The Mission Bay Manifesto on Science Publishing

Earlier this week I gave a seminar at UCSF. In addition to my usual scientific spiel, I decided to end my talk with a proposal to UCSF faculty for action that could take make scholarly communication better. This is something I used to do a lot, but have mostly stopped doing since my entreaties rarely produce tangible actions. But I thought this time might be different. I was optimistic that recent attention given by prominent UCSF professor Ron Vale to the pervasive negative effects of our current publishing system might have made my UCSF faculty colleagues open to actually doing something to fix these problems.

So I decided to issue a kind of challenge to them to not just take steps on their own, but to agree collectively to take them together. My motivation for this particular tactic is that when I ask individual scientists to do things differently, they almost always respond that they would love to do things differently, but can’t because the current system requires that {they | their trainees | their collaborators} have to publish in {insert high profile journal here} in order to get {jobs | grants | tenure}. However, in theory at least, this reluctance to “unilaterally disarm” would go away if a large number of faculty, especially at a high-profile place like UCSF agreed to take a series of steps together. I focused on faculty – tenured faculty in particular – because I agree that all too often publishing reform efforts focus on young scientists, who, while they tend to be more open to new things, also are in the riskiest positions with respect to jobs, etc…

My goal was to address in one fell swoop three different, but related issues:

  1. Access. Too many people who need or want access to the scientific and medical literature don’t have it, and this is ridiculous. Scientists have the power to change this immediately by posting everything they write online for free, and by working to ensure that nothing they produce ever ends up behind paywalls.
  2. Impact Factors. The use of journal title and impact factors as surrogate for the quality of science and scientists. Virtually everyone admits that journal title is a poor indicator of scientific rigor, quality or importance, yet it is widely used to judge people in science.
  3. Peer-review. Our system of pre-publication peer-review is slow, intrusive, ineffective and extremely expensive.

And here is what I proposed (it’s named after the Mission Bay campus where I gave my talk):

The Mission Bay Manifesto

As a scientists privileged to work at UCSF we solemnly pledge to fix for future generations the current system of science communication and assessment which does not serve the interests of science or the public by committing to the following actions:

(1) We will make everything we write immediate freely available as soon as it is finished using “preprint” servers like,, or the equivalent. 

(2) No paper we write, or data or tools we produce, will ever, for even one second, be placed behind a paywall where they are inaccessible to even one scientists, teacher, student, health care provider, patient or interested member of the public. 

(3) We will never refer to journal titles when discussing my work in talks, on my CV, in job or grant application, or any other context. We will provide only a title, a list of authors and publicly available link for all of my papers on CVs, job and grant applications.

(4) We will evaluate the work of other scientists based exclusively on the quality of their work, not on where they have published it. We will never refer to journal titles or use journal titles as a proxy for quality when evaluating the work of other scientists in any context.

(5) We will abandon the slow, cumbersome and distorting practice of pre-publication peer review and exclusively engage in open post-publication peer review as an author and reviewer (e.g. as practiced by journals like F1000 Research, The Winnower and others, or review sites like PubPeer). 

(6) We will join with my colleagues and collectively make our stance on these issues public, and will follow this pledge without fail so that our students, postdocs and other trainees who are still building their careers do not suffer while we work to fix a broken system we have created and allowed to fester.

I am positive that IF the faculty at UCSF agreed to all these steps, science publishing would change overnight – for the better. But, alas, while I’d love to say the response was enthusiastic, it was anything but. Some polite nodding, but more the kind you give to a crazy person talking to you on the bus than one of genuine agreement. People raised specific objections (#5 was the one they are least in favor of), but seemed willing to take even a marginal risk, or to inconvenience themselves, to fix the system. And if we can’t get leadership from tenured faculty at UCSF, is it any wonder that other people in less secure positions are unwilling to do anything. I went back to Berkeley disappointed and disheartened. And then yesterday I heard a great seminar from a scientist from a major university on the East coast whose work I really love talk over and over about Nature papers in their seminar.

But my malaise was short lived. Maybe I’m crazy, but, even if we haven’t figure it out, I know there’s a way to break through the apathy. So, I’ll do the only thing I can do – commit myself to following my own manifesto. And ask as many of you who can see your way to joining me to do so publicly. If UCSF faculty don’t want to lead, we can instead.


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