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Publication routes, fast and slow

Janne-Tuomas Seppänen
08 May 2018

TL;DR: Submit first to Peerage of Science. It's the faster way to get published. And very, very fast if your work is suitable for journals Écoscience, BMC Evolutionary Biology or Ethology.

Phew! Finally got your article ready, hit that submit button, it’s on it’s way! What happens now, while you wait for your article to become part of the scholarly record?

Well, if you submitted it to a journal the traditional way, you might just as well start making a baby. Even if you're a successful PI of a large lab, you can expect a 9-month wait, about 100 days in each journal your manuscript passes through before being accepted somewhere, plus the time your spend revising it in between, and then some in production.

But what if you submitted it via Peerage of Science? I set out to find out, by combing through the 509 manuscript launches in our database and searching for them in CrossRef.

Here's what happens, frequentistically (if you're Bayesian, read on nonetheless – this might change your priors).

You decided the four stage deadlines yourself, and they happen to total 60 days – that is the median time over all articles in Peerage of Science so far.

Your wait might get cut short at the first stage deadline (usually authors choose 28 days), if nobody wanted to engage as peer reviewer. You get a friendly but automated email telling it did not work out. This happens to 26% of submissions. Maybe because you submitted it on December 20th with one week deadline. Maybe because there are not yet enough Peers in your field (it’s easy to invite more!). Maybe because, frankly, your blurb (or the whole article) fails to meet minimum writing standards, or is not interesting enough, to warrant anyone’s time. Revise and resubmit.

But let’s assume you are in the 74% of submissions that do get at least one review, and go through the 60-day process. What then?

First, I hope yours is not among the 25% of reviewed articles, which we cannot find published after a year or more since the end of the peer review process in Peerage of Science. Maybe it's a great article, just still stuck in some journal's peer review limbo somewhere after a year. Or, maybe this was a case of peer review working as it must: Peerage of Science takes pride in encouraging fair peer review, and sometimes fair means peer review completely annihilating a bad manuscript so that it never returns to bother science again. Though in reality... a bad article is likely to end up published somewhere, but morphed beyond recognition so there’s just no way for us to discover it based on title similarity and author list anymore.

In some sense, that 0.26 + (0.74 x 0.25) = 0.445 could be taken as the Peerage of Science realized rejection rate. That is lower than the rejection rate of about 80% of ISI-indexed journals. But in contrast to most journals, we are working to bring that rate further down, not maintaining or increasing it.

So let’s also assume that sooner or later, some way or another, your article initially peer reviewed in Peerage of Science does get published. What are the possible routes, and how long does each take?

Publication routes for manuscripts peer reviewed in Peerage of Science: direct invitations increasing from 17% in 2012, to 78% in 2017
Figure 1. Proportions of publication routes for articles with peer review in Peerage of Science completed in years 2012-2017.

For some articles, the way it got published is unknown to us – one day our labour-bot just finds an article that has title and author list identical or very similar with a manuscript peer reviewed in Peerage of Science. Maybe the authors just wanted comments to improve the article, and did not seek to actually get published through the service. Maybe the reviews were somewhat negative so none of the participating journals made an offer, and the authors did not want to give those reviews to outside journals via our export feature. For the first couple of years, about half of articles peer reviewed in Peerage of Science that ended up published, did so via some unknown route outside Peerage of Science. But that rate is now diminishing rapidly: for published articles peer reviewed in 2017, only 16% are published this way (Figure 1).

Partially that drop in outside route frequency is an artifact of the time delay on this route: whatever the unknown path, what we do know is that it is a long path. For articles eventually published via outside routes, the median time from first submission in Peerage of Science to DOI created at a journal is 300-500 days (Figure 2). As some of the articles peer reviewed in Peerage of Science will pop up published one, two, three years later, the route frequency count will increase, but so will the time delay estimate.

Publication routes for manuscripts peer reviewed in Peerage of Science: direct invitations increasing from 17% in 2012, to 78% in 2017
Figure 2. Median number of days from first submission to creation of DOI in different publication routes for articles with peer review in Peerage of Science completed in years 2012-2017.

Some articles find their way via export. The export feature allows the author to create a link and give it to any journal they want, allowing those editors to access that one review process. As more journals decide to participate directly on the platform, exporting becomes less and less common: the proportion of articles published via the export route has steadily dropped from about a third to just 6% for articles peer reviewed in 2017 (Figure 1).

Again, that proportion for articles peer reviewed in 2017 may slightly rise as some articles are published after a long delay. One big drawback with export is that usually the editor can not see reviewer names on this route – otherwise the authors could use the link themselves to find out the reviewer names. Therefore, it is likely that export destination editors often want to obtain additional peer reviews, unless the peer review in Peerage of Science was Onymous where reviewer names are shown to all participants, including export editors. Obtaining reviews takes time. For articles published via export route, the median time from first submission in Peerage of Science to DOI created at a journal is 200-400 days (Figure 2; The estimate for 2017 will go up as more articles appear).

Finally, articles can get published via direct route. Editors of journals participating in Peerage of Science are able to make direct submission or publishing invitations to authors, and authors are also able to directly start correspondence with them. As more journals have come on board, proportion of articles published via this route has steadily increased from humble beginnings at 17%, to 78% (Figure 1).

Happily, though unsurprisingly, getting picked up by a participating journal directly on the platform is the quickest way to get published. The median time from first submission to DOI created at the journal has been consistently less than 200 days (Figure 2). The 2017 data (median 128 days) together with growing list of directly participating journals, suggests that going forward, with Peerage of Science your article is likely to become citable in half the time or less than it would take without Peerage of Science.

Furthermore, some participating journals do process articles much, much faster: Écoscience for example is in a league of it’s own: the median time from the completion of peer review in Peerage of Science to DOI created at Ecoscience is just 20 days! Other quick turnaround journals are BMC Evolutionary Biology (50 days) and Ethology (54 days). There is no reason why other participating journal could not trim their processing times of Peerage of Science -reviewed articles to these levels also. I expect that more journals will achieve the turnaround times Écoscience editor-in-chief Dr. Hugo Asselin can boast now!

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