Zé VicenteScientific articles are the most common way of giving researchers exposure for the results of their studies. Peer recognition of work is essential for building a scientific career, and this means disseminating research appropriately. In recent years, the pressure to publish at any cost was epitomized by the motto “publish or perish,” resulting in the publication of virtually all findings. In an increasingly competitive academic environment, many researchers were somehow coaxed into believing that they had to publish a lot. It appears that this scenario is changing.
These days, researchers are expected to publish a reasonable number of papers, but they must be of good quality and present results that are recognized for their contributions. Selecting the most appropriate journal for disseminating research is therefore important so that the right audience reads the study, thus improving the impact of the results.
Most experienced scientists know the best journals in their field. The problem affects mostly young researchers, with little experience, who sometimes choose journals based on the chances of articles being accepted, as opposed to their prestige and the importance of their specialty to the scientific community. One basic prerequisite for choosing a scientific journal, according to experts, is the actual content they publish. Over time, daily contact with scientific literature helps researchers realize that some journals publish interesting works of substance, while others do not. “This has to be the first round in the process of elimination, based on each scientist’s judgment according to his own criteria of what constitutes quality science,” says Gilson Volpato of the Institute of Biosciences of São Paulo State University (IB-Unesp) in Botucatu and author of books on scientific writing.
Practically speaking, one important aspect of choosing the periodical is whether it is indexed in databases such as Web of Science by Thomson Reuters, or Scopus and Mendeley, both by publishing house Elsevier. According to Rogério Meneghini, scientific coordinator of the SciELO Brasil virtual library, for a scientific journal, indexing means among other things recognition that graphics standards and the articles it publishes are of good quality. Indexing standards are generally strict: it is much more difficult to be indexed on the Web of Science than it is to be indexed on Scopus. To meet the requirements of these databases, journals have reviewers who are members of the scientific community itself check and verify the articles, requesting further details, explanations or experiments they deem necessary before issuing an opinion in favor of publishing the study.
Articles are painstakingly reviewed so that journals publish quality studies that are read and used in other papers, raising the publication impact factor, i.e. the average number of citations that articles in a journal receive in a given period. In recent decades, the number of citations has become a universal parameter for assessing the importance and impact of scientific production. The rule is that the more citations there are, the higher the number of articles submitted to a journal, and the more selective the journal will be.
There is no consensus as to how much the impact factor needs to be taken into account. For Meneghini, this index is an important criterion that should be considered when choosing a scientific journal. Volpato, however, points out that caution should be exercised in evaluating the impact factor, since this system can bring about conditions that encourage scientific misconduct. “There are cases of investigators who cite themselves and reviewers and publishers who push for certain articles to be cited; both indicate that authors who cite for the sake of citing lack scientific integrity, and that they fail to understand the real purpose of citations.”
For José Roberto Arruda of the School of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Campinas (Unicamp), and member of the FAPESP Adjunct Panel on Physics, Mathematics, Chemistry and Engineering, some researchers prefer publications with a high impact factor but with little importance in the field itself. “A journal should not be chosen based on impact factor alone,” he says. He adds that each field has its performance features, including citations. “Researchers should try to publish in journals in which they frequently find articles that are useful to them.” Biologist Maria Tereza Thomé of IB-Unesp at Rio Claro, follows the same line of reasoning. “I would rather publish in a journal specific to my field, even if it has a lower impact factor,” she says.
High impact journals are usually international, such as Nature and Science, and they publish articles in a number of fields. However, publishing in open access journals, such as those of the PLOS group, can be useful for the international dissemination of an article, according to Arruda. “The easier it is for a reader to obtain the study, the better,” he comments. Many researchers from developing countries cannot afford access to articles published in subscription-based journals, which is problematic for the work’s exposure. “Many funding agencies pay for and encourage the publication of scientific articles in open access journals.” As a rule, he concludes, investigators need to be clear about the audience they are trying to reach with their research, and thus prepare strategies to find the right journal for their studies.Republish