Journal of Neuroscience is the flagship scientific publication for the Society for Neuroscience, a journal that was established in 1981 “to publish research in the field of neuroscience and to serve the membership of the Society for Neuroscience”. Unfortunately, available data suggest that the journal’s impact has been declining, at least as evidenced by the Journal Impact Factor (JIF). Perhaps as a reaction to these trends, in the past two years policy statements from the journal’s editorial board, and anecdotal evidence from the review process, suggest that the journal has instituted a policy of discrimination against a specific kind of neuroscience research: non-invasive, psychophysical experiments are rejected without peer review.
I am alarmed by this change. I believe that the new policy is flawed for a number of reasons.
- The available data suggest a poor relationship between rejection rates and journal impact factor, making it unlikely that increasing rejection rates will result in improved impact factor.
- The focus on rejecting a specific body of research is discriminatory and runs counter to the principle of representing research of all members of the Society for Neuroscience.
- The current policy, as applied to the journal’s own data would eliminate some of the highest cited papers in the journal’s history. That is, the new policy may worsen the plight of the journal.
The declining impact factor and the journal’s new policies
The Society for Neuroscience is an organization that represents scientists who study the field of neuroscience at all levels, including molecular, cellular, systems, behavioral, and computational. Unfortunately, over the past 20 years the flagship journal of this society has seen a general decline in its impact factor.
Data source: Thomson Reuters InCites Journal Citation Reports.
The reasons for this decline are unclear, though I speculate that one factor is the rapid rise of new, competing journals. Perhaps in response to these trends, in January 2016 the journal published an article describing changes to the review process. The new policy aimed to increase the rate of rejection of papers at the editorial stage, before they are submitted to peer review. The data that were included in a follow up article showed that from January 2014 to March 2016, the total percent of papers rejected increased modestly from around 70% to nearly 80%, while the percent of papers rejected before peer-review increased by a factor of five: from 5% to about 25%.
The new policy described the kind of research that the editors rejected without review. They wrote: “… purely biophysical or behavioral studies should provide novel insights into, and make specific predictions about, neural mechanisms or neural representations.” A typical rejection letter from the senior editor gave the following reason for rejection without review of a study that used psychophysical, non-invasive recording techniques to measure behavior: “we felt that The Journal of Neuroscience is not the right venue because the findings do not inform us about or implicate a specific neural mechanism.”
It appears to me that the journal’s new policy is targeting a specific group of neuroscientists: those who primarily rely on behavioral data to infer function of the brain. Given that this is the official journal of the Society, the discrimination would divide the membership into classes that can and cannot publish in the journal.
What to do
To help address these issues, we need data that quantifies how the policy is affecting the ability of the community to publish in the journal. To help with that, I ask that you to take a few moments to complete this survey.
The objective of the survey is to collect data regarding the publishing experience of scientists who may have been affected by this policy. We hope to be able to answer a simple question: what has been the impact of papers published in the journal that have relied primarily on psychophysical tools to measure behavior? We hope to present the data to the journal’s editors, clarifying the impact of their new policy.
Thank you for your help.