Illusion of quality and trouble with citations 1

April 29, 2010

Michael Wood's proposal for "The journal of everything" (22 April) suffers from the usual problem of all such proposals: the lack of a credible business plan. He points out the advantages for authors and readers, but ignores the disadvantages for publishers, editors and reviewers.

Why would the Bungee Jumping Science Association, which makes a healthy profit from the Annals of Bungee Jumping that it reinvests in bungee jumping science, be interested in doing the same work for a "General Journal" without making the same profit? Why would a commercial publisher be interested in lending its name to such a scheme and losing its massive income from academic journals?

We all know the real reason why the academic journal system survives, with its illusion of "quality control" and the associated make-believe statistics of "impact factors", "citation indices", league tables and the rest. It is because without it, governments would have no credible method of measuring the research performance of universities, and universities would have no credible method of measuring the research performance of individuals.

If Wood could solve that thorny problem, he would really be worth listening to.

Robert Wilson, Professor of pure mathematics, Queen Mary, University of London.

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