SfN Journals: Encouraging Innovation, Promoting Rigor
Representing the collective output of many hundreds of laboratories driving to uncover solutions to related problems in neuroscience, scientific journals provide a primary venue for scientific exchange.
The Society’s JNeurosci has a well-established and respected history in scientific publishing, and eNeuro, now in its fourth year, is able to adapt to changes stemming from and felt throughout the field. Today, the two journals work together to define the state of knowledge of the brain and nervous system as well as how that knowledge may be leveraged in translational research.
A Journal for a New and Interdisciplinary Field
In 1969, the founding of the Society for Neuroscience brought together, for the first time, scientists from diverse disciplines studying the nervous system at all levels. By 1979, with a membership of more than 6,000 scientists, it was clear that neuroscience had outgrown its traditional disciplinary boundaries of anatomy, neurology, pharmacology, and related fields, and that an equally interdisciplinary journal was needed to document the discoveries of the budding field.
The Journal of Neuroscience provided that much-needed forum for chronicling findings, and it continues to define the field today as JNeurosci. Its editor-in-chief, Marina Picciotto, is proud to be a part of that tradition.
“Having a journal that reflects the output of that field is something that was very important to the founders of the Society,” she says.
At the same time, what would become an enormously successful commercial scientific publishing industry was just beginning to take off.
“At the start of my career, nobody took much notice of where you published, and then everything changed in 1974 with Cell,” Randy Schekman, editor-in-chief of eLife and formerly of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, told The Guardian last year. Newer and older journals alike followed Cell’s lead, each attempting to establish itself as a “venue for scientific blockbusters.” Whereas in the past scientists might have submitted their work to a journal based on its fit with their research area, increasing emphasis was placed on publishing in selective, “high-impact” journals. Such pressure led to “a strange co-production between scientists and journal editors,” in which science tailored itself to meet the stringent criteria for being accepted to those journals.
SfN, a member of the Scientific Society Publisher Alliance, has remained committed to the centuries-old practice of publishing research for the benefit of science. Since its first publication in 1981, JNeurosci has faithfully represented in its pages the knowledge generated by members of a field that has experienced remarkable growth. JNeurosci quickly proved itself to be a place where neuroscientists could share their findings in scientific exchange. In doing so, they not only contribute directly to the Society’s mission to advance the understanding of the brain and the nervous system but also drive scientific programming, demonstrate the value of funding for biomedical research, and support the future generation of neuroscientists.
Expanding Options for Publishing
JNeurosci’s early success sparked discussions about the creation of a second journal.
The Society’s Publications Task Force proposed, in 1983, the possibility of dividing JNeurosci into two journals that would cover molecular and systems neuroscience, respectively.
Beginning in the early 2000s, some scientists supported making all data publicly available. Proponents of this so-called open-access movement argue that expensive subscriptions hinder scientific progress by restricting the flow of information. As the internet and growing support for the notion that government-funded research belongs to the people who make it possible — the tax-paying citizens — challenged the traditional journal subscription business model, the proliferation of open-access journals turned the focus of those discussions of some 30 years prior to creating additional avenues for publishing valuable science and experimenting with new publishing models.
A Working Group on New Publications was formed in 2012 to explore the possibility of launching the first successful high-quality, online open-access neuroscience journal: eNeuro. Such a journal would provide neuroscientists with a venue to publish work that, while strong and important, perhaps did not make the sort of conceptual advance that readers would expect to see in JNeurosci.
Without publication, eNeuro Editor-in-Chief Christophe Bernard argues, there is no science. “Science is not only being at the bench and doing experiments. Science relies also on the evaluation of the work that you do with your peers and publication,” he says.
Bernard, a former reviewing editor for JNeurosci, believes that the evaluation process can and should be fair and constructive and that as science evolves, so too should the way it is both reviewed and communicated. As editor-in-chief of eNeuro during its formative years, Bernard has tried to make it a place where neuroscientists could report the results of any rigorous neuroscience research — positive or negative — without having to convince the editors of the novelty of their findings.
Like eNeuro, JNeurosci has adapted in response to the increasing trend toward open-access publishing. Unlike those in most subscription journals, all JNeurosci papers become freely available six months after publication. Authors also have the option to make their JNeurosci papers open access immediately upon publication, to comply with open-access mandates of funding agencies.
Bernard and Picciotto are at the forefront of a rapidly changing industry. Some life scientists are now choosing to publish their work on preprint servers, with neuroscience papers making up 15 percent of all papers on the preprint server bioRxiv. Although preprints enable rapid dissemination of data to inform ongoing research, peer review of these preprints is usually incomplete; therefore, society journals like JNeurosci and eNeuro remain essential for maintaining a strong scientific record grounded in rigorous peer review.
“Traditional journals like The Journal of Neuroscience and innovative journals like eNeuro have a real partnership with these preprint servers,” Picciotto said. “It allows the community to get multiple levels of review, both in the preprint servers and also in the journals from the Society for Neuroscience.” Authors who post their manuscript to bioRxiv, for example, can submit it directly to one of the journals for evaluation.
JNeurosci and eNeuro are able to leverage their deep connection to the Society and the field while increasing transparency and embracing new publishing practices — such as Registered Reports, an article type submitted for peer review prior to data collection, and a peer review training program launched in January that matches trainees with JNeurosci’s associate editors and other highly experienced reviewers. SfN is committed to providing authors with a superior publishing experience that supports the scientists whose work the journals represent and facilitates scientific exchange to actively move the field forward.
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