The following emails are real correspondence between myself and an Associate Editor at a prestigious scientific journal, which I have called “Journal X” here. It began after I published an article in a journal with a very similar title, a “look-alike” which I am calling “Journal Y”. Names are removed for privacy.
Surprise email from Editor of a prestigious journal
Dear Dr. Adamson,
Congratulations on your recent excellent paper. May I ask if you specifically targeted your paper for the “Journal Y” (a relatively new “look-alike” entry to the field in 2013)? I’m an Associate Editor for the more established “Journal X.” I was curious to what extent authors may be submitting to other “look-alike” journals to intentionally vs. not.
Wow! I felt flattered. I wrote an “excellent paper.” But the pleasure quickly faded. Should I be offended? Was this editor asking if I had accidentally submitted my manuscript to the wrong place? He had no idea that I had spent weeks debating between X and Y, sought advice from mentors, and carefully weighed the tradeoffs…
Dear Dr. Editor,
Thank you for contacting me about this recently published paper. I am grateful for the opportunity to explain why I chose to submit to the open access “Journal Y” instead of the well-respected “Journal X” and I would like to hear your thoughts. I am cautious about predatory journals, and I consciously wrestled with the pros and cons in journal selection.
I originally prepared this manuscript for submission for “Journal X,” where I thought it would fit nicely in one of the online-only sections. When the manuscript was finalized, I received an invitation to contribute to a special issue of “Journal Y” that included a publication fee waiver.
Having never heard of this look-alike journal before, I read and considered these elements: credibility, cost, ethics, and time to the wide-spread dissemination of the findings.
First, I checked the credibility of “Journal Y” by reading past issues. The quality was good, and they had published a review paper in 2014 by my research heroes Drs. A and B. I thought, “if this journal is good enough for A and B, it is certainly good enough for me.”
I noticed the “Journal Y” had very low or no publication fees for being Open Access, and this signaled a difference from predatory journals with low standards and high profits. Since my current trainee funding does not cover publication fees, the paid Open Access option through your journal was not an option unless I used personal savings.
The University of Washington Biomedical Research Integrity Series lectures on the ethics of responsible publishing changed my opinions about Open Access vs subscription journals. I take seriously my moral responsibility as an HIV researcher to communicate findings in a format accessible to scientists and patients in communities disproportionately affected by this disease. Many of my brilliant economist and mathematician colleagues are based at small institutions and companies with limited funding to purchase articles.
At the end, I am pleased to have chosen “Journal Y” over “Journal X” for several reasons:
- Less than 8 weeks passed from my submission to publication (including two rounds of revisions)
- I received rigorous and helpful peer-review comments
No cost for Open Access (with invitation to the special issue, or low cost otherwise)
- Within the first month, the full text has been downloaded more than 200 times in six continents.
- Last year I submitted a different and very good, in my opinion, paper to your journal. After more than two months, I received a rejection from with peer-review comments that were so mean and personal it was borderline unprofessional. While this look-alike journal does not have the prestige or impact factor of X, I see my younger generation progressively placing more value on the quality of content, free accessibility, dialogues, and citations of individual papers rather than on the sum of journal impact factors on a CV.
Because of these reasons, I am committed to Open Access publishing when I have the opportunity and sufficient funds to do so. I admit there is quite a lot for me to still learn about scientific publications, and so I would greatly appreciate your expert feedback on these considerations.
Thank you for taking the time to read our paper and reach out to me personally with questions.
And his reply
Dear Dr. Adamson,
Thank you very much for your thoughtful reply. I’m glad to hear that this was an intentional (vs. accidental) decision. Please also accept my apologies for the “borderline unprofessional” peer review comments you received when submitting to “Journal X”; definitely discouraging to authors.
I will pass on your comments to the other Associate Editors of “Journal X” on our quarterly conference call for discussion on how we can improve and hopefully attract your future papers.
Reaching my audience
A primary goal of publishing this math model was to reach a specific audience of low, middle, and high-income decision-makers, drug developers, and scientists who could learn from findings and take action.
So, how did it work out in the end?
Several months later, after my strongly defensive feelings settled down, I saw a the glow of a texted photo appear on my phone. It was from an old colleague I hadn’t seen in years. The message said:
At WHO meeting in Geneva now. Important decisions being made today. Look at the slide on screen.
The photo was of a large room at the World Health Organization in Switzerland. A screen at the front stretched up to the rafters and hovered over a row of influential heroes. On the screen was projected Figure 3 from my paper in Journal Y (accompanied by the citation with my name, which tipped off the colleague). A dream come true.
My intentional choice to publish in a “look-alike” journal came at the cost of missing one prestigious citation on my resume. What I gained from the strategic choice was a possible improvement in societal health that is worth more to me than personal promotion advancement accelerated by a high-impact factor, prestigious publication. These are tradeoffs.
Not all “look-alike” journals are bad. Thoroughly research all options and credibility. Write good papers. Understand the audience you want to reach. Seek rigorous peer review. Send kind and respectful correspondence. Share your research so others can learn from it too.
A earlier version of this post is also on the excellent Incremental Thoughts blog, which you should follow.
Learn more about the transformative University of Washington Biomedical Research Integrity Program that helped educate me here.