16 January 2013

Aiming low

In science, almost everyone is obsessed with what the “best” journals are and how to get their papers in those journals. I argue that sometimes, there are good reasons to publish in journals that are not seen as the “best” journals.

If there is a journal that you like, that has a mission you support, sometimes you should submit papers there even if you think it might be publishable in a “better” journal.

It might be an established journal. Maybe this is a journal that has just had a change of editors, is trying to make positive change to the journal.

It might be a journal published by a society that you belong to and support. For some scientific societies, the journal is one of their main sources of income. If you think that society is doing a good job, and you like the conferences they hold, and the scholarships they provide to students, maybe you should support it by submitting good stuff to their journal.

It might be a new journal. Starting a new journal has to be a scary experience for the editor, publisher, everyone involved. You hope that you are going to be able to fill blank pages, attract an audience, and make the journal a success. But someone has to blink first. Without researchers willing to take chances on new journals, we wouldn’t have journals that are shaking up the scientific publishing landscape like PLOS ONE or PeerJ.

I’ve seen advice that researchers, particularly early career scientists, should never publish in a new journal. While I understand this on some level, it’s a disappointingly conservative, small-minded strategy. This puts the onus on senior researchers, tenured researchers, to be bold and submit to journals for reasons besides, “What has the highest Impact Factor?”

Journals can improve themselves by internal reforms (improving review, updating production processes, etc.), but much still depends on the papers that are submitted to them. For a journal to improve, some people have to take a chance and aim low.

Related posts

What have you done lately that needed tenure?
Saying “Yes!” (sometimes)

Photo by zampano!!! on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.


Mike Taylor said...

"In science, almost everyone is obsessed with what the “best” journals are and how to get their papers in those journals."

No, not in science. That is the opposite of science. In science everyone is obsessed with discovering new knowledge and telling the world about it.

Zen Faulkes said...

There's no "one obsession per customer" rule, Mike. ;)

Eric Charles said...

You are right about not leaving things up to established people.

The problem with leaving the "brave risk taking" to the tenured people is that they have been selected for exactly not doing such behavior in the past. If you train students not to contribute to the societies, or to new ventures, you end up with a generation that doesn't contribute. This (expecting senior people to do what we trained them not to do) is a major source, I suspect, of many problems in our field.

Mike Taylor said...

True enough that we can maintain parallel obsessions. But it just seemed an important point to make at the outset of your argument. What journal to get into is not a matter of science, it's a matter of marketing. And so from a purely scientific perspective there are indeed many reasons to pick journals other then the "best" ones. One crucial reason is to escape the arbitrary length limits that make most Nature papers far too dense to be of any use whatsoever.

Anonymous said...

As you and all commenters here know (but maybe not all your readers), there is no empirical evidence that the 'best' journals are any 'better' than any other journal. In fact, if anything, the evidence seems to indicate that one should not believe unreplicated results in the 'best' journals: