Nature article addresses problems with multiple publication dates


A short letter was published in Nature last week, briefly addressing the topic of publication dates and scientific priority, suggestions that Citations must default to the online publication date.

The aticle suggests the publication date of all articles should be officially recorded as the earliest online publication date when it first appears, rather than the scheduled publication date of the issue they are assigned to.

The increasing sophistication of ways in which research publishing databases communicate, and the way articles are indexed and discovered is arguably beginning to render traditional issue schedules obsolete (an example of which is mentioned in the Nature article).

While there are plenty of sound arguments and reasons in favour of curating content into issues of varying frequency across a year, the increasing normality of early online publication suggests there is perhaps less necessity to enshrine an article with a date associated with the issue itself.

The Nature article raises some of the problems associated with the issue date taking precedence over the online date, but there is an additional controversy associated with this practice too in how citations are counting. 

There is some criticism that journals can ‘bank’ citations in advance of years by publishing articles online towards the end of the current year, with an issue date of the following year. Any citation advantage of this practice could be seen as an artefact of the traditional publishing system. It is in authors and readers interests that articles are published as soon as possible; that the official date of publication is indexed as a date in the future is merely a function of issue schedules.

As far as we can see, there are not any articles indexed for 2019 in Web of Science….yet, and therefore no citations accrued to the year in advance, but as we get closer to the end of the year , for better or worse, articles and citations for 2019 will begin to appear.

In light of this latter predicament and the issues raised in the Nature article, we may start to see more progressive discussions around this detail of the publishing process in the near future.


Citations must default to the online publication date
Michael Keller & Stanley Prusiner
Nature 558, 519 (2018)
doi: 10.1038/d41586-018-05387-4

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