Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Has the quality of Physical Review B increased?

I was recently asked to complete an online questionnaire about my experiences with Physical Review B: both as an author, reader, and a referee. Many readers probably also did. I felt the survey was fishing for the conclusion, "PRB has increased in quality lately." I was a bit ambivalent in my responses. However, on further reflection I feel I now agree with this conclusion. But, I was disappointed I did not get to make the following point that I think is very important.

With the rise of High Impact Factor Syndrome, luxury journals, hype, and fashions, I think the scientific importance and stature of PRB has increased significantly in the past 20 years. It provides an avenue to publish solid detailed honest reliable careful non-sexy research without the need to indulge in hype, speculation, or hiding important details. This is the research that will have real scientific impact.

Making generalisations is difficult and dangerous because my experience is limited to reading, submitting, and refereeing just a few papers each year. This is an extremely small percentage of the total. But, here are a few impressions. About 20 years ago I sent my first paper to PRB. For the next decade I got pretty generic referee reports, along the lines of "this is interesting work and should be published." However, about 12 years ago I was co-author of some papers submitted to PRA. I immediately noticed a difference. Some of the referees had read the paper in detail and sometimes had constructive scientific criticisms that were extremely helpful, including finding subtle technical errors. As I blogged before, these are the best referee reports. I think the past few years I have now been getting some reports like this from PRB. During this 20 years I have been writing detailed critical referee reports for PRB. Sometimes on a resubmission I see the other referee reports. For the first decade I was disappointed that these were usually generic. Now sometimes they are more detailed and critical. These positive experiences make me tone down (just a little) my polemic, we should abolish journals.

So, I welcome other perspectives. Has PRB increased in quality?

1 comment:

  1. I am not able to judge whether the quality has increased (and i think nobody can), because we only read a very small fraction of the papers in PRB. (and reading, instead of browsing is necessary to judge quality).

    However, I find it ill-conceived to try to jack up the quality of a journal like PRB.
    PRB should publish "good physics". If they concluded that was not happening, then okay, that warrants action.
    Other than that, PRB should not have any other judgement (only the standard things as clarity of presentation, subject).

    If you have something important to tell, articulate why it's important and go to PRL. If something is not, but is good physics, go to PRB. Importance (which should be reflected in the # of citations) is by definition judged by the community, after the fact of publishing!

    I feel PRB has caught the fever of the HIFS (good post!), and I think they are going the wrong way with that. (Similarly with PRX; it appears the only difference with PRL is the length and the glossiness. If length is an issue, adjust criteria of PRL. If you want glossiness, you judge on anything other than quality, and I think that's wrong for non-profit APS journals.)