The role of journals in structuring knowledge

Since they first appeared in 1665, scholarly journals have grown to be the dominant mode of dissemination of research outputs (Csiszar, 2018). The first journals were generalists and covered all areas of science, but the growing number of increasingly specialized researchers led to a segmentation process and the creation of new disciplines and specialized journals (Gingras, 2013). This specialization is usually made explicit by the declared scope of a journal.

The scope of a journal signals to the potential users (within and beyond academia) where to look for knowledge that may be valuable to them, which highlights the crucial role of journals in ensuring that knowledge can be found and mobilized in further research, policies, and innovations. The fundamental role academic research is to advance knowledge, the fundamental role of journals is to disseminate it, and the fundamental role of the journal scope is to structure knowledge to optimize its dissemination.

The proposed research addresses the potential erosion of these functions of journals brought about by the political economy of knowledge dissemination in which the interests of individual agents participating in the field (Bourdieu, 1999, 2001) may not align with the ideals (Armstrong, 2010) and where the question “how well does this paper fit the scope of the journal?” potentially becomes secondary. What happens to the scope of journals when they are increasingly owned by corporation (Larivière et al., 2015) whose fundamental role is the generation of profit? When publishers (commercial or not) use pay-to-publish business models in which revenues are coupled with the number of papers they publish? When editors’ focus on increasing the Impact Factor of their journal? Or when researchers are pressured to publish or perish? When the journal’s Impact Factor is more important for researchers than the fit of the work for the journal?

The project has three main objectives:

  1. Use natural language processing and text-mining to measure the scope of all journals in the Web of Science and the fit of all papers in the journals where they are published (Mongeon et al., 2019).
  2. Investigate the relationship between the journal scope and other journal characteristics o the journals (business model, ownership, impact factor, etc.)
  3. Model the relationship between the fit of a paper in a journal and the impact of that paper on research, policy and technology to test the hypothesis that publishing papers where they best fit increases their likelihood of being found and used.

Note: the project is currently recruiting students interested in writing a grant supported Master or PhD thesis as part of this project.

Philippe Mongeon
Philippe Mongeon
Associate Professor, Department of Information Science, Dalhousie University