Nobel Prize winner shuns ‘luxury journals’ | Inquirer News

Nobel Prize winner shuns ‘luxury journals’

Last Dec. 10, Randy Wayne Schekman, an American cell biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, with James Rothman and Thomas Südhof, accepted the 2013 Nobel Prize for Physiology.

The scientists were awarded for their work on “machinery involving vesicle traffic, a major transport system in our cells.”


But Schekman announced he would no longer be publishing in the most prestigious scientific journals in the world, such as Nature, Science and Cell, even though their publication of his papers was among the bases for his getting the Nobel.

Calling the publications “luxury journals,” Schekman accuses them of promoting the “flashiest work, not the best.”


He likens the publishing culture to that of Wall Street and says that just as huge undeserved bonuses damaged banking and finance, the prestige associated with publishing in luxury journals damaged the culture of research and science as a whole.

“Like fashion designers who create limited-edition handbags or suits, [luxury journals] know scarcity stokes demand, so they artificially restrict the number of papers they accept,” Schekman says in the British Guardian.

Schekman also says the so-called “impact factor,” the number of times research papers are cited in subsequent studies, is a “deeply flawed measure.”

While papers are supposedly cited because they are based on sound science, Schekman says they are often referenced because they are “eye-catching, provocative or wrong.”

It may be surprising to think of science as sexy but Schekman accuses luxury journals of accepting papers that “explore sexy subjects or make challenging claims” at the expense of other routine but significant work, such as replication studies.

What are some of these sexy topics?  The journal Science has run papers on cloning human embryos, relationships between littering and violence, and genetics of people who live to be 100 or more.  These are eye-catching topics, indeed, but sadly, all these papers contain major flaws, and “Science” had to make retractions afterward.

The solution?  Schekman encourages scientists to publish in open-access journals, free for all to peruse (whether scientist or not) without hefty subscription fees.


Schekman himself is an editor of one such journal, eLife, published by Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Max Planck Society and Wellcome Trust.

In the past, Schekman was editor in chief of  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a luxury journal.

Schekman urges universities “not to judge papers by where they are published,” since “it is the quality of the science, not the journal’s brand, that matters.”

A heretical idea?  Universities across the world, including mine, give incentives for research, with the biggest prizes awarded to papers accepted in luxury journals.

Free math courseware

An all-Filipino team created the Technology Package for Student Learning Empowerment.

In 2011, Science Secretary Mario Montejo envisioned a software project to supplement, not replace, math learning.  Science Undersecretary Fortunato de la Peña, Rowena Cristina Guevara of the Philippine Council for Industry, Energy, and Emerging Technology Research and Development, and I headed a team composed of people from the Department of Education, the National Institute of Science and Math Education, and the Department of Science and Technology’s Science Education Institute  and Advanced Science Technology Institute that developed interactive mathematics lessons to supplement the Grade 1 curriculum.

Right now, we are working on the modules for Grades 2 to 6.

The Grade 1 courseware is available for free at courseware.  Copyright is assigned to the government agencies involved, but lessons can be downloaded on multiple computers for free but not distributed in bulk.

This project is for the benefit of Filipino children, not for commercial profit.

Each lesson has videos showing children learning math concepts while engaged in real-life activities.  Exercises let students check their knowledge and understanding.  Sample lessons are:

Classification of Objects.  Tessa, Dan and Aida are playing with stickers. They classify the stickers based on color, shape, size and number of corners.

Ordering Objects and Numbers.  Children bring different kinds of food—sandwiches, juice and fruit. They arrange their sets of food from least to greatest and from greatest to least.

Patterns of Shapes and Numbers.  Ed, Aida, Tessa, Dan and their teacher are preparing for a school celebration. The students make strings of flags, arranging the shapes in different ways and finding missing shapes or numbers.

Sums.  Ed, Tessa, Aida and Dan join the “hit the pot” game at the fair and collect candies.  Two students combine their candies, which add up to the same sum. They also work on missing addends.

Length.  Ed, Tessa, Aida and Dan join the contest “Amazing Estimators.”   They estimate the length of the objects by using nonstandard units.

Fractions.  Children cut a whole piece of paper into different parts and learn how to represent 1/2 and 1/4 in various ways.

Download the modules for free at

E-mail the author at [email protected]

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