US Scientists Dominate as Journal Gatekeepers

exert a special influence on the orchestration of international research activity

Mar 14, 2005
Tibor Braun

The editors in chief, deputy editors, managing editors, and editorial advisory boards who control scientific publication – collectively known as gatekeepers1 – exert a special influence on the orchestration of international research activity. The selection of journal gatekeepers is a self-organizing process that science has developed over the last three centuries. An invitation to serve as a gatekeeper is both a distinction and reward. But the process has skewed gatekeeper demographics, as we found when we built and evaluated a database of international core journal gatekeepers in 2003.2

We were trying to figure out whether counting such gatekeepers would be correlated with the trends in counts of journal papers and citations. In our database, science journals were defined as "international" if their editorial boards included scientists from at least eight countries, regardless of the journal title used. The "international" label in the title of some journals may hide what is really only a national one. On the other hand, for example, the editorial board of the American Heart Journal includes not only US-based scientists but also others, mostly from ten European countries.

The current database contains data for 240 core journals from 12 science fields, chosen by the Glänzel and Schubert classification system,3 and includes the top 20 ranked by ISI's journal impact factor in each of the fields. The total number of analyzed gatekeepers can be considered as statistically significant when they are compared to indicators based on papers and/or citations.


Table 1 presents results for 2003 and includes the number and percentage of gatekeepers for 10 countries. It also shows the number of papers in 12 science fields published and their citations, from 2000 to 2002, of papers published in 2000. The top 10 countries account for about 86 % of the gatekeepers.

In data not shown here, we found that with few exceptions the number of US gatekeepers dominates the world of science to an extent that is considerably higher than their share of publications and citations.


In Table 2 we present the number of editors-in-chiefs of the investigated core journals in science and in 12 science fields. The prevailing dominance of the United States in all fields is also clearly visible here.

The dominance of the US gatekeepers, as demonstrated by our measurements, is not a conspiracy with some hidden intentions, but a consequence of the self organizing nature of science. Nothing needs to be done. However, it is an important reflection of the self-organizing mechanism which has allowed US gatekeepers to have a decisive influence on what, when and where worldwide research is published.

Tibor Braun ( is professor of chemistry at the Institute of Inorganic and Analytical Chemistry, L. Eötvös University, Budapest, Hungary and director of the Information and Science and Scientometrics Research Unit (ISSRU), Institute for Research Policy, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest. Ildikó Dióspatonyi is an ISSRU research scientist.