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March 20, 2023

The Rapid Growth of Mega-Journals: Threats and Opportunities

Author Affiliations
  • 1Meta-Research Innovation Center at Stanford (METRICS), Stanford University, Stanford, California
  • 2Departments of Medicine, Epidemiology and Population Health, Biomedical Data Science, and Statistics, Stanford University, Stanford, California
  • 3Section of Hygiene, Department of Life Sciences and Public Health, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Rome, Italy
  • 4Departments of Woman and Child Health and Public Health, Fondazione Policlinico Universitario A. Gemelli IRCCS, Rome, Italy
JAMA. 2023;329(15):1253-1254. doi:10.1001/jama.2023.3212

Mega-journals, those that publish large numbers of articles per year,1 are growing rapidly across science and especially in biomedicine. Although 11 Scopus-indexed journals published more than 2000 biomedical full papers (articles or reviews) in 2015 and accounted for 6% of that year’s literature, in 2022 there were 55 journals publishing more than 2000 full articles, totaling more than 300 000 articles (almost a quarter of the biomedical literature that year). In 2015, 2 biomedical research journals (PLoS One and Scientific Reports) published more than 3500 full articles. In 2022, there were 26 such prolific journals (Table). The accelerating growth of mega-journals creates both threats and opportunities for biomedical science.

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4 Comments for this article
Scientific Skepticism
Song Zhao, M.S. | Department of General Surgery, Gastric and Colorectal Surgery Division, Army Medical Center (Daping Hospital), Army Medical University (Third Military Medical University), Chongqing, 400042, China
Mega-journals provide readers with a wealth of academic information. While illuminating the minds of readers, it is also necessary to be wary of unreliable data, which is often suspected of being associated with a lax peer review process. It is more important for the reader to maintain the depth of expertise and the usual scientific attitude of caution and skepticism.
More Journals, What Quality?
Andreas Tzakis, Emeritus Director Transplantation | Cleveland Clinic Enterprise
I do not feel we need more information overload. We need to maintain and hopefully improve the quality control of the manuscripts. I see no assurance that this is provided by the “mega-journals”.
„Healthy“ Competition for scientific publishing
Giuliano Ramadori, Professor of Medicine | University of Göttingen,Germany
Ioannidis and coworkers invested enormous efforts analysing the possible threats but also the opportunities posed by the growing number of scientific mega-journals. One could add that all the „classical“ established high impact factor journals also have significantly expanded (eg the Lancet family or JAMA Network).

The authors attribute to the investigated journals the claim to „publish articles based on whether they are scientifically sound rather than important and novel.“

I doubt that a journal (or its editors) can objectively judge the importance and novelty of a publication. Furthermore, can academia still be a guarantee for good
quality of e.g. medical scientific communications (2)?

Examples for not always correct assumption of importance are the enormous number of publications about the future of gene therapy, the importance of stem cells, or even the flood of publications on COVID-19 (3).
High impact journals are not a guarantee for good quality of publications and rejection from such journals is not a sign of trivial research and there is no reason for the authors to be depressed.

I am a reviewer for such journals (not only) and also have edited special issues by sending invitations to recognized specialists in the field, reading their manuscripts and making suggestions for improvement. There is nothing to criticize for that. On the contrary many journals are doing the same now.


1. Ioannidis JPA,Pezzullo AM,Boccia S.The Rapid Growth of Mega-Journals.Threats and Opportunities.Veiwpoint.JAMA 2023. DOI:10.1001/jama.2023.3212

2. Johnstone SC.Academic Medical Centers.Too large for their own Health? Viewpoint.JAMA 2019. DOI: 10.1001/jama.2019.6834.

3. Ioannidis JPA,Salholz-Hillel,Boyack KW,Baas J.The rapid, massive growth of COVID-19 authors in the scientific literature. R.Soc.Open Sci.2021;8:210389.DOI:10.1098/rsos.210389.

Economics of Publishing
Milena Giovanna Guarinoni, PhD, RN | University of Study of Brescia
As reported in the online supplement, publication in mega-journals also has very high article publication costs (author charges), often excluding researchers who do not have substantial funding.