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Sound science research – an insider guide

There has been a boom in so-called “sound science” journal launches over the past decade, but what exactly does the editorial process look like in these publications? Heliyon’s Editor-in-Chief Claudia Lupp explains.

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There is only one feature that distinguishes sound science journals from all others and that is who decides whether research described in a paper is important, impactful, newsworthy or all of the above. In traditional journals, it is the editor who makes that assessment, while in sound science journals, editors defer that judgment to the reader. As long as the research is technically correct – or scientifically sound – it will be published. Impact and importance is measured after publication through downloads, citations, media mentions, and comments on the article.

This new sort of publication first entered the landscape a decade ago with the launch of PLOS ONE. Since then, demand from the scientific community has prompted the launch of a number of similar journals, including Elsevier’s Heliyon. The sheer number of sound science papers published each year and their often competitive performance in the impact metrics tables indicates that these journals have a valued place in the research publication landscape. Nonetheless, some wrongly perceive sound science journals to be low quality outlets that do not conduct in-depth peer review.

One phenomenon which has contributed to this undeserving reputation has been the rise of so-called predatory journals, run by gold open access publishers that take advantage of the fact that the author pays for publication. Predatory journals will indeed publish any submitted paper as long as the author has the funds, regardless of the paper’s quality and often without peer review. Many of the business practices involved are misleading or simply illicit. For example they may use journal names that are similar to already existing reputable journals or list individuals on their editorial boards who have not agreed to serve (and may indeed know nothing about the journal in question) and they may describe processes and procedures on their homepages that are not followed in practice. Unfortunately, there has not been a concerted effort to fight these schemes as of yet, but a list of reputable open access journals that follow accepted best publishing practices is maintained by the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ).

Heliyon coverThere are, however, reputable journals that offer sound science publication without sacrificing editorial standards. At Heliyon, for example, manuscripts go first through a rigorous in-house screening procedure to exclude papers that do not meet journal requirements. Reasons for desk rejection include: plagiarism or other ethical violations; lack of models, data or statistics to support the presented conclusions; or insufficient information on methods and theories to allow assessment of the validity of the study and/or its replication. In addition to these technical screens, we also impose a simple editorial threshold: in order to be publishable the paper must provide a contribution to the scientific literature, however small. We therefore stipulate that each study include a research hypothesis or question, experimental or theoretical work aiming to test these assumptions, and a conclusion. Only manuscripts that pass the initial screen are peer reviewed. Heliyon’s peer review process adheres to the same quality standard as one would expect from any other reputable journal, with one notable exception: authors are not required to include additional experiments or data to expand the scope of the manuscript. Additional work is only requested if necessary to establish the technical soundness of their work.

Heliyon is part of Elsevier’s family of journals, and in addition to welcoming direct submissions it takes part in the Article Transfer Service. As our editors do not judge the impact of submitted work, any research that is deemed worthy of publication but does not match another Elsevier journal’s scope may be considered for transfer to Heliyon. Transferred submissions undergo the same editorial processes and procedures as direct submissions, however we take previously obtained reviews into account in our process and make decisions based on these whenever possible to ensure a swift outcome for our authors.

Navigating the world of sound science publications can be a tricky affair, but tools such as the above-mentioned DOAJ list can help. There are also lists and other resources available online which aim to enable authors to identify predatory publishers and their publications. Sound science journals serve a useful niche and respond to a need from authors so they should not be discounted out of hand. Sound science, as we see with Heliyon and others, does not have to imply a lack of- or poor quality peer review. Would-be authors need to be sure they are submitting to a reputable journal, though, so a little homework is encouraged before settling on a title… If this is you, why not consider Heliyon?

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