Do Academics Overestimate the Importance of Journal Prestige?


A recent study of academics in the United States and Canada found that when it comes to choosing where to submit their work for publication, they “most value journal readership, while they believe their peers most value prestige and related metrics such as impact factor.”

The study, “Why we publish where we do: Faculty publishing values and their relationship to review, promotion and tenure expectations,” by Meredith T. Niles (Vermont), Lesley A. Schimanski (Simon Fraser), Erin C. McKiernan (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México), Juan P. Alperin (Simon Fraser), was posted at BioRxiv and discussed in an article recently at Times Higher Ed. It had over 300 respondents from 55 different institutions of higher education.

Among other things, the study asked which factors respondents consider when choosing publication venues, and which they think their peers considered when doing so. Here are the results:

From “Why we publish where we do: Faculty publishing values and their relationship to review, promotion and tenure expectations” by Niles et al

The authors write:

Compared to their own perceptions of important priorities when publishing, respondents perceived differences in how their peers rate important factors for publishing… Considering the mean responses, the top factors respondents thought their peers felt were important included: (1) the overall prestige of the journal/publisher/venue, (2) the JIF [journal impact factor], and (3) both the readership they want to reach and the journal/publisher/venue being regularly read by their peers. Overall, we find that there are many statistically significant differences between how people perceive their own publishing priorities versus those of their peers. For example, respondents were more likely to think their peers valued the prestige of the journal/publisher/venue compared to themselves (mean 5.02 others compared to 4.76 self, p = 0.013), as well as to value the JIF compared to themselves (mean 4.77 others compared to 4.29 self, p < 0.001), and how often the journal is cited (mean 4.57 others, 3.87 self, p < 0.001). Conversely, respondents were more likely to perceive they valued the readership compared to their peers (mean 5.02 self compared to 4.60 others, p < 0.001), and that the publication was open access (mean 3.29 self compared to 2.73 others, p< 0.001)…

Put plainly, our work suggests that faculty are guided by a perception that their peers are more driven by journal prestige, journal metrics (i.e., JIF and journal citations), and money (i.e., merit pay) than they are, while they themselves value readership and open access of a journal more.

You can read the whole study here.

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giulia
giulia
1 year ago

How do (prospective) authors know, or even just form beliefs about, the readership of any particular journal? Apologies if this is a naïve question, but I’m genuinely interested in an answer. Readership is a factor I would happily incorporate in my decision-making process, in principle — but at the moment I have little more than (very limited) anecdotal evidence to go on.
More precisely: sure, I can assume that Biology&Philosophy is read by philosophers of biology, that Philosophy of Science is read by philosophers of science (including many philosophers of biology), ethicists read Ethics, and so on. But this only gives me a partial map of journal readership, at best. Among other things, it’s not a particularly helpful way to gauge the readership of generalist journals. Should I assume that everyone reads all generalist journals? Presumably not. How do I form beliefs about the readership of, say, Ergo vs. Mind?
I could assume that authors who publish in journal X are also readers of journal X, but (a) I’m not even sure that that’s reliably the case, (b) I also assume (and certainly hope) that readership extends beyond the author pool. Which again leads me to wonder about the basis for assessments of prospective readership: do authors actually value readership in the sense that they value the possibility that other authors in journal X will read their work?
An alternative hypothesis could be that prospective authors form beliefs about prospective readership on the basis of journal prestige. E.g. I want to reach as wide an audience as possible, I believe that prestigious journals reach wider audiences, so I aim to publish in a prestigious journal. Do beliefs about readership actually just track (perceived) prestige?
Once again, apologies if these questions come across as naïve or ill-conceived. I just find it extremely difficult to come up with a well-motivated and practically useful strategy to decide where to submit a paper.
In fact, I’d also be really interested to see discussion of this latter, larger point. Helen de Cruz wrote a helpful post about this a few years ago (https://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/blog/2015/06/choosing-a-journal-for-the-paper-youre-working-on-what-is-your-publication-strategy-.html), but there was fairly limited follow-up discussion in the comments.
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A Philosopher
A Philosopher
Reply to  giulia
1 year ago

I don’t read journals at all. I just keep an eye out for articles that look interesting in PhilPapers’ rolling new works list. Then I read those articles, whichever journal they are in. I’m curious whether more people read journals or whether they tend to do what I do.Report

Matt
Reply to  giulia
1 year ago

I’d assumed this was mostly related to the more specialized vs less specialized question about journals. So, I don’t think that, say, Criminal Law and Philosophy is a better journal than Phil Studies or Journal of Political Philosophy, but if I’d written something in criminal law theory, and wanted other criminal law theorists to read it and respond, I’d be more likely to submit it to Criminal Law and Philosophy than either of those (and more likely to Journal of Political Philosophy than Phil Studies, I think, depending on exactly what the topic was.) Beyond that, I also think that certain journals that are more general have “styles” – a random paper from the European Journal of Philosophy is likely to “feel” different than a random paper from Phil Studies, to take two journals that I consider to be fairly similar in quality, and this likely impacts who reads them

That said, these days it seems a lot less important, given services like PhilPapers, SSRN, and just putting one’s papers up on academia.edu or other web sites, so it’s over-all probably a lot less important than in the past.

(On a different issue, I’ll note that in some countries, like Australia, for example, it’s common to have “official” lists of journal prestige, where the amount of research funding one gets, one’s teaching load, promotion, etc. is tied, pretty directly, to how many “points” you earn each year. This, of course, directly effects where you try to publish, even if it is a pretty capricious set of rankings at best. It’s a bad, highly bureaucratic system that should be resisted!)Report

Neil Levy
Neil Levy
Reply to  Matt
1 year ago

While some Australian universities have lists of journals in which publication is preferred, I’ve never heard of teaching load, promotion or salary being linked to where one publishes. The last – linking salary to where one publishes – is more or less illegal. Our salaries are set by university wide awards, negotiated between the university and the union. There’s little variation across universities. Report

Matt
Reply to  Neil Levy
1 year ago

Those are all explicitly done in the faculty of Business and Law at Deakin, where I teach, and I am told that similar things, though maybe not exactly, apply in other law faculties here in Australia. (Salary is indirectly influence via promotion.)Report

Ted Shear
Reply to  giulia
1 year ago

I don’t think this is a naïve or ill-conceived question at all. A couple of years ago, I started adding a wide array of journals (most of the venues that I’ve read papers in and including philosophy-adjacent ones) to an RSS feed. I’ve found that flipping through it a few times a week to see what sorts of papers get published in different venues has given me an impression of the target audiences of different journals. Of course, that may diverge from their actual audience, but it seems like a reasonable proxy. One bonus of this is that I often find new and exciting papers to read that I’d likely only have heard about much later on.

In any case, I’d be interested to hear what strategies other people have used to help answer this question.Report

Matthew J. Brown
1 year ago

Given the role of peer evaluation in hiring, tenure, and promotion, I wonder if most people are “playing it safe” when they think about what their peers will care about, in terms of what seems more significant for that context. The authors seem to assume that we’re thinking only about what our peers value for their own publishing. Report

Kenny Easwaran
1 year ago

I had some interesting conversations with some of my partner’s colleagues a few weeks ago (in chemistry and physics and related fields), when they were discussing journals. Those fields are much bigger than philosophy (specialty conferences are often the size of the APA, and the general meetings of the American Chemical Society or Materials Research Society are much bigger), so it’s just impossible for someone to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the field. One of them mentioned some paper they had published recently, and another said they didn’t know the journal, but the author mentioned that it had started in 2014 and had (some high impact factor), so it’s a pretty well-established journal. In a field like philosophy, where it’s easy for the average academic to be able to name 10 or 20 general journals and be sure they’ve included the majority of the top ones, it’s easy for individuals to have some sense of the readership or other stereotypes of each journal, but as the field grows, quantitative metrics will become more useful for people as crude approximations of this.

One thing this study seems to suggest is that people understand how others think about the quantitative metrics, but don’t understand how others think about the more significant but harder to describe individual features of journals, so they overestimate the extent to which others (whose minds aren’t known to the survey-taker) rely on the quantitative things.Report

Neil Levy
Neil Levy
1 year ago

Several papers have reported that physicians believe their colleagues are influenced by gifts from pharmaceutical companies but they themselves are immune. It seems more likely that they’re self-deceived than that they’re wrong about their colleagues. That seems as plausible an interpretation of these findings as the interpretation the authors apparently give them. It’s at least as likely that academics are underestimating the influence of journal prestige on their own decisions than that the academic community is in a state of pluralistic ignorance.Report

Rohitkumar Vora
Rohitkumar Vora
1 year ago

July 31st 2019

One can’t Fake it! Let the TRUTH PREVAIL.

[A.]
It seems Author have asked his question: “academics, what matters more: journal prestige or readership?” in a name of debate to peddle a ‘so-called’ comparative survey data based article emphasizing perceived importance of publication in open access journals which have some readership but limited citation and very low Impact Factor (if any at all) vs. journals which are considered as Prestigious and have HIGH Impact Factor (IF values in the range 5 to 40) and excellent Citation of paper published therein in other Journals, such journal are: Nature, Advanced Materials, Advanced Functional Materials, Journal of Membrane Science, Journal of American Chemical Society, Journal of Materials Research Society, Journal of Royal Chemical Society, Journal of IEEE, etc. to name a few.

[B.]
Most open access journal have low Impact Factor value (less than 1) due to low readership and quality standards, and low citation, whereas all junk/fake and predatory journals have Impact Factor less than 0.0.1 which almost have no readership and more than likely have large ‘self-citation’ in multiple articles published by the authors who are desperate to publish in any journal which charge hefty fee and readily accept and publish without due Peer-review process to pad-up Resume for the purpose getting Promotion.

[C.]
As a former academician at Singapore, I have noted that there are authors (Research Students & Research Scholars and academicians) works at universities (in under-developed countries) which more often have its research laboratory very poorly equipped with only few basic analytical equipment and almost does not have any expensive sophisticated equipment such as NMR, SEM, TEM, AFM, etc. hence resort to publish in those above-mentioned junk journals (which have no prestige, almost no readership and Impact Factor less than 0.0.1 ) as authors are desperate to publish in any journal even if it charge hefty fee and readily accept and publish without due Peer-review process. They believe in quantity than quality. as their promotion demands on number of paper published per year.

[E.]
Having said, I strongly believe that Scientific Journal’s Prestige does matter as its publishers have established certain RIGOROUS Peer-review & Quality standards which Editor-in-Chief must adhere to during making decisions regarding acceptance or rejection of technical papers for the publication.

[F.]
Whereas, all Dime-a-Dozen journals with word ‘INTERNATIONAL’ in its title published by unscrupulous publishers sprouted from every street corners in Asia (which almost always falsely claims to be located in Europe/USA) have no Prestige and no set policies or process of peer-review and extremely poor quality standards as they are money-making enterprise charging hefty publication fees and milking young researchers/academicians in under-developed countries hungry to populate their CV/Resume.

[G.]
Secondly, along with the Prestige, Impact Factor (IF) of journal [reasonable Impact Factor (IF) > 3] is also equally matters as global scientific community prefers to read/review scientific papers published in international journals with stringent peer-review process reflecting high quality standard, therefore cite such papers as reference in the publication of their own research work.

[H.]
The Prestige of Scientific Jornals mostly synonymous with its Impact Factor.

[I.]
Finally, it does gives a REAL personal satisfaction of having published in such Highly Prestigious Journal with very Reasonable to very High Impact Factor.

Let the TRUTH PREVAIL. DO YOU DISAGREE?
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Murar Yeolekar
Murar Yeolekar
1 year ago

Submissions in early career matter in terms of number (s) and fees /charges seemingly are less. Important. Later , impact factor also tends to be cause of concern and academic ‘anxiety ‘. As career stability is fairly assured , the priority shifts to ‘prestigeous’ journals. To sum up , in many locations and situations, priority of submissions may change with career progress and stability and may be ‘need based ‘. Murar Yeolekar, Mumbai Report