Friday, March 13, 2015

Journals Considered Even More Harmful

Two years ago I posted Journals Considered Harmful, based on this excellent paper which concluded that:
The current empirical literature on the effects of journal rank provides evidence supporting the following four conclusions: 1) Journal rank is a weak to moderate predictor of scientific impact; 2) Journal rank is a moderate to strong predictor of both intentional and unintentional scientific unreliability; 3) Journal rank is expensive, delays science and frustrates researchers; and, 4) Journal rank as established by [Impact Factor] violates even the most basic scientific standards, but predicts subjective judgments of journal quality.
Subsequent events justify skepticism about the net value journals add after allowing for the value they subtract. Now the redoubtable Eric Hellman points out another value-subtracted aspect of the journals with his important post entitled 16 of the top 20 Research Journals Let Ad Networks Spy on Their Readers. Go read it and be appalled.

Update: Eric very wisely writes:
I'm particularly concerned about the medical journals that participate in advertising networks. Imagine that someone is researching clinical trials for a deadly disease. A smart insurance company could target such users with ads that mark them for higher premiums. A pharmaceutical company could use advertising targeting researchers at competing companies to find clues about their research directions. Most journal users (and probably most journal publishers) don't realize how easily online ads can be used to gain intelligence as well as to sell products.
I should have remembered that, less than 3 weeks ago, Brian Merchant at Motherboard posted Looking Up Symptoms Online? These Companies Are Tracking You, pointing out that health sites such as WebMD and, even less forgivably, the Centers for Disease Control, are rife with trackers selling their visitors' information to data brokers:
The CDC example is notable because it’s a government site, one we assume should be free of the profit motive, and entirely safe for use. “It’s basically negligence,”
 If you want to look up health information online, you need to use Tor.

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