Thursday, August 21, 2008

Journal Choice

There is an intensely fascinating discussion occurring over at DrugMonkey right now on the importance of journal choice strategy for manuscript submission. Instead of polluting their nice discussion, I thought I would use my own blog to provide an ecologist's commentary. Let me start this discussion with a quote from PhysioProf's original entry:

"If your papers are being routinely accepted with only minor revisions, you are almost certainly not aiming high enough with the journals you are submitting to. If you want to publish in high-end journals, the sweet spot to aim for is that only about 1/3 of your papers should end up accepted at the journal you originally submit them to, and the rest should have to filter down."

When I read this, I actually wondered if PhysioProf had bugged my home. This summer, General Disarray and I debated this point with regards to two paper I was an author on. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that both papers would fly into one of my standard haunts and wanted to shoot higher. Afterall, if I was sure they were sure things at one tier, wasn't that the best indication that it might be worth trying a little higher? A co-author (the same one in both cases) thought it a waste of time and wanted to dump them lower. I was swayed by the arguments because the co-author was someone I highly respected. General Disarray finally convinced me that this strategy only ensured that I would not get either manuscript into a higher tiered journal. (Hmmm, maybe PhysioProf didn't bug my house, but surely I would know if General Disarray and PhysioProf were the same person....right?). There are many assurances that make me happy in life (the love of my husband, medical insurance, 100% on-time arrival for a flight), but a guarantee for not getting a paper into a better journal is not one of them. So I currently have two manuscripts trickling through the system. (And yes, PhysioProf, most of my papers have been getting into the journals I first submit them to, which was also part of my reasoning for shooting higher...but surely you already know this since you have apparently bugged my home).

Part of what I wanted to emphasize for my more ecological friends is not to get distracted by the comments over at DrugMonkey that predominately focus on what they call C/N/S or GlamourMags, (Cell, Nature, Science; obviously Cell is completely meaningless to us and I am endlessly fascinated by Cell being on that list because to an ecologist it's like hearing Gold, Diamonds, and...Seashells? Really, you rank seashells with Gold and Diamonds? But that's for another discussion about the differences among fields and was mainly put in here as a friendly poke at my medical/molecular/cellular blogging friends.) Obviously, getting papers into Nature, Science, PNAS, and PLoS Biology are great career boosts for us but the argument is not that this is only relevant to that top tier. I think that CC said it most clearly: if you routinely get papers accepted on the first submission, you're obviously leaving impact factor points on the table. If you try to aim higher across the board (submitting what you think is a B paper to A and what you think is an E paper to D) you'll reap rewards more thoroughly. Conversely, if your first submission acceptance rate is zero or close to it, you're being too aggressive and annoying everyone. I have reviewed a number of papers in low-tiered taxon-specific journals that when asked on the review form about alternative journals I wanted to say: Yes, rewrite and send to Ecology! (For my friends outside the field, that is one of the top ecology journals).

While the approach of shooting a little higher than one might intuitively reach for is a good one for maximizing the "payoffs" for each paper, it should be noted that this strategy is not necessary to have a career as a scientist, especially an ecologist. How important it is to follow this approach all depends on whether or not you want a career at a high wattage R1, a less brilliantly lit R1, or a more laid-back R2 (which may sometimes experience brownouts). At my current locale, which is an R2, I could make a handy career for myself without ever stretching myself to more stellar journal heights. However, at one of the top R1 programs I might need to stretch more. The fact that I am currently stretching is not because I need to, but because I want to. Given the type of science and career I want for myself, PhysioProf has the right advice. Now, if only I could find that damn bug he put in my house.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have this discussion with my friends all. the. time. and its offshoots. Sounds something like this in a hamster wheel:

1) "but ecology studies take years to complete and genetics stuff you can pull out your ass in weeks".... so, genetics stuff is lesser than ecology stuff??? or ecology projects belong in top tier journals and every ecologist should shoot for top tier journals because of the years of slogging through the field dodging snakes... compared to pipetting water around the lab and stumbling on something cool at the bench for a Nature paper????

2) old dude with a very very padded CV of "no name this" and "conference proc that" papers says "yes, Dr. Woman is up for tenure next month, and she only has 2 papers last year"... uh, those TWO papers are in ECOLOGY and AMERICAN NATURALIST.

3) young asst prof dude just loves to publish with his undergrads. In fact, if the students run a gel or count rocks in a plot, hey, they get authorship. So, all his papers are in lowww journals, have lots of "collaborators" clearly marked with "stars" on his CV to indicate student status. One might ask "why can't he submit some solo-authored papers to the top-tier"... others say "he's using undergrads to cover his mediocrity"... some say "he's serrrving the undergrads by publishing with them"

My point is that impact factors and so-called "top tier" journals are supposed to give some indication of quality and "toughness" in publishing. But there will always be someone who looks at numbers of papers (crap crap crap = 3) and others who only look for CNS and IFs. Keep track of your IFs, mark your CV with student "stars" and invited papers, and be on your toes constantly to defend why you chose the journal you submitted to.