Why should I publish in PRX ?

Dear Colleague:

“Why should I publish in PRX?” We have heard this question often, and with the inaugural issue of PRX about to close, we have our first concrete answers.”

As I read this first line of the e-mail message, the thought goes through my mind “Well, I am interested in hearing these answers, because, frankly, I am still trying to understand what purpose this journal is meant to serve. If it should fill a hole in the current APS journal landscape, it must not have been a very noticeable one, because the last thing which I thought that APS needed at this time, was another journal.
But, hey, what do I know ? Let’s see what they have to say.”

• PRX continues the APS publishing tradition of selectivity and excellence, while expanding across traditional boundaries between fields and disciplines.

OK, what exactly is that supposed to mean ? Is it an interdisciplinary journal, aimed at including contributions that may not fall within the traditional boundaries of the conventional fields of our discipline ? If so, I am afraid that I shall not have much use for it.
For, the research work that I do, does indeed fall squarely within the accepted perimeter of a single, well-defined physics subfield (in my case, condensed matter physics). Boring, I know, but I think that it applies to the vast majority of physicists.
I think that most authors have in mind the community of scientists working in their own field, when they express their interest in submitting their research contributions to “the venue which will offer the greatest exposure” — journals that are merely read by a large number of individuals do not necessarily meet that criterion. Either that, or it is code for “I want a journal with high Impact Factor (IF)”.

There exists a well-respected APS journal for my area of physics, namely Physical Review B (PRB). If I want my articles to be read by a decent number of scientists in my field, who are the ones most likely to understand the work, assess its significance, provide useful feedback and, let us not kid ourselves, cite it if it warrants it, it seems reasonable to send it to the journal which most of said scientists read and where they publish their work.
On occasion, I may get pissed at Editors who change titles of articles for no reason feel that PRB is too broad, that because condensed matter physics is so diverse, submitting articles to PRB sometimes has the undesired effect of drowning them in a ocean of other, typically vastly different articles, where they may not be noticed. In those cases, I prefer to re-direct my submission toward more specialized journals, such as the Journal of Low Temperature Physics, less widely read than PRB, but more focused on my target audience (another example of similar journals is the Journal of Magnetism and Magnetic Materials).
And, every once in a long while I, like most of my colleagues, manage to complete a piece of work of which I feel particularly proud, or which in my humble opinion, might warrant consideration for publication in a more prestigious venue, such as Physical Review Letters where it will be featured together with articles in other areas of physics (but still identified as a “condensed matter physics” article).
Again, I am thinking that I am not “unusual”, I expect most of my colleagues to follow similar guidelines.

So, if the whole point is that of having an “interdisciplinary” readership, I am not sure how many of us will be interested. Personally, I would much rather have my paper read by someone who will say “OK, I think I disagree with this fellow, I need to write him and explain why”, rather than someone who will go “Oh… look at that… neat… wonder what all of that means… all right, dinner is ready” [0].

• PRX offers an open access publishing model, with all papers freely available to read and reuse, and authors retaining copyright.

(Am I the only one who bursts into laughter each time I read the word “reuse” ? How exactly is my paper going to be “reused” ?)

You mean, like the New Journal of Physics (NJP) ? Is that what this is all about ? Is APS starting to feel the heat from the competition ? If it is just about pursuing an “open access publishing model”, why not adopt that with the existing journals, instead of creating a new one ? Moreover, seriously, in the age of ArXiV, does “open access” really mean all that much anymore ?

• PRX develops new means to increase the visibility of published papers. Popular Summaries accompanying published papers, and an Editorial Commentary leading the coordinated publication of three superconductivity papers are the first two examples.

I think that many of us are eager to give a chance to other journals, like the NJP, because we like the idea of having an alternative to PRL — that means a journal with comparable Impact Factor (regardless of any “open access”, “popular summaries” and what have you).
APS should be proud of that because it is a clear proof of the success and influence of its flagship journal; at the same time, if and when an alternative to PRL emerges, it seems unlikely that it will also be published by the APS.
As for “popular commentary” — I thought that Physical Review Focus, Physics, PhysicsWorld, as well as a plethora of independent sites did that already. Again, call me a nay-sayer if you will, but I am not sure how many of us will think twice, from now on, before submitting our article to PRB, because PRX will offer a “popular summary” of our accepted paper.

The journal’s first accepted paper … on the connection between human-mobility patterns and the spread of disease, has already received coverage in several national media, including India, Germany, and Brazil, as well as the US.

Well, I am sure it is an excellent article… I am sure that there may even be some physics in there, though, frankly, I wonder how many specialized journals that deal with spread of disease and human-mobility pattern would be interested in my work on superfluidity in random media… Wait a minute, maybe I see where this is going — hear me now.
So, Nature and Science, which are not physics journals, have a high Impact Factor. They mostly publish articles in other disciplines.
So, if APS makes a journal that does the same, namely publishes mostly non-physics articles, there is a chance that it may attract articles from zoologists and neurosurgeons, and those articles will be highly cited. At that point, finally APS will have a journal with an Impact Factor as high as Science and Nature, and therefore physicists will submit their articles to it, ending this nonsense of us sending papers to journals just because they are glamorous, as opposed to pertinent… of course most of these papers will have to be rejected, since they are on a subject about which no one cares, and therefore accepting too many would be detrimental to the journal’s Impact Factor… we have a bit of a catch-22 here, don’t we ?


[0] Now, don’t get me wrong — Of course, physicists submit their papers to interdisciplinary journals such Science or Nature, because they sincerely believe that even zoologists and neurosurgeons will drop their jaws reading their latest, dazzling results on superfluidity in random media — the ridiculously high Impact Factor of those journals, and the fact that by publishing therein we may score points with our university administrations have nothing to do with it — nothing at all.

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7 Responses to “Why should I publish in PRX ?”

  1. Matias Says:

    So I’m not the only one who didn’t get what PRX was for…
    One more thing about NJP vs PRL (or PRB): The IF of NJP isn’t really comparable to PRL, in fact it’s about the same as PRB which means that PRL is still the only ‘pure’ physics journal which stands out regarding the IF (apart from Nature Physics maybe…). Even though the open access of NJP is nice (compared to the expensive PRB) the reason why I rarely read NJP (while reagularly doing so for PRB) is that the articles are typeset in such a hideous way that it gives me a headache.

    • Massimo Says:

      Well, the IF of NJP is not comparable to that of PRL yet, but there is no question that the (stated) intention of the publisher is for it to compete head-to-head with PRL, at some point.
      Whether that is going to happen, or it is even realistic, is a different issue — I myself am skeptical, I am thinking that the fact that since its inception NJP has been more or less steadily at the same level of PRB, in terms of IF, most likely tells us that that is where it belongs.
      In terms of PRX I do not know, I really do not understand which part of the physics community they had in mind to serve, when they came up with the idea for the journal.
      Unfortunately when it comes to “interdisciplinary” work, there is always this fundamental problem (at least for me), that is: if it is interdisciplinary, why should it be published in a physics journal ? If PRX is a journal of interdisciplinary research, why does it have “Physical” in its tittle, and why is it published by the American Physical Society ?
      If interdisciplinary work utilizes concepts and ideas of physics, and applies them to another field of research, why can the articles not be published in the flagship journals of that other field ? Is that what interdisciplinary means ? Article written by physicists in other disciplines, which are not good enough to be taken seriously in those discipline but we, physicists, want to publish anyway and pat ourselves on the back for ?

  2. Isotopic Says:

    It seems to me that there is another, more general reason for a new journal to crop up: There are simply more publishable manuscripts being submitted to journals. Perhaps a long-time editor can chime in with some facts (this is simply a bald assertion on my part) but I think it follows naturally from a long-term trend of an increasing number of researchers

    There are obviously several ways that this phenomenon (more papers of the same quality) can manifest itself, but a publisher like APS might find the new journal-route (rather than, say increasing the number of papers/pages per journal) adventageous. I’m not a physicist and can’t speak for PRX, specifically, but it would seem to me that a new journal either needs to be hyper-topical (e.g., PRBi) or more broad.

    From this perspective, the “need” that a new journal fills is simply as spill-over from other journals, and not to satisfy the burning need(?) of interdisciplinary(?) physicists.

    • Massimo Says:

      Well, as a member of the Editorial board of a respectable specialized journal, I can assure you that the challenge these days is to have enough papers to publish, not to handle the large number of submissions, especially if the journal’s impact factor is less than, say, 3 (in physics anyway).

  3. Pratap Raychaudhuri Says:

    Now I understand what PRX is all about: Nothing!

    NJP could indeed be a competitor of PRL, if they get the format and typesetting correct. Currently, the layout of the papers is simply hideous!

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