An advice to journal editors
Posted On April 3, 2018
I was recently invited to review a manuscript for a journal (1). After half the time to review deadline had passed, I received a mail stating that “In the interest of your time and the authors’ time, I am making a decision without the benefit of your input.” While I do understand that big journals receive many submissions and that the editor made this decision in the interest of time, I think that it should also be kept in mind that I had already spent approximately three hours scrutinizing the manuscript. Due to the decision of the editor, these are now three hours of work down the drain.
Furthermore, I was not informed what the decision was, and my access to the paper in the reviewing system was revoked. This means that I don’t even know if my opinions are concordant with the rest of the reviewers or not. Perhaps I had actually spotted crucial errors that the other reviewers had missed? Or maybe the paper was rejected, and my input was therefore no longer needed. I don’t know, because I was not informed.
These days, I receive many requests to perform manuscript reviews. A journal treating its reviewers like this causes me to lose all willingness to review for that journal again. To me, making a decision to dismiss reviewers without even asking them if they are about to submit comments, signals that a journal does not value its peer reviewers, and that I can spend my time better elsewhere. Similar to authors and editors, I do not want to waste my time on tasks that end up being of no use.
On the upside, this decision by the editor has freed some time for me to write up this rant, including the following advice: If you are an editor of a journal and you want to keep the reviewers (who, I remind you, work for free and are largely unrecognized for their work) happy, try to avoid pissing them off by dismissing their work. It does not hurt to ask them if they are about to submit their comments, or if they – given that a sufficient number of review reports have been submitted – would rather withdraw from the review process. This may add an extra day or two to the process, but I think that in the long run both authors, editors and reviewers would agree that the overall quality of the peer review process would benefit from those few extra days.
- I am not going to name the journal here, nor the identity of the editor, because that is not my point. I am not after singling out certain people here, but I want to address an overall behavior that annoys me. That said, the last three papers I have been a co-author on in this journal took five to seven weeks from the authors correction of the proofs until publication online. I find it stunning that with these delays, the journal dismisses the reviewers it has invited because they don’t produce peer reviews quicker than the deadline proposed by the journal. The real bottleneck in this process is not extensive review times, at least not in my experience.