The revision-less publication system

In an interesting paper (click here), Eric Tsang and Bruno Frey argue for moving to an “as-is” journal review process. The idea is that you submit a paper and it is either accepted or rejected with no requirement for revisions. Suggestions might be made but the author(s) get to decide what they do and do not want to do. However, the accept/reject decision itself is independent of the revisions that might be made. So, in effect, there are no conditional acceptances.

The idea here is to reduce the length of the review process and also to suggest that the benefits of that process as it currently stands is low. I see this as a reallocation of effort (something that comes whenever ownership is transferred). Tsang and Frey are correct to consider their proposal as a change in ownership. Under the present system, there is mixed ownership given the power of editors to control the article’s published form. Their system would partially remove that control. The end result will be less effort spent by referees and editors because their suggestions will not be accepted with certainty. That could be a good thing as some of that effort is not necessarily improving the objective quality of the paper but moving it more in-line with editorial preferences.

The change in ownership would have an impact on authors too. A not uncommon feeling is why put too much effort into streamlining a paper and getting everything perfect when you will just go through an invitable round of revisions? By making the paper a ‘single offer’ rather than a ‘negotiated offer’ there are stronger incentives for authors to get it right the first time.

The problem with all this, of course, is that I am not sure it really addresses the cause of the problem. When it comes down to it, I think greater editorial management is the issue. Editors have to be more vigilant in keeping on the backs of referees, more respectful of what changes are appropriate (corrections) and what are not (taste) but also to make more use of short-cut methods. In the past, I have overruled two negative referees and accepted a paper. It is tough to do (especially since it may be seen as invalidating referee edit; which it doesn’t actually) but it is the kind of thing that needs to be done to keep the system working.

Fewer and perhaps no referees is one option on the timing issue. At the IJIO (where I am a co-editor), due to the sheer number of submissions we have increasingly begun to use the ‘reject without review’ option. There, the editors take a quick first pass look at a paper and judge whether it has a reasonable chance of ‘getting past the referees.’ If not, it is rejected immediately and there is a less than 2 week turnaround. Other journals in economics have been practicing this for some time (e.g., the QJE). And I was a recipient of one of these just the other days and was happy for it.

The Tsang-Frey proposal will suit some journals (especially less technical ones) more than other and so it would be interesting to see a trial. I note that the bepress journals do practice this type of policy and so their experience would be useful to study.