UPDATE: Richard Primack has commented on this post, and his response is just great. I thank him very much for being so open for discussion, specially as I used some strong wording in order to make a case for doing science that do not depend on impact factors. If he incorporates his own research examples on how to use cheap, curiosity driven research for doing great science in his next talks, I am sure they will be awesome. Read his comment here.
I really like Richard’s research and he has been very kind to me as a researcher in the past sharing data openly for my own research, so I was very excited for the opportunity to see him in person at Gfö meeting. However, I think he was wrong today. He gave a plenary talk addressed mainly to young students about “how to publish in high impact factor (IF) journals”. While its true that the actual market rewards having papers in high IF journals, having this as a goal for young researchers is perpetuating a bad situation.
Among his advice he proposed try to use “NEW” (often expensive) tools and topics, focusing in iconic species and exciting regions, or avoid things like “showing the same pattern for this other species”. Then, he mentioned some areas that are exciting for him (some of them where indeed exciting for me too). But all in all, he suggested that to succeed you should study whatever Fancy Journals think its exciting.
But I think he failed to motivate young students. He didn’t mention that you need solid evidence and good questions (and some good questions are very old), he didn’t said that simple old tools (which require low budged) can be powerful if the question is good, or that we also need to know what common species in common places do. All in all, He never said you should investigate what is exciting for you. That you should do good science, and no matter where its published.
I was not the only one to feel uneasy, and the questions round made things worse. When asked if the 80% of scientists who are rejected annually from his Journal are wrong in thinking his research is good enough, he simply nodded and said that people tend to think his/her research is cooler than it is. But I am quite certain acceptance rates are not low because of the bad quality of the those 80%! When asked about starting monitoring programs, he agreed they are not sexy enough if are not question driven. But he must have said they are needed! Specially taking into account that Richard himself used Thoureau’s curiosity driven observations in his research. I also asked who is supposed to do the non-exciting science that we need to replicate findings and to give generality to our hypothesis, or descriptive work that is the basis to ask more complex questions. Then he gave a mixed response of yes, this is important, but you won’t publish in fancy journals that way. Which I interpret “others should do it”.
His advise may be good for short term career success, but detrimental to science. Nobody (nor even editors) should decide what is exciting for you. I felt he was giving old school advice to new generation scientists.