To the members of the Editorial board

Esteemed Colleagues,

first of all, as a newly appointed member of the Editorial Board of the Journal of Really Interesting Subfield (JRIS), I wish to join everyone else in thanking our colleague John H. Respected for his outstanding service as Senior Editor of the journal, as well as for being throughout the years its effective and most forceful advocate and spokesperson. I do not think I exaggerate when I state that the distinguished reputation that the journal enjoys, largely reflects John’s own reputation, as well as his standards of scientific rigour and integrity.

I have read the minutes of the meeting held in SoSo Location, which I unfortunately could not attend. I would like to offer my opinion on the future of the journal, both immediate, as well as long term. It is my belief that the first and most urgent issue with which we have to deal, is that of the journal’s relatively low impact factor (IF). Unfortunate, irritating and non-scientific as that may be, the scientific enterprise has come to regard that number as relevant. A continued low IF will have negative short and long term consequences of the prestige and influence of the journal, as the number and quality of submissions will not increase (in fact, we can expect it to decline), given the pressure on researchers, students and postdocs to publish their work on high impact journals. The time has come for us to be realistic, and recognize that we live in a competitive environment. This is not a problem that can be ignored, or that will just go away.
Everything else that has been discussed in recent meetings — the journal’s web page, the number of referees, the optimal balance between conference proceedings and regular articles, the wisdom of having a “short communication” section, the ease of electronic submissions, all of that dwarfs in importance compared to the IF, in my humble opinion.

I thus have come to believe that we, as Editorial Board, do need a strategy aimed at raising the IF of the journal, if possible relatively quickly (say in the next 5 years). How high would the IF have to be ? In my opinion, anything above 2.5 would be enough to make a measurable difference. It is currently at 1.0, much lower than that of Main Discipline Journal A, B (MDJA, MDJB), the Just Came out Journal of That Discipline, the Journal of Close Enough Field, and the You Pay We Publish Review of That Discipline (YPWPRTD), all of which have been fluctuating between 3 and 3.5.
If JRIS had an IF of 2.5, I think many more would submit articles there, rather than to any of the five above-mentioned journals. It is such large difference in IF that makes many of our colleagues hesitant, wary of submitting their work to the JRIS, especially knowing how the publication venue can affect the careers of our junior associates. Until we take care of this issue, getting indignant, protesting against the decline of scientific standards, insisting on the higher quality of JRIS’ refereeing, speedy processing time, “historic” prestige or greater scientific focus, will do us no good.

How can we go about boosting the journal’s IF in the (relatively) short term ? I think that there may be simple steps that we can take, which would not compromise on the standards of the journal. The editor of YPWPRTD aggressively seeks submissions, by contacting authors whose articles of potential interest appear on the well-known Large Preprint Repository (LPR). I personally think that that is not a very effective strategy, as by the time they are uploaded on LPR papers have been submitted already. Here, I would like to propose an alternate option, which I have suggested in passing already a few months back.
I think that a significant contribution to the relatively high IF of MDJA and MDJB, comes from papers originally submitted to the prestigious Letter section of MDJ (MDJL), but not accepted. By the time the authors have fought long and bitter battles with referees and with the Editor of MDJL, and the paper is rejected, comes the offer of the Editor of MDJA/B of publishing the article “as is”, with essentially no further reviews. Most of us will go along with that offer, largely out of desire to end things quickly.

I strongly believe that it would be very beneficial to JRIS to funnel as many as possible of those articles to it. Obviously, the first step that we all can take is bite the bullet and refuse the offer of MDJB, electing to submit the manuscript to JRIS instead. I hereby commit to doing that in the future, and hope that many of you will join me in that. Secondly, and more importantly, we should consider a mechanism aimed at offering the same option of relatively quick publication to authors interested in publishing their articles on JRIS articles rejected by MDJL. For example, if the author can forward to one of us the entire correspondence with MDJL’s referees and editor, as well as the letter from the editor of MDJB offering publication therein, we should consider accepting the paper with no further reviews, obviously not automatically but as determined in the various individual cases.

I made this suggestion before, as I said above. On that occasion, Esteemed Colleague expressed his displeasure with the idea that JRIS would become “the place where articles rejected by MDJL end up”. Here too, I share his sentiments in general, but I think we should take on a more pragmatic view. One could argue that papers published in MDJB are in that category, and we all agree that if JRIS had an IF of 3.5 we would be better off. Moreover, one could look at any journal that is not Science or Nature as that where some other journal’s rejected articles end up (many articles that appear in MDJL itself, these days, are rejected by S/N).

In general, I think that as long as JRIS continues to look at Not So Good Journal or UnheardOf Journal as its main competitors things will be rough, and in order to get out of where we are now we need to be willing to do what it takes.

Thank you for the attention, I look forward to reading other suggestions.

Best regards,

Massimo

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3 Responses to “To the members of the Editorial board”

  1. GMP Says:

    My $0.02, FWIW. For some journals, advertising special issues focused on certain topics, accompanied with personal invitations to a few key people, does help attract some good papers.

    I think a lot of it is about the individual clout of the editor-in-chief. I have seen it with ACS Nano and Nano Lett, which are both new journals and have gained really high impact factors. Granted, nano is a hot field, but there are a gazillion nano-flavored journals of which only these two have picked up really fast, and I think it has to do with who are the editor-is-chief is and how that person works his/her connections…

  2. Massimo Says:

    For some journals, advertising special issues focused on certain topics, accompanied with personal invitations to a few key people, does help attract some good papers.

    If you are thinking of the New Journal of Physics, their IF grew very rapidly in the first few years but then plateaued, and very recently started going down. So, I think that that may just be a short-term effect.

    I think that, fundamentally, if the subfield is small, then any specialized journal will be in for a rough ride. I think that the IF is directly proportional to the number of submissions, and it takes a concerted decision on the part of a community to submit papers to that journal, including papers that may have a chance at acceptance in more prestigious places.

    • Grumpy Says:

      The only IF<2 journall I've ever submitted to is Review of Scientific instruments.

      I was about to write a post about how it's dumb to submit to a lower IF specialty journal if you can have it accepted in somewhat higher, broader interest journal. But then I remembered how much I love RSI and now I think I get it.

      I think a modern website with slick format like ACS journals goes a long way toward making me interested in submitting. Some random journal without HTML option you have to dig around just to search is a turn off. I'm sure others will vehemently disagree.

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