Feeding the machine

Jun 22 2016 Published by under Careers, Life, NIH

Yesterday I tweeted:

This lead to an interesting discussion part of which included:

And therein lies what I see as the single biggest issue with some editorial boards. Not reviewers. Editorial boards. The people that handle the review exercise. Those that are supposed to oversee a timely and fair process. Those that choose the reviewers and, supposedly, ensure the reviews are reasonable. The gatekeepers if you will. It is not the job of the handling editor, or of a journal, to feed the glam-humping machine. Reviewers routinely ask for MOAR EXPERIMENTS!!!!!!!!!!!! because handling editors let them get away with it.

Why do editorial boards do this? Not, in my opinion, to "improve the journal" (i.e. JIF chase), but more because that's what they're used to. Journals have this habit of stacking their boards with the vertically ascending. For the prestige. Is it really surprising that glam-humpers are okay with a glam-humping-like review process?

Journals need to stop pursuing the prestigious and start filling their editorial boards with people who understand the scope and standing of the journal.* People who actually publish there on a regular basis. Most people I know don't submit to journals because the editorial board is full of the vertically ascending. They submit because they like the level of science published there and think their own work fits.

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* That's not to say the standing need remain static.

6 responses so far

  • drugmonkey says:

    I found your attitude on editorial board composition fascinating and I continue to ponder it.

    I thought EdBoards were two things. A badge of borrowed prestige for the journal and (sometimes) those willing to shoulder extra review load when called upon. The latter goal requires a bit of topical/expertise diversity which I scrutinize when deciding to submit a manuscript.

  • LT says:

    I think it's not always that handling editors don't understand the journal scope, but that they are too weak, busy, or lazy to take a stand or make a tough call when a reviewer wants something totally unreasonable (i.e. PNAS-level data for a much lower journal). Most of my editors in the last 5 years have just echoed every single reviewer demand without taking the time to do any apparent prioritizing or further consideration. The problem is amplified by the fact that many journals now only require 2 reviewers rather than 3, eliminating consensus and giving much more power to the lone reviewer that seems to just hate your paper for some reason.

    I read a few years back that a major difference between women and men in science is that women are much more likely to try to meet all peer reviewer requests, while men are more likely to refuse. I can't find the study now, but if that's true, I wonder if this gap is exacerbated by the hunt for prestige...

  • David says:

    When the AE is not an expert in the specifics of the paper, where do you draw the line between following the reviewer's suggestions (the person who is supposed to be the expert) and discounting them? Generally speaking, I don't see recommendations for more experiments simply for the sake of more. The additions are couched in plausible sounding rationale. [granted, I'm not in the glam humping crowd/journals]

  • My experience is the same as LT's. Editors just forward on the reviewer comments and take them as the gospel truth, even if the comments or requests are unreasonable. This also means mixed reviews (usually) result in rejection. I also find that there is no real difference in what sorts of things reviewers ask for between top tier journals, wannabe top tier journals, and workhouse results publishing journals. Reviewers don't seem to pay much attention to journal scope, and editors don't hold them to it. This is really annoying when trying to publish some nice incremental result in an appropriate journal and having the manuscript treated like I sent it to Science. In my field, it used to be rare for reviewers to ask for additional experiments, and when experiments were suggested, they were usually additional control experiments. Now, I almost always get asked for more data, and many of the requests are for scope extending experiments often irrelevant to the manuscript as written.

    I still find that my manuscripts are improved after undergoing one (or more!) rounds of peer review, but the process seems much more frustrating now than it used to for all involved.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Well put PA.