Let’s face it, it’s been a while since I had a good complain about something, so in the usual holiday manner (the spirit is supposed to be merriment, but let’s face it, the tradition isn’t!) here’s someone grumpy complaining. There’s another moan to follow tomorrow but I’ll sweetn the deal by following this with comments on theropod sociality and my reviews on the zoo and aviary in Pittsburgh.
It’s customary for me to whine about reviewers and editors periodically and for once it has been a while since my last effort. However, the Christmas break has allowed me to try and catch up with a few little things, one of which has been to see what has befallen various papers I’m involved in and if there has been any news of them. While I do have a pretty large volume of manuscripts with various journals, to be honest it’s not pretty reading. Now sure there are valid reasons for papers being delayed (and of course the Christmas period doesn’t help), but you would hope that the occasional paper would run to time, or be processed in a timely manner.
By my count I currently have 9 manuscripts in out with journals. Of these, based on the ideal review times listed by the journals or what I can remember when being asked to review for them, 8 are now late. The last one will be late if it’s not back to me this week and I have good reason to think it won’t be.
There are couple more which have recently been returned, one in a timely manner and one late, and there are a couple of book chapters which are literally years overdue. More than that, despite contacting editors about them, in some cases I have no news at all what is happening to the paper (including one submitted in July!) and in one case the manuscript is awaiting assignment of referees when it is a resubmission. You’d assume they’d be sending the paper back to the same people, and even if they refuse to review something a second time, does it really take three months to send them out?
In short my manuscripts are late by the standards of the journals themselves. In more than one case things are profoundly late, and in a couple I can’t even find out what has happened to the manuscript. Referees seem to run late as a near matter of course and often they are given months toe review something a handful of pages long anyway, something that annoys me profoundly. But when papers aren’t even being sent to referees for weeks, even months, it’s very annoying. Even if a referee is superb and turns around a review in a few days, if it didn’t reach him for weeks, or the review doesn’t reach me for weeks, then the whole thing is going to be late. It’s especially when journals try all these little tricks like publish uncorrected proofs and the like to get the papers out as early as possible. So, it’s clear they value a paper that’s ready for publication being hurried into availability, but then they make no effort at all to actually have papers edited or refereed in a timely manner.
Now sure, maybe this is happening to everyone, but really is that an excuse? As I’m fond of saying about this, writing that review, or mailing out to ask for referees, or check a set of corrections or whatever takes the same amount of time to do today as it will in 2 weeks, or 6 weeks or even 6 months. And while you might be busy this week, and even next, I don’t think it’s excusable to sit on something for months at a time. It does the author a disservice and for that matter both the journal and the field as a whole. Science is not served by papers, perhaps important papers, being held up by months, even years, because people won’t do the work they said they would.
Is it really this bad for palaeo, or am I profoundly unlucky? Looking back over my past papers and various submissions I would say the average review time for a manuscript of mine is about 5 months, and I’ve had half a dozen that were over 6 months from submission to return. Conversations with colleagues suggests that I have had some bad luck and the extremes I’ve occasionally suffered (over a year on 2 occasions, and several more over 6 months each) are the exception. Even so, I’d be intrigued to know what this is like for my colleagues and indeed for those in other fields of science and research.