Advice: how to decide where to submit your paper (UPDATEDx3)

There are a lot of journals in the world, and new ones are starting all the time. How do you decide where to submit your paper? Commenter Becky asked for advice on this, so here it is!

I can’t give you a concrete recipe or formula to follow here. All I can suggest are some considerations to keep in mind. Personally, the first three are the most important for me.

UPDATE: I can already see via Twitter that some open access (OA) advocates are misreading this piece, or at least skirting the edge of doing so. So if you’re an OA advocate, I mean what I just said above: all I’m doing here is suggesting considerations, and describing to readers how I–an admittedly old, conservative sort when it comes to this sort of thing–and people like me weigh those considerations. If you want to weigh those considerations differently, by all means do so! I have no problem with that at all! This post isn’t arguing against you! Now, the post does note some potential consequences for you if you prioritize OA. Like it or not, if you submit everything you write to PLoS One, people my age and older may be less likely to read your papers. I’m not saying that’s bad or good, I’m just saying that’s the way it is right now (maybe it will change in future). And in saying this, I doubt I’m saying anything most OA access advocates don’t already know. This post is mostly aimed at new students and others still just learning the ropes of how science is done currently, for better or worse. In the comments, by all means please describe or link to reasons to weigh these considerations differently than I do. But please do not misread this piece as arguing for one particular weighting of these various considerations. This piece is purely descriptive, not prescriptive. It lists various considerations and describesΒ how I personally weigh them. So please don’t comment that I’m trying to argue against OA, because I’m not. And please don’t comment that I’m wrong, because I’m not. I have indeed correctly described how I personally weigh these considerations–I’m not wrong about what my own weightings are!

UPDATE #2: It’s linked to in the comments, but not everyone reads the comments so I wanted to highlight it here. Over at Jabberwocky Ecology, Ethan White has a very nice response to my post, offering his own (quite different) perspective on where to submit your paper. You really should read both my post and his; they’re a very complementary pair. Thanks to Ethan for taking the time to respond so thoughtfully (and quickly!)

UPDATE #3: And now Tim Poisot has chimed in with his own thoughts over on his blog. Tim’s thoughts differ both from mine and Ethan’s (for instance, Tim thinks “fit to journal” is irrelevant!), and are interestingly unorthodox in other ways. For instance, Tim is an open access supporter–but also doesn’t care whether or not the journal claims to only look at technical soundness, because in his experience Plos One doesn’t actually do that (FWIW, my admittedly-limited experience with Plos One is like Tim’s in that respect). So go read what Tim has to say too!

  • Aim as high as you reasonably can. Whether you like it or not (and I know some people don’t), lots of people use journal identity as a filter to decide what papers to consider reading, and even as a quick and dirty way to provisionally judge papers that they haven’t read. So if you’d prefer for more people to read and think highly of your paper, you should aim to publish it in a selective, internationally-leading journal. But don’t aim too high. I have heard a rumor of someone in ecology and evolution who submits everything he writes to Nature, then after rejection immediately resubmits with little or no revision to Science, then to PNAS, etc. Maybe the rumor’s true, maybe it’s not. But the point is: do not be that person, unless you don’t like any of your colleagues and don’t care if they don’t like you either! Because you’re really going to annoy everyone involved in editing and reviewing your papers. Plus, even from the most narrowly self-interested point of view, your rate of publication matters as well as the prestige of the venues in which you publish. If you want a career in academic science, ruthlessly trying to maximize venue prestige, with no consideration for the amount of time you waste having your papers repeatedly rejected, is probably not an optimal approach. How can you tell how high to reasonably aim? Experience (as a reader, author, and referee), and input from your coauthors and other colleagues. And if you ever find yourself thinking “I want to take a shot at Journal X, I know it’s a real stretch but maybe I’ll get lucky”, you’re probably aiming too high.
  • Don’t just go by journal prestige; consider “fit”. Journals differ in lots of ways besides impact factor. This reflects, and shapes, their readerships. So choose where to submit not just based on journal prestige, but also on the “fit” of your paper to the journal. Has the journal published other papers on this topic? Does it often publish papers using the methods you used? Etc. Even nominally “broad” journals often have topics on which they publish a lot, and other topics on which they publish little or nothing. For instance, Ecology publishes relatively little purely theoretical work, not (I think) because their editors don’t like theory, but because ecological theoreticians who want to reach a broader audience than just their fellow theoreticians tend to go to American Naturalist. I don’t know that there’s any rational reason for that, but it’s just the way things are, and such “traditions” are naturally self-perpetuating. For a long time, Nature used to publish more, and (in my view) better ecology than Science, making Nature a better choice for ecologists (although I think that may be changing). I’ve heard that Journal of Animal Ecology publishes a lot of bird papers because many Brits (both professionals and amateurs) are really into birds and so flood JAE with papers about birds (is this true?) And many other examples could be given. Often, your decision here will require you to emphasize one aspect of your paper over another. For instance, if your paper has lots of gene sequence data, do you want to reach others using similar methods and aim for Molecular Ecology? Or do you want to reach others addressing the same question but using different methods, and so aim for a general ecology journal that publishes relatively little molecular work? Do you want your paper to be read by others working in the same system (in which case maybe you want a system-specific journal)? Or by others working on the same question (in which case maybe you want a general ecology journal)?
  • How much will it cost? Do you want to pay for open access, either at a purely open access, author-pays journal, or at a journal that offers the option for authors to pay to make their paper open access? If not, do you want to pay the page charges that some journals, but not others, charge? Do you have access to a funding source that will pay the charges (e.g., my university has a fund to which faculty can apply to cover the author fee for open access, author-pays journals)? Can you get any charges waived (e.g., because you’re a member of the society that publishes the journal, or because you can truthfully claim to have no money to pay)? People who tell you that cost is a total non-issue are people who have big grants and who have somehow forgotten that most people (including lots of very active researchers, like me) don’t.
  • How likely is the journal to send your paper out for external review? Selective journals these days increasingly use editorial rejection without external review, but they do so to widely varying degrees. Even Science and Nature differ substantially in their rates of rejection without external review (Nature sends a larger fraction of submissions for external review, IIRC). I don’t like this trend towards increasing use of rejection without review, I think it introduces too much stochasticity into the peer review process. This is why I sometimes don’t bother with Ecology Letters, where rates of rejection without review seem to be especially high. I know their editorial rejections come fast, and that their post-review decisions come fast too. But frankly, if editorial rejection is sufficiently likely, at some point it becomes a question of why bother submitting at all, no matter how fast the decisions are. I admit my attitude here may not be completely rational, and I emphasize that it is purely personal. Don’t get me wrong, I submit to Ecology Letters fairly regularly. But it is not my automatic first choice.
  • Is the journal open access? This isn’t a consideration I personally care about much, but I know others do. So if supporting open access journals is important to you, you need to decide how important it is compared to the other considerations on this list.
  • Does the journal evaluate papers only on technical soundness? There are those who feel strongly that selecting papers on the basis of “interest”, “novelty”, “importance”, and other such attributes is a purely arbitrary business with no place in science. I don’t take that view. But if you feel that way, you need to decide whether you’re prepared to live by your principles and submit all your work to Plos One or other unselective journals, given that many of your colleagues do not share your views and may not view your cv very highly. Of course, a principled view on the appropriate function of the peer review system isn’t the only reason to submit to an unselective journal. Maybe you have a paper that you’ve repeatedly failed to get into a selective journal, so now you just want to publish it somewhere and be done with it. Maybe you have a paper that you know will be difficult to publish in a selective journal (e.g., the paper reports negative results, or it’s a small pilot study that you just want to be able to cite in future). Etc.
  • Is the journal part of a review cascade? It’s increasingly common for selective, non-open access journals to pair themselves with an unselective, author-pays, open access journal as part of a “review cascade”. Authors of mss rejected from the selective journal are offered the option of having their ms, and its reviews, transferred to the non-selective journal. The idea is to make it very easy and quick for authors of rejected papers to just “get them out there” in a non-selective open access journal, with the publisher profiting from the resulting author fee. I’ve never done this myself and I can’t see myself ever wanting to. Typically, if a selective journal rejects my paper, I revise it in light of the reviews and submit to another selective journal. But if you attach more importance to publication speed and convenience than I do, you may find review cascades an attractive option.
  • Is it a society journal? Submitting to journals published by scientific societies is one indirect way to support the societies themselves. Revenue from journal subscriptions is an important revenue stream for many scientific societies, such as the Ecological Society of America. Those revenues are higher if the journals are better and so in high demand from subscribers.
  • Have you had good experiences with the journal in the past? There is a leading ecology journal to which I used to submit regularly, but which I haven’t gone to in a while. In part that’s because twice in a row they had microcosm papers of mine reviewed by hardcore microbial ecologists, who (predictably, in my view) didn’t understand my work at all. There are enough similar journals out there (in terms of audience, prestige, etc.) that I decided not to bother with them for a while. Again, I admit that my attitude here may not be totally rational. What can I say? I’m human.
  • Is there anyone on the editorial board who’d be a good person to handle your paper? If you can’t really identify anyone on the editorial board who seems like they’d be a good “fit” for your paper, that may be a signal to consider a different journal.

78 thoughts on “Advice: how to decide where to submit your paper (UPDATEDx3)

  1. Very nice advice! I agree 98.71% with your suggestions. In my opinion, the submission/publication process is becoming more and more chaotic, complex and painful, since big publishing houses entered and dominated the game. It used to be much more fun 10 years ago…

      • Hi Jeremy, yes, they were already in the game. The difference was that they took care mainly of book publishing. The most important ecological journals were still in the hands of scientific societies, except for a few ones. Now most top journals are published by Elsevier, Wiley-Blackwell, Springer and other big players. I don’t know precisely how is the state of things in the US, but in Brazil funding agencies and even scientists are obsessed with scientometric indexes and journal ranking by IF. When one says to his colleagues here “my paper was accepted”, most do not ask what is it about; they just ask which journal accepted it. This paranoia was stimulated by the big publishing houses, and the change in the publishing culture was huge in the past 10 years.

      • Sorry, just to complement my reply. In my opinion, one sad consequence of the current IF-paranoia is that, no matter how many ecological/mammalogical journals there are in the world, everybody wants to publish in the same “half-dozen” journals, and many people forget about a key point commented in your post: adequacy and scope.

  2. Jeremy, why would you be less likely to read a papers PLOS One? Is it more that you are less likely to come across those papers or some other reason? Interested, as the way you phrased it it seems you (or people your age) have some aversion to PLOS One.

      • But following up on the idea of letting “fit” be the most criteria in deciding which journal to submit to, why don’t you let the “fit” decide which papers you read? The “Suggest” function in google scholar, for example, will have good recommandations, and it requires no effort on your part!

        But I’m feeling that Open Access (and there’s more than PLoS One to it, what about e.g. PLoS Biol?) and open data, and others, will be increasingly important, especially for the young crowd. Not in the sense of “pure OA” journals, but in considering the data sharing policy, OA options, etc etc. But in any case, when I submit to an OA journal, it’s not (only) because I want to support open access; it’s because I want my papers to be read, including by the people whose universities can’t afford journal subscriptions – that might not be a problem for us North-American scientists, but it definitely is a problem for some other countries.

      • I do let “fit” dictate what I read. I don’t think I ever said anything like “I read *all* and *only* papers in Nature, Science, PNAS, and Ecology Letters” or anything like that! And as I said in another comment, I do use Google Scholar’s recommendations a bit and once in a while they throw up something I want to read that I otherwise wouldn’t have found.

      • Jeremy, I don’t understand why you would be less likely to come across a paper from PLOS One. PLOS One is indexed in Pub Med, Google scholar, and ISI Web Of Science. Articles published in PLOS One can be found just as readily as those from conventional print journals.

        And chances are, article submit to PLOS One will be found sooner after submission. The process is quite quick and the appearance of an article in PLOS one is frequently announced on Twitter, ensuring early attention.

        Authors are encouraged to announce their articles in PLOS One on Twitter and Facebook. And they have the advantage of being able to provide an open access link, so that anyone in the world with Internet access can download their article. No pay walls at PLOS One!

        PLOS One currently has a journal impact factor of over 4.0, which is quite respectable, relative to the impact factors of conventional print journals in many fields.

        PLOS One is not biased against null findings, or findings that need further experiments to resolve. Importantly, PLOS is an important response to conventional journals that publish only positive findings or findings that if a positive spin on them.

        Disclosure: I’m proud to be an academic editor at PLOS one, like all the academic editors I serve without pay, but do so because I want to improve the completeness of the availability of science.

      • Thanks for your comments Jim.

        Please see my reply to Bora for my description of how I decide what to read and why I’m less likely to encounter a paper in PLos One.

        Re: speed of encountering new work, in my field it’s mostly not super important to learn about the very latest work a few weeks or even a couple of months earlier. At least it’s not for me. Ecology doesn’t move that fast.

        I’m aware of Plos One’s impact factor. I don’t judge journals by impact factor and I don’t chase citations in deciding where to submit. Others of course have very different views on the relevance of impact factor specifically (or other quantitative metrics) in deciding where to submit.

        In my post, I noted that the criteria by which a journal judges papers is a relevant consideration, and I specifically noted journals like Plos One that judge papers only on technical soundness.

        Full disclosure: I too served as an editor for an academic journal, Oikos, which is published by a scientific society, the goals of which I support. I served for a number of years, without pay, and in future I expect I will serve on other editorial boards, without pay. I also blog, without pay, and without any other explicit incentive to do so and many implicit incentives not to do so. I’m also a very active reviewer (including while I was an editor), reviewing more than three times as many papers as I submit or co-author. I’m am as proud of those activities as you are of yours. I’m sure you didn’t mean to implicitly denigrate others who’ve chosen to serve science in different ways than you have. But since you decided to share the ways in which you’ve chosen to serve science, I thought it might be useful for me to do so as well. In my view, there are many, many ways to serve science, and it’s up to each of us to make his or her own decisions as to how to do so. My own view is that these decisions are highly personal. While they are perhaps not wholly above criticism, I would be very hesitant before explicitly or implicitly criticizing any of my colleagues for making different decisions than I have made. That you volunteer to edit at Plos One is admirable. And again, while I’m sure you didn’t intend any implicit criticism of those who’ve made different decisions than you, in the interests of being 100% clear I thought it best to to make very explicit where I stand on this.

    • As for *why* I use venue as a pre-reading filter to help me decide what I might want to read, see this old post, especially the comments:

      Basically, it’s how I was trained to filter the literature, it’s mostly worked for me, and I haven’t found a better way. Though at the suggestion of a colleague I do check Google Scholar’s recommendations for me occasionally, and once in a while (but only once in a while) they find something I want to read that I otherwise would’ve missed.

      I emphasize that this way of filtering the literature *has* worked for me. I actually succeed in identifying far more *really* good papers that I *really* want to read than I have time to read. I am in fact familiar with and up to date on all the literature I need to cite in every paper I write, as evidenced by, e.g., the fact that referees rarely point out to me papers that I’ve missed. I’m open to changing how I filter the literature if that stops being the case.

      What are your pre-reading filters? (because no one reads everything, or even the titles of everything…)

  3. Great advice all round. I would also add that peers or mentors with more experience can help guide the process, but that their advice should be tempered by your own experience & knowledge. I had a committee member who was flummoxed when I thought that one particular chapter should be submitted to “Marine Pollution Bulletin” – not because he knew anything about the journal, but because it had the word “Bulletin” in the title!

  4. I don’t agree with some of this. It’s sort of written as “what game do I need to play to get published”, which makes me uncomfortable in a big way.

    First, in my opinion you left out the #1 reason for submission to a “high profile” journal: the importance of the topic, in the larger context, i.e. societally, or at least within the particular field being addressed. The multi-discipline journals’ mission is to publish articles of high importance, so that should be the key consideration when submitting to them, not issues of “prestige” and so forth. It’s not about our prestige, it’s about the importance of the science, and the latter needs to drive the former.

    Unfortunately, it often doesn’t, for whatever reason (human ego and short-sightedness will suffice, keeping it polite), and prestige itself becomes the objective instead of the quality of the science. The incentive process gets messed up, and whenever that happens, you’re set up for trouble, sooner or later. Which is exactly what we have, and lots of it, the peer review system being shot through with holes of all kinds, effectively broken. Let’s remind ourselves of some basic facts here: (1) the publishers make lots of money from the journals, (2) the journals get free labor from reviewers, an enormous benefit to them, but no incentive to the reviewers, who will frequently give it a corresponding effort, (3) the publisher owns the copyright to all articles, (4) the journal calls the shots as to what gets published or not, (5) the journals have managed somehow to generate the unwritten rule that the authors can only submit to one journal at a time! (which authors faithfully abide by, being generally good boys and girls), and (6) reviewers will frequently be in permanent positions while the authors will often not be.

    The point being that entire balance of power is tilted against the authors in the publication process. And this basic unfairness is going to lead to attempts to equalize that power, and rightly so. What needs to happen is not authors scrambling around trying to get published here and there, because the systems is stacked against them, but an overhaul of the review process itself

    So, I’m not sure I understand your objection to somebody who routinely submits to the top journals in succession. So what if it irritates reviewers? Why should they be irritated in the first place?–it’s their very job. The authors have to sit and wonder about who’s going to be irritated by their submission??? I don’t think so. I can see the point being that nobody works consistently on such high profile topics that they should always be submitting to Science et al., but that’s a different issue.

    Similarly, nobody should have to consider what’s on their c.v. when they submit a manuscript. If reviewers are looking at a cv instead of the paper itself, then there’s a major problem right there–and not with the authors.

    • Thanks for lengthy comments Jim, no time to reply to all points right now, will try to do so soon. But very briefly, your comment at the end about journal reviewers looking at the CV of the author misunderstands me. Reviewers don’t do that, nor should they! What I meant was that some people who *do* have a reason to look at your CV (say, search committee members) might not be impressed if everything on your CV is in, say, Plos One. I don’t say that’s good or bad, and certainly not everyone will judge your CV that way. But some will.

      • The correlation between the number of times a paper gets cited and the Journal Impact Factor of the journal in which it is published is at its lowest sense tracking began in the early 70s.

        I like to see evidence of your assertion about prejudice against PLOS One publications. I think manuscript submitted to PLOS One becomes citable, accessible publications, much sooner than manuscript submitted to conventional journals.

      • @Jim: the evidence that some academics don’t highly value Plos One publications is firsthand reports. On Twitter, on blogs, and in conversations, people say, or report others saying to them, that Plos One papers “don’t count”. A few such comments are linked to in Ethan White’s post, which I linked to in my update. As anecdotes like this are sufficient to establish, it is in fact currently the case that some indeterminate number of people in the world don’t think highly of Plos One papers.

    • Re: someone who routinely submits to top journals in quick succession, my problem is if they do so *without revising in light of reviews they’ve received.* You are of course entitled to your own views as a scientist–but your colleagues are entitled to theirs. Peer review is not biased against authors. Further, simply ignoring the views of one’s colleagues (as expressed in their reviews of your papers) basically amounts to giving them the finger. You’re basically saying that you’re the only competent one, and they’re all incompetent. That quite rightly irritates reviewers; no one likes to be given the finger, even proverbiably.

      And remember, it’s no one’s “job” to do a review–people volunteer to do it.

      Now, are all peer reviewers and editors competent and conscientious? No. But many (I’d say most) are. And so it’s totally inappropriate for anyone to just routinely ignore the peer reviews their papers receive, on the grounds that peer review is just a crapshoot, or all peer reviewers are incompetent, or the deck is unfairly stacked against authors.

  5. OK, some questions…and I’ll try to be polite πŸ˜‰

    You state that this is advice for students, and you admit that you are old-skool. Why do you think it’s a good idea to give traditional, outdated advice to young people who are facing a very different world, a rapidly changing ecosystem of science, science publishing, science funding and science media? Isn’t that tantamount to giving them bad advice?

    Second, if you read the literature by reading GlamourMags and top journals in your field, instead of reading all papers in your area of interest regardless of the vessel it was published in (via keyword searches etc), that is bad for your own work, regardless how high up in the traditional academic hierarchy you may be. You will miss some of the best stuff, because some of the best stuff these days goes into OA journals. The most open-minded, creative thinkers are likely to both do the most interesting science AND be most cutting-edge in their adaptation to the new science ecosystem, which includes the choice of publication vessel.

    As you are probably aware, Tenure Track is now the alternative career. Most of the students you are addressing will find jobs doing something else – policy advisors, science writers, high school teachers, industry or government researchers, surveyors, staff at environmental non-profits, or in think-tanks, or editors in scientific journals. This means that an overwhelming proportion of current students will soon be out of academia, pursuing other endeavors, using their expertise in other kinds of jobs. After six or nine or twelve months after graduating, they will suddenly realize that their library logins and passwords have been suspended. At that moment they will realize how nice they had it, how oblivious they were all along about the cozy way they had access, how expensive it is for libraries to pay for subscriptions instead of using funds for books, computers and other more important stuff and they will become instant converts to OA and probably big OA advocates and proselytizers.

    As a blogger, editor and writer, I tend not to cover papers that are not OA. I know some bloggers are much more strict with their OA-only rule than I am, but I still predominantly and preferentially cover OA papers. Main reason is that all the readers can click through the link, read the paper, and thus check my work. This increases the trust I have with my readers, because instead of relying on my words alone, they can fact-check me, see if I got it right. By linking to OA journals only, I in effect say “look, I have nothing to hide, you can check my work”.

    As some studies have already shown, increased media coverage (and that includes blogs and social media) leads to increased citation (for those who care about citations, and that is also changing). Thus, if you publish OA, your paper is more likely to get covered by the media, thus more likely to get cited later.

    Finally, as someone who spent a decade in research, then a decade in media, I am always suspicious of papers published in GlamourMagz. If a paper was published in Science, Nature, Cell, PNAS, JAMA or Lancet, all my red flags are up. Why is this paper here? What is wrong with it? Will this be retracted in a few months? (Yes, papers in those journals get retracted or seriously corrected at a hugely disproportionate rate). I start reading such a paper with 100% suspicion. My default is that the paper must be crap, or otherwise it would go to a decent journal and not GlamourMag. Not just that the weird formats make reading such papers more difficult (stuff that is explicit in other journals is “between the lines” in GlamourMagz, and stuff “between the lines” in regular journals is invisible in GlamourMags), but it is a risky minefield for me: what if I write an article or a blog post as if the paper is good, and it turns out to be crap? My reputation is on line.

    I used to work at PLOS (I am at SciAm now, which is owned by Nature) and I know how they operate, how the editorial decisions are made, etc. I trust papers in PLOS journals, especially in PLOS ONE, million times more than any paper in GlamourMagz. Just my 2c.

    • Thank you for your lengthy and thoughtful comment Bora, and for keeping things professional and issue-focused.

      I’ll respond to your comments in order:

      1. I don’t think my advice is outdated, though in the future it may of course become outdated. In my own field of ecology, things are changing, but there are still many, many people, including many leading people, who more or less share my views. I do think students need to be aware of that, so they can make an informed decision about their own approach to this issue.

      2. In other comments here, and in other posts, I’ve explained how I decide what to read. But since you’ve misunderstood how I do it, here it is again. I keep track of what’s been published in a fairly large number of journals, including a number that would not be described as “leading”, although I keep closer track of the leading ones. By “keep track” I basically mean “quickly scan the TOCs or the recent additions to the ‘forthcoming’ section for papers with interesting-sounding titles. Then, if the titles sound interesting, I read the abstract, and on that basis decide if I need to read the full text.

      I used to try to keep track of Plos One “ecology” papers this way, but there were so many, and such a vanishingly small fraction that I wanted to read, that I stopped because it was too inefficient.

      I do not use keyword searches (either on Plos One, or any other journal) because my interests, while not infinitely broad, are sufficiently broad and idiosyncratic that they cannot easily be summarized by keyword searches. Further, my approach to filtering not-infrequently helps me find papers that I never would’ve found with a keyword search.

      On the advice of a colleague, I recently started checking Google Scholar’s recommendations for me. It occasionally finds me papers that I want to read (or at least read the abstract of) that I otherwise would’ve missed. But most of the papers it recommends are either papers I found using the approach described above, or papers I’m not interested in. And it does not recommend more than a fraction of the papers I find interesting that I discover via the approach described above.

      Once I’ve decided what to read (either the abstract, or the full text), the venue is no longer relevant to me. For instance, if I’ve decided to read a paper in Plos One (say, because Google Scholar found it for me), I do not start reading from a more skeptical point of view than I would if it were a Nature paper. Once I’ve started reading, I always read the same way (skeptical, but open to being convinced), no matter what I’m reading or where it was published.

      My approach works for me, as evidenced by the fact that I am a productive scientist and am up to date on the areas of the literature on which I need to be up to date (as well as many other areas of the literature!). I have the impression that some people (not necessarily you! I’m speaking more generally here) cannot believe that I could possibly be up to date and informed using the filtering methods I’ve described, or that other filtering method wouldn’t work better for me. With all respect to those folks, I really wish they would stop simply assuming that they know better than me how I should filter the literature. And they definitely are wrong to assume that I must be uninformed or ignorant, given how I filter the literature and decide what to read.

      I emphasize that, in describing the literature filtering approach that works for me, I do NOT imply that it would work for anyone else. I am well aware that others filter the literature in other ways, and I’m sure it works for them.

      If my way of filtering the literature and deciding what to read, ever stops working for me, I’ll start using some other approach.

      Third, I am well aware that the vast majority of people who want tenure track academic jobs will never get one. Indeed, I am extraordinarily lucky to have gotten a tenure track job. I have posted on this often:

      I’m afraid I don’t quite follow your argument here. Are you suggesting that the fact that most people who want tenure track jobs will never get them implies that we all have a moral duty to publish in OA journals? Or are you simply making the point that people outside of academia often do not have easy access to non-OA content, and suggesting that academics ought to keep that fact in mind (and even weigh it heavily) when deciding where to publish? If the former, I’m afraid I don’t follow. If the latter, fair enough–that’s simply one argument for weighting “is the journal OA?” more heavily than I do.

      Fourth, as a blogger, I write about whatever I think is worth writing about, and if others happen to be interested, that’s great and tremendously flattering. Which just means you and I have different reasons for blogging, which is absolutely fine. There are many reasons to blog.

      Fifth, I personally don’t worry about how much my papers get cited. People cite papers, or don’t cite them, for all kinds of reasons, many not good. I don’t chase citation counts. As for media coverage, no science I do has ever received any significant media coverage, and is never likely to, no matter where I publish it. I am not convinced that, were I personally to take a very different approach in terms of where I publish, that lots more people would read and be influenced by my work.

      Sixth, I respectfully disagree that one should *prejudge* papers negatively OR positively based on the venue in which they are published. Words, figures, and numbers mean the same thing no matter what journal they appear in. I assess papers by reading them, and *only* by reading them. If for whatever reason I can’t come to a view one way or the other about a paper I’ve read (e.g., because I lack the expertise), I do *not* fall back on assuming “Well, it’s in Journal X, it must be oversold rubbish” or “Well, it’s in Journal X, it must be right.” If for some reason I can’t assess a paper myself by reading it, but feel that I *have* to come to a view on its correctness one way or the other (as opposed to simply reserving judgment), I consult trusted colleagues who have read the paper. With respect, I think this way of judging papers that I cannot judge myself is far more reliable than falling back on judging papers by the journal in which they were published, at least in my own field of ecology (where retractions and corrections are *extremely* rare).

    • I would add that even if Jeremy’s advice was completely outdated (which I don’t think it is), as a student I find it really useful to know how “it used to be done” because the majority of professionals in the field are still doing it that way. Knowing how others are operating AND keeping one’s eyes open about how things are changing are both important.

    • “Finally, as someone who spent a decade in research, then a decade in media, I am always suspicious of papers published in GlamourMagz. If a paper was published in Science, Nature, Cell, PNAS, JAMA or Lancet, all my red flags are up. Why is this paper here? What is wrong with it? Will this be retracted in a few months?”

      Couldn’t agree more Bora. Which relates to my point that those journals are driven largely by prestige, self-importance, and other non-science considerations.

      • On the other hand, re. retractations, ecology and evolution papers are held to much less scrutiny than medicine of pharmacology papers. So I’m guessing that it’s expected that there are less retractation, just through sampling effet (the other hypothesis is that EEB people are outstanding, and as much as I’d like to believe it, I’m not sure it’s the most conservative hypothesis).

      • Sure. This is all stuff I’ve actually posted on before:

        I’m just trying to push folks like Bora and Jim, who say “I disbelieve ecology papers that have been published in Nature or Science without reading them, because those papers are more likely to be retracted.” I think if that’s your argument, you should provide evidence for the premises. Show me the list of Nature and Science papers *in ecology* that have been retracted, and compare the retraction rate to retraction rates of ecology papers from ecology journals or Plos One. Of course, one can’t justify that premise, because hardly any ecology papers in any venue ever get retracted. Which doesn’t mean ecologists are all saints. It simply means that you can’t justify your attitude towards *ecology* papers published in Nature or Science vs. in other journals on the basis of retraction rate data.

        I freely admit that my point here is a narrow and perhaps even pedantic one. What I can say? I’m a pedant. πŸ˜‰

      • I never limited myself to ecology. I don’t know by discipline. I know that GlamourMagz in general have many more retractions (per total number of papers) than other journals. People did the stats on that.

      • Unlike you, I’m not willing to use a “prior” for ecology papers derived mostly from retractions of biomedical papers. Different fields with different norms and practices, in particular *very* different lab structures and approaches to mentoring.

        I don’t claim ecologists are all saints. But you and Jim are making a much stronger claim than merely “there’s probably a bit of misconduct in every field.” As I understand it, you’re claiming that there’s so much misconduct, in *every* field, and that it’s so *highly concentrated* in Nature, Science, and PNAS (and other journals? where do “glamour mags” stop and “non-glamour mags” begin?) that you’re willing to default to assuming that *all* papers published in those journals are the product of either misconduct or severe sloppiness. And conversely, you’re prepared to default to assuming that papers in Plos One are right. Further, it sounds like you’re prepared to let those default assumptions affect your evaluation of papers *even after you’ve read them carefully*. For instance, it sounds like you remain skeptical of Nature papers *even after you read them*? I’m sorry, but I just don’t see the point of such default skepticism (or default credulity, in the case of Plos One). Because there’s no way for the authors of the papers in question to allay your concerns. What you’re saying, if I understand you correctly (and apologies if I’m not), is that, if someone publishes in Nature or Science, there’s basically *nothing* they can say or do that would fully convince you of their conclusions. Is that your view? If so, I see that as very unfair to the authors concerned, especially in fields for which there is little or no evidence of misconduct.

        Let me make a deliberately-extreme analogy in an attempt to clarify. Your position strikes me as almost the equivalent of assuming that, because crimes are committed more frequently by certain groups of people, that all members of those groups are criminals, or at least should be assumed to be criminals until they take extraordinary action to prove otherwise. I can hardly believe that your position could be anything like that. But if not, I confess that I’m having difficulty understanding what your position is.

        I just don’t understand why anyone would ever want to default to a more or less skeptical stance towards a paper based on anything other than the content of the science. By all means, be especially skeptical of extraordinary claims. By all means, be especially skeptical of claims that appear to contradict much previous work. And by all means, be skeptical if the content of the paper gives you reason to be skeptical! But to be skeptical (or credulous) of something based on nothing other than the name of the journal in which the paper was published? I really struggle to understand why you’d take that stance. Journal identity just seems too far removed from, and too loosely correlated with, any legitimate reason for skepticism.

      • I get a million press releases. I need to make quick decisions what to cover. I have to have a quick way of deciding. GlamorMagz are too suspect and too difficult and too time-consuming to fact-check, so I’d rather pass.

      • Ok, thanks for the clarification, I now appreciate why you filter things the way you do.

        So I guess the only other thing I’d say is that I hope none of my scientific colleagues filter the literature the way you do. After all, our filtering needs are rather different than those of a journalist. And a filter that’s appropriate or necessary in one context may well be inappropriate and unnecessary in another context. I’m speaking here as someone who once published in Nature, and who has several close colleagues who’ve done so. I would hate to think that other ecologists default to distrusting my work, or that of my close colleagues, for no other reason than the venue in which it was published. And I’d hate to think that there’s nothing I or my friends could do to fully assuage that default skepticism.

      • No, you should absolutely not use the same filters as I do. And if a Science/Nature paper comes out and people I trust tell me it’s great (and it’s in their field), or heck, I know it’s great because it’s in my own field, I will cover it and I did cover such papers. But that is another filter – trusted friends. Without them, I have to turn elsewhere for blog fodder.

      • Thanks for the further clarification Bora, that’s very reassuring. Appreciate you taking the time to comment, and appreciate your patience with my probably over-forceful remarks. It was just very distressing to me to imagine any of my colleagues thinking me either incompetent or a liar solely because of where I’ve published! πŸ˜‰

      • Jeremy at 2:12 and 2:37:

        I wasn’t agreeing with Bora’s statement, that I quoted at 5:54, regarding retraction rates, even though I included it in my quote. Retraction rates are very low and not meaningful to me. I was agreeing with the previous point regarding a general suspicion towards the high profile journals, for the reasons I described. And I will throw in the general difficulty of reading such papers in many cases, because of the way they are formatted. If I really want to understand some issue in ecology, or climate science, or whatever, I’m not going to those journals to get myself educated–I’m going to some combination of books, review articles and discipline specific journals. I don’t trust them, especially PNAS and Nature, and not just because of my own atrocious experience with PNAS either.

      • Thank you for the clarification Jim. If I was spoiling for a fight, I might ask if your general suspicion towards Nature papers extends to Vasseur and Fox 2009 Nature. But I’m not, so I won’t. πŸ˜‰ (seriously, I’m kidding, no need to answer that)

    • Some interesting points. As for “tenure track is now the alternative,” I wish my advisors and committee members saw it that way. People mostly assume that if someone is doing something that they did (in graduate school), they want to end up the same way (as a tenured faculty member). I’m optimistic that someday people will wake up from this idea, but at the moment it affects a lot of how graduate students do things. The FIRST thing people mention when I talk about publishing a paper is impact factor. The first thing I do is dismiss that idea, but nevertheless it’s something we graduate students have to deal with.

      • Just to clarify, I give more or less the same advice to all my graduate students regarding where they should submit their papers, even though not all of them plan to go on to academia. For instance, I have a PhD student finishing soon who has started work for an environmental consulting company. This company wants him to publish his work, and to do so in good journals, because this company markets itself to clients on the basis that its consultants are real, practicing, active scientists. Further, I have difficulty thinking of a career path in which having published in selective journals would actually *harm* one’s career prospects. It’s not just future academics who may want or need to consider publishing in selective journals.

        Now, would I give different advice if I knew that a student was planning to go on to a career in which it wouldn’t really matter one way or the other where they published their dissertation work, or even if they published it at all? Sure. Would I give different advice if the student’s goal was not to reach an audience of academics, but an audience of, say, land managers? Sure. (I did say in the post that you need to consider the audience you want to reach!) And my post certainly doesn’t say that impact factor is the be-all and end-all–far from it.

        As for the broader issue of getting good career advice about non-academic careers, surely you wouldn’t want to rely on academics as your only source of advice! Academics mostly aren’t the best source of advice on non-academic careers, just as non-academics aren’t the best source of advice on academic careers. Everybody knows far more about their own career path than about any other path. If you want advice on what sort of publishing (or anything else) you need to do to maximize your chances for success in some non-academic career, you should be talking to people in that career. Hopefully your advisor, other faculty at your university, or someone in your dept. administration or the university careers office can help you out with this.

  6. Pingback: Some alternative advice on how to decide where to submit your paper « Jabberwocky Ecology | Weecology's Blog

    • Thanks for the alternative perspective Ethan, will comment over at your place if I have anything to add. Appreciate you taking the time to add such extensive thoughts, and I’m sure many readers do as well.

  7. Just a side-note: I have collaborator who publishes in PLoS ONE when the material needs to “get out there” quickly. These papers are usually on hot-button conservation issues that could use some science perspective, and the usual route of maybe-be-rejected-and-try-again publishing means that the process is too slow for this particular science to be its most relevant.

      • It does. Go to Settings -> Discussion -> Before a comment appears, and switch from “An administrator must always approve the comment” to “Comment author must have a previously approved comment”.

      • Ok, I’ll give it a try. Although at least once in the past, I have actually moderated a comment from someone who’s commented before…

        Thanks for the suggestion. In my own defense, it’s rarely relevant for my posts, which usually don’t draw such rapidfire comments. Now, Brian’s posts… πŸ˜‰

  8. Wow, when I was reading through your advice posts and noticed that you didn’t have a post on choosing a journal I had no idea what was to come. First off, thank you to Jeremy for reading my comment and writing this post. Thanks also to the commenters for bringing up different perspectives that we all need to hear. I agree with what Ethan posted, that it is extremely important for graduate students to seek out different views, and that our relationships with advisors and faculty members are extremely important, but also quite narrow relative to the experiences and opinions of ecologists as a whole. Jeremy, I look forward to reading the post you described on Ethan’s blog. It is comforting to know that there are those willing to guide and advise graduate students as we try to make our own way, if we are willing to look.

    • You’re welcome Becky, glad the post and subsequent discussion is proving useful.

      Really, I should be thanking you for suggesting a topic that clearly lots of people find well worth discussing! πŸ˜‰

  9. Most of your criteria are based, in my humble opinion, on an outdated pre-reading filter. Ultimately, if people start moving toward search engines we will soon reach a situation where “high level” journals (or GlamourMags, to borrow Bora’s expression) take a lot more time/energy without any significant benefit to the authors (well, perhaps some career benefits, but I’m not even sure about that).

    In my case I seldom read table of contents with the exception of a few OA journals. For the most part I use Google scholar to (1) get PDFs and (2) use the “Cited by X” feature to look at who cited my favourite articles and, of course, I read a lot of papers because I see them cited somewhere. Thus it doesn’t really matter if your paper is published in Nature or in the Transylvanian Annals of Obscure Research, it doesn’t even matter if the paper “fits” in the journal.

    It’s easy to underestimate the disruptive effect of smart search engines.

    • Ok, fair enough. As I’ve said many times, I’m perfectly aware, and perfectly happy, that others filter the literature in different ways. I’m sure it works for them.

      In my humble opinion, you’re judging my pre-reading filter based on the false assumption that it can’t *possibly* work, or on the equally-false assumption that what works for you must surely work for others. πŸ˜‰

      I freely admit that at some point my filtering methods may stop working. I’m quite confident that I’ll recognize when that’s starting to happen. For me, it hasn’t happened yet.

      Sorry if you find that hard to believe that my filters haven’t broken yet. All I can say is that they haven’t, not for me! And sorry if you find it hard to believe that I haven’t found Google Scholar to be at all an adequate substitute (as opposed to complement) to my existing filters, but I haven’t. And while you (and I!) might like to live in a world in which filters like mine don’t work for anyone, we don’t yet live in that world. Sometimes, reality is not as we’d expect, or how we’d wish it to be. πŸ˜‰

      • We might disagree more on what has to be done than on what currently works.
        My point is not that your filter is broken, my point is that it promotes a broken system to communicate science.

        There are two sides to this equation -> [0] Readers want to reach good papers.
        [1] Writers want their papers to be reached. Your filter works simply because most readers have a similar filter, and thus writers will spend considerable energy trying to publish in Nature, Science, Ecol Lett, etc… As writers stop playing this game your filter will break, but of course it’s not an easy system to break.

      • Thanks for your further comments. I’ll be honest: personally, I don’t see it as my job to altruistically choose a filtering method that wouldn’t work well for me in order to do my bit to promote change in how science is communicated. In part because I already do something altruistic–namely, write this blog!–that may help to change how science is communicated. And in part because I don’t agree that the current system of communicating science is broken. But on this I suspect we will have to agree to disagree. Afraid I don’t have the time or inclination right now to debate what it means to say that the entire system of science communication is “broken”. That’ll have to be a discussion for another day, at least if you want it to involve me. πŸ˜‰

        Re: my filter working because it’s similar to those that many other people use, yup. It’ll never be any other way. Even if in future everyone uses some other filter than what I currently use, there will still be strong incentives for those future ecologists to all use the *same* filter as each other. And it will be still be the case that, if you use different filtering methods than everyone else, your filtering methods won’t work well. I have an old post explaining this:

  10. An interesting discussion, but I cannot help but be struck by how unscientific this whole hooha is. All this advice sounds reasonable, but that’s not how we demonstrate things. Show me the data! I’m ready to believe choice of journal has a statistically significant impact on readership, or on probability of an interview, etc, etc — but if we can have two decades of scientific skepticism on whether species identity matters or if it’s all Neutral theory, surely we can be a little more scientific about establishing if and what matters in where submit?

    I don’t know that literature well, though some certainly does exist, e.g.

    1. Gargouri, Y. et al. Self-Selected or Mandated, Open Access Increases Citation Impact for Higher Quality Research. PLoS ONE 5, e13636 (2010).
    2. Eysenbach, G. Citation advantage of open access articles. PLoS Biology 4, e157 (2006).
    3. Piwowar, H. A., Day, R. S. & Fridsma, D. B. Sharing detailed research data is associated with increased citation rate. PloS one 2, e308 (2007).

    As fun as it is to hear this, I’d love to see this debate have a few more numbers and citations. Of course it isn’t reasonable to simply wait for such questions to be answered by further research; we have to make our decisions of where to submit now, with the knowledge we have and the uncertainty it comes with. But lacking more scientific evidence on the best course of action, it seems our advice should acknowledge the uncertainty? Perhaps a bet-hedging strategy would be appropriate?

    • Data of the sort you want is relevant, sure (at least I’d guess it would be, though I admit that I personally never bother to consider such data!). But it can never fully decide the issue. Like many decisions in science, “where should I submit” is not ultimately a decision amenable to a fully-quantified optimization analysis that spits out a single correct answer. And that’s true no matter how much or what sort of data we have.

      Re: acknowledging uncertainty, I would hope that my post does that! All my post does is describe the criteria that I personally consider, and give some sense of how I weigh them. I certainly hope I didn’t give the impression that I’m always totally confident as to exactly where I should submit my papers. Because I’m not–far from it! As with anything that’s ultimately a judgment call, you’re always a bit worried that you made the wrong call. And yes, there are various ways to “hedge one’s bets”, for instance by adopting a “mixed strategy” of sometimes submitting to selective journals, sometimes to unselective journals.

      • Sure, data doesn’t decide things by itself, that’s why we write results sections, eh? But we could start with data. Most ecological management decisions aren’t amiable to fully quantified optimization either, but I don’t think we’d want to use that as a reason not to be scientific about it and consider the data first πŸ˜‰

        Thanks for the comments re uncertainty and sorry if you were already stating all that.

  11. Pingback: Advice: on choosing your own path in science | Dynamic Ecology

  12. Not that Jeremy needs more comments on this post, but I’ll add my two cents.

    First as far as journals there seems to be a lot of debate here on open access or not. I care much more about for profit or not. I’d much rather be in a “closed access” not-for-profit society journal than pay $1800 to be “open access” in a for profit journal. And when I look at book publishers I will absolutely only go to a not-for-profit publisher.

    Notwithstanding the last paragraph,, for journal articles, I am a pragmatist, My preference for not-for-profit is an all other things being equal. I will publish in any good journal I can get into. I once coauthored a paper who would only publish in not-for-profit journals and it really limited our choices – it ended up resulting in what I thought was a really good paper that has probably never been read. I’m ultimately in science to advance science, which means getting my work out to be widely read and that is my *only* criterion. And I’ll believe PLOS One is the best way to get my papers widely read when a majority of my peers prefer to submit their best work to PLOS One than Science or Nature. We’re a long way from there today. It may well be that this is what an economist would call a lock-in argument – that is there is positive frequency dependence/feedback that could tip in a different direction if we started over. But we can’t, so it doesn’t matter.

    I don’t buy that the search engines have obviated the need for tables of contents and journal packaging. The fundamental dominant factor for anybody who tries to keep up in the literature is that there is way too much. Even a good subject filter produces 10x more than I can actually read. There HAS to be another filter. And bad as it is, journals and their reputation (by which I mean not just their impact but things like American Naturalist has a lot of modelling papers or Oikos has a lot of really novel papers and Ecology Letters is a really good signal for what is peaking in trendiness) is the best one I know. I just frankly don’t understand anybody who tells me if they’re filtering only by keywords. They must be reading 30 papers a week. Or else they must be limiting the papers they read to a really narrow subset (i.e I feel reading things that pull me out of my current thought paths is part of why I read).

    If you really think journals don’t matter and open access is everything, take the logic all the way. Self-solicit some honest peer review, then just put your papers up on your web page, make it google-searchable and let people beat their way to your papers.

    Me, I’m still going to try and get into Science and Nature when I can. And I’ll keep using a journal filter in addition to a subject matter filter to help me manage the firehose of papers to read.

    • I think another concern is just who you want to read a paper. By publishing in Science or Nature, you may increase your ecologist readership, but vastly decrease your ‘other interested party’ readership. This is especially a problem in the medical literature, where access to the literature can save lives.

      • And, I’d go so far as to say that a parallel with the medical literature problem exists with conservation measures. It’s always disheartening to see data that can be useful for underfunded managers in poor countries stuck behind locked doors.

      • This is a valid point and I care about it. But not sure what your alternate recommendation would be? Conservation Biology – my sense is not many boots on the ground conservationists read these types of journals either? And if I did place it there my theoretical ecologists wouldn’t read it. Aside from the IF boost to career, there really is a genuine advantage to a journal like Science or Nature in that they are about the only journals that are interdisciplinary and read by most people in most disciplines. And there is a non-zero chance of getting some general press coverage if you end up in those journals.

        As I increasingly working on interdisciplinary work with social scientists, its kind of well if it doesn’t get into Science Nature or PNAS where are we going to publish where my science colleagues will read it and their social scientists colleagues will read it? (yes I know there are oodles of interdisciplinary journals out there including the PLOS One we’ve been talking about, but they typically rank below the Sci/Nat/PNAS trinity AND the disciplinary specific journals (e.g. Ecology, Ecology Letters) on most peoples reading lists.

        Personally I think the translational aspect of getting the science to the people who need it is a very complex issue that goes way beyond which journal it is published in (and also way beyond the current NSF approach of lets give scientists 1/2 day of media training). I’ve had a post on this topic mulling around in my brain and will be curious to hear your thoughts when I finally get it out.

        Anyway, it is a serious question. Where would you put things to get read by diverse audiences?

  13. Your observations are good and reasonable., in particular for young research. Anyway, I join the surprise of many commenter for your description of PlOS as selecting only on technical base. It is exactly the opposit. PlOS publishes papers that are “not-mainstream” and that will find with difficult their way in many journals. This depends on a curious, unconscious phenomene I could observe even in myself: we consider “relevan” and “original” what matches our opinion and “irrelevan” what doesnt. You must fight against this psychological process, and we are not trained to do that. This means that the scientific community ofte is rather conservative (think, in physics, of the opposition to the ideas of Boltzmann and many other cases), and this is not a problem of the system of peer review, it is a problem of people. Luckily, truly original ideas are published the same, but that could happen much more rapidly.

  14. Jeremy, thanks for the post – this has been a fascinating discussion. A bit off topic, but something that I have seen as an unexpected consequence of moving away from ‘journal-focused’ searches for litearture and instead doing topic-based searching (e.g., key word and citation-based feeds) is that one is less likely to stumble across literature that is…gasp…unreleated to your research but interesting.I have feeds set up as well – there are too many papers out there to stay on top of the field without them – but I still subscribe to two journals, and get them in my mailbox no less. I often find that thumbing through the pages allows me to get a better overview of where ecology is than I had when I was only getting the table of contents sent to my inbox. My impression is that we have far fewer generalists out there, in part due to the sheer volume of papers and outlets.

    Does this make me old-skool? I better go tweet something to reassure myself I’m not.

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  25. Can I just say how unimpressed I am to see multiple people who just discovered or heard about this post today totally misdescribing it on Twitter. Learn to read, people. Or, if the problem is that you didn’t actually read the post at all, start getting in the habit of actually reading stuff for yourself before tweeting or retweeting how terrible it is.

    I also note with interest that none of them have bothered to comment on the post, or to reply to my tweets correcting their misconceptions and urging them to read it. EDIT: one person has now replied and admitted misreading my post, which I appreciate. Of course, if you choose to live in an echo chamber, the last thing you want is to hear sounds from outside the chamber. (Not that Twitter is necessarily an echo chamber–but it can be used as one, apparently). Edit: ok, the crack about people choosing to live in echo chambers isn’t fair and steps over the line. It just reflects my frustration at seeing even a few people misreading my post in ways that I specifically went out of my way to explicitly refute.

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