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Wiley pilots transferable peer-review system

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Jackie Jones discusses why Wiley is piloting a new system to help transfer peer review between journals

Rapid publication is a widely-pursued goal for authors and publishers. However, the review part of the process can take a long time – a study by Mark Ware for the Publishing Research Consortium in 2008 found that review took on average 80 days per paper. With the prospect of waiting nearly three months for a response, it is not surprising that peer review can be a much-maligned process.

And it all starts over if the paper gets rejected from the author’s first choice journal (often for reasons of impact or scope). The entire peer-review process is repeated upon resubmission to another journal and it’s not uncommon for reviewers to be asked to review the same paper multiple times by different journals.

To address this issue, we are piloting Wiley’s transferable peer review. This is a system to preserve, and transfer the initial peer review, enabling the review to travel with the article on its route to publication. We believe this enhanced system of transferring papers and reviews in a seamless manner will save authors, reviewers and editors time. By reducing the number of reviews in the universe, we aim to reduce the burden on reviewers, while helping editors to make prompt decisions and increase the publication speed of many papers.

While there are initiatives to take the journal out of the peer-review process all together and detach reviewer reports from publication in a specific journal, we believe that many authors know which journals they would prefer to publish in. They want to own that choice, rather than being told which journal they should submit to or waiting for a journal to bid for publication of their paper (which they may not wish to publish in).

Wiley’s transferable peer review is currently been piloted amongst nine of our high-impact neuroscience titles. Papers submitted to one of these journals will be reviewed using the journals’ usual review format. If the paper is rejected, authors can opt for Wiley to transfer the paper to another neuroscience journal within Wiley, sharing the peer review that has already taken place and thereby receiving a speedier decision.

An additional component of this transfer is the use of a standard review scorecard used among all participating journals and filled out by the reviewer in parallel to the current peer review at each journal. Using the scorecard, reviewers can provide a quantitative assessment of the quality of the research (experimental approach, data quality, interpretation of results) and also its novelty, impact and interest (study objectives, advancement and level of broad interest). We hope the scorecard will increase the portability of the reviews and make them more useful to other journals in the pilot.  

This is not the first time Wiley has been involved in such an initiative. Some of the journals in this pilot are also members of the Neuroscience Peer Review Consortium (NPRC), a cross-publisher initiative that passes on reviews to other journals if authors choose to resubmit their manuscript to another journal in the NPRC.

However, our approach in this pilot goes further. We manage the whole transfer process for authors, transferring the manuscript, as well as the reviews. This means that the author doesn’t have to go through a laborious submission process for a second time. Once an author agrees to transfer to another journal in the pilot we take care of this and simply ask them to approve the work we have done.

We want to ensure that papers are not sent out for review again unnecessarily, delaying a decision. To this end, we encourage reviewers to share their identity amongst the editors of participating journals (although they have the option to remain anonymous if they wish).  Our goal is to preserve, and enhance the quality of the peer-review process. With this in mind, authors are encouraged to consider a transfer only when appropriate. The purpose is not to provide a soft reject option for the original journal or keep poor papers in the system.

Authors are also encouraged to revise their manuscripts in light of reviewer comments prior to transfer, and to explain these revisions to the new journal in order that it can make an immediate accept or reject decision.

Of course most journals are attached to their own approach to peer review and it can be difficult to perform review outside the context and lens of a specific journal. The primary goal of the scorecard is to provide a framework for objective evaluation. We are conscious of not wanting to duplicate work for reviewers, or for the scorecard to be redundant. Conversely we do not want reviewers to rely only on the scorecard and forgo the detailed comments that are most useful to the author.

At present, uploading the scorecard is optional for reviewers and will we assess the take-up during the pilot. We look forward to feedback from authors and reviewers during this phase. The pilot will run for at least six months and results will be used to develop a robust process that can be expanded across our journal portfolio.