Who publishes the most reputable journals in psychology?

In the publish or perish world of modern psychology, the question of who publishes the journals we send our manuscripts to is not asked as often as it should be. We usually aren’t even aware who the publishers are. This is the case even when we only read, cite and use articles from scientific journals. As a rule of thumb, we are more than aware of the prestige of particular journals and their public face – topic, review policy, editorial team and even access policy; but who publishes them? Who owns them and what are their policies?

Find out in this installment of the Journal of European Psychology Students Bulletin.

First off, we should discuss why is this question relevant. A good explanation of its importance is the way it came to mind in the first place.

Two months ago, the JEPS Bulletin was mentioned at a rather interesting blog, linking to our post on APA’s policy on open access. Aside from the right to brag with a reference, another thing piqued my interest about this particular post. Besides mentioning JEPS, the author commented on a folklorist asking how much of his umbrella discipline’s journal output is owned by the big-pigs. By the ‘big-pigs’, the author meant corporate publishers.

The said ‘folklorist’ (Jason Baird Jackson, an ethnographer) wrote an interesting analysis on how enclosed the anthropology journal literature is by for-profit publishers. And since the open access JEPS article was mentioned in the same sentence as that post on anthropology and scientific corporate fiefdom, the natural question arose – how enclosed are high impact psychology journals by the for-profit publishers?

Here’s my attempt of an answer.

First, I asked myself the same question as Professor Jackson did in case of anthropology. How should I compile a list of the most reputable, highest scientific impact psychology journals out there? Unfortunately, the quickest and the most comprehensive answer is as in Professor Jackson’s analysis – looking at Impact Factor.

Impact Factor is a statistic tracked by Thompson Reuters which states the number of citations the journal in question has – or its impact on the field (thus the name). This is the simplest, shortest explanation which I reluctantly use considering severe limitations of the impact factor, e.g., journal impact factors aren’t statistically representative of individual journal articles, coverage of the database is not complete, database is dominated by American publications etc. (see Seglen, 1997 for further criticism of the impact factor).

But with all of its shortcomings, the impact factor is often used to rank journals and advertise them as most influential in their fields. So I am also using it here, to analyse what kind of organizations publish the most influential journals in psychology.

As I wanted to compile that list for analysis, I tried to access Journal Citation Reports maintained by Thompson Reuters. Unfortunately, it is not under free access and my college does not pay to for it. So instead, I did the second best thing – Googled it. And I found a journal list of combined psychology divisions on the webpage of University of Massachusetts Amherst Library. The combined divisions in this list include: psychiatry, and applied, biological, clinical, developmental, educational, experimental, multidisciplinary and social psychology. If I did this list myself, I would not include psychiatry journals. In retrospect, however, these publish a considerable part of psychological journal literature in the clinical field, so it is reasonable also this field of medicine was included.

I went through this list and considered all the journals there on two dimensions: publisher organization and access policy.

Publisher organization
I have separated the journals in two categories on the dimension of publisher organization: for-profit and not-for-profit. In the not-for-profit category are the professional organizations and university presses that publish journals. In the for-profit category are all the corporate published journals but also journals published by corporations on behalf of professional societies.

As can be seen in the Figure 1, the biggest publisher (26%) in the top fifty list is the American Psychological Association (APA), as one would expect. The next single entity that publishes the most journals in the list is Elsevier with 22%, followed by biggest single publisher (12%) — Wiley-Blackwell, another privately owned company. Other, smaller for-profit publishers issue 16% of the journals, and they are trumped by other smaller learned societies and university presses which combined (excluding APA) publish 24% of the journals the our list.

Figure 1. Structure of Psychology Journal Publishers in Top 50 IF List

As can be seen in the chart, two single publishers dominate our highest impact factor (IF)  list – Elsevier for the for-profit publishers and APA for not-for-profit publishers.

To sum up, learned societies and university presses publish 50% of the journals in the list, while the other half are published by private firms. The ratio isn’t that bad, keeping at least half of publishing within the academia. APA is again proving to be a leader in the field of scientific publications in psychology, publishing half of the non-profit journals on our list.

With this data, it is even more important to stress out that APA should take a more prominent role in promoting new and unrestricted ways of accessing scientific journals in psychology, as we have mentioned in this post.

Also, I should emphasize that my non-profit label might be misleading in case of APA, since it bases much of its revenue on its publications; my non-profit category was formed on the dichotomy of publishing privately owned company vs. everything else.

Access policy

Figure 2. Access Policy of Psychology Journals in Top 50 IF list

As for access policy, I was looking into one particular aspect of access to the journals in our top 50  – how many of them are gold OA. Note that gold OA is not the only route to open science and opening scientific journals to the public – many of the journals on our list take the Green OA route to freeing their content (e.g., the Elsevier published journals, APA journals green OA support and the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience published by MIT Press which has an early access policy). Still, I was more interested whether the Gold OA policies have reached renowned psychology journals. The results confirmed my previous hypothesis: Psychology is nowhere near being a Gold OA field. As Figure 2 illustrates, only two journals (4%) are published under gold open access policy – the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience published by the Canadian Medical Association and World Psychiatry published by the World Psychiatric Association. Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience has a clear statement of Gold open access, while World Psychiatry does not state its access policy but from what I could discern, all their issues are available for free at their webpage.

A clear indicator of how far psychology is in gold open access trends is the fact that the only Gold OA journals found in our top 50 list are those actually published by psychiatrists.


Seglen, P. O. (1997). Why the impact factor of journals should not be used for evaluating research. BMJ, 314, 498-513. doi: 10.1136/bmj.314.7079.497


Ivan Flis

Ivan Flis is a PhD student in History and Philosophy of Science at the Descartes Centre, Utrecht University; and has a degree in psychology from the University of Zagreb, Croatia. His research focuses on quantitative methodology in psychology, its history and application, and its relation to theory construction in psychological research. He had been an editor of JEPS for three years in the previous mandates.

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  • I don’t remember saying “big pigs.” ; )
    It is nice to see a parallel query and data for psychology.
    Thanks for considering my earlier reflections on corporate enclosure of disciplinary journal systems.
    Jason Jackson

  • Ivan Flis

    Oh, the author who referred to your blog (http://gavialib.com/2011/09/the-right-questions/) used the expression big-pigs. Sorry if it wasn’t clear from my post.

    Thank you for writing your post and giving me the idea in the first place!

  • Laurent

    Linking profit, impact factor and open access is very interesting. I heard many times that impact factor isn’t a good measure, but I tend to understand that people still really rely on it. Even if your data quite confirmed what I expected, here’s a concrete question that I’m asking myself :

    Does gold OA policy has an effect on IF ? Do people tend to quote more OA journals or it doesn’t have any effect ?

    Thanks Ivan for the great post, and congratulations to JEPS team for such a good blog.

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  • Ivan Flis

    I would’ve replied to your question yesterday Laurent, but I wanted to offer something more than just conjecture as an answer. So I searched a bit for some research that might offer some insight (I searched just a bit, if it interests you more, and you find any more info about it, please share).

    I found this study:

    It sums up a number of papers researching the citation advantage of open access articles. Now, it doesn’t specify if they were gold or green OA, but I don’t think it matters for making a point. The results, in brief, are:

    27 studies found advantages in number of citations of OA over restricted access articles.

    4 studies found no advantages (or disadvantages) of OA.

    The lowest reported advantage (per discipline) was found for biology, which had a -5 to 36% increase in citation for papers under open access and the highest reported advantage was for agricultural sciences which had a whooping increase of 200 to 600% for papers under open access.

    To quote the author of the article, of what might be the reasons of an advantage (Swan, 2010, p. 2):

    “The possible components of the OA Advantage seemed likely to be:
    (a) A General OA Advantage: the advantage that comes from citable articles becoming available to audiences that had not had access to them before, and who would find them citable
    (b) An Early Advantage: the earlier an article is put before its worldwide potential audience may affect subsequent citation patters
    (c) A Selection Bias: authors make their better articles Open Access more readily than their poorer articles
    (d) A Quality Advantage: better articles gain more from the General OA Advantage because they are by definition more citable than poorer articles”

    As for the IF and gold OA – this is my conjecture:

    I suppose that, especially in case of psychology, gold OA journals are less reputable, newer and more periphery in the field (especially for psychology, since there’s not a single psychology OA journal in the IF top 50, if we exclude the psychiatry journals). So, the IF is skewed in that way, that it doesn’t even index gold OA journals in the first place. One might argue that they’re not indexed because they’re not that good – I don’t think that’s the reason but I couldn’t find any research to back me up.

    Also, one more study comparing OA articles with non-OA articles in the same journal:

  • Ivan Flis

    Here’s a followup post on self-archiving and the psychology journals in 50 IF list. http://jeps.efpsa.org/blog/2012/06/10/self-archiving-and-psychology-journals/