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How do scientific journals work

  1. Dec 9, 2011 #1
    I've been studying chemistry for years now but I still don't know how all this stuff works. I barely even know where to start. We write lab reports for every experiment we do in college and I assume that in the real world, researchers compile these lab reports whenever they do a real experiment in order to share the results of their experiment with the world. Firstly, what is the correct word for these lab reports. I often hear people refer to them as "abstracts", is that the correct word to refer to lab reports in which a researcher compiled the results of an experiment he/she carried out? Where do they send these lab reports? Is there some kind of authority that they must send them to?

    I notice that at my college I have access to all the lab reports on sites like sciencedirect.com and acs.org, whereas at home if I try to access a report on these sites, it tells me I have to pay for it. Firstly, what is a scientific journal? Sciencedaily is a periodical containing articles that talk about the results of experiments. That is obviously not the same thing as a periodical that contains only the lab reports themselves, not articles talking about the lab reports. Is sciencedaily considered a science journal, or is that termed assigned only to periodicals which publish the lab reports and nothing else?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 9, 2011 #2
    Researchers write "articles": either for publication in a journal, or for presentation at a conference.

    However, so other researchers can quickly decide if they want to read your entire article or not, each article is accompanied by a small "abstract": a few paragraph summary of what you tried to do and what you accomplished.

    Each conference or publication has a review committee that decides whether or not to publish a particular article. Resarchers submit their articles, and the committee sends it to one or more experts in the field for review. The reviewers can accept it, suggest changes, or just outright reject it.

    Much of what you can access on acs.org or scienceddirect.com are scientific journals. Science Daily, on the other hand, is more of a popular summary of work that is appearing in other journals. (The articles in Science Daily are written by reporters, not researchers!)

    Journals are typically rather expensive, so colleges and universities typically buy site subscriptions so all students and faculty have access. There is usually some way that you can identify yourself and access these journals off-site if you need to though, but by default, you have to pay for each article.

    I hope this helps!
  4. Dec 9, 2011 #3
    Firstly, start with a bit of a google search to give yourself some background. Read the wikipedia article on Scientific Journals.

    Journals publish 'articles' written by the original researcher(s) and then peer reviewed for quality. The article will contain an 'abstract', which is like an introductory paragraph that explains the work and generally makes a statement about the conclusion. Articles can be like a lab report but can also be based on theoretical work.

    The vast majority of journals are obtained through paid subscription. Most universities have subscriptions for students on campus (some provide at-home online access too with the right log-in info).

    There are a huge number of journals out there for every field you can imagine. After completion of some work (a lab experiment for instance), that you think it worth letting the greater community know about, you would find a journal with the appropriate subject matter and submit to them. Each journal is their own authority.

    Science Daily is more like an online magazine/newspaper that focuses on science. There, the articles are written by journalists and discuss the original research papers from other journals. Some scientific journals do contain 'discussion' type sections (book reviews, etc) but the vast majority of their pages are reserved for original research.

    Hope that helps some - there's plenty of basic info about this using a search. It might lead you to more specific questions.

    EDIT: post at the same time! At least we said basically the same thing. :P
  5. Dec 9, 2011 #4
    I may be old, but I'm still quick! :smile:
  6. Dec 9, 2011 #5
    Thanks for the replies, that explains a lot. So for your research to be published, it must be accepted by the committee of the particular journal you submit it to. What happens if you make a very outlandish discovery that completely defies a major current scientific model and consequently, the committees of the major scientific journals automatically reject it on the grounds that it violates what they think they know about the subject? Would the researcher in that case, have to just use other means to spread the word and hope that enough researchers from around the world repeat the experiment that it can no longer be ignored by the scientific journals?
  7. Dec 9, 2011 #6


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    Staff: Mentor

  8. Dec 9, 2011 #7
    This is right up my alley as much of what we do is "out there" for mainstream science. Some of the more prestigious journals would just outright reject a paper even if your evidence was extraordinary. But other journals are more open to "alternative views" and might find the paper acceptable. There are even journals, or at least one in particular that I know of, that will publish very outlandish claims that have enough supporting evidence - the Journal of Scientific Exploration (JSE).

    Here are some examples to think about. Recently, researchers claimed to have measured neutrinos moving at faster than the speed of light. That certainly violates current understanding. Yet because it was a well performed enough experiment, it certainly got coverage. I don't believe it has been accepted into a big journal yet, but that's probably just because these things take time. It has been published in 'preprint' on the arXiv.

    Which is another place to publish things that a more mainstream journal may not accept. It's an online, free-to-access journal that does have some review standards so it's not full of just junk and in fact is an excellent resource. http://arxiv.org/

    But another example is cold fusion. In the beginning, many journals were publishing replications but now that mainstream science has swing back to the viewpoint that it's bunk, I don't think there are any big name journals publishing papers on that subject. JSE will (and does) though.
  9. Dec 9, 2011 #8


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    If you've got the evidence to support your claim, and it's appropriate for the journal, they aren't going to turn it down because it's outlandish. How do you think science works? The whole point is to challenge what we know. No one gets published by confirming something we already know. But you must be able to support it, and that involves knowing the literature in your field and being familiar with what's already out there.

    arXiv is not a journal. It's not reviewed or vetted. Anyone with an academic email address can post on there, and it's not considered a publication unless a journal has also accepted it.
  10. Dec 9, 2011 #9
    Sorry, shouldn't have referred to it as a 'journal', I just meant it was a resource for papers. But they do have standards. I know some folks that have been rejected from it.
  11. Dec 9, 2011 #10


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    Only if they didn't have academic email addresses and couldn't get a sponsor. When I post on there, it doesn't ask for anything more than an email address.
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