The As-Is Journal Review Process

17 April 2007 at 4:31 pm 6 comments

| Peter Klein |

Eric Tsang and Bruno Frey urge editors to dump the revise-and-resubmit option, using “as-is” reviews instead. (Published version here, SSRN version here.)

[A] manuscript should be reviewed on an “as is” basis. Similar to developmental review, the process is double-blind and referees are encouraged to provide constructive comments on a manuscript. In contrast with developmental review, referees are given only two options when advising the editor regarding whether the manuscript should be published: accept or reject. The option of (minor or major) revision and resubmission is ruled out. Based on the referees’ recommendations, and his or her own reading of the manuscript, the editor makes the decision to accept or reject the manuscript. If the editor accepts the manuscript (subject to normal copy editing), he or she will inform the authors accordingly, enclosing the editorial comments and comments made by the referees. It is up to the authors to decide whether, and to what extent, they would like to incorporate these comments when they work on their revision for eventual publication. As a condition of acceptance, the authors are required to write a point-by-point response to the comments. If they refuse to accept a comment, they have to clearly state the reasons. The editor will pass on the response to the referees. In sum, the fate of a submitted manuscript is determined by one round of review, and authors of an accepted manuscript are required to make one round of revision.

Tsang and Frey identify four potential advantages to as-is reviewing: (1) authors don’t have to incorporate silly reviewer suggestions; (2) published papers reflect more closely the views of their authors, reducing “intellectual prostitution”; (3) the review process proceeds more quickly; and (4) authors are more likely to provide frank feedback to reviewers, improving the quality of the dialogue between peers. (Certainly this would eliminate the gratuitous “Thank you so much for your insightful comments” that begins every author response to referees.) There are drawbacks too, of course, but Tsang and Frey make a strong argument that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. What do readers think?

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Institutions, Methods/Methodology/Theory of Science.

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Sécessionniste  |  17 April 2007 at 5:19 pm

    In particular, your first point is a big problem. Reviewers who are not even familiar with the topic are not the exception, but are obliged to give their two cents.

  • 2. Richard O. Hammer  |  18 April 2007 at 8:45 am

    As a reader I turn to any particular medium because I have come to expect certain qualities from it. I suppose that any medium (such as an academic journal in this discussion) succeeds because its owners (or the editors given responsibility by the owners) have a sense of what the medium’s readers want. Thus I suggest that editors of a medium normally know more about the demand for writing in that medium than do the writers who submit their pieces to the medium. It is the job of the editors to find or to cultivate the kind of writing which they know is demanded in their niche.

    I learned this as I wore two hats alternately: first as a writer who regularly submitted pieces which were rejected; second as a publisher/editor who constantly received submissions which were irrelevant to my purpose in running the medium.

    As such I question the weight which you give to the purposes of writers as opposed to the purposes of media.

  • 3. Peter Klein  |  18 April 2007 at 2:24 pm

    Richard, I don’t think Tsang and Frey’s scheme (not my scheme, BTW) is meant to take away editors’ control over their product, but rather to restrict them to the blunter instruments of “accept” or “reject.” The editor can maintain complete control over the medium simply by rejecting unacceptable manuscripts, but cannot rewrite partially acceptable manuscripts to the editor’s tastes. If the editor’s preferences are such that too few manuscripts are acceptable without fine tuning then, well, such a journal would not be viable under Tsang and Frey’s scheme.

  • 4. Rajiv Krishnan KOZHIKODE  |  21 April 2007 at 7:08 am

    Being a beginner, my experience with “revise and resubmits” aren’t that many. I have received outright rejections a few times, revised and resubmitted once, rejected submissions a few times and have recommended revision and resubmission on a few others. With this limited experience I could not give a thorough account on whether “as is” reviews are better than “developmental reviews”, but, I certainly could say that it isn’t a good feeling to see one’s work getting distorted from its original form, especially when researchers in managements these days are walking a thin line between novelty and rigor.

    I have often pondered, “Why should there be this invisible college kind of an arrangement at all? Why cant we simply let the editor and the readers decide whether any scholarly work is scholarly enough?” I soon realize that, doing so would place a tougher challenge on the scholars – they have to get it all right the very first time. Till now I have only met two people who have got it right the first time, Don Hambrick and Ming-jer Chen. I understand that to get it right the very first time, one needs to be a staunch critique of his or her own work. I think this situation is what makes the revision process so important in the advancement of scholarly work. Not every one is perfect the very first time; it takes ability, experience, perseverance and rounds of criticism from various corners to carve out a perfect work. Having said that, I would like to clarify that criticism should be constructive. It shouldn’t be like the description of an elephant by the10 blind people.

    One should be able to boldly defend his or her stance on his or her own work. Authors should have the tenacity to call a spade a spade when it comes to responding to reviewers. Editors should play an active role in the review process. As of now I understand that while writing the decision letters, editors, in general, sum up the comments and criticisms of the reviewers, instead of providing their own feedback. Editors should encourage constructive criticisms and discourage the destructive ones. To do so the editors should edit the reviewers comments as well. This of course would mean a lot more work to the editors, but, that’s what is expected of them.

  • 5. When peer review goes bad « Thought Capital  |  26 July 2007 at 4:54 pm

    […] to Frank Cross at Empirical Legal Studies. See also the discussion at Marginal Revolution, which directs us to take a look at a proposal for ‘as-is journal review’, something I’ve advocated […]

  • 6. JC  |  26 July 2007 at 11:13 pm

    In the non-academic world of publishing there is a well understood struggle between publishers (leeches, who think of nothing but money) and authors (leechees, who think of nothing but Truth, Passion and Art).

    Authors maintain vigorously they are being exploited as an under-class simply because they are – temporarily – without the means to publish their own work. While publishers do nothing but control the channels of distribution and media access through their incestuous friendships and deals with their own kind.

    Publishers, on the other hand, argue that most of the trash that gets sent their way is an insult to the reader’s intelligence and time, and that the idea that people should have to pay money to read the stuff is truly the conjuring of deranged minds. They are actually protecting the public and helping them sift the rare nuggets of value from the tidal wave of insult … and so on.

    Surprise! There’s much of the same in our field. Richard Hammer is remarkably up front in expressing the two positions, in particular referring to “his purpose in running the medium”. Ah, so the academic publisher has a ‘purpose’ … I wonder what this is.

    Some ‘academic entrepreneur/s’ approach/es a publisher – Wiley, Blackwell, Sage, etc. – saying such and such a journal would be a good INVESTMENT. Why? Because an incredibly important new academic field is emerging, blah blah – industrial economics or chaos theory or whatever – and that there is no current outlet for this work. The publisher yawns and says “I have heard that so many times before, and look at those journals now, you haven’t even heard of them …” No, says the academic entrepreneur, this is New, it is Truth at last. And so on.

    So eventually there is a compromise, the publisher’s greed and the academic’s sense of what’s real converge on the practicalities of selling journal subscriptions, printing and distributing print, getting an Editorial process in place, and so on.

    Now the editors are supposed to focus on developing their little niche field as an organic entity and whether this young PhD or that is going be the person to star in that process gets a little lost in the general ongoing (and incredibly grinding) task of filling issue after issue with stuff that everyone in the field is supposed to treat as ‘must read …’.

    It is surely the publishing industry’s version of what economists rather bizarrely call the ‘agency problem’. Authors seem to think that the journal’s purpose is to serve their interests i.e. they are agents who don’t understand that journals are there to serve the interests of the publishers who are intending to profit from the growth of the field.

    Is Economica (Blackwell and LSE) alive because of Coase, or the other way around? Is it alive – in the organic sense of being an important discipline -shaping institution – because it is a ‘must read’ for a community of economists large enough and vigorous enough to persuade their libraries to subscribe, and maybe even to have a good number of personal Nobel winning subscribers?

    My point – if you were wondering where I am going with this – is that in a top-flight peer reviewed journal the founding issue is the field, not the authors. And to think ‘as is’ meets this strategic intent is to completely deny the academic and institutional reasons why the journal exists in the first place – which is certainly NOT to provide an outlet for individuals’ raw thinking – clever or not. The editors’ (and publishers’) hope, I suggest, is that by opening their doors and inviting submissions, they can, from time to time, attract ideas which, with their reviewers’ help, can be massaged into significant discipline-generating discourse and so increase the health and size of the journal’s market.

    This project fails, of course, when the Editorial Board are a committee of lunk-heads who have no sense of how the discipline should/can/ought/might develop (if you remember those strategic options), and therefore have no real sense of what the editorial policy should/can etc. And who therefore cannot control/direct/inspire their reviewers to take part in the process. The reviewing is then out-of-control and irresponsible, with individual reviewers visiting their personal garbage on the hapless author. Etc.

    The ‘as is’ approach seems to protect the authors from this kind of nonsense, but at a terrible price, for the author is then no longer taking part in the discipline-growth process that hides behind the notion of the publisher’s ‘purpose’.

    ‘As is’ is then another term for the domain of self-publishing, i.e. one’s own web-page. That’s not all bad bad, for believe me, there are those in publishing who are watching for the next academic Harry Potter (SCP or RBV or …). But the breakthrough thoughts are as rare as hen’s teeth and, as the saying goes, once burned twice shy.

    The bottom line is surely whether the process is ‘as is’ or ‘peer-reviewed’, how often do we see something field-making like a Coase (1937) or a Wernerfelt (1984) being published? How much of what we do is really worth the trees? In the end is it about our resumes, or the advance of the discipline?

    And as for ‘getting it right first time’, what an odd notion. Right for whom?

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