…and it’s symptomatic of a larger problem too. First, here’s what Eisen says about articles published in Science (and presumably Nature too; italics mine):
In addition, by choosing to publish the paper there [in Science] but not elsewhere, the field of deep sea symbionts may have been hurt rather than helped.
How could a Science paper hurt the field? Well, for one, Science with its page length obsession forced Irene to turn her enormous body of work on this genome into a single page paper with most of the detail cut out. I do not think a one page paper does justice to the interesting biology or to her work. A four page paper could have both educated people about the ecosystems in the deep sea, about intracellular symbionts in general, and about this symbiosis in particular. The deep sea is wildly interesting, and also at some risk from human activities. This paper could have been used to do more than just promote someone’s resume (which really is the only reason to publish a one page page in Science).
The problem I have with Science and Nature papers is they require a very simple, straightforward narrative. As Eisen notes, that format has limited utility for the scientific community: often, specialists in the field need those complicating details. The format of a Science article might be good for Science, but it’s not so good for science.
The ‘self-editing syndrome’ of a Science paper is only the extreme version of a larger problem: the dreaded ‘Supplemental Information.’ I hate these sections: if it’s important, put it in the fucking paper. If a journal can’t put important information in a paper, then that journal needs to change its format–or go out of business. There are some forms of legitimate supplemental sections: nobody wants to read a list of 2000 bacterial strains. In days of yore, this was referred to as an appendix. But when scientific communication is impaired by the needs of for-profit publishers, something needs to change…and it shouldn’t be the science.