We have all heard of famed researchers and scientists publishing their theories in scientific journals, but what are these journals exactly? Read on to find out more!
A science journal is a periodically released publication featuring academic work. Today's academic journals have their origins in older reports and correspondence, which were shared between academics to keep their communities informed on current thoughts and activities. Many modern journals continue to reflect this tradition with titles that include words like 'transactions', 'proceedings' or 'letters'. Intended to be a public record of research, as well as perspectives to inform discussion, replication, or application, a journal might be expected to publish work that has been determined worthy by academics with appropriate experience, usually in what's known as a peer review process.
Unfortunately, this isn't always the case. Some so-called 'predatory journals' exist to merely scam aspiring scientists, with very little care for the quality of scientific material published. Therefore, depending on the purpose or professionality of a publication, its publishing process may vary, and this ultimately dictates the trustworthiness of a journal's material.
What are some different kinds of science journals?
Over the past century alone the science publishing industry has expanded significantly. It's hard to know with certainty how many journals exist today; by some estimates it could be up to 40,000 distinct publications. Technological changes have forced many to adapt by shifting from print to digital formats. Other economic and social pressures have meant publishing houses have needed to change business models and practices, developing different revenue strategies or means of accessing material. Today, there are also numerous ways to share information without a review process. Making raw data transparent, for example, or sharing studies that have yet to be reviewed opens science up for wider use and readership, with the risk of lacking the benefits of a critical review.
Here are a few different categories of science publishing and sharing that do things in their own special way:
Specialised journals publish content across a rather limited field of research, such as astrophysics, or even highly specific medicine fields such as paediatric cancer. Many journals, such as Nature and Science cover topics from across virtually all fields of scientific study. They are more discerning in what they publish, but are cited more often and have a wider readership.
Open Access Journals are publications based on a principle that records of science should be easily available to all members of society. Access and funding is typically structured so a general audience has relatively few obstacles in finding and reading published material.
Predatory Journals describes publications considered to be exploitive in some way, often by charging submissions for publication without providing a quality evaluation of the work. This 'pay to print' system prioritises revenue for the publisher over quality of material being published.
Pre-print archives share papers without putting them through a peer review process. By publishing research this way, a researcher can get feedback from the community quickly and establish credit for their work much earlier in the process. Without a review process, pre-print collections can run the risk of being full of unreliable content.