Why are only a few Numenta papers published in scientific journals?




Hi @nbro ,

I will try to answer your questions.

Peer reviewed papers have been the standard and preferred form of publication for many years. They are essential for career advancement in academia, so as others pointed out, academic scientists are under a lot of pressure to publish a large quantity papers. This leads to many papers that of questionable value in terms of scientific advancement. Bur overall the system works ok.

Industrial research labs have less of this pressure and it is common for them to publish non-peer reviewed research notes and post them on their websites. No one looks down upon this. Most people appreciate being able to get access to these even though they are not peer-reviewed. Major advances from industrial labs will typically be published in journals, but not always. Sometimes they are considered trade secrets and the scientists get upset if they cannot publish their results.

It is a lot of work and takes a long time to get a peer-reviewed paper published. After submission, it may take a few months to a year. This is such a long time that scientists have started posting their manuscripts to pre-print servers. This began in physics but has now spread to other fields. The big one for neuroscience is “bioRxiv”. Most journals permit this, but not all. The final paper, when approved, will be similar to what is on the pre-print server. Often a lab or university will put out a press release when the pre-print version is available and not when the final paper is accepted. It is considered ok to cite pre-print articles as long as you change your citation when and if the final paper is accepted. There is a movement underway to make pre-print servers the final publishing forum and opening peer-review in a wiki-like fashion.

There are two types of journals. Open access and closed access. This is a huge topic (easy to find articles about it). Suffice it to state that to many people (me included) the old model of closed access is broken and terrible. Unfortunately, some of the most “prestigious” journals (Science, Nature) are closed access. This is changing and many scientists refuse to publish in closed journals. We try to avoid it.

Ok, what about Numenta? It takes many months to write a paper and many more to get it published, so in the past we chose to work more on the science and delay publication. Our first peer-reviewed paper (“Why Neurons…”) was published just over two years ago. We now have five total and three more being written. This is a pretty good rate given the size of our team. (Some scientists may work on one paper for several years.) Our two most important papers are published in “Frontiers Neural Circuits”, an open access journal. You can see how the papers are doing. Frontiers tracks the number of downloads, tweets, citations, etc. I think the journal is about ten years old and has over 900 articles. Our “neuron” paper quickly became the number one viewed paper and our “columns” paper is in the top 15 and rising. All the other papers that are close are much older. An important metric is the number of citations. These take a while to start showing up because the papers that cite our papers have to get written and then published! So we have to wait a few years to see how many people cite our work. (The Neuron paper has several citations, but it is still too early to judge.)

Peer-reviewed papers are not the only means we use to publish. We also present posters at conferences. These can be very competitive and undergo peer-review to get accepted. We post all our conference posters on our website. We also give invited talks and, when we can, we post links to the talks. Finally, we also post smaller papers and research notes on our website. Usually we do this because the topic has a limited audience or represents a sub-topic of something we published elsewhere. It doesn’t mean that our science was rejected. It usually means we didn’t think it was worth the considerable effort to get the paper in a peer-reviewed journal.

Finally, you wonder if our science is taken seriously because not everything we write is in a peer-reviewed journal. That is not for us to say, but judging by the number and quality of invitations we get to speak, the positive reactions we get from our papers, and our interactions with other scientists, I would say we are taken very seriously. Ultimately the impact of our work will not be determined by the number of papers we publish but by whether the ideas we are bringing to the table are significant and correct. I am confident they are, but time will tell.



Hi @jhawkins!

Thank you for your thorough answer! I appreciate that you also took your time to contextualize and to briefly explain your knowledge and ideas regarding the publication of papers.

I am actually very excited by your work and I think it’s very promising.


If you’re interested, a few Numenta employees (including Jeff Hawkins) have previously written posts on this topic. See the following ones: