Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Interesting data about paper submission trajectories (Science 2012)

Vincent Calcagno, an ecologist at the French Institute for Agricultural Research in Sophia-Antipolis, and his colleagues tracked the submission histories of 80,748 scientific articles published among 923 bioscience journals between 2006 and 2008, based on information provided by the papers’ authors for 18 biological/ecological topics. They then analysed the data in the paper:
(Free access to paper when you register with Science/AAAS)
Some results were unsurprising:
  • the number of times a journal was first chosen for submission increases with impact factor
  • about 75% of published articles were submitted first to the journal that would publish them, indicating that many academics do no resubmit papers that are rejected
  • the impact factor of the publishing journal was generally less the one previously attempted
  • journals with low impact factors would more often receive and publish manuscripts previously rejected by higher-impact journals 
  • even Nature and Science are far from publishing 100% of first-intents because each often publishes manuscripts rejected by the other
Others more interesting findings included:
  • high-impact journals publish more that are resubmitted to them from another journal
  • none of the journals was just recycling manuscripts rejected from other journals 
  • low-impact journals are more specialized, with lower rejection rates in it receiving proportionally fewer resubmissions from their neighbours
  • resubmissions were significantly more cited than first-intents published the same year in the same journal and these were more cited irrespective of their going up or down in impact factor as a result of resubmission
  • resubmissions occurring between two journals from the same journal community were significantly more cited than those between two different communities
My interpretation of this is as follows. The higher citation from resubmitted papers may partly just a trickle down effect from Nature/Science/Cell Biology to second tier high-impact journals.  Authors often learn from the submission process and either improve their papers or have faith in them and resubmit them elsewhere (as indicated by the higher citations from these papers).  Maybe authors have a good feel for their paper's worth and tend to submit to an appropriate journal, with the authors of not so interesting/good papers being more reluctant to resubmit.  It does reinforce the evidence for an oligopoly of the top journals (science, nature) as bemoaned by a recent Nobel prize winner (see my post here).