Sci isn't feeling very well today folks. She hit the wall during one of her training sessions VERY hard yesterday, and is still trying to convince her weary legs to carry her about the lab with her normal alacrity. So I'm gonna go on a brief rant on the subject of supplemental data. You were warned.
Drugmonkey pointed out a bit ago that one of the bigger journals in our field, the Journal of Neuroscience will be getting rid of supplemental data. I have to admit, Sci may have cheered a little at this prospect. In fact, a LOT of scientists are cheering. But I've had some of my non-science friends ask me WHY.
And so, Sci will tell you.
An example of supplemental data. Sci wishes she could make her own flowchart of supplemental data. It might look like this:
Does the journal have ridiculously short page/word limits compared to the ridiculously huge amount of data they require for publication? Yes.
Are your methods way too numerous and complicated due to the ridiculously huge amount of data required for publication? Yes.
Did a reviewer demand extra experiments which in no way help your paper's cause and which no one but that particular reviewer cares about? Yes.
Do you feel the need to publish ALL OF YOUR FIGURES. ALL OF THEM? Yes.
Then you need SUPPLEMENTAL DATA!!!
Now, are any of the above items NECESSARY to the publication of decent science?
I feel like this is a trend toward several things:
1) Needless amounts of reviewer requested experiments that don't add anything. Now don't get me wrong, often reviewers request experiments that NEED to be done, and that really do enhance the paper and add a lot. But not always, and you can always tell when you see something looking kind of unrelated and stuck in the supplemental data.
2) The pressure to publish a huge complete story. This is not necessarily bad, but it's getting to the point where every time I try to publish a paper in a decent journal, I feel like I need to publish the freakin Silmarilion! Journals are very interested in "impact" and in how high priority the manuscripts going into them are, and this means that they really only want to publish complete stories. While I understand that (and a good complete story is MUCH more satisfying to read), it often results in huge amounts of supplemental data in an effort to show how much the scientists covered their bases. Perhaps this indicates, not a need for less of a story, but a need for designing a more elegantly crafted series of experiments.
So recently the Journal of Neuroscience decided to get rid of the supplemental data. Their reasons for doing so are as follows:
1) Large amounts of supplemental materials means that reviewers will often overlook that material or not review it at all, meaning that the supplemental data is not peer reviewed (icky!).
2) Supplemental data encourages excessive demands from reviewers.
3) Stuff that would be important to the article is being forced into the supplemental data, which undermines the concept of a self-contained research report.
w00t. I hear all that and raise you eleventy.
Of course, the final result of HAVING supplemental data in high end journals is that you end up with these tiny, tight little stories with ridiculously small word limits in Science, and with the "oh, yeah, here's what we REALLY did" in the fifty kabillion supplemental pages. It also means that you can get away with not particularly well crafted stories, as your many little side experiments get relegated to the supplemental data. So I'm glad that J Neuroscience is going to be getting rid of Supplemental data, but I also hope that they, and their REVIEWERS, keep this in mind. It's going to mean, maybe demanding tighter stories, and maybe ALSO not demanding stories that are as sweeping and huge as the big journals like to go for. And it's going to mean thinking carefully before reviewers suggest that you do fifty billion extra experiments to tie in to their little corner of the field. It may also mean, that if Journals really want to publish well-done, carefully crafted, high end experiments, with difficult methods, they may need to expand their sometimes rather paltry word limits (seriously, Nature? 3000 words INCLUDING references and captions?! You gotta be kidding. I 'm all for being succinct, but that's really rather ridiculous. You want well-cited, detailed methods, plenty of well-done figures, a complete story, and perspective on the field in 4500 words including the references? In the dreadfully butchered words of Elizabeth Bennett "I am no longer surprised at you knowing only *six* accomplished neuroscientists, Mr. Darcy. I rather wonder at your knowing *any*.").
So I say down with Supplemental Data, and with excessive reviewer demands. Down with teensy word limits which cannot carefully encompass what it is we actually DID in our experiments. Taking down the Supplemental data is the first step. I think this is a good thing, but hey, what do I know.