Saturday, January 26, 2013

Where to submit your research paper?

Jeremy Fox wrote an interesting blog post, which in turn has sparked at least two others (here and here).  Here are my thoughts on the issues that were raised, though taken in a different order, plus a few extra questions at the end.

Aim as high as you reasonably can.  As I read it the main point made in the original post is: don't waste time submitting to journals where the paper has very little chance of getting accepted.  I agree with this.

I've come to the opinion that for me (a computational chemist) the journal landscape has three tiers:
1. Science and Nature (I have never submitted a paper there)
2. Journals with an impact factor greater than roughly 10 (PNAS, JACS, etc).  (I submit once in a blue moon.)
3. Everything else.  (This is were the vast majority of my papers go).

Is it a society journal?  For Tier 3 journals my preferences are PLoS ONE >> society journals > commercial publishers (with Elsevier dead last).

I'm not particularly excitable but the Research Work Act really "brought my pis to a boil" as they say here in Denmark.  The RWA made me realize that commercial publishers (who lobbied hard for this piece of ... legislation) view my papers as their property (which it is once you sign away your copyright!) and are willing to actively hurt science to increase their already obscene profits.  So I joined the Elsevier boycott.

However, it is worth remembering that the RWA was "applauded" by the Association of American Publishers which includes societies such as the ACS and AIP.  To their credit AIP (which publishes JCP), AAAS (Science), NPG (Nature, Nature Chem) came out and opposed the RWA. Eventually, the ACS also kinda-sorta did but only after the RWA became so unpopular that Elsevier dropped its support (Seriously ACS? After Elsevier? ).

Note also that these societies still charge universities exorbitant prices for their journals (see also this and this) and generate such profits that they are able to shrug off a multimillion dollar loss due to a botched lawsuit against a small rival.

The societies themselves may be not-for-profit outfits, but their publishing divisions certainly are not.

Is the journal open access?  That's a necessary but not sufficient condition.  Consider the BMC journals. Yes, they are OA but they are published by a commercial publisher (Springer) whose mission is to maximise profits.  For example, they are not above selling your figures for profit.  Furthermore, they would not run the OA journal if it did not generate a profit - money they could well use to lobby for the next incarnation of RWA.

That's why I choose PLoS ONE.

How much will it cost?  The nominal charge for publishing a paper in PLoS ONE is $1350, but you can ask for a full or partial fee waiver.  You do this after the paper is accepted.  "The work described in the manuscript is not funded" is a perfectly valid reason for a fee waiver.

Does the journal evaluate papers only on technical soundness? Yes.  In my experience the PLoS ONE review is every bit as rigorous as for other journals and you still have to watch for reviewer comments that ultimately are tied to impact.

Notice that this means you can publish projects that "failed", allowing you to take on riskier projects (remember, that's a good thing!)

Don't go by journal prestige; consider "fit".  PLoS ONE considers manuscripts in all areas of science so all your papers fit perfectly in PLoS ONE.  I find this strangely liberating when planning a research project.

Is there anyone on the editorial board who’d be a good person to handle your paper?  I was initially a little nervous when I didn't see any "friends" on the PLoS ONE editorial board.  However, remember that the editor does not have to judge the perceived "impact" of your work, so who the editor is, is less of an issue than in a conventional journal.

I have had PLoS ONE editors considerably outside my field hand my manuscripts and this has not been an issue so far.

How likely is the journal to send your paper out for external review? PLoS ONE is very likely to send it out for review.

Have you had good experiences with the journal in the past? Yes.

Is the journal part of a review cascade? Not really applicable.

Some additional questions:

So you only publish in PLoS ONE? No, if I think we have a shot at, say, JACS (or even Nature) then I'll give it a shot.  Also, if my co-authors don't want to publish in PLoS ONE then I usually go along with that.  However, I try to insist that the journal allows arXiv deposition so that the some version of the work is freely available.

Isn't PLoS ONE a dump journal? Yes, in the sense that JCTC, JPC, JCP, JCC, etc all are dump journals.  I cannot for the life of me see any meaningful difference in prestige associated with these journals.  If you would rather have a paper in a journal with an impact factor of 5 than one with an IF of 4 then you haven't thought too deeply about what the IF really is.

Will people find your PLoS ONE papers?  Yes, unless their only way of discovering papers is to regularly peruse ToCs of select journals.  However, to reach these people you somehow have to guess which journals that would be and then restrict yourself to solely publishing in those journals. Doesn't this seem a little absurd?

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