The Royal Society has taken some steps to improving reporting of submit/resubmit/accept times
July 25, 2013
Last October, we published a sequence of posts about misleading review/reject/resubmit practices by Royal Society journals (Dear Royal Society, please stop lying to us about publication times; We will no longer provide peer reviews for Royal Society journals until they adopt honest editorial policies; Biology Letters does trumpet its submission-to-acceptance time; Lying about submission times at other journals?; Discussing Biology Letters with the Royal Society). As noted in the last of these posts, the outcome was that I had what seemed to be a fruitful conversation with Stuart Taylor, Commercial Director of the society.
Then things went quiet for some time.
On 8 May this year, I emailed Stuart to ask what progress there had been. At his request Phil Hurst (Publisher, The Royal Society) emailed me back on 10 May as follows:
Stuart has asked me to update you on the changes we have made following your conversation last year.
We have reviewed editorial procedures on Biology Letters. Further to this, we now provide Editors with the additional decision option of ‘revise’. This provides a middle way between ‘reject and resubmit’ and ‘accept with minor revisions’. Editors use all three options and it is entirely at their discretion which they select. ‘Revised’ papers retain the original submission date and we account for this in our published acceptance times.
In addition, we now publicise ‘first decision’ times rather than ‘first acceptance’ times on our website. We feel this is more meaningful as it gives prospective authors an indication of the time, irrespective of decision.
The first thing to say is, it’s great to see some progress on this.
The second thing is, I must apologise for my terrible slowness in reporting back. Phil emailed me again on 17 June to remind me to post, and it’s still taken me more than another month.
The third thing is, while this is definitely progress, it doesn’t (yet) fix the problem. That’s for two reasons.
The first problem is that so long as there is a “reject and resubmit” option that does not involve a brand new round of review (like a true resubmission), there is still a loophole by which editors can massage the journals’ figures. Of course, there is nothing wrong with “reject and resubmit” per se, but it does have to result in the resubmission being treated as a brand new submission — it can’t be a fig-leaf for what are actually minor revisions, as in the paper that first made me aware of this practice.
So I would urge the Royal Society either to get rid of the R&R option completely, replacing it with a simple “reject”; or to establish firm, explicit, transparent rules about how such resubmissions are treated.
The second problems is with the reporting. It’s true that the home pages of both Proc. B and Biology Letters do now publicise “Average receipt to first decision time” rather than the misleading old “Average receipt to acceptance time”. This is good news. Proc. B (though for some reason not Biology Letters) even includes a link to an excellent and very explicit page that gives three times (receipt to first decision, receipt to online publication and final decision to online publication) for five journals, and explains exactly what they mean.
Unfortunately, individual articles still include only Received and Accepted dates. You can see examples in recent papers both at Proc. B and at Biology Letters. As far as I can tell, there is no way to determine whether the Received date is for the original submission, or (as I can’t help but suspect) the minor revision that is disguised as a resubmission.
The solution for this is very simple (and was raised when I first talked to Stuart Taylor back in October): just give three dates: Received, Revised and Accepted. Then everything is clear and above board, and there is no scope for anyone to suspect wrongdoing.