Request: fast journals

Mohib Ali asks:

Can you talk little bit about the ISI Journals which reply faster than others, in other words they take minimal time for their decision about acceptance or rejection?

Unfortunately, the answer is “No. Sorry. I wish I knew something to tell you about that.”

For all my ranting about the system as a whole (more of that later), I know very little about particular journals, and pretty freely admit to being completely mystified by the current thicket of them.

On the other hand, I can say this: no journal, as scholarly journals are currently constituted, can be trusted to make a very fast turn-around, because all of them depend on anonymous volunteer referees, who are not exactly 100% reliable. On a fundamental level, there’s a big motivation mismatch here: the writer of the article benefits a lot from the article being decided on, and the referee doesn’t at all, and there is no way for the author to apply pressure on the referee other than begging (and mediated begging through the editor, even). This is a deep, deep flaw in our current peer review system, and things will be rather broken until someone figures out how to fix it, which sucks for those of us under pressure to publish (which is probably most of the readers of this blog).

One very interesting attempt to get out of this trap is the journal Biogeosciences. This journal is actually two journals. The first is “Biogeosciences Discussions,” which consists of all papers which were submitted and passed an initial review, all the referee comments on the papers (either with the referee’s name or anonymously) and comments from anybody else who felt like chiming in (all attributed), and the authors’ responses to these comments. The second is the actual journal “Biogeosciences,” which consists of those papers which ended up actually being accepted.

Now, I’m not sure this is the model we’ve been waiting for, but it sure sounds like a big improvement over what we’re doing now. Anybody feel like implementing this idea for mathematics? I’d be happy to referee.

12 thoughts on “Request: fast journals

  1. The biogeosciences model is indeed an improvement, thanks for mentionning it!

    I’ve always wondered why journal refereing was not considered a distinct activity besides one’s own research, one’s teaching/marking hours and one’s administrative duties.

    For example would it be imaginable for somebody with tenure to be assigned a certain amount of refereing by one’s university administration. That amount would be variable depending on personal wishes, e.g. one year you do mostly teaching and the next mostly refereing.

    Said administration would simply get some feedback from journal editors saying “yeah this paper has been reviewed by this guy so you can increment his counter by 1”. After all administrations love attaching figures to its faculty and for once that could be useful.

  2. There are journals that have a reputation for fast turnaround, IMRN being the one that leaps to mind. There are many journals, Duke, Inventiones, etc., which ask a referee for a “fast no” if there is not clear evidence the article deserves further review. Compositio (and I think some others) also has a referee’s webpage and sends automated requests for a report after a specified length of time (4-6 weeks). As silly as it sounds, just receiving an e-mail reminder is often enough to get a referee to complete a report.

  3. More and more journals, in my experience, ask the referee to agree to send a report within 3 months. This is usually a reasonable delay for most papers, and I prefer to have a deadline like this when I act as a referee.

    Note that from the point of view of referees, the system is also very problematic, because there is no public acknowledgement whatsoever of a referee having done a good job, and hence no strong external incentive to do the best work possible. As time is a very precious resource for most researchers, this is not a negligible pressure (spending, say, 5 hours to write a good report on a paper, with many suggestions, to then see it appear with none of these being followed by the authors, and without explanation, is quite depressing).

    As for Biogeosciences, note that (for this journal at least) the model comes with a “service charge”; according to their web site, a 10 page paper will cost the author(s) 690 pounds (+19% VAT), and it increases linearly…

  4. Concerning a math version of Biogeosciences: as long as the
    author can opt out of being part of the discussions part. Many (most?) academics wouldn’t want to submit to a journal where their possible rejection would be made that public.

  5. I haven’t noticed much difference in refereeing times between various journals, though the time from acceptance to publication varies pretty consistently. The AMS does track these things, e.g. here(PDF), though I don’t know how well these numbers really correspond to reality.

    What I’d like is a way to signal to editors that I want to referee a certain paper — I do a much faster job when I’m really interested in the paper than when I’m not excited by the results. For instance, there could be a button on the arXiv page “volunteer to referee” or something. Probably this creates all sorts of conflicts of interest, but is still perhaps worth thinking about. Or perhaps everyone would want to referee the same papers and so this wouldn’t actually be helpful.

  6. Re: Administration giving referee tasks:

    This isn’t going to happen. I mean, just look at the atrocities that they’re doing to the “education” system as it is. Refereeing, after all, wouldn’t increase the Universities reputation at large, and it certainly wouldn’t be a positive impact on the “bottom line.” There just isn’t any incentive for University Administration to do this. Even if asked, they’ll probably just say that it’s included in the research portion of the faculties time.

    Re: Referee incentive:

    I personally believe that referees should have there name attached to the paper that they refereed. But, this does have its problems. For instance, what if a mistake wasn’t noticed. That could reflect poorly on the referee after only one mistake. Not exactly fair.

    But, I don’t agree that referees don’t get something out of processing papers efficiently. Well, at least if everyone (most?) referees did it, then everyone would benefit because papers (including the referees) would be published sooner rather than latter. It’s a matter of noticing that “we’re all in it together” instead of always being in it for “number one.”

    I’ll also point out that a journal that publishes a paper without the recommended changes is academically suspect and should be avoided.

    Re: “Volunteer to referee” feature:

    That has the potential to be significantly abused. Just think competing work and the competition volunteers to referee the paper. But, then slacks on it enough so that his/her paper gets published first. To solve the interest problem, perhaps Mathematicians could keep updated web pages so that there areas of interest are accurately represented and have the editors reference the web page before sending a referee request to that potential referee. It’s cheap, simple and (at least somewhat) effective.

  7. For example would it be imaginable for somebody with tenure to be assigned a certain amount of refereing by one’s university administration. That amount would be variable depending on personal wishes, e.g. one year you do mostly teaching and the next mostly refereing.

    As Odd Man notes, this is a bit unrealistic. Certainly, refereeing requirements would displace research rather than teaching. However, certainly one could imagine it being taken account of in tenure decisions. I think the problem there is the incentive would be to do quick, slapdash reports, especially skimping on the proofreading, which is valuable.

    I personally believe that referees should have there name attached to the paper that they refereed. But, this does have its problems. For instance, what if a mistake wasn’t noticed. That could reflect poorly on the referee after only one mistake. Not exactly fair.

    Um, there is also that issue of retaliation for negative reviews. The blindness of refereeing really not a trifling thing. Giving it up would require some serious adjustments, I think.

  8. But, I don’t agree that referees don’t get something out of processing papers efficiently. Well, at least if everyone (most?) referees did it, then everyone would benefit because papers (including the referees) would be published sooner rather than latter. It’s a matter of noticing that “we’re all in it together” instead of always being in it for “number one.”

    Um, Nash equilibrium? Tragedy of the commons? Ring any bells? Currently, people are writing referee’s reports out of their sense of duty to the community without much in the way of incentive, and that’s going OK, but I think something more than a pep talk is going to necessary if you want to improve the situation.

  9. Concerning a math version of Biogeosciences: as long as the author can opt out of being part of the discussions part. Many (most?) academics wouldn’t want to submit to a journal where their possible rejection would be made that public.

    That option already exists; it’s called “submitting to every other journal in the world.”

    I think you’re not giving academics enough credit. I mean, they submit to “Biogeosciences,” don’t they. Maybe such a journal would slant toward people in slightly less publish or perish portions of their career, but I think it could easily become an important segment of the market, and think that would probably be a good thing. If anything, the fact that no one knows if your paper got rejected just encourages people to submit bad papers.

  10. Ben,

    “”That option already exists; it’s called “submitting to every other journal in the world.””

    I felt that your original piece was ambiguous as to whether you wanted the Biogeosciences model for all of math publishing.

    Now let me respond to the following claim, with the understanding that one might consider a segment of the math journals to take this model.

    “”If anything, the fact that no one knows if your paper got rejected just encourages people to submit bad papers.””

    Conversely, I think this would discourage people from submitting good papers. There is some randomness in whether a paper gets accepted to any given journal. I still stand by the claim that most academics don’t want to make that public their failed submission attempts.

    “”I think you’re not giving academics enough credit. I mean, they submit to “Biogeosciences,” don’t they.””

    I don’t know enough about the geosciences community and their options, culture etc. All I’m saying is that as a mathematician I have doubts about how it would transport.

  11. top tier journals like Annals, Inventiones, Duke, etc are usually very fast in rejecting. Accepting might take quite a while though…

  12. Dima-

    Presumably you mean that they do an initial screen, and most things which are rejected are rejected early. But presumably they wouldn’t have the long, drawn-out review process if they didn’t at least occasionally reject articles they’ve held onto for a long time.

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