on turnaround time from submission to review comments.

I hope my observations are not the new “standard”.

 

 

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  1. Alex Clark says:

    I’m not sure the peer reviewed literature was really designed for that sort of article; it has served somewhat adequately for publishing scientific results (hypothesis / experiment / conclusion), but disruptive ideas are more suited to a discussion forum, because it’s more like an argument in the sense of people yelling at each other. The dissenters need a way to yell back. It’s hard to referee an untested idea with any kind of reliability. Rejecting a paper does not substitute for constructive discourse!

    That being said, I don’t know where to find a good place to publish disruptive ideas… somewhere that’s more exclusive than a personal blog, but less stulted than an old fashioned journal.

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