The 3 dangers of publishing in “megajournals”–and how you can avoid them

You like the idea of “megajournals”–online-only, open access journals that cover many subjects and publish content based only on whether it is scientifically sound. You get that PLOS ONE, PeerJ and others offer a path to a more efficient, faster, more open scholarly publishing world.

But you’re not publishing there.

Because you’ve heard rumors that they’re not peer reviewed, or that they’re “peer-review lite” journals. You’re concerned they’re journals of last resort, article dumping grounds. You’re worried your co-authors will balk, that your work won’t be read, or that your CV will look bad.

Well, you’re not the only one. And it’s true: although they’ve got great potential for science as a whole, megajournals (which include PLOS ONE as well as BMJ Open, SAGE Open, Scientific Reports, Open Biology, PeerJ, and SpringerPlus) carry some potential career liabilities.

But they don’t have to. With a little savvy, publishing in megajournals can actually boost your career, at the same time as you support a great new trend in science communication. So here are the biggest dangers of megajournal publishing–and the tips that let you not have to worry about them:

1. My co-authors won’t want to publish in megajournals

Sometimes wanting to publish somewhere yourself isn’t enough–you’ve got to convince skeptical co-authors (or advisors!). Luckily, there’s a lot of data about megajournals’ advantages for you to share with the skeptics. And the easiest way to convince a group of scientists of anything is to show them the data.

Megajournals publish prestigious science

Megajournals aren’t for losers: top scientists, including Nobelists,  publish there. They also serve as their editors and advisory board members. So, let your co-authors know: you’ll be in great company if you publish in a megajournal.

Megajournals boost citation and readership impact

Megajournals can get you more readers because they’re Open Access. A 2008 BMJ study showed that “full text downloads were 89% higher, PDF downloads 42% higher, and unique visitors 23% higher for open access articles than for subscription access articles.” These findings have been confirmed for other disciplines, as well. Open Access journals can also get you more citations, as numerous studies have shown.

Megajournals promote real-world use

With more readers comes more applications in the real world–another important form of impact. The most famous example is of Jack Andraka, a teenager who devised a test for pancreatic cancer using information found in Open Access medical literature. Every day, articles about diet and public health in Malawi, how to more efficiently monitor animal species in the face of rapid climate change, and other life-changing applied science is shared in Open Access megajournals.

Megajournals publish fast

If the readership and citation numbers don’t appeal to your co-authors, what about super fast publication times? Megajournals often publish more quickly than other journals. PLOS ONE has a median time-to-publication of around six months; PeerJ’s median time to first decision is 24 days; time to final acceptance is a mere 51 days. Why? Rather than having to prove to your reviewers the significance of your findings, you just have to prove that the underlying science is sound. That leaves you with more time to do other research.

Megajournals save money

Megajournals also often cheaper to publish in, due to economies of scale. Which means that while the Journal of Physical Therapy requires you to pay $4030 for an article, PLOS ONE can get you 29x the article influence for a third of the price. PeerJ claims that their even cheaper prices–$299 flat rate for as many articles as you want to publish, ever–have saved academia over $1 million to date.

2. No one in my field will find out about it

You’ve convinced your co-authors–megajournals are faster, cheaper, and publish great research by renowned scientists. Now, how do you get others in your field to read an article in a journal they’ve never heard of?

Getting your colleagues to read your article is as easy as posting it in places where they go to read. You can start before you publish by posting a preprint to Figshare, or a disciplinary pre-print server like ArXiv or PeerJ Preprints, in order to whet your colleagues’ appetite. Make sure to use good keywords to make it findable–particularly since today, a growing percentage of articles are found via Google Scholar and PubMed searches instead of encountered in journals.

Once your paper has been more formally published in your megajournal of choice, you can leverage the social media interest you’ve already gained to share the final product. Twitter’s a great way to get attention, especially if you use hashtags your colleagues follow. So is posting to disciplinary listserves. A blog post sharing the “story behind the paper” and summarizing your findings can be powerful, too. Together, these can be all it takes to get your article noticed.

Microbiologist Jonathan Eisen is a great example. He promoted his article upon publication with great success, provoking over 80 tweets and 17 comments on a blog post describing his PLOS ONE paper, “Stalking the Fourth Domain in Metagenomic Data”. The article itself has received ~47,000 views, 300 Mendeley readers, 23 comments, 35 Google Scholar citations, and hundreds of social media mentions to date, thanks in part to Eisen’s savvy self-promotion.

3. My CV will look like I couldn’t publish in “good” journals

It’s a sad fact that reviewers for tenure and promotion often judge the quality of articles by the journal of publication when skimming CVs. Most megajournal titles won’t ring any bells (yet) for those sorts of reviewers.

So, it’s your job to demonstrate the impact of your article. Luckily, that’s easier than you might think. Today, we don’t have to rely on the journal brand name as an impact proxy–we can look at the impact of the article itself, using article-level metrics.

One of the most compelling article-level stats is good ol’-fashioned citations. You can find these via Google Scholar, Scopus, or Web of Science, all of which have their pros and cons. Another great one is article downloads, which many megajournals report: even if your article is too new to be cited yet, you can show it’s making an impact with readers.

To demonstrate broader and more immediate impacts, also highlight your diverse audiences and the ways they engage with your research. Social media platforms leave footprints on the web. These ”altmetrics” can be captured and aggregated at the article level:

scholarly audience

public audience

recommended

faculty of 1000 recommendation

popular press mentions

cited

traditional  citation

wikipedia citations

discussed

scholarly blog coverage

blogs, twitter mentions

saved

mendeley and citeulike bookmarks

delicious bookmarks

read

pdf views

html views

There are many places to collect this information; rounding it all up can be a pain. Luckily, many megajournals will compile these metrics for you: PLOS has developed its own article level metrics suite; Nature Scientific Reports and many other publishers use Altmetric.com’s informative article-level metrics reports.

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If your megajournal doesn’t offer metrics, or you would like to compile metrics for all your megajournal articles in one place, you can pull everything together with an Impactstory profile instead.

And just like that, you’re turning megajournals into valuable assets for both science and your career:  you’ve convinced your co-authors, done some savvy social media promotion to get your discipline’s attention, and turned your megajournal article from a CV liability to a CV victory through the smart use of article-level metrics.  Congratulations!

Have you found success by publishing in megajournals? Got other megajournal publishing tips to offer? Share your story in the comments section below!

 

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Four great reasons to stop caring so much about the h-index

You’re surfing the research literature on your lunch break and find an unfamiliar author listed on a great new publication. How do you size them up in a snap?

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Google Scholar is an obvious first step. You type their name in, find their profile, and–ah, there it is! Their h-index, right at the top. Now you know their quality as a scholar.

Or do you?

The h-index is an attempt to sum up a scholar in a single number that balances productivity and impact. Anna, our example, has an h-index of 25 because she has 25 papers that have each received at least 25 citations.

Today, this number is used for both informal evaluation (like sizing up colleagues) and formal evaluation (like tenure and promotion).

We think that’s a problem.

The h-index is failing on the job, and here’s how:

1. Comparing h-indices is comparing apples and oranges.

Let’s revisit Anna LLobet, our example. Her h-index is 25. Is that good?

Well, “good” depends on several variables. First, what is her field of study? What’s considered “good” in Clinical Medicine (84) is different than what is considered “good” in Mathematics (19). Some fields simply publish and cite more than others.

Next, how far along is Anna in her career? Junior researchers have a h-index disadvantage. Their h-index can only be as high as the number of papers they have published, even if each paper is highly cited. If she is only 9 years into her career, Anna will not have published as many papers as someone who has been in the field 35 years.

Furthermore, citations take years to accumulate. The consequence is that the h-index doesn’t have much discriminatory power for young scholars, and can’t be used to compare researchers at different stages of their careers. To compare Anna to a more senior researcher would be like comparing apples and oranges.

Did you know that Anna also has more than one h-index? Her h-index (and yours) depends on which database you are looking at, because citation counts differ from database to database. (Which one should she list on her CV? The highest one, of course. :))

2. The h-index ignores science that isn’t shaped like an article.

What if you work in a field that values patents over publications, like chemistry? Sorry, only articles count toward your h-index. Same thing goes for software, blog posts, or other types of “non-traditional” scholarly outputs (and even one you’d consider “traditional”: books).

Similarly, the h-index only uses citations to your work that come from journal articles, written by other scholars. Your h-index can’t capture if you’ve had tremendous influence on public policy or in improving global health outcomes. That doesn’t seem smart.

3. A scholar’s impact can’t be summed up with a single number.

We’ve seen from the journal impact factor that single-number impact indicators can encourage lazy evaluation. At the scariest times in your career–when you are going up for tenure or promotion, for instance–do you really want to encourage that? Of course not. You want your evaluators to see all of the ways you’ve made an impact in your field. Your contributions are too many and too varied to be summed up in a single number. Researchers in some fields are rejecting the h-index for this very reason.

So, why judge Anna by her h-index alone?

Questions of completeness aside, the h-index might not measure the right things for your needs. Its particular balance of quantity versus influence can miss the point of what you care about. For some people, that might be a single hit paper, popular with both other scholars and the public. (This article on the “Big Food” industry and its global health effects is a good example.) Others might care more about how often their many, rarely cited papers are used often by practitioners (like those by CG Bremner, who studied Barrett Syndrome, a lesser known relative of gastroesophageal reflux disease). When evaluating others, the metrics you’re using should get at the root of what you’re trying to understand about their impact.

4. The h-index is dumb when it comes to authorship.

Some physicists are one of a thousand authors on a single paper. Should their fractional authorship weigh equally with your single-author paper? The h-index doesn’t take that into consideration.

What if you are first author on a paper? (Or last author, if that’s the way you indicate lead authorship in your field.) Shouldn’t citations to that paper weigh more for you than it does your co-authors, since you had a larger influence on the development of that publication?

The h-index doesn’t account for these nuances.

So, how should we use the h-index?

more than my h-index.pngMany have attempted to fix the h-index weaknesses with various computational models that, for example, reward highly-cited papers, correct for career length, rank authors’ papers against other papers published in the same year and source, or count just the average citations of the most high-impact “core” of an author’s work.

None of these have been widely adopted, and all of them boil down a scientist’s career to a single number that only measures one type of impact.

What we need is more data.

Altmetrics–new measures of how scholarship is recommended, cited, saved, viewed, and discussed online–are just the solution. Altmetrics measure the influence of all of a researcher’s outputs, not just their papers. A variety of new altmetrics tools can help you get a more complete picture of others’ research impact, beyond the h-index. You can also use these tools to communicate your own, more complete impact story to others.

So what should you do when you run into an h-index? Have fun looking if you are curious, but don’t take the h-index too seriously.

Are you more than your h-index?  Email us today at team@impactstory.org for some free “I am more than my h-index” stickers!