"I thought we were supposed to publish in the society journal"

Jan 25 2012 Published by under Scientific Publication

As you know there are diverging viewpoints across the wide swath of traditions in the ginormous tent of biomedical science regarding academic credit based on where one's articles appear. You know that Impact Factor of a journal (average number of citations for articles published in a 2 yr period, roughly) is important to many. Where the higher the IF of the journal you publish in, the better. Regardless of the number of citations garnered by the actual paper. So if you happen to work an article into a IF 15 journal and that is only cited 8 times in two years, that's way better than the one you fought into a IF 4 journal that turns out to be field shaping and gets cited 20 times, 50 times or 100 times in the first two years.

This led me some time back to speculate that what we really needed was a measure of how your article performed relative to expected value for the journal in which it was published. I proposed a z-score, I think.

Today, Odyssey has me thinking about a few things related to this topic.

The most directly appropriate one is the notion of whether it is a matter of differential credit if you consistently get your papers cited more than the IF of the journals in question, less than the journal IF or a random selection. I argue today that since IF is more universally valued, if you are getting papers into journals of higher IF than the articles actually secure themselves, you are winning. Conversely, if you consistently get more cites than the IF of the journals you publish in, you are not being credited as much as you should be.

OTOH, my prior, more personal view is that if you are kicking butt with more citations than the IF of the journals into which you fight your papers, it shows that your work is more valuable than the peer review system "predicts" on initial review and therefore you are the awesome.

(Oh yes, that is exactly what the Byzantine IF chase of modern biomedical science is doing, btw. Trying to predict the number of citations your paper will get in the next two years. Deal with it.)

Of course, this is contaminated by the presumption that the authors of each paper actually care to participate in the IF chase system. Not everyone does....

As you may be aware, I exist in a field that still has a bit of OldSkoole authenticity to it. Folks for whom the IF chase is not the be-all, end-all it is for many spheres in academic science today. Not that they don't have their little opinions about what type of publication record reflects "the best kind of scientist". Not at all. It is just that IF is a lesser player.

So there are some folks that just don't seem to give a damn about IF and they keep publishing in the same handful of society level journals that they have always favored. People who I would be happy to argue have had a sustained and fundamental impact on the world's understanding of addiction, biological actions of recreational drugs, neuropharmacology and, hell, pharmacology in general.

So there is a pocket of the world of drug abuse science, which sits in evaluation of YHN btw, which seems to value a record of publication in certain journals of a less than Glamourous IF level. Often this is because the journal is indeed the journal which is tied to a specific society. And one's participation in that society is viewed as a GoodThing to do. So if you belong to the society, perhaps you'd better publish in their journal now and again. Actually, perhaps you should do so frequently.

There are, however, examples of folks who seem to take this a wee bit too much to heart, in my view. And herein lies my pondering of the day. Why do I see diversity in the journals in which one publishes to be a good thing? Why does the appearance of a high density of pubs in a single journal (again, we're talking IF levels where there is plenty of competition on that metric) make my eyebrow raise? Why am I drawn to an appearance of US/Norteamericano versus OldEuro bias in the selection of journals? (or is this latter merely a reflection of the aforementioned academic-society-journal captivity I've mentioned above? Why do I think to myself "Hey, we've never published in [Insert modifiers] Journal of [-ology] before, let's give it a go" instead of sticking with a handful of the most-frequent suspect journals?

How'sabout you folks? Do you have a handful of normal journals that you consider using? Is there a strict hierarchy/search path that you descend in your attempt to get as high an IF possible for each submission? Are you topically distributed such that one set of projects in your lab goes to one journal and other projects have their own target journals?

--
I'll let you speculate in the comments about the source of the quote that heads this entry. Grad student? Young scientist? Aging greybeard? From a small town grocer background/lab or a major playah?

23 responses so far

  • drugmonkey says:

    always!

  • A while back, I came across something talking about which journals Nobel winners in biology/medicine had published in. It was an interesting set that was much more focused than I'd expected.

    There were the usual high-impact set of Nature Science et al plus just a few others (mainly JBC, JMB, Biochemistry, JACS). Take a look at the publication list of e.g. Linus Pauling and you'll see paper after paper in the same 3 or 4 journals.

    Diversity of journal seems to not be a virtue. I don't know if this is because of editorial relationships that get built, a readership bias (i.e., in this field, we read these journals), or something else, but it definitely seems to exist.

  • O.R. Pagan says:

    "So if you happen to work an article into a IF 15 journal and that is only cited 8 times in two years, that's way better than the one you fought into a IF 4 journal that turns out to be field shaping and gets cited 20 times, 50 times or 100 times in the first two years."

    I may be wrong, but I'd rather have a paper widely cited in a "lesser IF journal" than a paper in a"bigger" journal which has not been cited as much. Nowadays, the visibility of of biomed research is not a major issue , since most likely your paper will turn up in a PubMed search if they search for keywords, which will make your papers visible to all people in your immediate field. I usually publish in pharmacology/neuroscience journals and the fact that most of my publications have more citations than the average IF if the journal is good enough for me...

    (full disclosure: I am bald, and my beard is mostly gray)....

  • Dave Bridges says:

    Impact factor correlates with citation rate right? Higher impact journals are more read and more cited. Thereforef or you to get 10 cites for your nature paper, its a given. But if you get 10 cites for your southeasten wyoming journal of basic small animal research that is much much harder to accomplish. Ill be the one to say id rather have a poorly cited glamor mag paper than a highly cited low IF paper. At least until I have tenure.

  • Joe says:

    Have you ever heard Arturo Casadevall talk about the "trophy model" of publication? He argues that you can trust what is published in your trade journal a lot more than what is published in the trophy journals, and he published an article last year in Infection and Immunity (doi:10.1128/IAI.05661-11) that showed higher retraction rates in such journals.
    I would think you want to publish in as high an impact journal as you can. More than 15 yrs ago you would have considered favoring a trade journal (at least for some articles) because you knew the readership and wanted certain people to see a particular article. Now people may favor certain journals because they become familiar with what is going to be accepted in those journals, thus reducing revision time and effort and reducing time to publication.

  • whimple says:

    You're supposed to publish in journals that will convince the study section you have good productivity so they will give you good scores and fund your grants. I wouldn't do much considering beyond this...

  • drugmonkey says:

    Yes, whimple but some are focused on things like getting an interview, being selected for the position, getting tenure, getting Full, getting HoaryAuldUniversitySystemProfessorOfOlogy and the like.

    These attainments may require CVs that have characteristics that are different from the minimum standard for getting study sections on board with your proposals.

  • DJMH says:

    One problem is that IFs cover the broad swath of papers published in a given journal, so your paper's cite-rate being higher or lower than the journal's IF may be unrelated to your paper's contribution to the field.

    /ok, my subfield is nonexistently small, and glacially slow to publish, and my cite rates at the 2 year mark are usually lower than the journal IFs, and yes I've checked. repeatedly.

  • Bashir says:

    The Society Journal thing strikes me as even more nonsensical than IF.

    I'm guessing Greybeard.

  • whimple says:

    my cite rates at the 2 year mark are usually lower than the journal IFs

    This is true for almost everyone since the IFs are citation means and the distribution of number of citations is highly asymmetrical. Since the IF is not a median value, it is more a measure of the maximum punch that can be delivered by the journal, rather than an average.

    unrelated:
    DM: These attainments may require CVs that have characteristics that are different from the minimum standard for getting study sections on board with your proposals
    Yes, point taken.

  • AcademicLurker says:

    I think O.R. Pagan gets it right.

    The argument for coveting publication in high IF journals was that those are the journals people actually looked at, while many low IF journals would just rot in the library stacks and be forgotten.

    No one would read your paper because no one would ever take the November issue of "Croatian Transactions in Trivial Obscurities" off the shelf, much less look through the table of contents.

    Pubmed and keyword searches have largely eliminated that factor. I'm all in favor of individual article metrics taking on greater importance.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Why is participation in the Society "nonsensical", Bashir?

  • "This led me some time back to speculate that what we really needed was a measure of how your article performed relative to expected value for the journal in which it was published. I proposed a z-score, I think. "

    It's been done. I had some fun with it on-blog back in 2008, but unfortunately it doesn't seem to be working anymore.

  • zb says:

    "Pubmed and keyword searches have largely eliminated that factor. I'm all in favor of individual article metrics taking on greater importance."

    That works for people doing research in the field, but not for the wider press, who just pay attention to the magazines you take of the shelf (though the spotlighted abstracts at meetings seem to play role, potentially a bad one, since they are unpublished works).

    What's not being addressed in my mind is that the high IF journals are fundamentally different in format. The 3 page Science paper is the wrong format for presenting some scientific work, and the push to present it all that way (with the addition of buried supplementary information) is damaging to the content of the science itself. In the olden days, it seemed to me that high profile labs published some for their work in the high IF journal, the work that seemed to fit that format, where you had something simple to say and demonstrate, potentially in a new area, but published other work in other formats. These days, the proliferation of more "high IF" journals (like Neuron, Nature Neuro, etc.) and the ability to present longer more complicated work (in supplement) while pretending to write a short concise story, and the desire of every post-doc/student to have the high profile article from the work they did has driven everyone to put all work into the same set of journals. Don't see the new system as changing any time soon, until it's really broken down by open access publishing.

  • O.R. Pagan says:

    Maybe I am going too far of topic, but some of you mentioned supplementary material in journal articles. I find those terribly distracting and somewhat annoying. Our time is already limited as it is. When I am reading a paper, I like having the whole story "right there", without having to go somewhere else to look for details. Am I too picky? Do anyone else feels this way?

  • O.R. Pagan says:

    Why yes, I am indeed a newcomer.....(:-)....

  • O.R. Pagan says:

    And I read the post; agree 100%!

  • Grumble says:

    Good points, zb. The invention of supplemental material seems to have led to an exponential (or more) increase in submissions to Glamour mags, partly because scientists no longer feel compelled to send only their simplest, most concise stories there. (Increasing numbers of scientists probably also have something to do with it, of course.)

    Where I'm not sure I agree is: "Don't see the new system as changing any time soon, until it's really broken down by open access publishing." Why should open access publishing reduce the drive to submit to Glamour mags? As long as tenure committees, faculty search committees, and science writers continue to go apeshit for people who publish in Glamour mags -- as long as publishing in them is associated in a very real way with success -- scientists will continue to submit all kinds of crappe to them to see if it stickes.

  • The flagship Open Access journal--PLoS Biology--is a fucken glamour mag.

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