“All's fair in love and war, they say, but science is supposed to obey more noble ideals. New findings are submitted for publication, the studies are farmed out to experts for objective 'peer review' and the best research appears promptly in the most prestigious journals.
“Some stem cell biologists are crying foul, however. Last year(2009), 14 researchers in this notoriously competitive field wrote to leading journals complaining of "unreasonable or obstructive reviews". The result, they claimed, is that 'publication of truly original findings may be delayed or rejected.'
“Triggered by this protest, New Scientist scrutinised the dynamics of publication in the most exciting and competitive area of stem cell research, in which cells are 'reprogrammed' to acquire the versatility of those of an early-stage embryo. In this fast-moving field, where a Nobel prize is arguably at stake, biologists are racing feverishly to publish their findings in top journals.
“Our analysis of more than 200 research papers from 2006 onwards reveals that US-based scientists are enjoying a significant advantage, getting their papers published faster and in more prominent journals (find our data, methods and analyses here).
“More mysterious, given his standing in the field, is why two of Yamanaka's papers were among the 10 with the longest lags. In the most delayed of all, Yamanaka reported that the tumour-suppressing gene p53 inhibits the formation of iPS cells. The paper took 295 days to be accepted. It was eventually published by Nature in August 2009 alongside four similar studies. 'Yamanaka's paper was submitted months before any of the others,' complains Austin Smith at the University of Cambridge, UK, who coordinated the letter sent to leading journals.
“Yamanaka suggests that editors may be less excited by papers from non-US scientists, but may change their minds when they receive similar work from leading labs in the US. In this case, Hochedlinger submitted a paper similar to Yamanaka's, but nearly six months after him. Ritu Dhand, Nature's chief biology editor, says that each paper is assessed on its own merits. Hochedlinger says he was unaware of Yamanaka's research on p53 before publication.”
“A common criticism is that peer review is biased towards well-established research groups and the scientific status quo. Reviewers are unwilling to reject papers from big names in their fields out of fear, and they can be hostile to ideas that challenge their own, even if the supporting data is good. Unscrupulous reviewers can reject papers and then quickly publish similar work themselves.”
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