There's a reason why it's in that journal

Oct 31 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

A while back a PI and I were discussing a few papers of interest to me. The PI is an expert in the method used in all the papers, while I'm a bit of a novice. While going over one of the papers he kind of hemmed and hawed a bit at the methods. Pointed out a few statical issues that I didn't catch at first glance. He the paused for a moment and said "there's a reason they published in that journal"

That journal being one of mediocre repute. Not C/N/S. Not a not society or field wide journal. Just a ho-hum, yes I've heard of it but it isn't anything special journal. I felt a little taken aback by that. Even though he'd already pointed out issues with the paper itself. Even though he meant that the paper probably had been rejected elsewhere (I got a vague feeling he had reviewed it).

Is "there's a reason they published it in that journal" too far a conclusion to jump? It seems so, given all this talk of judging papers not by the Impact Factor of the journal but by the paper itself. Which, of course, makes total sense.

Yet, last week when a new paper by a well known (to me) researcher made it's way to by inbox one of the first things I saw that it was uncharacteristically in a 'mediocre journal' and I immediately thought it must have been rejected at all the high IF journals he usually publishes in. That feels like an unwarranted assumption. Yet I cannot imagine that he would send the paper to this journal first. Does that mean the paper has some fatal flaw? Or perhaps he just couldn't talk up the impact as well this time?

I haven't even read the paper yet.

5 responses so far

  • Dr24hours says:

    I don't think that's fair. Maybe there was an issue of turnaround time, or desk rejects based on journal priorities. Evaluate based on the paper.

    That said, of course it's natural to assume good journal = good science. But we should fight that bias, not embrace it.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Just remember that different reviewers and editors may have different notions about "fatal" flaws. And on respective merits.

    But yeah, sounds like you are talking about a dump journal for your field. Respectable enough to publish in....but very likely not a first choice venue. So what? Still on you to decide wha merits and flaws, fatal or otherwise, that you see in the work.

  • DJMH says:

    But there are multiple reasons for publishing in a lower IF journal. Some DM alluded to, but the two main ones in my universe are, crap methods (as you're talking about) and uninteresting or previously demonstrated conclusion. If it isn't news, it isn't getting into most decent society journals. So it isn't always methods problems.

  • It's probably true for a whole lot of papers out there from good groups that are published in mediocre journals that they were rejected everywhere else because they have a flaw in them (or not enough control experiments or not sexy enough data like DJMH said). But remember that the first paper about optogenetics was 'only' published in Nature Neuroscience, so not in Nature, Science or Cell. Sometimes editors and reviewers may not see the value of a paper.

  • neuropolarbear says:

    I have found that, generally, buying an album that the critics love will lead me to music that I myself love as well. It's definitely more accurate than picking randomly, and it's a good heuristic, but there's no guarantee that what the critics love I will love too. Picking an album that critics don't love is more likely to lead to crummy music, but some of my favorite albums are ones that critics have no interest in, and yet they are still great every time I play them. But it took me a long time to have confidence in my own judgment.

Leave a Reply