Reader Christopher C. writes:
"In light of your recent series of postings about impact factors, I have my own questions about scientific publishing. It seems to me that in physics and chemistry the prestige of journals is more horizontal compared to biology, where there are a thousand specialty journals that are highly stratified with respect to their prestige. Now everyone knows that a paper in Nature or Science is supposed to be superb. In chemistry, it looks like even the best chemists send most of their articles to JACS, which, if my perception is correct, is not an especially prestigious journal. In biology, on the other hand, we have a strict hierarchy which is approximated by the impact factor. For molecular cell biology, I would rank them something like this, IM not-so HO:
Genes and Development, Nature Cell Biology, EMBO J
Mol Cell Biol, J Cell Biol, PNAS
J Biol Chem
In my own field, which is bacterial RNA polymerase, the order is something like this:
Nature, Cell, Science
Molecular Cell, Nature Struct Molec Biol,
J Mol Biol, PNAS
J Biol Chem, J Bacteriol, Biochemistry
One could spend endless hours cataloging this for each subdiscipline. . ."
Oh, yeah. It could be useful for outsiders, too. Would readers care to submit their lists for organic chemistry journals, in order of prestige? We'll take a survey and see how closely it matchs ISI's data.
I note that each of those lists stops while still well in the "good place to publish" category - the middle and lower parts of a complete list would be harder (and more painful) to rank-order. But I couldn't have reproduced either of those orders exactly. I don't think I've ever seen or read a paper from the Journal of Bacteriology, for example, and I wouldn't have known that it was reasonably prestigious, although I have the rest of those titles covered.
In the same way, although it may not seem that way from the outside, JACS is a pretty good place to publish for a chemist. If "even the best chemists" send their work there, which is more or less true, then it's de facto harder for others to get there work in, and therefore prestigious. Science, PNAS, and especially Nature publish so little chemistry that those journals aren't really on our lists, for the most part.
But it's Angewandte Chemie that has moved definitively into first place, after some years in a rough tie with JACS. And whatever we might think about impact factors, I think we can agree that the example given in the latest issue's editorial (by Peter Goelitz, Ang. Chem 44(35) 5538) is not the way to use them. You don't come across this exact alloy of nerve and cluelessness too often. Says Goelitz:
The hankering after the high impact factor has resulted in many authors giving up a healthy amount of self criticism and sending their manuscript first to a journal in which it has no chance of being accepted. This ideology is already producing fruit as can be seen in the following: An author had a manuscript rejected from Angewandte Chemie after the assessment of three scientists. Deputy Editor Neville Compton recommended publication in the European Journal of Inorganic Chemistry (the editor of which is Karen J. Hindson) and shortly afterwards received a letter containing (this passage):
"Our manuscript was evaluated by three referees. Referee 1 finds the work is important and recommends publication (in) Angewandte Chemie (IF = 9.16) after minor revision. Referee 2 finds the scope of the work is directed to a journal such as Crystal Growth and Design (IF = 2.74). Referee 3 finds the work of high quality and compliments the authors, and feels that it would be a pity not to publish in its actual form. He or she recommends publication in Inorganic Chemistry (IF = 3.38.)
We were pleased to read that you spoke with Dr. Karen Hindson and recommended our paper for publication. However, I would like to draw your attention that if you add up the values of the Ifs of the three journals cited above and then divide by three you will obtain a value of IF = 5.09. The closest journal to this value would be Chemistry: A European Journal (IF = 4.517.) I therefore gently ask you to accept our paper. . .since you are the Editor in Chief. . ."