The value of the article given by the journal? It’s like that tomcat joke

At least in mathematics, but I suppose in almost any domain, people use to justify the huge inertia which stops us moving to a better publishing system by appeal to the following argument:

  • publishing in a well recognized journal gives prestige to the article,
  • most of well recognized journals are based on the traditional publication system
  • therefore, if you want your article to be considered as valuable then you better submit it to a traditional, well seen journal.

There is a big hole in this argument, namely that the value of an article is primarily coming from the value of the journal where the article appeared. While it is true that good journals offer a better platform of dissemination for the research works, this is also on the border of recognizing that vanity is the leading force for doing good research (which might be true, after all we are humans and vanity plays an important role in our lives, but “leading force”? this would be just sad).

The value of a good journal is more of a statistical nature, it comes from having several very good articles, written by some very good researchers,   all this spread in a sea of all the other not fantastically important articles which appeared in the journal.

This shaky but so powerful argument pro traditional publishing  reminded me a joke which I want to share. Maybe you know it, but have you thought about it from the viewpoint of publishing habits?

Here is the joke, I kind of formulated it such as to not contain offensive words:

There are an old tomcat and a very young one, inside the house, during a rainy night. The old tomcat finds an open window and wants to get out. The young one asks him:

– Where are you going?

– Well, I’m going out to get some cats, junior, would you like to come with me?

They get out and up on the roofs. It rains, but the old experienced tomcat knows that it is only a matter of time until some cat appears. The young one is not very happy, is wet and bored, so he says:

-You know, I’m going to get some cat for five minutes more, then I’m going back home.

So, you see,  just from publishing in the same place as the old tomcat, you won’t get some cat time of your own.


UPDATE: On a more serious note read “Impacting our young” by Eve Marder, Helmut Kettenmann and Sten Grillner, (PNAS vol 107, no. 50).  (I learned about this article by following a link from the article “How to bury your academic writing“, discovered by the intermediary of a post by  +Michael Rowe, thanks!)

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