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Expanding Global Reach

Expanding the Global Reach of the Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences

By Merril Silverstein, Ph.D.
Editor, Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences

The United States can no longer be said to have hegemony over knowledge-building in most academic disciplines. Scholarly activities and scientific collaborations now span the globe. As Editor of the Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences (JGSS), the premier journal in its class, I take seriously the charge to be a fair gatekeeper to international scientific publication.

Recently I examined the percent of submissions, invited revisions, and publications by country between 2009 and 2011. During that period, the percentage of manuscripts originating from outside the United States grew modestly, going from 32% in 2009 to 40% in 2010 and then to 43% in 2011. Submissions from Western Europe were mostly responsible for the increased international submission rate. However, manuscripts from outside the U.S. represented only 35% of revise-and-resubmits and 29% of articles published. While the global reach of JGSS has clearly grown over the past three years, the profile of papers is still dominated by scholars from the U.S. along the pipeline toward acceptance. Clearly more needs to be done to attract high quality manuscripts from outside the U.S. and provide international scholars with the tools to succeed in publishing their research.

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I raise four weaknesses that tend to cluster in international submissions, particularly those from developing nations that often lag in their research infrastructures and training opportunities for scholars: (1) The theoretical or conceptual framework of the study is underdeveloped and neither linked to the research questions posed nor discussed in the conclusion section. The mission of JGSS to employ and advance theory in social gerontology may be less familiar to international scholars than to those in the U.S. (2) The approach to data analysis, or even the data collection itself, is less than “state of the art” for the discipline owing to the aforementioned lag in scientific infrastructure and training. (3) English expression is problematic, impeding communication about the purpose and relevance of even well-done research. It is unfair to ask potential referees to review manuscripts that are difficult to understand due to awkward syntax and language misuse. (4) The perception lingers that JGSS reviewers harbour biases against international research, particularly when it does not explicitly demonstrate its relevance to an American audience. The outcome is that authors may avoid submitting their most promising work to the journal.

Several initiatives are currently in progress at the JGSS to broaden the international scope and quality of papers published in its pages. These include: (1) Targeting workshops on publishing—that outline requirements, priorities, and common pitfalls of submissions—at international scholarly audiences whose research most closely aligns with the journal. (2) Soliciting papers presented at international conferences to attract the highest quality manuscripts from the most diverse sources. (3) Increasing the international representation of the JGSS editorial board, as well as the reviewer pool, to expand scholarly networks connected to the journal. (4) Overruling reviewers who make requests to “Americanize” manuscripts when such requests are gratuitous, do not enhance interpretation of findings, or are of little strategic advantage to the main purpose of the investigation.

The sponsor of JGSS—the Gerontological Society of America—has “America” in its title, but gerontology knows no borders. Aging is a topic of concern to virtually all nations of the world. By highlighting some of the barriers to success faced by international submitters to JGSS, and offering several strategies to overcome them, I hope to have provided useful information to other journals grappling with the same issue. Given that scientific networks are increasingly connected multinationally, it behoves journal editors to represent their discipline’s research as comprehensive as possible.