Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Problem with Academic Journals 7

The following quote was in an email I received from the editor of a certain prestigious general science journal:

"Your manuscript is now undergoing an initial screening to determine whether it will be sent for in-depth review. We will notify the corresponding author of our decision as soon as possible."

That really annoyed me. It annoyed me because it is not the job of the editor to screen submissions. Sure, it is appropriate for them to check that the paper is formatted correctly, that there aren't big sections of it missing, and that it fits the theme of the journal (which is not the case with general science journals like the journal this paper was submitted to). The kind of screening this editor is talking about it a kind of pre-peer review, where the editor is determining whether the paper is worthy of being considered by their august publication. It is, in fact, a rather extreme form of academic arrogance.

Having a paper rejected by peer review is one thing, but being rejected because one person doesn't think it's worthy enough? So many of my colleagues have had so many perfectly good papers rejected by editors without going to peer review. The purpose of peer review is to find errors in the science (and have no doubt about it, computational intelligence is a science). If there are no errors in the science - that is, there are no discernible errors in methodology or interpretation of results - then the paper should be published. Even a rejection is useful, as it allows the authors to improve their research. But editorial rejections eliminate even that, they make the entire process of submitting to that journal a waste of time.

As I've said many times before, the solution is to go to open access journals. Peer review will help catch the errors, and the people reading the papers (and there will be a lot more of them reading open access papers than subscription-only papers) will find the errors the peer reviewers missed. But arrogant editors from expensive subscription-only journals will soon find themselves presiding over a shrinking author base.