So, Back In My Day*, Nature and Science papers were a different beast from papers in other journals. A Nature or Science paper told a clean, simple, interesting, incisive story. They went to the heart of the matter and nailed it.** They were short because you didn’t need many words or pictures to fully describe what was done, why it was done, and what it implied. Kaunzinger and Morin 1998 is a good example.
I miss those days. Because nowadays, Nature and Science papers are mostly extended abstracts for dozens of pages of online supplementary material. Which is a totally different–and worse–thing. It’s not that people are still writing Nature and Science papers as they used to, except that now they’re also putting a bunch of additional inessential detail in the online supplements. I’d be fine with that. Rather, nowadays, you often can’t tell what was done, why it was done, or what the results were without turning to the online supplements. The paper itself only gives you the gist. Which is fine if the gist is all you want (and as long as the gist really is what the author says it is). But if you want more than the gist, you’re out of luck and you have to read what might as well be an Ecological Monographs paper.
And here’s the thing: it’s true that old-school Nature and Science papers didn’t tell you everything you might’ve wanted to know about the study. Which is why we used to have follow-up papers. It used to be that a Nature or Science paper often would be followed up by a longer, related paper in a leading specialized journal–Ecology or JAE, say. The follow-up paper would derive from the same study as the Nature or Science paper, and so would overlap partially with it, but usually would address some different questions. That doesn’t happen any more, because of online supplements. So one way to think of online supplements is as inferior, little-read versions of (or substitutes for) good ecology journal papers.
UPDATE: Just to clarify, I’m not against all online supplements. See the comments.
*I’m 43. I can use this phrase now, right?
**At least, the good ones did. And while some Nature and Science papers weren’t good, or good enough, even back in the day, overall I’d say Nature and Science’s batting average in ecology and evolution was mostly quite good.