Background: Little attention has been given to the quality of journals produced in particular countries, but readers perceive geographical differences in journal quality. We compared journals belonging to a “lower quality” category (edited in Italy, cases) to journals of apparently higher quality (edited in UK, controls). We asked if differences in bibliometric parameters justified the selection of these groups as cases and controls and, then, if differences in "instructions to authors" documented lower editorial leadership among cases that hindered their ability to publish good papers.
Methods: We focused on research journals indexed in Medline. Italian journals were defined as those with both editor and publisher based in Italy; UK journals had both editor and publisher in the UK. We enrolled all Italian journals and an equivalent number of UK journals selected with random numbers. Quality was assessed according to bibliometric parameters. Editorial leadership was assessed by evaluating instructions to authors and editorial policy statements.
Results: The case group comprised 76 Italian journals and was matched by 76 control UK journals. Italian journals published fewer articles in 2005 (median, 63 vs. 104) and less frequently had online archives (42 vs. 74 journals) and PubMed links (23 vs. 68). Italian journals were less frequently indexed for impact factor (27 vs. 54) and had a lower median value (1.0 vs. 2.1). Italian journals less frequently required that authors specify competing interests (22 vs. 48), funding (29 vs. 54) or authors' contributions (5 vs. 39). However, more Italian journals referred to ICMJE Uniform Requirements (27 vs. 12). For journals publishing human research, similar numbers referred to the Declaration of Helsinki (34 vs. 35) but fewer Italian journals inquired about informed consent (13 vs. 41) or ethics committee review (18 vs. 48). No Italian journal required registration of clinical trials (vs. 21 UK journals).
Conclusions: Italian journals are smaller and score lower on indicators of quality than UK journals, and they also have lower expectations for manuscripts. Insufficient editorial leadership may affect a journal's inability to attract and to contribute to quality manuscripts. Greater appreciation of international initiatives to promote quality publishing might improve Italian journal quality.
Valerie Matarese is a former biomedical researcher who now works as author's editor, journal copyeditor and instructor of scientific reading and writing, specifically focusing on the research paper in preclinical and clinical sciences (UpTo infotechnologies, Vidor (TV), Italy).
Catrin Zulian, is a librarian with an interest in scientific open archives.