Repost: If you are going to talk about "tiers", then you'd better own that

We have been talking about the scientific journal ecosphere in the context of Michael Eisen's push to get more biomedical scientists to use pre-print servers to publicize their work prior to publication in a traditional journal. This push, recently aided and abetted by Leslie Vosshall, exposes a deep divide in the understanding of the broad scope of science. It is my view that part of the reason the elite (both are HHMI funded investigators, eliteness gets no better in the US) have trouble understanding the points made by us riffraff is related to the fact they don't understand the following. The main issue is that the elite are working at the first tier level. Second tier is a function not of their science but of the competition for limited resources. Any farther down the chain and it is all the same to them - they really have no understanding of how life works for those who operate in the Tiers below.

This post originally appeared on the blog 11 Feb 2013.

SevenTierCakeOccasionally during the review of careers or grant applications you will see dismissive comments on the journals in which someone has published their work. This is not news to you. Terms like "low-impact journals" are wonderfully imprecise and yet deliciously mean. Yes, it reflects the fact that the reviewer himself couldn't be bothered to actually review the science IN those paper, nor to acquaint himself with the notorious skew of real world impact that exists within and across journals.

More hilarious to me is the use of the word "tier". As in "The work from the prior interval of support was mostly published in second tier journals...".

It is almost always second tier that is used.

But this is never correct in my experience.

If we're talking Impact Factor (and these people are, believe it) then there is a "first" tier of journals populated by Cell, Nature and Science.

In the Neurosciences, the next tier is a place (IF in the teens) in which Nature Neuroscience and Neuron dominate. No question. THIS is the "second tier".

A jump down to the IF 12 or so of PNAS most definitely represents a different "tier" if you are going to talk about meaningful differences/similarities in IF.

Then we step down to the circa IF 7-8 range populated by J Neuroscience, Neuropsychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry. Demonstrably fourth tier.

So for the most part when people are talking about "second tier journals" they are probably down at the FIFTH tier- 4-6 IF in my estimation.

I also argue that the run of the mill society level journals extend below this fifth tier to a "the rest of the pack" zone in which there is a meaningful perception difference from the fifth tier. So.... Six tiers.

Then we have the paper-bagger dump journals. Demonstrably a seventh tier. (And seven is such a nice number isn't it?)

So there you have it. If you* are going to use "tier" to sneer at the journals in which someone publishes, for goodness sake do it right, will ya?

*Of course it is people** who publish frequently in the third and fourth tier and only rarely in second tier, that use "second tier journal" to refer to what is in the fifth or sixth tier of IFs. Always.

**For those rare few that publish extensively in the first tier, hey, you feel free to describe all the rest as "second tier". Go nuts.

11 responses so far

  • AcademicLurker says:

    This description is peculiar to neuroscience, I believe. Probably because citation metrics track field size and NS is massive (dare I say bloated?).

    In biophysics/structural biology, for instance, there's nothing between C/N/S and IF's of around 12 (PNAS and Nature: Structural Biology).

  • Emaderton3 says:

    My research is fairly interdisciplinary, combining engineering and cell/molecular biology. However, if I were to break down the tiers of journals of people working in my area or similar areas, I would come to a similar conclusion as DM regarding the many perceived levels of journal worthiness based on IF. However, my middle and lower tiers would just be populated with journals relevant to my field but still span a similar range. That being said, I am fortunate to have the option of trying to publish in a journal considered more biological if I have a nice mechanistic story which opens up a wider array of options such as journals between C/N/S and IF 12's and below. Now only if my work was seen as that worthy . . .

  • drugmonkey says:

    AL- are you saying there aren't multiple prestige tiers in your field? somehow I doubt that.

  • AcademicLurker says:

    DM - I'm just going by what I observe myself and others in my area doing. Generally speaking Nature Structural Biology or PNAS are the next journals you try for if your hail Mary submissions to Science and Nature get shot down.

  • Selerax says:

    AL: Nat Neurosci and Neuron have impact factors ~15, comparable to Nature Structural Biology ~13.

    It seems that "Nature Something" and "Cell Something" have cornered the second-tier rank across many disciplines.

    PNAS has prestige out of proportion with its IF of 9.6, presumably for historical reasons.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Cornered? The demiGlams were launched to create this second tier in many cases.

  • jojo says:

    Maybe I'm just a naive little minion but I think in roughly 4 tiers that have any meaningful order. But, roughly speaking for my realm I'd say:

    1. Science or Nature
    2. IF > 10
    3. IF > 5
    4. Everything else

    I mean any paper above or around 10 IF seems really really good to me. And the 5-10'ers are great too. And once you're below that I honestly don't think anyone will notice, it just becomes pub counting at that point?

  • drugmonkey says:

    jojo- are the people who publish in sub5JIF venues not "anyone"? Do you realize there are fields where the top journals are JIF 1ish? Finally, I know people quite well for whom anything below about JIF 20 is considered a dump journal. In short, it is all relative.

  • jojo says:

    Hm? Nah, I'm saying that the pubs below 5 are fine, too, not that they don't count. I don't consider the pubs in the lowest category to be worthless at all, in fact having more papers is useful too is it not? But I'm not sure I don't see much difference between PLoS one and the "second round" of field-specific journals (which in my field end to be IF of 1.

    And yeah of course I'm talking from the relative perspective of my field - where the excellent journals are generally above 5. Out of curiosity which fields are there where the top field journals are IF<1?

  • jojo says:

    (which in my field end to be IF of greater than 1)

  • Microscientist says:

    For a comparison I just pulled up the JCR rankings for both Neuroscience and my field of Microbiology. The top Journal in Neuroscience on the rankings is Nature Neuroscience reviews with IF of 31, #5 is Nature Neuroscience with IF 16,#10 has an IF of 10, and #20 has an IF of 7.
    In comparison, for Microbiology (also a rather large field) the rankings run #1 Nat reviews Micro IF 23, #5 Cell Host Microbe IF of 12, #10 IF 6.8, #20 IF of 4.4

    So for field specific journals ( Not including PNAS, CNS in the general forms) there can be huge differences in how fast the drop off occurs numerically. I can tell you that the IF 4 journals are all really solid journals that readily build good reputations in my field.

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