When should statistics papers be published in Science and Nature?


Like many statisticians, I was amped to see a statistics paper appear in Science. Given the impact that statistics has on the scientific community, it is a shame that more statistics papers don’t appear in the glossy journals like Science or Nature. As I pointed out in the previous post, if the paper that introduced the p-value was cited every time this statistic was used, the paper would have over 3 million citations!

But a couple of our readers* have pointed to a response to the MIC paper published by Noah Simon and Rob Tibshirani. Simon and Tibshirani show that the MIC statistic is underpowered compared to another recently published statistic for the same purpose that came out in 2009 in the Annals of Applied Statistics. A nice summary of the discussion is provided by Florian over at his blog. 

If the AoAS statistic came out first (by 2 years) and is more powerful (according to simulation), should the MIC statistic have appeared in Science? 

The whole discussion reminds me of a recent blog post suggesting that journals need to pick one between groundbreaking and definitive. The post points out that groundbreaking and definitive are in many ways in opposition to each other. 

Again, I’d suggest that statistics papers get short shrift in the glossy journals and I would like to see more. And the MIC statistic is certainly groundbreaking, but it isn’t clear that it is definitive. 

As a comparison, a slightly different story played out with another recent high-impact statistical method, the false discovery rate (FDR). The original papers were published in statistics journals. Then when it was clear that the idea was going to be big, a more general-audience-friendly summary was published in PNAS (not Science or Nature but definitely glossy). This might be a better way for the glossy journals to know what is going to be a major development in statistics versus an exciting - but potentially less definitive - method.