To play what? To play the journal prestige/impact/visibility game. The Game.
Here are the rules of the game. A lot of people use heuristics about journal quality when deciding where to submit their favorite work. One heuristic is simple:
Try to publish in the highest impact journal you can reach. Follow the rejection letters on down until you clunkily thunk out at the right fit.
What are the advantages to using such a rule?
Well, there are lots of people out there using it. They are the people who may be on a faculty search committee. They are the people who get to vote on tenure and promotion. If enough of these people exist (and I’m convinced that there are a great many of them), then one has to play the game in order to maximize the chances of getting a job/tenure/stability/etc.
What are the disadvantages of using such a rule?
Impactful (dare I say prestigious…Daniel) journals have high rejection rates. It is tough to get even great work published in top tier journals. Some journals seem to evaluate papers first on whether they are novel/exciting/groundbreaking/theoretical razzamatazz. But razzamatazz doesn’t clearly predict higher quality papers landing in more impactful journals. There are even some hints that journal impact might even :gulp: be negatively related to article quality (which kind of makes sense if razzamatazz is the first hoop to jump through…razzamatazz ideas have a lower prior probability of being correct).
So, there’s The Game, and those are the rules. If you don’t want to play it, what are your options?
Well, in a world bereft of The Game, I would identify just a few journals that I really like. Maybe they have editorial boards I really respect. Maybe they are trying new publishing models (such as Open Access, reviews printed alongside articles, etc.). Maybe they are trying to lead, rather than follow, in the methodological rigor battles that have been raging for the last half decade in psychology.
What are the advantages of this alternative strategy?
For starters, it actively rewards the journals who are leading the way. To the extent that journals jockey for IF, then giving a great paper to a journal helps them get a leg up. Second, I think that adopting this alternative would help weaken the ‘IF as quality of journal’ heuristic. Finally, something about sleeping better at night.
What are the disadvantage?
For me, nothing. I’m fortunate enough to be in a privileged position of Job-and-Tenure-Havingness. So really, I personally have no reason to play The Game. With two gigantic caveats.
- I want people to read my work. I suspect that people are more likely to read my work if it’s printed in a flashy High Impact Journal.
- I have students. They move to Kentucky to work with me. I don’t need to play The Game anymore, but I also don’t want to make decisions that could make it harder for my students to get jobs in a universe where The Game still exists (so…our universe that we actually live in right now).
Where does that leave me? I’m increasingly disenchanted by The Game. I think submitting my top work to some newer/lower impact journals could conceivably help the journals out. And dagnabbit, it just feels like the right thing to do. But that second disadvantage really bugs me. I really don’t want to take my privileged position and use it in a way that could harm my students’ future prospects.
So I’m out (ish) of The Game, but at least I’m trying to play it conscientiously when I have to. I suspect sooner or later I’ll whittle down the list to a few journals that I just Feel Right About. But in the meantime, I really do go back and forth.
So, to play The Game or not to play The Game?
Damned if I know.