Thursday, 6 June 2013

Does the Journal really matter?

I was reading some blog posts on which journals you should send your paper to and what strategies to use to decide.

And it made me wonder - Does anyone actually sit down and just read a journal through any more?

I used to do it with Bioinformatics, it got sent to our lab, so every so often I'd just sit down and read the journal through.  The only time I do this now is during occasional down time when I'm at a conference, since they tend to give out journal editions for free.  It seems like a waste of my finite time resources these days to read through a journal.

What I do instead is just search for what I'm interested in and read the relevant papers.  And here comes the important bit.  I read the papers regardless of where they are published.  I probably won't even look at what journal they're in until I have to make a note of the reference, which considering I can add it to my Mendeley library with one click, may not be until I'm just about to submit a paper, some months down the line.

So if I work like this, I'm assuming at least some proportion of other people do too (I'm thinking this is likely to be skewed by age, but not necessarily).  It just seems to me to be another reason that the whole impact factor / prestigious journal thing is redundant.  I don't read the papers because they're in Nature, I read them because they're interesting, so other than a line on your CV what is the actual point in trying to get your paper published in a high IF journal?


  1. I completely agree. It's very rare that I even register what journal a paper was in -- I just get a PDF that's relevant to my interests, read it, and move on to the next.

  2. So how do you find papers you didn't know you'd be interested in, and so didn't know to search for?

  3. For me, everything is now social. I get a lot of papers by email (from people who know I am in their field, or from the people they sent them to), or by recommendation on Twitter, on mailing-lists or on blogs. It may sound chaotic, but it's actually a far more efficient filter than the traditional by-journal approach because by its very nature by own social web is tailored to my own interests. I doubt there's a sauropod paper published anywhere that I don't hear about within a couple of day, by one route or another.

  4. I agree Mike, I use all of those routes, and a lot of key word searching as well. Plus there are people I follow rather than journals. Twitter is very good in particular for getting relevant papers.

  5. Ok, fair enough, I'm sure it works for you, and for many other people. But there are people for whom it wouldn't work well (I'm one). People are entitled to do whatever works for them:

    1. Absolutely people should use what works for them. I was really just musing about whether people read specific journals any more, not making a judgement. I do think it will get less and less as new ways of finding important material are developed though. The world is very much moving on from the paper based model of research dissemination.

  6. I would be interested to know why the personal approach wouldn't work for you. Surely there is a network of peers and colleagues that you have built up over the years?

  7. Sigh. Yes Mike, of course I have a network of peers and colleagues. But the vast majority aren't on Twitter or other social media. I'm not either (the Twitter feed for my blog mostly just broadcasts new posts). But I'm sure it can't possibly be news to you to learn that lots of academics (in particular, those over a certain age) aren't on social media.

    Plus, given that my way of working does work for me, why would I change it? I'll know when it stops working, and thus when I need to change.

    People who aren't on social media aren't *wrong* not to be on social media. They're just doing what works for them, *just like you do*. That's what everybody does. Social media really wouldn't work for many of the people who aren't on it. Maybe that will cease to be the case at some point in the future, but right now it's not.

    I really don't understand why you find it so mysterious or hard to believe that people who work in different ways than you find that those ways work for them. I don't find it the least bit mysterious or surprising that your ways of working work for you, Mike!

  8. Oh, I wasn't particularly talking about social media. I'm a newcomer to Twitter myself, and my abandoning journals as the unit of discovery long predates my use of it. I am also not on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn or in any meaningful way. I was really mostly talking about email, which is the most important channel for me. And it's also the channel that (surely) everyone uses?

    Of course, I am not not trying to change the way you work! I am trying to understand why you do it. It is surprising to me that anyone who is in email contact with a web of colleagues (i.e. anyone who is functioning as a researcher) would not discover the great majority of what they need that way.

    As for "given that my way of working does work for me, why would I change it?" -- the answer to that is volume. My experience, as least, is that the number of publications relevant to my field is growing exponentially, and so is the number of different journals being used. If I were to use your discovery method, then I would both take waaay too much time in covering all the main relevant journals, and also miss a lot of important work.

    I suppose the real question is how much time do you spend in a week going through journal ToC? When you find that it's a significant amount of time, and especially if it's increasing, then that will be the moment to consider whether that time might be more fruitfully invested.

  9. My colleagues are of course all on email. But none of us routinely email each other about new papers. So that channel wouldn't work for any of us as a way of learning about new papers. We all use email a lot, but for other purposes besides paper discovery. That's how things are in my field, as far as I know. I don't know of any ecologist, of any age, who uses emails from colleagues as a primary means of paper discovery. Perhaps there are some.

    I don't spend any more time per week skimming journal TOCs than I'm prepared to spend.

  10. OK. So it looks like what's going on here is a cultural difference, of uncertain origin, between how things are done in my field (palaeontology) and yours (dynamic ecology, I assume!) Interesting.