The other day I saw a lot of people sharing a link to a new study in The Lancet. The paper in question is titled “Cognitive deficits in people who have recovered from COVID-19” (see, for example, this and this tweet that went viral). I have not read the study and I have no plans of doing so. However, what is worth mentioning is the fact that it is actually not published in The Lancet. It’s published by The Lancet in a journal called EClinicalMedicine.
Again, I have not read the study and I cannot say whether it is “strong enough” to be published in The Lancet (and a lot of bad research will most likely find a home in The Lancet), but I am sure the researchers would rather publish the paper in The Lancet than EClinicalMedicine if they could. Accordingly, I find the branding of journals like EClinicalMedicine misleading. The idea is relatively simple: Take the name of The Lancet, publish a lot of journals that are not The Lancet, use the brand to attract attention to the pseudo-The Lancet journals among researchers (more submissions, citations, etc.), and let the journals be part of the business model of the publisher (= profit).
The Lancet (the publisher) is – in addition to the The Lancet (the journal) – publishing the following journals: The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, The Lancet Digital Health, The Lancet Gastroenterology & Hepatology, The Lancet Global Health, The Lancet Haematology, The Lancet Healthy Longevity, The Lancet HIV, The Lancet Infectious Diseases, The Lancet Microbe, The Lancet Neurology, The Lancet Oncology, The Lancet Planetary Health, The Lancet Psychiatry, The Lancet Public Health, The Lancet Regional Health – Americas, The Lancet Regional Health – Europe, The Lancet Regional Health – Western Pacific, The Lancet Respiratory Medicine, The Lancet Rheumatology, EBioMedicine, and EClinicalMedicine.
I don’t mind all of these journals and names and whatnot, but I am quite confident that most people unfamiliar with academic publishing will see nothing but The Lancet when they read about studies published in any of the journals above (including journalists).
This is just one example and I could have picked any other publisher. Nature (the publisher) got even more journals published under the Nature name than I want to mention here, from Nature Aging and Nature Africa to Nature Reviews Rheumatology and Nature Synthesis (take a look here for the full list).
Nature also publish other journals, such as Scientific Reports, that people often believe is Nature (because of the url, typesetting, etc.). I wrote a post the other day about a study published in Scientific Reports where I also saw people calling it a Nature study. This is the point. Researchers with a paper that would never end up in Nature can pay $1,990 and use the Nature brand to promote their paper. And of course, Science publishes the journal Science Advances (which, ironically, does little to advance science) with a publication fee of $4,500.
We are also seeing more of this within the social sciences. American Economic Review, for example, is now accompanied by American Economic Review: Insights. I had a quick look at the articles published in the latter journal, and it goes without saying that most (if any) of these papers would never get published in American Economic Review (for reasons related to the scientific quality or rather lack hereof).
To my knowledge there are no good examples from political science (yet), but maybe that can explain why we have seen more mediocre research ending up in American Political Science Review lately? (You know, the kind of research that can only be explained by drunk participants and/or drunk editors/reviewers.) Maybe what we need in political science is “APSR: Insights“? Well, I don’t know, and maybe it is all for the better that academic publishers and journals are slowly ruining the reputation of their journals altogether.
Hopefully, in the near future, we can care more about the quality of the work rather than the name of the journal. Until that happens, for the love of science, please refer to EClinicalMedicine and not The Lancet when you talk about a study that is published in the former.