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Into something rich and strange

Janne-Tuomas Seppänen
16 Dec 2012

During the early days of Peerage of Science, the manuscript upload link was quite purposefully named "Send Manuscript". But due to frequent feedback where authors insisted they needed a familiar place where they can "Submit Manuscript", the link name was changed.

Scientists tend to be fiercely independent and difficult to govern; just ask any university administrator. However, in getting our findings published, even our vocabulary is inexplicably servile, revealing an ingrained submission. A surrender of choice, often only to be told to take our capitulation elsewhere, is normative.

What did happen on Friday, I hope, heralds a sea-change for some things in scientific publishing.

Let me explain.

On Friday, an article was directly acquired from Peerage of Science by a subscribing journal, after peer review by four peers. "Maladaptive Habitat Use of a North American Woodpecker in Population Decline" by Barbara Frei et al., is now in press to be published in Ethology.

It was the third such direct acquisition, yet first of its kind: this time, the authors had received three competing publishing offers. Instead of having to decide where to seek their first rejection from, authors could now consider whether one of several offers was suitable. Instead of having merely the control where to submit next, authors were able to govern much more.

A few of you readers are hopefully editors or publishers, and recognize at this point that here the powers that be are, well, you. Is Peerage of Science pitting you in fruitless competition against each other? Are the sea-nymphs here ringing knell of your governance of the scientific publishing process?

No. For it is equally important to notice what did not happen on Friday. Authors did not get offers from some journals they hoped to get offers from, and there was no bidding war among those who considered the article suitable for their scope. In fact, the "competing" editors never knew who and on what terms had made the other offers.

Authors always have a private, competitive ranking list of journals for each article they produce. Some journals are, against the vain hopes of the authors, in reality not competing at all for a particular article: they reject the submission should it be submitted to them. Some journals will eagerly publish that same article if it ever reaches their shores.

Without Peerage of Science, authors of the Friday article probably would have first submitted it to a top-ranking journal on their personal, competitive ranking list of suitable journals. The journal would have arranged peer review, and after considerable time and effort, would have found out the article is not suitable for their scope. Authors then would have submitted to the next journal in their personal competitive ranking of suitable journals. And so on, with much publisher, editor, reviewer, and author time and resources wasted in the iteration. The end result would be that of the journals authors thought were competing for their work, some would turn out to not be competing for this particular article, while a suitable one would acquire the article, and those ranking below it (on the authors' private ranking list) would be left with the task to increase their appeal to authors in the future.

With Peerage of Science, that old competition process was just simply carried out much more quickly and efficiently. Authors waited for about week for offers to come in. They perhaps hoped, but did not receive offers from Ecography, or Journal of Avian Biology (both subscribing journals in Peerage of Science). Knowing their top ranking journals were not interested, they could choose the offer from Ethology, ranking next on their personal list of suitable journals. The end result was... that of the journals authors thought were competing for their work, some turned out to not be competing for this particular article, while a suitable one acquired the article, and those ranking below it (on the authors' private ranking list) were left with the task to increase their appeal to authors in the future.

So, nothing of the old doth fade: but the sea-change is into something rich and strange.

About Janne-Tuomas Seppänen

One of the founders of the service, and a postdoctoral researcher at University of Jyväskylä, Finland.

Wouldn't mind being remembered as a drunken savage with some imagination.


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