Congestion pricing

OK, here’s a blind item . . . I was talking with a colleague about a certain academic journal, traditionally ranked #2 in a social science field that is associated with government and politics . . . my colleague told me that said journal had recently converted to electronic submissions and that the journal’s editors, expressing concern about the increasing volumne of submissions, had decided to slow things down by deliberately sitting on each submission for a month. So, you send them a paper, they wait a month, then they send to reviewers. Reviewers send in their report, the editors wait a month, then they send you the report. You send in your revision, they wait a month, then they send back to reviewers. And so forth.

To me, this seems self-defeating–it would take me more trouble to keep track of the one-month delays than to just review the damn paper. Also, this is the first time I heard of a journal discouraging submissions. My impression is that even the top journals–and their #2 counterparts–find top-quality submissions to be few and far between. On the other hand, they must really be overwhelmed by the workload if they feel the need to resort to such wacky tactics.

Any suggestions? My thought would be to split the journal into 3 or 4 parts with separate editorial staffs for each.

P.S. I’ve been told that charging $ for submissions (as is done in economics) is a nonstarter–a lot of the people who might submit articles don’t make a lot of money and can’t easily spare a nonrefundable $50 or whatever to submit.

23 thoughts on “Congestion pricing

  1. My favorite queueing story goes: passengers were grumbling that they had to wait 30 minutes at the conveyors; the queueing people just redesigned the layout so that the passengers spent 20 minutes walking to the conveyors and 10 minutes waiting; all of a sudden, the passengers stopped grumbling. There must be something here the editors can use!

  2. One factor in the review backlog is that people have to review papers they don't care about. Even without a mandatory delay, it's human nature to put off what we don't enjoy. When reviewers find papers interesting and relevant, they make time to read them promptly. So one possibility would be to have a large pool of reviewers who select papers they want to review. And if no one volunteers to review an article, perhaps that suggests it shouldn't be published.

  3. What about a fee, but only once per journal family.
    For example, submit to Cell and get a Dev Cell submission for free if you are rejected.

    Or why not just have a pay for an express line. That is, you can still submit for free, but promise a review within a month for those that pay the fee.

    How about a favor system. When you submit to a journal you agree to review a paper for that journal, and if you don't then you can't submit to them for 5 years. That should give them a bigger pool of reviewers.

    What about charging for publication, but not submission, with a scholarship fund for poor writers. Once you know you are accepted, the economic returns to paying are huge, and most would be willing to pay, even if they are too risk averse to pay at the submission phase. This could fund a larger pool of editors.

  4. Allow the first submission "for free". Then require from the authors to review at least 3-4 papers before submitting any other paper. In other words, require people who put load on the system to give back enough resources to handle the reviewing load that they generate :-)

  5. It seems to me that reviewing/editing is a very inexact science; you wouldn't be losing a great deal by doing a very quick screen of papers, and rejecting a lot almost immediately.

    The British Medical Journal has such a model, where a good deal of the papers (90%, I think) are rejected without being sent out to review. It's possible that they miss out on some great papers, but it means that they can devote attention to papers that are more likely to be the great papers.

    (Papers I've submitted have usually been rejected in a couple of days. ).

  6. You could divide the submission fees among the accepted papers, which would have the added benefit of discouraging the submission of bad papers. Of course, that assumes that the evaluations of referees are positively correlated with paper quality ;)

  7. We just got a paper bounced straight back from a fisheries journal, with an explanation of why it didn't fit into the scope of the journal (in essence, not revolutionary enough). That seems a fair way to do it: it speeds up the process for everyone.

    Nature and Science do the same thing, of course. Someone recently submitted a manuscript to Nature and then went to lunch, and found the rejection when they came back.

  8. I would think you could institute a triage system to weed out papers that are not ready for formal review. Splitting the journal into separate parts is probably more common than you think, and is also effective.

  9. I would say that there are many who no longer consider this journal #2 anymore, based on this and other practices of the past two regimes.

  10. This seems like a stupid queueing mechanism. The overall reputation of the journal depends on the reputation of its papers (e.g. citation count).

    This is more likely to discourage the top tier of authors / papers. This is the opposite of what the journal wants to do.

  11. C'mon, are people starving in academia? Can't they really afford $50 for each submission? I can't wait to have them over for lunch, they must be starving…

    But here is my bleeding heart solution: $100 submission fee. If the paper is accepted they get $150 rebate ($50 profit), if not, loose all the money.

    Simplifying a lot (i.e. ignoring indirect rewards, etc.), you must believe you have a better than 2/3 chance of having it published in order to submit.

    "Rating agencies" may assess your paper for a fee. Their seal of approval speeds up review in journal.

    You get the picture…

    BTW I have doubts over the intellectual capacity of an editor that chooses such an inefficient mechanism. I won't send him or her my paper…

  12. I guess you are referring to the journal ranked #1 in a social science field that is associated with government and politics. Journal #2 in a social science field that is associated with government and politics has been accepting electronic submissions for years, if I remember correctly.

  13. Tenured Faculty and Industry Scholars: Publish only in open-access journals. Unlike younger scholars, you don't need the status markers because you're tenured or in industry. Use that privilege to help build new journals that are not strapped to broken business models. Help build the reputations of new endeavors so that they can be viable publishing venues for future scholars. Publish in open-access journals, build a personal webpage and add your article there. You will get much more visibility, especially from younger scholars who turn to Google before they go to the library. I understand that a lot of you prefer to flout the rules of these journals and publish your articles on your website anyhow, even when you're not allowed. The problem is that you're not helping change the system for future generations.

  14. Disciplinary associations: Help open-access journals gain traction. Encourage your members to publish in them. Run competitions for best open-access publications and have senior scholars write committee letters for younger scholars whose articles are stupendous but published in non-traditional venues.

  15. Young punk scholars: Publish only in open-access journals in protest, especially if you're in a new field. This may cost you advancement or tenure, but you know it's the right thing to do. If you're an interdisciplinary scholar or in a new field, there aren't "respected" journals in your space and so you're going to have to defend yourself anyhow. You might as well use this opportunity to make the valued journals the open-access ones.

  16. More conservative young scholars: publish what you need to get tenure and then stop publishing in closed venues immediately upon acquiring tenure. I understand why you feel the need to follow the rules. This is fine, but make a point by stopping this practice the moment you don't need it.
    * All scholars: Go out of your way to cite articles from open-access journals. One of the best ways for a journal to build its reputation is for its articles to be cited broadly. Read open-access journals and cite them. Oh, and while you're at it, if you have a choice between citing a living author and a dead one, support the living one. The young scholar at Santa Cruz who's extending Durkheim's argument needs the cite more than Durkheim. Don't forget that citations have politics and you can vote for the future with your choice of citations.

  17. Piero,

    I'm talking about the journal that is traditionally ranked #2 and is associated with a leading regional scholarly society.

  18. "I'm talking about the journal that is traditionally ranked #2 and is associated with a leading regional scholarly society."

    Well, in that case I can confirm that also the journal that is traditionally ranked #1 and is associated with a national scholarly society in a wealthy large democratic country started the same practice. It takes them over a month to assign a number to a manuscript…

  19. What about a fee of only $5-$10? Behavioral economics indicates that people tend to overconsume "free" things, so attaching a small fee to journal submissions might have a disproportionately large impact. Also, how come professors can't spare the $50? I am a poor college student who pays for their own schooling, and I could affort $50 to submit something. Is there something I am missing?

  20. It seems odd to object to $50 for a submission fee. Often by the time a paper is submitted it has been presented as a professional convention, and the expenses of these conventions (transport, room, registration, meals) are often many multiples of $50.

  21. How about charging a nuisance fee only for bad papers? Call it a $50 refundable deposit. Split up the rejects into "sorry we just can't take you" and "don't bother us again with this crap". Between losing the money and being told that his paper wasn't worth the electrons it was printed on, a submitter will make sure his next effort is better.

  22. some mileage could come from running a regression on the text contents of manuscripts that had previously been accepted/rejected "by hand", then you'd have a simple screening tool for new manuscripts. kind of like how they handle resume submissions at big companies.

  23. It seems super fast rejection is a better way.

    First, I can't imagine this will do anything but hurt the journal. Authors (even of good papers) should be hesitant to be a part of this silly game.

    Second, the editors could achieve their goals by quickly rejecting many papers. I'm on the editorial board of a medical journal and 5 years ago when my cohort came on board, we decided to make our journal smaller and dramatically decrease our acceptance rate. Now we have a higher impact factor, a smaller journal, and get far more papers submitted to us.

    I think authors are happy to submit to a good journal that rejects quickly. I do it all the time. Submit high, if you get rejected quickly you submit at an appropriate level. This ensures the journal will get more quality submissions.

    And it usually doesn't take long to identify the trash. The only caveat is if the editors feel the need to offer detailed critiques to every author who submits a paper.

    Perhaps they just need to increase the size of their editorial board. Get some eager & talented junior faculty members to be some editorial workhorses.

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