In this article, we will broadly discuss the role of academic publishing in supporting scientists worldwide. We’ll first discuss why publishing scientific research is so important, followed by what journal editors are looking for when publishing research, and then finally concluding with a discussion of Open Access publishing.
Does academic publishing help researchers?
Let’s begin by discussing the role of academic publishing. Firstly, is it necessary? How does it help or support researchers? Well, publishing is the final step of the research process. I want to emphasize this point — publishing is an integral (and final) part of research.
It does not matter how important a researcher’s results are, if no one knows about them, they’ll have no impact. So, it is essential for researchers to communicate their results with others to advance their field.
What do you gain from publishing in a journal?
People often ask me if it is important where researchers publish their results. Definitely. A scientist needs to publish their findings on a platform that is discoverable by others in their field worldwide. The greater the recognition of the platform, the higher the likelihood it will be for people to find and read that research. And that is how scientists improve their impact.
However, with the ease of discoverability on the internet, is it necessary to publish research in academic journals? Can a scientist simply post their results online? That certainly seems much more efficient and easier for the author. And it is. But it is not convenient for readers.
I like to see academic journals like curators at an art museum. Imagine you want to visit art and there are two choices of art museums.
The first has no restrictions; anyone can come in and hang up their artwork. This museum has complete freedom. So, when you walk in, you’ll see some high-quality art and some very poor-quality art. Further, as there is no organization, everything is mixed together. So, it would likely take you a long time and a lot of effort to find artworks of interest to you.
The second museum, on the other hand, is curated. Meaning that art professionals inspect the various pieces of art to determine those that are of high quality. Additionally, they group this art by genre or age; e.g., one room will contain Japanese art from the 20th century, while another room will contain French art from the 19th century.
Which museum would you prefer to visit?
Most people would choose the second. Why? It is simply easier. You can quickly view the art that you are interested in, and you can feel confident that the art displayed are high quality works.
That is the role of journals in academic publishing, as curators of the scientific literature. Scientists first submit their work to specific journals (whose scope is related to that topic of research), and the journal editors and peer reviewers ensure that work has the necessary quality and relevance to be published.
In this way, readers can quickly find what they are looking for and feel confident that research will be relevant and useful.
This is the value of academic publishers for the scientific record — they filter and improve what is published. Journal editors are the first line ensuring that the research is suitable for the scope of their journal. This helps to group similar research together that support each other. It also helps readers find studies that are relevant for them.
For example, climate scientists can feel confident that the research published in Nature Climate Change will likely be relevant and interesting for their own research. This helps these researchers save time by not having to search through the internet looking for research.
Regarding improvement, journal editors consult experts in the field — peer reviewers — to evaluate the studies and give recommendations on how that research can be further improved in terms of robustness and transparency. Having these additional insights can make sure that the final published article is of the highest quality and also promotes reproducibility of that research.
Highly selective journals, like those from Nature, have very high standards regarding what they publish. The result of this strict quality control is that readers can feel confident that when they pick up an issue of Nature Cell Biology (or any other Nature title), they’ll be reading the latest and most important breakthroughs in their field.
The pros of open access publishing
Do scientists need to be careful of what journals they publish in? Definitely. Over the last 10–15 years, Open Access publishing has gained a lot of attention and popularity. In this publication model, authors may have to pay an article processing charge (APC) after their manuscript is accepted.
In this way, that article will now be freely accessible worldwide for everyone. Because of the interest in making science more transparent and open, many countries and funding agencies worldwide are supporting or even encouraging this publication model.
Open Access has numerous benefits for authors. First, it improves the accessibility of their ideas globally. Many developing countries cannot afford to pay the subscription fees of many scientific journals.
Therefore, their researchers can only read studies that are published Open Access. The more that articles are read, the greater their impact worldwide. And this will improve the international reputation of the author in their field.
The cons of open access: predatory journals
However, some people have seen open access as an opportunity to make money for unsuspecting authors. They set up illegitimate publishing entities to make ‘predatory journals’. These are not true journals in that they do not fit the model described above — they don’t filter nor improve the academic literature. Instead, they promise authors quick and easy publication for a fee.
These journals rarely use peer review and simply publish anything that is submitted to them. Not only does this hurt the field by publishing unreviewed research, it also hurts the authors. Because of the poor quality of the journals, they are not indexed by the main databases researchers use to find articles online.
Therefore, if a scientist publishes in one of these ‘predatory journals’, their research will not be found. And because authors can only publish their research once, that means this research will be lost to the field and the authors will not receive the impact or recognition they hoped to achieve.
Luckily, authors can easily identify quality Open Access journals. First, they should look for journals published by reputable publishers like Springer Nature, Elsevier, Wiley, etc. They should look for journals with reputable journal editors and editorial board members.
They should also look for journals that are indexed in reputable online databases, such as Web of Science, Scopus, PubMed, or Directory of Open Access Journals. Lastly, they should look for journals that do not require payment of an APC until after their manuscript has gone through peer review and has been formally accepted.
In this way, scientists can feel confident that the journal is a high quality and trustworthy platform to share their research.
Academic publishing plays a central role in supporting researchers and advancing scientific progress. We do this by ensuring what is published is relevant for the field and of high quality research.
However, scientists must carefully evaluate potential journals to ensure that the ones they choose are reputable journals that they can trust. In doing so, scientists can feel confident that their research will now have an impact on the advancement of their field and improve their international reputation.
Not sure where to submit your next research article? Try AJE’s Journal Recommendation Service.
Jeff Robens is Senior Editorial Development Manager for the Nature Research Academies. This article originally appeared in Publishing Academy, Nature Digest, Academic Publishing (March 2018, Vol 15 No. 3).