Why publish scientific articles?

Let's start with the most basic question - why publish at all?

Setting aside all the cares of everyday life, the hard work in the laboratory or hospital, the listening and teaching obligations and the struggle to maintain a balance between home and work life, and making an effort to remember why we chose to engage in science and / or medicine, we should remember that originally, at some level, each of us, chose it out of some level of idealism.

As depicted (somewhat jokingly) in this classic clip:

Of course life and work within the community of noble scientists that work to improve the world, provides obvious personal benefits to publishing one’s work. For those readers who work in an academic setting, the axiom "Publish or perish" is obvious. Graduation, the next job, the next round of research funding, collaborations with other research groups, all depend on publications. This is also very true for professionals who spend most of their time treating patients. Scientific publications are a criterion for promotion, and are an important part of establishing the professional’s status and authority as an expert in their field.

There are many avenues for publication of research results. They include, among others, conference papers, posters, theses and internet-based publications such as blogs and professional websites.

The definition of a scientific journal article is: "A scientific paper is a written and published report describing original research results. A scientific paper is: (i) the first publication of original research results, (ii) in a form whereby peers of the author can repeat the experiments and test the conclusions, and (iii) in a journal or other source document which is readily available within the scientific community”.

The scientific article, as opposed to other types of scientific publication, must be the first publication of research results. The requirement for the paper to be the initial publication seems obvious, but it can be a complex issue, mainly because of constraints of time-to-publication. There are non-scientific disciplines in which it is acceptable to submit articles to more than one journal at a time, but in science it is considered a violation of publication ethics. When the study area is "hot" this issue can be problematic, and I will get to this in a future post that will focus on the selection of the correct journal for each article. The peer review process (within the limitations of this imperfect system, which I shall go into in the next post), gives the article its credibility and with the availability of information (at least in summary form) in Web-based databases, makes the scientific journal article the most central channel for publishing research results for scientists around the world.

In the next post: peer review, like democracy, is perhaps the worst method, except for all the others.

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