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How can we ensure the notoriety of a scientific article?

"Publish or perish" is one of the best known expressions used by scientists, recalling as it does the necessity for all researchers to publish their work so as to be recognised in their fields and advance in their careers. INRA and CNRS scientists have focused on the submission process for scientific articles and the ultimate impact of this process on the notoriety of articles. One of the unexpected results of their survey was that the most frequently cited articles were on average those which were not accepted following their first submission to a journal, but those published following resubmission to another journal.

magazines © © Gabriella Fabbri-Stock.xchng
Updated on 02/25/2013
Published on 12/05/2012

One of the most important facets of the scientific research process concerns the publication of manuscripts.  These are the fruit of work by a researcher, and their impact in the scientific community can be measured by the number of times they are cited as references in other articles.  The innumerable scientific journals that exist throughout the world are all scored according to the same simple rule: the more articles from a journal are cited, the greater the prestige of this journal.

Researchers from INRA and CNRS, and their North American colleagues, carried out a large-scale study of the submission process concerning articles published between 2006 and 2008 in a panel of 923 scientific journals in the field of the biological sciences.  They asked the authors of 215,000 articles if their manuscripts had initially been submitted to the journal where the article was finally published, or if this were not the case, the name of the journal to which it had previously been submitted.  After receiving and processing nearly 81,000 replies, the team was able to establish a submission pattern connecting journals in different research fields.

After analysing the replies, it was found that approximately 75% of the articles published in a journal had initially been submitted to this same journal.  Journals with a high impact factor (the most frequently cited) tended to attract more submissions, but counter-intuitively, they published more resubmissions, or in other words articles that had previously been submitted to, and been rejected by, another journal.

The authors of this study then focused on the impact of the submission history of articles (first submission versus resubmission) on the number of citations following publication.  They found that resubmissions received more citations than articles initially submitted to the journal in which they were published.  Furthermore, when the previous journal belonged to another scientific field, an article received fewer citations than when it was resubmitted to a journal in the same field.

One of the most probable hypotheses to explain this phenomenon may be that the critical comments received from the editors and reviewers for the journals applied to in the first instance (and the additional time spent in working on resubmissions) enabled an improvement in the impact of these articles.  These conclusions should help authors to endure the frustrations associated with these lengthy and complicated submission processes.  On the other hand, authors should think twice before changing field for a resubmission, because this may be risky in terms of the impact of their work in the scientific community.

Scientific contact(s):

  • Vincent Calcagno INRA-CNRS-Université Nice Sophia Antipolis Institut Sophia-Agrobiotech Joint Research Unit
Associated Division(s):
Plant Health and Environment
Associated Centre(s):
Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur


V. Calcagno, E. Demoinet, K. Gollner, L. Guidi, D. Ruths, C. de Mazancourt. Flows of research manuscripts among scientific journals reveal hidden submission patterns. Science, 11 October 2012. DOI: 10.1126/science.1227833