Journal of Biosciences

, Volume 38, Issue 2, pp 189–199 | Cite as

On toxic effects of scientific journals

  • Antoinette Molinié
  • Geoffrey BodenhausenEmail author


The advent of online publishing greatly facilitates the dissemination of scientific results. This revolution might have led to the untimely death of many traditional publishing companies, since today’s scientists are perfectly capable of writing, formatting and uploading files to appropriate websites that can be consulted by colleagues and the general public alike. They also have the intellectual resources to criticize each other and organize an anonymous peer review system. The Open Access approach appears promising in this respect, but we cannot ignore that it is fraught with editorial and economic problems. A few powerful publishing companies not only managed to survive, but also rake up considerable profits. Moreover, they succeeded in becoming influential ‘trendsetters’ since they decide which papers deserve to be published. To make money, one must set novel trends, like Christian Dior or Levi’s in fashion, and open new markets, for example in Asia. In doing so, the publishers tend to supplant both national and transnational funding agencies in defining science policy. In many cases, these agencies tend simply to adopt the commercial criteria defined by the journals, forever eager to improve their impact factors. It is not obvious that the publishers of scientific journals, the editorial boards that they appoint, or the people who sift through the vast numbers of papers submitted to a handful of ‘top’ journals are endowed with sufficient insight to set the trends of future science. It seems even less obvious that funding agencies should blindly follow the fashion trends set by the publishers. The perverse relationships between private publishers and public funding agencies may have a toxic effect on science policy.


Editorial policy impact factors publishing companies science journals science policy 

Abbreviations used


American Association of Anthropologists


American Chemical Society


Agence pour l’Evaluation de la Recherche Scientifique [France]


American Institute of Physics


American Mathematical Society


Agence Nationale pour la Recherche [France]


American Physical Society


Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council [UK]


Centre National pour la Recherche Scientifique [France]


Committee for Technology and Innovation [Switzerland]


Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft


Department of Energy [USA]


Ecole Normale Supérieure


Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne


Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council [UK]


European Research Council [EU]


Framework Programme [EU]


Journal of the American Chemical Society


Journal of Magnetic Resonance


Max Planck Institute


Medical Research Council [UK]


Natural Environment Research Council [UK]


National Institutes of Health [USA]


National Science Foundation [USA]


Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [USA]


Swiss National Science Foundation


Université Pierre-et-Marie Curie



The authors thank Isabelle Kratz, director of the library of the EPFL, formerly associated with the UPMC and CNRS, Caroline Bosia and Alain Borel, also at EPFL, Roland Kunz (Swiss Chemical Society), Jérôme Lacour (Chimia), Peter Goelitz (Angewandte Chemie), Libero Zuppiroli, Jacques Dubochet, Malcolm Levitt, Clare Grey, Martin Quack, Ray Freeman and Richard Ernst for constructive suggestions. This paper was supported neither by the Swiss National Science Foundation, nor by the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, nor by the Swiss Commission for Technology and Innovation, nor by the French CNRS.


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Copyright information

© Indian Academy of Sciences 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Maison de l’Archéologie et de l’Ethnologie (MAE), Université de Paris Ouest Nanterre La DéfenseNanterre CedexFrance
  2. 2.Département de ChimieEcole Normale SupérieureParis Cedex 05France
  3. 3.Institut des Sciences et Ingénierie Chimiques, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), BatochimeLausanneSwitzerland

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