SfN Journals: Scientist-Run, Society-Owned
The late 1970s offered a unique challenge to SfN. By then, it had become the largest biomedical research society in the country. Yet, it was the only one without a scientific publication. “There are already too many journals,” lamented SfN Council. Although SfN President Solomon H. Snyder agreed, he countered that “we don’t have many really good journals.”
In 1979, President-elect Snyder along with then President Torsten Wiesel and Eric Kandel shepherded The Journal of Neuroscience into existence. The aptly named journal quickly became a “really good” one, where neuroscientists would submit their best work. JNeurosci, joined in 2014 by its sister online, open-access publication eNeuro, would come to shape the field.
Balancing Selectivity with Service
“Journals have played a role throughout their history in creating groups, defining boundaries and validating membership. That role remains important,” according to research communication scholar Cameron Neylon.“Journals have played a role throughout their history in creating groups, defining boundaries and validating membership. That role remains important.”
Research communication scholar
Curtin University; Perth, Australia
Service to the scientific community is a core value of both JNeurosci and eNeuro. As a founding member of the Scientific Society Publisher Alliance, SfN is committed to “identifying and disseminating vital scientific research, by scientists for science.” Journals owned and operated by societies are in a unique position to accomplish this because their editors are authors, too.
“I published two papers in eNeuro and both of those have been extremely rapid and extremely productive experiences,” said JNeurosci Editor-in-Chief Marina Picciotto. “The consensus review process where the discussion among the reviewers with the editor to come to a very clear set of metrics that are required for a paper to become acceptable for eNeuro has been really, I think a constructive process.”
eNeuro Editor-in-Chief Christopher Bernard has also published in JNeurosci, where he previously served as a reviewing editor.
“I loved the job … and I was always amazed by the fairness of the system,” said Bernard.
Mark Johnston, editor-in-chief of the Genetics Society of America’s journal GENETICS, notes that scientists with active research programs are best positioned to evaluate the work of their colleagues. These peer editors leverage their expertise to fairly and constructively interpret the recommendations of peer reviewers.“I published two papers in eNeuro and both of those have been extremely rapid and extremely productive experiences.”
Competing with the sense of service, and amplified by the over-emphasis on impact factor, is the urge to be selective. “One wants to be selective, that is, you don’t publish everything that’s submitted,” said SfN Past President Snyder, distinguished service professor of neuroscience, pharmacology and psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “But on the other hand, if you get to be too selective… then you’re not serving the scientific public… they want to read what’s being done.”
Johnston argues that journals with high impact factors have indeed become too selective by limiting the number of papers they publish.
“In contrast, society journals have a mandate to serve their fields and constituencies by disseminating relevant scientific information that is of high quality regardless of its potential short-term impact,” wrote Johnston in mBio, an open-access journal published by the American Society for Microbiology.
Supporting Neuroscientists, Not Shareholders
Like other scientific societies, SfN initially worked with external publishers to produce JNeurosci. The Society bucked this trend in 1996, when SfN ended its partnership with Oxford University Press and brought publication of the journal under its own roof.“If you get to be too selective … then you’re not serving the scientific public … they want to read what’s being done.”
Solomon H. Snyder
SfN Past President
Free from commercial interests and rooted firmly in the neuroscience community, SfN’s journals publish more papers and earn more total citations than comparable journals by considering any well-conducted research on the brain and the nervous system.
The journal was, and remains, an important source of revenue for the Society, funding the many professional development, advocacy, and scientific programs it offers its members. Today, JNeurosci and eNeuro account for nearly 25 percent of the Society’s total revenues.
After five years of impressive growth, submissions to eNeuro are growing at a slower pace. Johnston points out that similar trends have been observed in other fields, such as microbiology. This is why leading scientific societies are encouraging their members to consider publishing in journals owned and operated by their peers and colleagues.