27

Excuse me for the naive question, but is the reputation/prestige of the journal you chose for your publication really important?

In the end, I believe the scientific content of your paper must be the key part. Surely you want to publish it into a scientific journal which guarantees high visibility to your manuscript, possibly with Open Access and a strong social media presence. Surely you want your paper to go through an in-depth peer review, with honest comments and reviews. Surely you want fast processing times. Surely you want the journal to be about the paper topic. Surely you want a journal with the audience who are interested in the paper subject.

But in the end, is a specific paper P on scientific novelty N published on a journal J1 having impact factor 50 really more important/relevant/better than the same paper P about the same scientific novelty N published on a journal J2 having impact factor 5?

If yes, why?

Will it affect your career?

  • 3
    We are all guilty of judging a book by its cover, especially when there are so many books vying for our attention. Consequently, the fastest way is to spend half a second on someone's CV and if there are no notable achievements, the 'book' is passed over. So such books/CVs have to take an alternative, and perhaps harder path; namely, word of mouth or one-on-one or direct selling. – Prof. Santa Claus Sep 5 '17 at 0:47
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    Anecdote: I have seen a fellowship application which stated that to be eligible you need a first-author publication in a journal with impact factor above X (I can't remember what the number was). Kind of silly, but that is the state of things in some fields - in other screening processes they have similar types of requirements de facto, it is just informal. – Bitwise Sep 5 '17 at 6:38
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    Papers are only "relevant" to anything at all, if people read them. A paper in a junk journal will never be seen by the (majority of?) researchers who don't have time to spend scanning junk journals for papers which should really have been published somewhere else. – alephzero Sep 5 '17 at 11:12
  • Important for what? There are two reasons for publishing a paper: (a) because you want people to read it, and (b) because it advances your career. (Sadly many academics are influenced more by (b) than by (a)). As far as (a) is concerned, you can probably get the word out just as effectively these days by putting the paper on the internet: if it's actually worth reading, please will soon get to hear about it. – Michael Kay Sep 7 '17 at 7:52
37

I can say for sure that the prestige of a journal can help you, particularly if you are a young academic!

I was applying for a position at a university several years ago and ended up being the second-choice candidate. Even though my publication record was larger than the other candidate's, and I had been publishing in good journals such as Journal of Physical Chemistry, Journal of Chemical Physics and Physical Review—all of them highly reputable journals in their individual fields, I lost out to someone who had published several papers in Nature. (I learned this after the fact from one of the members of the search committee.)

So, yes, publishing in good journals is very important when you're starting out.

  • 7
    And of course your papers were just as good as Nature papers. – GEdgar Sep 4 '17 at 22:30
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    My point is that a couple of Nature papers were enough to outweigh a larger body of work, which is why prestige matters. – aeismail Sep 4 '17 at 22:33
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    Even later in your career it seems to make a difference (grants, promotions, job offers...). – Kimball Sep 5 '17 at 0:19
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    Huh, I vaguely recall hearing something along the lines of how Nature is what the laymen think is the serious journal, whereas the real ones are like Cell and others... – Mehrdad Sep 5 '17 at 3:16
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    @Mehrdad I think that might be field dependent. Certainly in math, publishing in Nature or Science is so rare that I would have a hard time judging whether it would really be a mark of quality of a paper (rather than a mark of the paper being on a trendy topic). This is as opposed to if the paper is published in something like Annals. – Tobias Kildetoft Sep 5 '17 at 8:49
28

This is an answer from mathematics. I cannot say exactly how much of this applies to the sciences.

First of all, I don't actually read all that many papers, certainly not all the papers in my subsubfield, and unfortunately probably not even all the papers relevant to my work. Most of what I read are papers I hear about in talks, that are by people whose work I personally know, or are recommended to me by colleagues. On occasion, I'll look through a (paper!) journal; your paper in much more likely to be noticed in such browsing if it's in one of the 3 or 4 top journals in my subfield than if it's in an obscure journal.

Second of all, when my department hires, at least some of the applicants are working in an area that my department has no expertise in. We are simply unable to judge the quality and significance of all of our applicants' research ourselves. We try to get information about this from recommendation letters, but they may not be that informative (especially if no one in our department is close enough to the applicant's area to understand the recommendation letter!). We may feel a little guilty about doing so, but at that point, we have no way of judging an applicant's research other than by the general reputation of the journals they publish in, and certainly no way to judge in a reasonable amount of time considering we may have hundreds of applicants and are serving on a search committee on top of all our usual job duties.

11

In my field, physics, I think journal quality matters, but only at the extreme ends.

What I mean is, there are a few respectable journals, and it doesn't really matter whether your article appears in PRD, JHEP, NPB, EPJC etc. But if your articles appear in PRL (a letter) or similar, it's a big deal. And if your articles appear in junk journals, it's a big problem.

The status of the journals as respectable, big deal and junk probably could be inferred from e.g. impact factors. But in practice, they're held in that regard by the community because of their history and reputation, and not because of their metrics.

  • 1
    My impression is that this may be more true in physics than in other fields. (This is not to disagree with your answer; on the contrary.) – Tom Church Sep 5 '17 at 0:00
  • @innisfree: My understanding is that some entire subdisciplines of physics primarily publish exclusively to arXiv. Is that correct? – aeismail Sep 5 '17 at 1:40
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    I haven't heard that before. certainly not true of hep-ph, hep-ex and hep-th, which almost always are submitted also to a journal – innisfree Sep 5 '17 at 2:59
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    @aeismail same also for astro-ph and gr-qc. The preprint goes on arXiv and then the final version will be submitted to a journal. I've never heard of someone exclusively publishing on arXiv, unless their paper is really bad (i.e. no journal will accept it). – astronat Sep 5 '17 at 19:51
8

If the paper is good, then it will (in time) become known as a good paper, and the prestige of the journal will be less important. But if the paper was published only recently--or, worse, only accepted and not even published yet--so that it is not yet well known to the experts, then the prestige of the journal may be the best information the hiring committee has.

7

Surely you want to publish it into a scientific journal which guarantees high visibility to your manuscript, ... Surely you want a journal with the audience who are interested in the paper subject.

These aspects are not independent of the impact factor: For example, a higher visibility leads to more citations, leads to a higher impact factor. You just can not take these out of the equation!

But in the end, is a specific paper P on scientific novelty N published on a journal J1 having impact factor 50 really more important/relevant/better than the same paper P about the same scientific novelty N published on a journal J2 having impact factor 5?

The impact factor is only one (very popular, yet error-prone) metric to measure the reputation of a journal. It is rather a hint that correlates very loosely with the more soft metric that actually counts in the end and that is how the journal is actually perceived in the research community.

Therefore, when deciding between different journals, choosing the one with the higher impact factor is not always the best choice. Every field of research has its own prestigious journals that might or might not have a high impact factor. Especially if the group of researchers is rather small, the impact factor tends to be small, just because there are less overall citations. However, if the most influential researchers publish regularly in this journal, they will also read your paper more likely if you publish there instead of a very generic journal that covers a broad range of topics.

Of course, the reputation of a journal does not make a paper any more important/relevant/better, but it is the other way around: The better your work is, the more likely it is that you can publish it in a journal with a high reputation. There are so many papers published every day that no researcher can afford to read all papers. So even if your paper might be exceptional, the chance that your paper will be read is lower if you publish it in a journal with low reputation.

Will it affect your career?

Because of the reasons mentioned before, it is not the case that the impact factors are somehow combined to generate an overall score that finally counts who gets the tenure, but of course, the committee knows the journals in your field and will tend to choose applicants that published in more prestigious journals just because they know that it is harder to publish there.

  • 4
    A more important/relevant/better paper is more likely to be published in a journal with a higher impact factor. -- [citation needed] This is shockingly close to the definition of confirmation bias, even if we accept, for the sake of argument, that the number of citations is an accurate yardstick for the importance / relevance / goodness of a paper. – JeffE Sep 5 '17 at 2:59
  • I completely agree with you! This is very misleading, especially since I used the phrase "higher impact factor" and afterwards wrote it is a bad metric. I switched and reworded the paragraphs accordingly. – koalo Sep 5 '17 at 8:17
3

My institution has a rule for financing its professors based on impact factor.

A new full professor starts with some money from the institution for the first N years. In year N+1, his budget consists of all third-party funds he has secured for himself, plus an amount of money from the institution based on a formula where each published paper from the last N years counts, and the impact factor of the publication appears as a multiplicator in the formula.

Many scientists will dislike such an arrangement and have a long list of critiques why it shouldn't be so. But the point is, no matter what an ideal world would look like, this is a real-life example where the impact factor (and the related reputation) matters a lot.

  • 1
    Wow. I am glad I am not in a place where the bean counters have managed to take such firm control. – Tobias Kildetoft Sep 5 '17 at 14:07
  • Thx, nice to know! – Leon Meier Sep 5 '17 at 15:28
3

Naturally I agree that this does have an impact. But since no one has pointed this out, I'll mention that how important this is varies greatly by type of institution.

  • There are many thousands of faculty toiling at institutions that are happy when their faculty publish anywhere - though their administrations are happier when it's a top journal, regardless of the field.
  • There are those at places where publishing definitely matters quite a bit more, but where quantity may matter over quality in terms of keeping the job.
  • And there are those where you need not apply for tenure if you don't have papers in the top two or three journals. (Substitute analogous things for your field.)

Keep in mind that especially for changing institutions this may matter more; a recognizable journal/monograph series/whatever will make you more noticeable.

But my first bullet describes the experience of many of us. And unfortunately, your question about scientific content mattering probably is far less important on the administrative side. This may not be the case when it comes to recognition from colleagues in the field, of course, who in some cases may not care about you if you can't make it to those top journals - I hope you aren't in this situation, but in some fields that is unfortunately the case.

0

I see it frequently that people needing to cite an example of a certain group of publications that deal with the same topic will cite the one with the most citations or the one being in the highest impact journal, not necessarily the one that is most accurately displaying the situation or the one that came first, probably (I guess) because they want to be sure they cite a relevant work when they haven't read them all very carefully or want to increase the importance of their own work by citing "important" stuff. Whatever the reason it surely adds to the reinforcement at work there.

So even when preparing their own manuscript and adding citations, people have a tendency to go for number of citations and/or impact factor of the journal.

0

You build your scientific career upon your publication and the impact factors of the journals you publish in, the number of citations (sometimes modeled by the h-index) of your papers and the number of articles you published are the three major indicators of the quality of your research (which are of course quite arguable indicators).

Ideally, the quality of your research should only be judged on the quality of your papers contents. Sadly not everyone can or has time to read and understand deeply your work. That's why we generally rely on these indicators, for example when recruiting scientists. Moreover, it is not rare to see institutions that indexes the allocation of budgets upon these indicators which forces lab directors to hire "profitable".

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