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Reforming the scholarly publishing system I: Time to peer-review

Recent online (and offline) discussions around the fact that the academic system is ripe for disruption have encountered a high degree of resonance amongst the scholarly community at all levels (on the tenure-track, tenured, non-tenure-track, adjuncts or contingent faculty, graduate students). The topic itself (reforming academia) is extremely complex, and a systematic review would be outside of the scope of this particular blog entry. But one of the areas that really needs profound reform, I believe, is the scholarly publishing system (and I am not even going to discuss the open-access vs. non-open-access topic here).

In particular, the one element that I think needs profound reform in order to catch up to the realities of online, speedy publishing is the peer review process. Some of the “top ranked journals” have waiting times of 4-6 months (in some case, this is the “fast” speed!). Full disclosure: the journals on whose editorial board I sit have a one-month review policy and the editors in chief are quite good at getting reviews back on a timely fashion.

peer review

Personally, I have a one-month policy for every review I do, and most of the journals who have asked me to peer-review know this, and I encourage them to email me gentle reminders. I do also know of other journals who have withdrawn their requests to peer-review manuscripts to reviewers when the time to respond/review goes beyond one month. I am not 100% sure what can be done to reform this small part of the system, but I think it’s one of the most important ones. Manuscripts that sit on reviewers’ desks for months without review make authors frustrated and obviously, the publication of data and results ends up being sometimes rather untimely (and outdated). I don’t have an answer to this question, but I remain frustrated.

Thoughts, of course, most welcome.

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One Response

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  1. Hisham Zerriffi says

    Here’s why the system is broken (a slightly contrarian view to be taken with a grain of salt):

    1) Too many journals. I’m constantly getting announcements about new journals. Each of these journals will require people to review for them, increasing the demand on reviewers. It is not always clear that there is a marginal benefit to the scholarly community of having these journals. They do serve to get more papers in print, but is that necessarily a good thing if the quality is poor (not that all new journals are of poor quality but no argument has been made that I can see that high quality work is unable to be published due to limited publishing venues).
    2) Insufficient gate-keeping. Some journals are good about weeding out submissions before sending for review, but often that is only on the basis of fit with the journal’s mandate and pretty much everything else it seems goes off to review. Why am I rejecting or asking for major revisions on 90% of the articles I review. I’d rather see fewer, higher quality, articles go out for review and be able to recommend accept on higher percentage.
    3) Insufficient encouragement to use graduate student sub-reviewers: Critically reviewing literature is a learned skill and one that grad students should get more practice on in a formal way. Faculty should be encouraged to include grad students in the review, having them do a first pass and then checking it and advising them on refining it.

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