Science, something that I fell in love with not too long ago. But what is science? Well as you can find quickly when you google it, science comes from the Latin “scientia”, which means knowledge. But being a scientist is about much more than just knowledge. Of course it is very important as a scientist to obtain knowledge, and be aware of what is already known. But gaining knowledge is the “easy” part of science. The difficult part of science is communicating your findings (knowledge) to other people.
Once you gained knowledge by doing experiments and collecting data, and after analyzing that data and drawing conclusions about what the data tells us, a scientist needs to communicate these findings to others. The traditional way of doing so is through peer reviewed journals. As the name tells us, in these journals all articles are reviewed by peers. So colleagues from the same field read your article and assess whether your research was sound. When both you and your peers agree on the content and the conclusions drawn from them the article will be published and be accessible to other people.
This still sounds easy, don’t you think? Well yeah, but we are forgetting about a lot of different factors. First, which journal are you going to publish in? All scientific journals have impact factors. This impact factor is an indication of how large the impact of articles in those journals is. The impact of an article is assessed by how many times it is referred to by other people. So are the data you write about relevant to other research? An impact factor of 3 for a journal means that articles in that journal got on average 3 citations per year (3 other scientific articles referred to that article). For example, the impact factor of the journal: “Nature”, was 36 in 2011. So on average each article in Nature got cited by 36 other articles in one year. Another example, the journal Evolution had an impact factor of 5 in 2011. This means that articles in Evolution were cited 5 times on average, so 7 times less than articles in Nature.
Size of research fields
Well publish in Nature than! Well, I would if I could. But the impact factor of Nature is not this high without a very very very strict acceptance policy. They only accept the best articles around, which are likely to have a high impact. A general rule is, the higher the impact factor of a journal, the harder it is to get published there. This sounds like fair play, the more important research is, the higher the impact of this research is. But there is also a down-side of this impact factor. Namely, that this impact factor is related to the size of a specific research field. With more people that work in a certain field, more articles are published about a certain topic. Take for example cancer research, which is of course a very important area of research. When I look for articles published on the topic of cancer in 2012 I get 230.000 hits. If I look for articles on the topic of extra-embryonic development in 2012 I get 31 hits. You see that there is a slight difference in the size of these two research fields. Seeing that a larger research field has more articles, means that there are more articles that could potentially refer to yours. This fact is visible in the topic of the journal with the highest impact factor in the world. This journal is “Cancer Journal for Clinicians” and has an impact factor of 102! So even if your research is extraordinarily good, if you work in a small research field you will never attain impact factors as high as in a large research field.
There is another thing to take into account when deciding where to publish your article. Although I can access many journals online with my University account I cannot access every scientific journal that exists. How many journals people can access depends on which University there are working at. But for many journals, articles are not accessible for the general public. When you want to reach a large scientific audience, you have to take into account how many universities have access to a specific journal. If you want to reach even more people than just scientists, open access publishing is the way to go. Journals like Plos One have open access publishing. Every article published there is available to anyone in the world. But also with open access publishing, there is a tradeoff between impact factor and costs. Open access publishing is often more expensive than publishing the traditional way and the journals with the highest impacts are not open access.
So why am I blogging about this? Well as I discussed in the section above, it is difficult to reach a large audience the traditional way. But I do like to share my findings with as many people as possible. Blogging about my research will give me the opportunity to talk about my research as much as I want. And anyone with an internet connection is able to read it. Furthermore, as science is funded from public money, I think it is important to give the public something in return. We perform research with tax-payers money, and although we say doing research is important, very little effort is done to explain why research is important. I hope to reach interested people in this way and talk about science and everything related to it. Explain why I think science is important and hopefully get people just as enthusiastic about science as I am! I will try to post new blogs about a wide variety of subjects here on a regular basis. If you have any comments or would like to know something more about a specific subject feel free to send me a request by email at [email protected]
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Chris Jacobs (Chris Jacobs)
Evolutionary biologist, eco-evo-devo | seek to increase the understanding of science | PostDoc @ Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology.
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