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Scientific journals are a form of scientific publication and the primary means by which scientists circulate detailed research results intended for other professionals. Unlike popular science or professional magazines, most of the content is written by active scientists, not journalists. They report recent scientific findings and allow the data to be verified by others, and thus are an important part of the scientific method.
Articles always include references (citations) to previous and related studies and at least a short review on them. Articles undergo peer review by 1-3 other scientists to ensure adherence to scientific standards. The main questions in peer review is whether the data and/or analysis support the conclusion, and if the conclusion itself is novel and important. Generally, scientists require that a claim has been made in at least one, preferably multiple scientific articles, before accepting it as a scientific fact. This however depends very much in the field: conference proceedings are considered acceptable sources in e.g. computer science, and single-author books in humanities.
The scientific journal is a specific type of academic journal. Many professional organizations and sometimes even individual universities have their own journal, although many of the big journals are published by private publishers. Some examples of scientific journals are Nature, Science, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS, often pronounced 'penis'). Major publishers of these journals include Elsevier, Springer, and John Wiley & Sons. Journals are ranked by their citation counts, which is quantified by their impact factor, which is approximately the average number of citations per article. Publishers are very aware of this and market their product with their impact factor.
The economics of learned journals are unique in the world of publishing. Their cover price does not provide enough revenue to produce them. They also carry no—or extremely little—advertising. In a bizarre reversal of magazine publishing convention, their authors are not paid. In the conventional closed-access model, the authors are unpaid and have to relinquish their copyright to the publisher, which then resells the content to university libraries via a journal subscriptions. In the open-access model, the article is freely available, but the authors (or in practice, the universities where they work) pay considerable fees for the privilege of being published. A hybrid journal is a closed-access journal that allows the authors to pay an open-access fee (also called article-processing charge) to make the article freely available. For example, the open access fee for Nature Communications was $5,200 in 2018. However, individual scientists benefit indirectly: funding decisions and personnel evaluations in scientific research are largely based on the number of publications, their citation count and journal impact factor.
The reviewers are also unpaid and usually anynymous and uncredited.
Pseudojournals and predatory open-access journals are non-scientific publications marketed as scientific journals. Pseudojournals have the trappings of a scientific journal, but not the standards: they publish pseudoscience and do not review their content according to scientific standards. Predatory open-access journals are in it just for the open access fee. They can be very difficult to distinguish from real journals, because legitimate content may be mixed in.
- Biology 150: Science in the News, Collins Memorial Library