What You Might Not Know About (Biomedical) Journals

Via I-no-longer-remember-who (the tab’s been open for several days), there’s a list of What You Might Not Know About Scientific Journals, outlining some of the facts about scientific publication. There’s some good stuff, but as you can tell from my title, a lot of it is fairly specific to biomedical journals, and doesn’t really apply in my usual context of physics. For example:

The most popular articles in a journal are reviews, editorials, letters, etc. and not research papers. Consequently, journals contain more narrative reviews than genuine research. It’s what keeps them in business.

The Physical Review journals do occasionally publish letters and editorials and so on, but it’s pretty rare, and nowhere near a majority of the journal. This might be true of Science and Nature, but there are only a handful of physics papers published in those journals, so it’s not all that relevant.

There’s also a lot of highly slanted pro-open-access material, starting with:

When you submit a paper to a journal for consideration, you immediately transfer whole and sole copyrights to it. You are not permitted to share that paper outside of the research team without prior permission from the editors. Transfer of copyright to journals is pretty common and there are only a minority of fledgling journals out there that give you the luxury of retaining copyrights.

For one thing, work done by employees of the US government (say, a lab at NIST) is not subject to copyright– some older papers have this explicitly marked in the journal, though most still carry the “copyright {Publisher}” label. This also radically overstates the practical limitations on sharing the paper, at least in my experience. If this were actually true, the arxiv never would’ve gotten off the ground.

This may be the general practice in biomedical fields, which might explain why there isn’t a biomedical equivalent of the arxiv, but it’s not how things actually work in physics.

It’s worth a look, because some of the points are good, but keep in mind that this reflects a very specific point of view about publishing. Also, I found the “list of expert reviewers” stuff sort of amusing, as I was on that list when I was a lowly graduate student…