The other day Retraction Watch described a retraction triggered by the authors’ simultaneous submission to two journals. A comment asked about how one can go about ethically submitting to multiple journals. The answer: you can’t. At least not in science. (But you can in law; more on that below.)
Part of Research Revolution 2.0 consists of changes in how we publish empirical research: there are now more outlets (print, electronic, open access, etc.) but also more variability in requirements (word length, citation style, providing raw data, disclosure statements, placement of tables and figures, etc.). These variations might be appropriate for journals, which wish to maintain their own style and standards, but they can be a nightmare (or at least a waste of time) for authors. You may have followed all guidelines when submitting to Journal A only to get a desk rejection based on novelty or content. You then re-format to submit to Journal B only to get rejected 3 months later. Now what? Certainly, revising is called for before your next try (if you try at all), but why also shortening or lengthening, moving materials from online supplement to text, placing figures in the text or at the end, and worrying whether you really do need to capitalize (or not) the first letter in every word of article titles. I believe that there are reasons to slow down the writing / publishing process – but these certainly are not it.
An interesting solution to this problem was suggested to me last week by the wonderful Orit Tykocinski: one stop bidding. This solution is amusingly similar to how legal academics find homes for their articles.
Here’s the new plan. You have a manuscript. You submit it to the psychology website – which is the portal for ALL empirical (or ALL) psychology journals and has one standard format for submission — and you check off which journals are allowed to look at it. Then you wait. Soon Journal D says they want to review it and they will get back to you in X days. You have Y days to either accept or reject that bid. You must agree that, if accepted, you will make it longer or shorter or whatever necessary for publication in that journal. When under review at journal D, no other journals can review it. (Though it sure would be interesting to have a version in which other journals could, with knowledge, choose to review a manuscript already under review at another journal.) D gets your action letter back in X days. If they accept, you’re happy. If they say revise & resubmit, then, as usual you decide what to do next.
This way the manuscript goes to a journal that is interested from the start. As an editor, I would have my consulting editors on the lookout for appropriate manuscripts. It would make it much easier to create special issues. And authors wouldn’t have to do so much style revision.
Of course the reason to be under review at only one journal at a time is because we scientists invest so much thought and energy evaluating and reviewing each other’s work. But check out how it works in legal academia. You have a manuscript that you submit through a portal. With the click of a button you can have it sent to 200 law reviews (for a price, but usually your university will have a subscription to the service). At the law reviews, student editors take a look. Maybe a student editor from a less-good school e-mails you, “We want it.” You say, “Give me a few days,” they say, “Three,” and then you immediately e-mail a bunch of somewhat better schools saying, “I have an offer from less-good school and need an answer from you in three days.” A student editor from a somewhat-better school e-mails you, “We want it.” You say, “Give me a few days,” they say “Two,” and then you immediately e-mail the good schools… You bargain up as high as you can and then: Sold.
No, we can’t do that in science. Those are students and that is not adequate PEER review. So, no, we can’t go that far. But we can do better than what we have now.
As I have said before, I believe that the current “crisis” in science owes much to current technology, but I also believe that technology can provide us with some nice help to get out of it. Although not a critical flaw in the system, fixing this submission irritation can help researchers spend more where it counts, doing better science.