By Allison Kubo Hutchison

Stack of papers on a black background. ISTOCK.COM/PURPLEANVIL

How does work become a scientific consensus? Nowadays it has to go through a process called peer review. The science is carried out by researchers at universities, NGOs, national laboratories, observatories, and private institutions. This work is then compiled into a paper or magazine article that is sent to the relevant magazine. There are many sub-field specific journals, for example the American Physics Society publishes 15 peer-reviewed research journals including Physical Review Letters, Physical Review Fluids, and PRX Quantum. Each of these has specific release guidelines. There are also larger publishers like Nature or Science who publish a variety of topics that the editors consider to be very important.

We scientists love to measure things, so we’ve found a way to measure the relative importance of different journals: the influencer. Magazines with a high influencing factor, the number of citations they receive in a year divided by the number of publications in the previous two years, only publish a few journals that get a lot of attention. For example, Nature has an influencing factor of 42, which roughly means that every article will have 42 citations two years after its publication. Quotes are a big deal for better or for worse. They are more than just people reading your work. It means that your science-inspired new science was, in some ways, a step forward. Of course, magazines with a high influencing factor also reject more articles. Nature only has a publication rate of 7% of the entries submitted, and most entries are rejected before even proceeding with the peer-reviewed step. Journal selection is much more than a determinant, and often scientists choose more niche journals that reach their target audience.

However, choosing a journal is only the first step in a long process. After submitting the article to the editors of the journal you have chosen, you can opt out of it before proceeding to the next step. However, no news is not necessarily good. You have to wait for peer review. Three other scientists who are in your field and who can thoroughly understand your work will review the paper and suggest changes or concerns. This is known as the peer review process, the modern foundation of scientific publishing. When the editor receives the paper, he often selects reviewers based on the author’s suggestion and sends it to the reviewers. Peer review, which is often anonymous, can be an extremely difficult part of the process. Anonymity can generate more brutal and honest criticism of science. However, it is up to peer reviewers to question and investigate the author’s claims. Peer reviewers are typically not paid for their work, and it is considered the professional scientist’s duty to do new work. After the peer review returns, the journal editor decides whether to accept or reject the paper. Acceptance doesn’t mean the end of the job. It can be accepted with major or minor revisions. The revision is a rewriting and recalculation phase in order to allay the auditors’ concerns. This may result in changing some graphs, repeating calculations, or if you disagree with the review by writing a counter-argument explaining your justification.

Alternatively, rejection does not mean the end of the work. In some areas, 62% of articles are rejected before being published after significant changes or changing magazines. And this process is not quick. It can take months from submission to publication. The median time between submission and acceptance is approximately 100 days based on the analysis of the PubMed paper over the past 30 years. However, once accepted, the paper must go through several versions in preparation for printing or online publication. The average runtime is 25 days. It can take more than 4 months for your work to be published between submission and publication. When looking at nature, the gestation period was about 9 months.

So when someone publishes a newspaper, it’s time to get the fizzy and cigars out.

If you want to learn more about scientific publishing, check out this article on LaTeX, the computer programming language invented specifically for writing articles.


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