Re. Can journals monopolize science?

Douglas Fitts dfitts at carson.u.washington.edu
Sat May 29 19:44:22 EST 1993



| Song-Muh Jong
| sjj at icbr.ifas.ufl.edu

> Tom Schneider
> National Cancer Institute
> Laboratory of Mathematical Biology
> Frederick, Maryland  21702-1201
> toms at ncifcrf.gov

|[...]

| Although it sounds more work if a reviewer gets more than one copy
| of the manuscript from the same authors, it is actually a minimal
| amount of work because a reviewer only reads the manuscript once
| no matter how many copies he/she receives from journals. The only thing
| the reviewer needs is to write comments for each journal according to
| the principles of individual journals, which is expected for the reviewer
| if he/she agrees to review papers for more than one journal. A manuscript
| can be critically reviewed if all the reviewers are doing their part of work.

HA!!! (-:  This would be the ultimate problem with reviewing multiple
submissions.  Of course the reviewer would think that the manuscripts were
identical, seeing as they came under the same title.  So, some wouldn't 
even read it, but send in the same critique reworded for the 
requirements of the second journal. Authors would play the game to save 
their advantage but would not submit EXACTLY the same manuscript.  *I* 
can't rewrite a manuscript according to a new journal's format without 
fiddling with it.  Can you?  I always find something I want to change.  
IT's not as if you can just photocopy the thing and mail it off to a 
second publisher as you would a novel.  Suppose I've suddenly come up 
with a new insight into the mechanism of what I put forward.  Would you 
not reread it to realize this?  What if the data even changed subtly, 
so that something that was not regarded as significant in the first 
manuscript now was significant -- such as from the omission of an outlier.  
How would you handle this?  Approve the first but reject the second?  
Reject both? Actually these kinds of problems exist today, but in 
sequential rather than parallel fashion.  Even if the reviewer sees a 
manuscript from a second journal after having killed it in the first go, 
the rereading has to be as critical as the first reading.  Things are bound 
to have changed, and the reviewer must be alert to this.  But at least 
the reviewer is aware that the effort put in will certainly have an 
effect on the fate of the manuscript, whether approved or disapproved, 
rather than coming to nothing because the author decided to accept a 
different journal even as this reviewer toiled at it.

| The point here is that should journals set up that kind of policy to
| restrict the submission to ohter journals? After all, authors pay
| page charges for most of the journals and are considered advertisement
| regarding their publications.

>Unless the journals have somehow coordinated their review efforts, a single
>paper sent to two journals will generally go to two different reviewers.  So if

Hmm.  Recently I've gotten papers to review where I:  1) was cited in 8 of the
18 references; or,  2) was the author of a major challenge to the other 
investigator's work.  Tell me I'm not going to review that paper 
regardless of what journal gets it!  ;-)

>I receive a paper for review, I will put a lot of effort into understanding it
>so that I can give the most fair review possible.  This is hard to do and takes
>substantial time.  I do NOT like the idea of doing this under some kind of time
>pressure to compete with another journal.  (I do not necessary have alliance
>with the journal, just with supporting the overall system.)  I also do not like
>the idea that the author may neglect my effort entirely, though I must admit
>that some authors have responded appropriately and others have not in the final
>publication.

>So how would you change the system so that my hard efforts don't go for naught?

[...]

| the way things should go) may not be totally correct. I propose
| that manuscript submission should be handled the same way books
| are handled by publishers: whoever offers the best publishing
| conditions should be chosen by the authors. I understand that

As I've argued elsewhere in this thread, handling scientific manuscript 
publication the way New York publishers handle book or magazine 
submissions would be disastrous.  Allowing multiple submissions would
cause a revolt among volunteer peer reviewers who would come to see this 
as a tax on their precious time.  To replace them journals would hire
armies of B.S. students to read all the drafts to screen for articles 
that should be sent upstairs.  This is a direct analogy to the method
of hiring BA English or Comparative Literature majors to screen novels
or other over-the-transom material.  Reduced to having to pay for reviews,
the journals would have to downgrade their screening process because of the
high cost of Ph.D.s.  Even if they could afford to hire Ph.D.s who could
find no other satisfying job, this would be less than adequate because
of the continuing lack of research experience among these reviewers.
Granted, this is too bad because there is certainly a plethora of Ph.D.s
Who could use even such *quasi*professional work. 

With all its faults, we need to keep the peer review system intact rather
than turning the onus of reviews over to paid professional reviewers who
may never have done any research.  This implies that we must keep the
load of reviews within the reasonable range, but allowing multiple 
submissions of journal articles would increase that load for everybody.
Setting aside the issue of whether a given reviewer would receive the
same manuscript more than once, if the number of submissions quadruples,
then the number of reviews done by each reviewer will quadruple.  Far from
causing reviewers to work faster at reviewing these papers lest the best
be lost to some other journal (as some have argued in this thread), 
the increased load would cause decent manuscripts to lie unread upon
a stack of similar work until some President's Day or Memorial Day came
along to be filled up with harried and hasty criticism.  Eventually, 
reviewers will begin to return them unread with regrets, feeling that if they
can't do a good job they shouldn't do it at all.

More?  The increased clerical load of handling multiple submissions to 
journals, even assuming a fragile stability of the peer review system,
would drastically increase the cost of doing business for these journals,
and the result would be a rise in page costs, nuisance advertisements,
and subscription costs.  Faced with an across the board increase in the
cost of journals, already strapped libraries will necessarily cancel
subscriptions of all but the most prestigious journals -- or perhaps they
would decide to cancel *those* instead in order to keep a larger number
of journals because the most prestigious ones are likely to have the 
greatest increase in submissions and cost rises.  How would you decide?

To those who would urge editors to change their systems, how would you
solve these problems first?  

-- 
Doug Fitts
University of Washington
dfitts at u.washington.edu



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