Where Do We Start Dismantling Glam?

We all agree glamdouchery harms science, right? In a single generation, a “Letter to Nature” has gone from being where you sent one cool result you wanted published fast to where you fought for months (or years) to publish five years of work in Supplemental Figures 1-17, all for some delusional, careerist notion of quality or importance. What the fuck happened? Can it all be laid at the feet of Boomer self-regard (Remember: Baby Boomer Santa brings the gift of the world http://vimeo.com/55700843)?

We are constantly faced with either going down the road of self-interested participation and promulgation of this shit, or taking a stand that makes you lose opportunities or even incur career damage. Most recent iteration: I have been asked to draft a letter nominating myself for something (which will then be punched up and signed by local eminentia). It is a non-trivial thing, but not a a career maker/breaker. Maybe 2 years of consumable money for a project. 

Anyway, I was given examples of previous nomination letters. They read like they were written by notorious underling Jlhowe.  These nominees: While they are not becoming leading international figure in their disciplines, they are helping pandas conceive and curing schizophrenia with Pez and talk therapy.  Which prestigious institutions have they been affiliated with? I’m glad you asked! What name-brand journals have published their work? Oh, maybe you’ve heard of them? Has any media outlet ever found their work worthy of being converted into an infotainment snak? Why, yes *OUTREACH*! Now, there is also more substantial discussion of scientific contributions, but of course these are also fluffy and subjective, right?

So….what? Obviously our mentors are trying to help us get stuff. They are tap dancing for what they believe the reviewers for this thing want to hear. Do I opt out of this nonsense? Do I compose my nomination to say: “Rxnm has published several super-interesting scientific papers, all of which have been cited. If you give him this money, he will spend it on very well-designed experiments, the results of which will also be published in journals.”

My department will think I’m nuts to the point of self-destructive. And my application would be an evident waste of everyone’s time. 

I really believe it is at least ridiculous if not wrong to scrounge together every glimmer of unearned prestige I can (it’s not that much) and to present myself as as some kind of future star of the fucked up glam game, but that is clearly the expectation and formula that has worked. OTOH hand: shit’s gotta be paid for, today.

We all face these decisions all the time. It’s barely a choice.


11 Comments on “Where Do We Start Dismantling Glam?”

  1. DrugMonkey says:

    It is a choice, just a very hard one.

    I advise you to pucker up and try for the award.

  2. mtomasson says:

    IMHO Glam pubs should remain a nice country club for those that want to try and scale the fence. I don’t like the idea that we should abandon them, because many young scis still have ambitions to land there and should not be denied the opportunity. OTOH, I try to give the message to younguns that glam journals are a often scam and are very likely a waste of your time. I was given the message when I started my lab just to produce consistent good papers and not to worry about glam. I didn’t listen, and I wasted years trying get a handful of no-longer scientist gatekeepers to love me. The message I’d like to give to senior, superstar labs is, WTF? Go publish in OA and leave some fricking room at SCN for junior people!

  3. Dave says:

    This is the game. Play it or stick to your (admirable) principles. Can’t do both. I have written so many of these nauseating letters for myself that I don’t even notice it anymore.

  4. Baby Boomers… the worst generation. Like many things, I blame them for this.

  5. brembs says:

    Here’s what I do: Because it is so damned hard to change something so circular (“I don’t believe this shit, but the reviewers might, so I’ll recount your pedigree and your GlamPaperz in my letter”) and so thoroughly argued against for decades with no effect, I went back to what made me choose science over humanities: data:


    This paper was written exclusively for one reason only: as an answer to your question.

    Now, when someone (a guy) in a panel meeting deciding over a few millions in grants for a collaborative research center characterizes a highly esteemed researcher (female, single mom) with “a Nature paper in 2005 and nothing close to Nature since”, I can ask him, whether he has any evidence that a Nature paper is any better than any other paper, because we failed to find it and I would like to know about it. For the rest of the panel meeting, every applicant PIs characterization was from then on preceded with “I know we shouldn’t mention journal rank, but…”

    Small dent, maybe. Perhaps only temporary. But if we all ask for evidence that Glam is something tangible in situations like these all the time, things will change.

  6. rxnm says:

    Thanks Bjorn… I love that paper. And you’re right, these small dents count. Especially, as you have eloquently pointed out, if you can make people feel like buying into IFs is a sign of poor scientific reasoning ability. I think this should be the rallying cry as our generation begins to be better represented on these panels.

    I was talking to a Canadian scientist who has been on NSERC (kinda like NSF) panels, where discussion of JIF has been explicitly banned during review (and there is, in fact, a non-reviewer referee sitting there who will throw a flag if you do). Well, that’s great, but of course there are a lot of winky, coded ways to talk about this without mentioning IFs. But again, baby steps.

    In some sections NSERC has also managed to defund a lot of the graybeards by making student training a large proportion of researcher scoring. If you are running a lab exclusively of PDs and professional scientists, you’re sunk. I have very mixed feelings about this given my views on the pipeline, but as a way to loosen the retirement-age Boomer death grip on funding, it has apparently worked quite well.

  7. Bill says:

    I am surprised you see no disconnect between not giving a shit about OA (last post) and this. What faster way to dismantle the Glam structure can you imagine than to have real competition between journals? Take out subscriptions and authors will vote with their publication budgets — how long do you think Nature’s claims that their editors know more than you do about your own science will stand up?

    I guess the difference is in whose ox is being gored, hmm? At a fancy-pants university one doesn’t feel the lack of access much, but Glam issues are intensified.

  8. brembs says:

    @Bill: as long as Glam is important for your career, people will pay for it. You mention competition might drive down GlamMag gold OA APCs. However, there have been plenty of universities around and the tuition of Harvard hasn’t precisely come down. Also, Tata doesn’t make Rolls Royce lower their prices. Real or imagined quality differences: luxury segments exist is virtually all markets – why should they not exist in a publishing market?

    Right now, it already helps a lot to have a GlamPed(igree) to get GlamMag publications. If we had universal gold OA, you’d still need the GlamPed, but a whole lot of cash on top. All else being equal, universal OA with APCs would make things (at least for researchers) worse, not better.

    Thus, it all boils down to one thing: dismantle Glam. If nobody cares about GlamMagz anymore, the whole subscription business will crumble anyway as added benefit.

  9. Bill says:

    The difference between publishing and your Harvard/Tata examples is that… um, actually, those are pretty telling.

    I was going to say that we are dealing with a more data-responsive community (scientists), but in fact that isn’t true. There is no community in science and hasn’t been in a long time, and if scientists were genuinely responsive to evidence the entire JIF/Glam nonsense would never have gotten so bad.

    I’m about at the point of giving up on the whole enterprise. Most academic science is career driven garbage and most industry science is profit-driven (and therefore secrecy-laden) to a degree that cripples the enterprise of knowledge generation despite its relative rigor. If I can’t find a workable middle path in the next 6 years or so (I’ll turn 50), I think I will turn my back on the whole clusterfuck and grow strawberries or something. Every time I go online we are having these conversations and I grow more and more disgusted and weary with every repetition.

  10. rxnm says:

    “I am surprised you see no disconnect between not giving a shit about OA (last post) and this.”

    Well, PLOS Biology is where I had the most absurd glam-fuck review of my life, where I got shat on for “limited importance” and “not worthy of this journal” type nonsense. On the other hand, I do my share of shit shoveling at P1 because I truly believe in its mission. (And yes, there is a huge volume of shit among the very solid and very exceptional work submitted there, ranging from the fine but hard to stay awake through to complete crackpot nonsense.)

    I don’t believe a single thing about glam culture would change if Elsevier, NPG, and Science went OA tomorrow. Glam works not because of any financial aspect, but because people crave simple proxies and heuristics for importance within the tidal wive of the published literature…particularly outside your own wheel house it can be hard to judge others’ work. This is made even worse when know-nothing admins decided that they want to be able judge scientists’ output as well, as part of the ongoing undermining of faculty autonomy at nearly all universities in the US. Obviously, JIF is a completely stupid way to do this, but I think most ALMs and altmetrics are stupid too (though for more subtle reasons). I don’t have any solutions here, and I don’t think anywhere between dump-everything-in-arXiv and a rigid hierarchy of journals or scoring systems is something that works for every purpose, field, or institution.

    Ultimately I think the only judgments that make sense are the most parochial ones. What do the ~50 or so people whose work is most closely related to yours think of what you’re doing? Are you influencing what they do and the way they think? There is no score for this–it is not scorable–yet we constantly need to be ranked and sorted and scored for jobs, money, whatever.

  11. brembs says:

    Oh, and BTW: other fields struggle with the same problem: some Glam people select the literature and then it turns out the selection is worth nothing:

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