I didn’t quite finish my thoughts in the last post. While I summarized the choices for open access (or not) in astronomy journals, I didn’t really talk about where I publish my own papers. You can look them up via NASA ADS, if you like, but here’s the background.

Journal publishing in astronomy has a few aspects that differ from other fields. There aren’t that many journals: I think about five (ApJ, AJ, MNRAS, A&A, PASP) would cover a pretty large fraction of the published papers. The rejection rate is typically not that high (20% for Astronomy & Astrophysics, according to this very interesting guide). I have been told that this stems from the historical tradition of astronomical observatories publishing their own “bulletins” of observations, on the premise that any observation was potentially unique and therefore irreplaceable.

The small number of journals and relatively low rejection rate means that astronomers don’t usually spend a lot of time “shopping” a paper around different journals. For myself, they also mean that I don’t spend too much time thinking about impact factor. The literature in astronomy is small enough, and well-indexed enough by the Astrophysics Data System, that someone in the field who needs to find my paper probably will be able to, and someone who has to judge the quality of my work can do so without entirely relying on journal name. Of course, astronomers like to publish in Science and Nature when they can, and their institutions’ press offices like this too. But those journals tend to publish a very specific sort of astronomy paper (fastest pulsar! highest-redshift galaxy! smallest exoplanet!) and I haven’t written too many of those.

So how do I decide where a paper gets submitted? The astronomy journals do specialize to some extent: Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (PASP) publishes more instrumentation papers; papers in X-ray astronomy more often go to the Astrophysical Journal (ApJ), and the Astronomical Journal (AJ) used to be where more star cluster papers went (I’m not sure if this is still true.) The reputation of the journal is also something I think about: while Galaxies would seem like an obvious place for my work, its editorial board has only a handful of people I’ve ever heard of, and, strangely, most of its papers don’t seem to be about galaxies. Some of its papers look like they might be crackpottery, always a danger in astrophysics.

Cost to publish and access is also important. Here is the result of my (and a bunch of other people’s) most recent Discovery Grant application. There aren’t too many other places astronomers in Canada can get grant funding, so you can see that many of us are operating our research programs on an annual budget of Cdn$20-40k. If a grad student costs $10-15k/year to support, then publishing one $2500 open-access paper or several $1000 page-charge papers means that somebody can’t attend a conference that year. I could try to publish with one of the commercial journals which don’t have page charges for non-open access articles, but I’m persuaded by the arguments that it’s not a good idea to pad the profit margins of publishers.

My compromise, and that of many of my Canadian colleagues, has been to publish mostly in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (MNRAS), which doesn’t have page charges. I am pretty sure that my university library pays more in subscription fees for MNRAS than for the AAS journals (ApJ and AJ), which do have page charges, although I don’t exactly know how much more. I am not completely happy with this compromise, but given the constraints it’s the best I can come up with. Another reason that I hope the Open Journal of Astrophysics takes off..