Over the course of the last two or so years, I have had a number of personal issues to deal with. Family illnesses, the sudden death of my older brother and some other things (I will spare you the gory details). Fortunately for me, my scientific research kept going. Why? Because I had an absolutely fantastic research group who worked hard and stayed in touch with me during my absences. During all of this the group had 2 PhD and 4 MSc students finish and we managed to publish 13 papers since 2016. Hoorah.
Me with my research group in November 2016.
One of the choices I made during this time was to stop submitting things to high impact factor (or top-tier) journals. Why? For speed and for my sanity. I have nothing against top-tier journals, they serve their purpose. I have several publications in these journals which I am proud of. However, top-tier journals are not the only journals out there and they are not necessarily the most well read in a particular research area.
One of my favourite journals is The Journal of Chemical Physics. This is an excellent physics journal, which has a lower impact factor than, for instance, Nature Physics, but to quote one of my collaborators – ‘people read the shit out of that journal’. My experience with J. Chem. Phys. is that they are fair, fast and on the whole you get very reasonable reviewers. The editors are exemplary and the accepted publication production process is streamlined and easy. I have a bunch of fairly well-cited papers in this journal and I have read a number of damn fine papers in this journal. Word on the street is that you must have good technical chops to get published in J. Chem. Phys. If you ask me, this is what good science is about.
However, there are some among my peers who don’t think publishing in lower impact journals is useful. In fact, they think quite the contrary, that it shows your research isn’t *good enough* to be accepted to a *better* (meaning higher impact) journal. To some scientists and importantly to some people who are in a positions of power to decide who is a good scientist, only the top-tier journals are *good*. If you don’t publish in them enough – as a corresponding or first author – than your research must not be as good. I am not going to name any names but I am sure quite a lot of people think this, because I have heard quite a lot of people say it. It is, quite simply, a ridiculous, yet pervasive myth. There are a number of reasons why some research is not published in top-tier journals rather than just because it isn’t *good enough*. A given researcher may not have many publications in a top-tier journal because they haven’t submitted them there. Perhaps, like me, they are in a hurry to get something out and don’t want to spend the 8 months it takes to go back and forth between the reviewers and the editors – in my experience publication in top-tier journals takes about 100x as long. A given piece of work may have a better fit somewhere else, somewhere where it will have the shit read out of it . This does not mean the research (or the researcher) is not any good, it just means that piece of research is not in a top-tier journal. I, for one, have never decided NOT to cite an interesting piece of work because it is not in Nature or Science.
In the end, science has to stand the test of time, not the test of what journal you happened to get it into during your lifetime as a scientist. The truth is, none of us know what that future looks like – as much as we like to think we can predict where science will go next. In the future, it certainly won’t matter if our contribution was read in Nature or The Journal of Chemical Physics. It is the science, rather than the vehicle it is published in, that actually matters the most.