let’s talk about third tier journals
My question: how should academia approach small, third tier journals?* In a previous post, I linked to research showing that these journals do actually publish some highly respected material. The gist is that the average third tier article isn’t cited much, but these journals publish occasional winners who do much better than the bottom articles in the elite journals. The issue is that when it comes to rewarding people, we have essentially two models: (a) immediate reward for publication in top journals/presses or (b) you wait a few decades when it’s clear that a low status publication was actually any good. Is this a good model?
There’s a standard justification for this policy. Publication in a third tier journal is usually seen as a clear signal that the research is weak. Basically, “third tier publication” = failed research article. A few comments on the policy: First, a journal may be third tier simply because it has a narrow audience, not due to quality. Second, top journals may make mistakes and reject good articles. Reviewers may not like a new argument, or the topic may seem odd. Third, statistically speaking, many third tier articles aren’t good, so I believe the policy has some justification.
Now, if you completely believe in the standard rap against third tier journals, then there are some serious implications. One is that all the tiny journals should be shut down immediately. No need to waste time or resources on junk. Another implication is that you should count these articles against people. Don’t reward people for junk. If you are skeptic, then you should be at least agnostic. You shouldn’t be terribly impressed with third tier articles, but you might adopt a more agnostic stance toward their quality.
* I define “third tier” to be legitimate academic journals that aren’t flagship journals, well known speciality journals, or those published by major national or regional associations. These include most student run journals, journals run by obscure departments or occupational groups, journals for unpopular specialties, journals from small countries, or journals that have simply not risen to the top in a well regarded specialty.