25 May 2012

The journal ecosystem

“Where should I submit this manuscript?” is a question every working scientists asks regularly. Some of the questions that run through my head in making that decision are (not in order):

  • Do I read the journal regularly myself?
  • Have I submitted there before? Did I have a good editorial experience or a bad one?
  • Have I published in that journal before? I like to spread my contributions around, and not go back to the same places over and over.
  • How “good” is the journal? (I normally don’t check Impact Factor, but have a more general impression of the papers that are published there.)
  • Is it open access?
  • What will it cost me?
  • Is it a journal with a mission I support?
  • Is it a journal published by a scientific society I'm a member of?

What questions do you ask yourself when you submit? I’m curious, in part because of issues raised by Drugmonkey. In short, PLoS ONE has a higher Impact Factor than a lot of other established journals in neuroscience, so why are those other journals still getting contributions?

It seems that for some people, there is one question that carries more weight than all the others. For some, “high profile” is the only thing that matters. But I want to explore open access a bit. According to some, if the answer to, “This this journal open access?” is “No,” you made a bad choice in where to submit. I get the impression that some people think we should just submit everything to PLoS ONE. (While Michael Eisen is visible in the Drugmonkey post above, these comments are not inspired by, or directed at, him alone.)

As an open access supporter, why don’t I send them everything? PLoS doesn’t hold conferences in my field, but a scientific society I belong to does. And submitting papers to those society journals is a vote of confidence and way to keep the society going.

Different journals have different readerships. I know some people say, “Ah, I don’t look at journals now, I just use PubMed.” Great for medicine, but not all basic biology goes there.

And then there’s the cost. It does matter to people. For instance, one of the first tweet I read this morning was Scicurious this morning:

Submitted manuscript. Boss was going to submit to an #OA journal, but saw it cost $$ upfront. Le sigh.

 And I read today at The Mermaid’s Tale:

And, yes, there are open access journals (e.g., PLoS), though generally at high cost.

That many open access journals (including PLoS ONE) will waive publication fees has not penetrated consciousness of potential authors. Backyard Brains went to Kickstarter to pay PLoS ONE fees because they didn’t know about the waiver. Happy ending: they got the money, and their paper was published. But the cost issue is something that open access advocates need to address much more forcefully and clearly.

I think that there is room for open access journals supported by publication fees, and room for society journals and the like that are supported by subscription (not necessarily in the typical form they have now, though). I still think there’s room for glamour mags, and for small regional journals.

In ecology, people talk a lot about ecosystem diversity. Diverse ecosystems are often more resilient and “healthy.” Monocultures are prone to catastrophic failures. I want there to be a healthy ecosystem of journals.

Photo by USFWS Pacific on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.


David said...

Zen, what do you think of the PNAS model that has all papers open access after six months but has the option of a fee for immediate open access? How does that influence your decision on?

Zen Faulkes said...

I hasn't been something that I personally consider in my decisions of where to submit, except as a variation of "Is it open access?"

I don't mind short "pay per view" periods followed by open access. This seems like it could be a reasonable compromise accessibility and sustainability. But the devil is in the details. As it stands now, the asking price for papers under the "pay now or wait a few months for open access" often seems unreasonably high.

Anonymous said...

My strategy goes like this: I try to get the paper in a journal which someone who sees my CV will notice. If I can't get it into any of those journals, I publish it somewhere where I know it'll get published and where I know people can access it (e.g. PLoS One). Since the journal won't get noticed anyway, any journal that fits these criteria works. As you point out, with waivers and all that, there's really no rational reason for any other strategy.

Society journals are a special case as these are often good ways to reach a targeted audience with the relevant research. But for the 'generic' projects, my rue above applies.

DM said...

Why do you spread them around?

Zen Faulkes said...

DM: I want to keep testing myself. I want to prove to myself that I convince someone new that this science is worth publishing. It can get too cozy if you keep going back to the same journal, pretty much knowing you'll be able to get a paper in without too much trouble.

A little fear of the unknown helps you keep your edge.

Jeremy Fox said...

Saw Eisen's comments over on Scicurious on how cost to authors is irrelevant. I was surprised and a little appalled. Cost sure is relevant to me! And since I have a research grant, I'm unlikely to get a waiver from PLoS ONE, or anyone, even if I say (truthfully) that the grant is already fully committed to other expenses. I suppose you could argue that I should just reallocate my spending and set aside enough to pay PLoS ONE fees for every paper I write. But even with my modest level of productivity and modestly-sized lab in which grad students are mostly supported by other sources, that would still blow such a big hole in my budget that I'd be able to do significantly less science. Which is not a trade I'm willing to make.

Re: the main topic of the post, I consider basically the same kinds of things you do when deciding where to send my papers.