Saturday, February 09, 2008

Where to publish

I've had two different conversations in the last couple of days about how people choose where to submit papers, and it's a decent topic for a blog post. I can only speak for myself, but I think I'm pretty typical. To frame the discussion, consider why we publish journal articles in the first place. We want the scientific community to know what we've been doing, so that our work can be built upon - if we've answered a question that many people want answered, those people should know. If we've developed a new technique that will be useful, or if we've learned something that changes the way we think about some (ideally important) system, the rest of the community should know. Of course, publications and citations are also one metric of performance. It's a marketplace of ideas out there, and if no one cites your papers, then that says that you may not be having a major influence in moving the field forward.

The desire to disseminate knowledge and get recognition both provide a motive to try to publish in the highest impact journals that are appropriate. On the other hand, not every publication-worthy result is necessarily earth-shaking in significance. I know that there are some people who apparently send every halfway-decent paper to Science and Nature first, because "why not?" I tend to be more conservative and self-assessing. Not everything is of interest to a broad readership. Similarly, there are physicists who send every result to PRL. Again, let's be honest - not every physics result is PRL-worthy. Furthermore, in the nano arena, sometimes the chemistry or engineering literature may really be more appropriate than Phys Rev, and that's fine. I do try to aim for the highest "impact factor" journal that seems topical and reasonable - that's just common sense.

An additional factor is the time-to-publication. If you're working in a competitive area, you may want to get a result out in the peer-reviewed literature fast, and the best way to do that may be to publish in something other than PRL. The arxiv mitigates this a bit, but not all publishers like electronic preprints.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Doug:

Thoughtful post.

Re: your comment _ "I do try to aim for the highest "impact factor" journal that seems topical and reasonable - that's just common sense."

you might want to look at our work and the work of others in this area. See:

http://rsw.sagepub.com/cgi/content/refs/16/6/613

An Assessment of the Predictive Validity of Impact Factor Scores: Implications for Academic Employment Decisions in Social Work

Regards, gary holden

EarlyToBed said...

I try to figure out where the paper will "find its audience". I do take into account time to publication, etc.

I have another guideline. If a paper is rejected, I revise and resubmit to a *more* prestigious journal. This works for me more often than not. I think it is because there is some random component to manuscript evaluation.

Doug Natelson said...

Gary - Thanks for that reference. Interesting work! I have written before about impact factors. The essential problem, as I see it, is that the impact factor of a journal tends to be dominated by statistical outliers. A journal with an impact factor of 19 doesn't really have every article with around 19 citations; instead many articles have far less, while a few exceptional articles have 200 citations. However, looking at the tables in your article, I wonder if the inaccuracy of impact factors is much worse in the social sciences, when typical impact factors are less than one. Is there just a certain "noise floor", where a journal with an impact factor of 0.3 is indistinguishable in practice from one with an IF of 0.5? In the physical sciences, the IFs can be much larger. The fact that Nature has IF = 22, Phys Rev Letters has IF = 9, and Journal of Physics: Condensed Matter has an IF = 2 really does mean something about readership. Even though the IF is set by outliers, articles with 200 citations are far more common in Nature than in JP:CM....
For what it's worth, I don't think there's really much difference in audience size between IF=9 (e.g., PRL) or IF=12 (e.g., Nature Materials).

earlytobed - I agree fully. PRL is the classic example. I have a colleague who sent a short paper to PRL, and it flew through the refereeing. Three referees, all said "publish as is", which almost never happens. He then put in quite a bit of effort to write up a longer, more archival article, and has had a heck of a time getting that through the refereeing at a lower impact journal. Very random.

ARL said...

I have always wondered how people make that decision, and I concluded that, unless the results are impressive, they will usually submit to a journal where they're frequent clients. I have seen a few papers that in my opinion do not deserve to be in such a good journal, but the author(s) are famous so they can get away with that.

Another problem is publishing multiple times in different journals. They start with the best one they can, then they do minimum modifications and submit to a lower IF one. The paper ends up in 3-4 different journals, their number of publications go up but in a ficticious way.

I also hate when they remove important data because it goes against their model. It makes me think of all the wrong results that get published because of the lack of ethics and need of publications people have.

I have friends at Rice (won't give names though) that know you one way or the other and I've heard good things about the way you do conduct your program. Nice to see how things are done from the point of view of a decent researcher.

Interesting post.

Charles Day said...

"How do you decide where to publish your results?" is one of the questions I habitually ask physicists. (I work for Physics Today.) Doug's answer is fairly typical.

I also hear other answers. Two high-profile condensed-matter guys told me they publish in Nature and Science, in part, to help their graduate students. (Their grad students often appear as first authors.)

Two other condensed-matter guys said they stick, in principle, to journals published by APS, AIP and other non-profit associations---such is their antipathy toward the likes of Elsevier and Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck (the publishers of Nature).

At the end of each year, I look back at which journals yielded news stories in PT's Search and Discovery department. It's usually a three-way tie among Nature, PRL and Science. Lately, PNAS has been gaining ground.

sylow said...

Well, I would like to ask whether the citing journal's quality matters or not. For instance, suppose I published a narticle in PRB. Is it the same thing to be cited 10 times by articles published in Physica E versus articles published in Nature for instance? I mean, people always proudly display the number of citations they received but nobody seems to indicate which journals those citations come from...
Another contentious issue is whether an article that received, say, 2000 citations represents a more important discovery than an article which received 200. Or is it just that the former article was in a more popular field? I mean where do we stop?

sylow said...

BTW, I also do think it is daft to compare IF of Nature and Journal of Physics: Condensed Matter. It is like comparing apples and bananas. You can compare equivalent items like Science and nature but how can you compare Science and PRB or JPCM??

It is like comparing New York Times and Financial Times. The latter one is geared to a more specialized thus much smaller audience but it does not necessarily imply that its articles are less important. They are indeed very important to the wall street bankers but they probably do not mean anything to an average citizen. Likewise, articles published in JPCM and PRB are as important to condensed matter physicists as the ones published in Nature or science but they do not mean anything to a cosmologist probably.

If impact factor is the thing to go, why don't we submit all our papers to New England Journal of Medicine which has an impact factor of 55?