Publishing in Scientific Society Journals: Good for Science, Good for Scientists

Sept. 29, 2017

Pat Schloss is a professor at the University of Michigan who helps evaluate faculty progress at his and other universities. Over the past year, he says, he’s noticed excellent science being published in Frontiers in Microbiology, PLOS ONE, and Scientific Reports – relatively new journals that publish good work, but whose fees are not reinvested into the scientific community. Schloss’ activity as a former Editor for Applied and Environmental Microbiology left him similarly puzzled about why established scientists were passing on society journals with a history of high-quality publications. Together with Arturo Casadevall, Editor-in-Chief of mBio, and Mark Johnston, Editor-in-Chief of Genetics, the three scientist-slash-editors have penned a recent editorial in mBio emphasizing the importance of publishing in journals from scientific societies. 

mBioJournal: Support Science by Publishing in Scientific Society Journals

The editorial highlights the declining proportion of microbial science papers published in society journals, which the authors explain with several data analyses. Looking at five major microbiology-based scientific societies (American Society for Microbiology, the Microbiology Society, Society for Applied Microbiology, Infectious Disease Society of America, and Federation of European Microbiological Societies), the authors draw a correlation between a decline in society journal publications and the increasing options for microbiology research publications. One of the largest factors the authors point to is the introduction of a tiered journals system from high-impact journals, such as Nature Microbiology in the Nature publication network or Cell Host and Microbe in the Elsevier network. The pressure to publish in “glam journals” like Nature or Cell leads scientists to choose brand-associated specialty journals, which are often direct competitors of society journals with a similar niche. Advocating for society journals will help raise their stature, turning society journals into destination publication venues.

Who benefits from publishing in society journals? The authors argue that both scientists and scientific fields do, based on the role of scientists in publishing practices. Societies help maintain a high standard of scientific rigor and ethical practices throughout the peer-review process. The review process is run by scientists who are best able to evaluate properly controlled and conducted experiments. Journals such as Journal of Bacteriology and Journal of Virology have decades of quality publishing, while newer journals such as mBio, mSystems, and mSphere provide open-access options and a new route to publishing with mSphereDirect. Society journals thus maintain high scientific standards while experimenting with new publication methods.

Societies add to the scientific community in ways outside journalistic standards, too. “We need to be far more vocal about the value of ASM to junior scientists,” says Schloss. Among the benefits by scientific societies:

  • Organizing conferences where research is presented
  • Providing career advancement opportunities such as workshops and seminars
  • Supporting educators with networking opportunities
  • Advocating on behalf of its members to federal and local governments
  • Offering policy statements on important society-related issues
  • Engaging the public through programs designed to emphasize the importance of science

These efforts are all funded in part by the revenues that publication sales bring in – investing profits directly back into society members and their scientific community. Publishing in society journals helps ensure societies are able to continue these important programs. 

Schloss hopes that an editorial published by three respected scientists will act as a call to leadership for senior colleagues. Casadevall, for one, has put his philosophy into practice, having recently submitted a manuscript on amoeba-fungal interactions. “After considering several variables, we decided to send it to Applied and Environmental Microbiology,” Casadevall says. “We were considering several comparable journals and decided on AEM because it is a society and an ASM journal.”

Author: Julie Wolf

Julie Wolf
Dr. Julie Wolf is in science communications at Indie Bio, and was a former ASM employee. Follow Julie on Twitter for more ASM and microbiology highlights at @JulieMarieWolf.