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Clifford Larkins
11-02-1998, 01:57 AM
Dear group:

Recently I posted the following message:

************************************************** *****************
Dear Group:
Can anyone speak to the issue of review time-lines for authors who
submit to the various journals in the field of biomechanics. It appears
that the waiting period varies greatly from one journal to the next. I
would also like to know if there is any policy governing how long an author
should expect to wait, either by the journal itself or by the international
biomechanics groups.

Clifford Larkins, Ph.D.
************************************************** *****************

The problem, concerns, and fears:
I posted the original message in order to see if others shared my
frustration over the seemingly unnecessary delays I have experienced during
the peer review process. Most individuals who replied, agreed that this is
a problem. For example, Duane Knudson stated, "This is a problem I see with most
journals. It should not be this way with faxes and the internet, but with
all the people volunteering their time this clumsy system may be all we can
expect." One was elated that others were voicing what he felt, "Bravo, It's
about time the clients(users) had some feedback. I will do a mini
survey with my colleagues and try to get back to you. I hope that you send
a summary table out to the group (James Richardson)." Another individual
shared my frustration by stating, "...my submissions take months, even up
to a year which I think is wholly unacceptable." This individual then went
on to say that he/she did not want to comment further for fear of reprisals
from his/her boss.
After reading the comments I received, reflecting on my own
experiences, and studying the issues further, I am convinced that the whole
peer review process has serious problems. See Mel Siff's posting, 18 July
1998, and Stephen Page's posting, 20 July 1998, for a broader discussion. I
have limited my summary, however, to the problem of review delays and
in-press delays. The current peer review process can be hazardous to a
researcher's career: grants are at stake, promotion is at stake, tenure is
at stake, and the researcher's livelihood suffers.

Types of Time-lines:
From the comments received, it appears that there are three types
of waiting periods that authors must expect: 1) the Initial Review Period
during which reviewers read and critique the manuscript, 2) the Final
Review Period (if the manuscript is accepted) during which the author must
make any revisions suggested by the reviewers, and 3) the In-Press Period
during which the publisher prepares the final copy for publication.

Factors that affect length of waiting periods:
From the information provided as well as my own experiences, I
provide a partial list of factors that can affect the length of one or all
the waiting periods. I have also listed the individual who contributed the
information.

1) the complexity of the research (Clifford Larkins)
2) the promptness of the reviewers and publisher (C. Larkins)
3) the length of time it takes the author to make final revisions
(Jeffrey E. Lewin)
4) the location of the reviewer to whom it was sent (Stephen Page)
5) the current editor (S. Page)
6) the backlog of manuscripts for the particular journal, etc.
(S. Page)
7) the length of the manuscript (Andrew Pinder)


Below are some statistics provided by those who commented:

1) In Press Wait for the September issue of the Journal of Biomechanics
was 3-8 months (Andrew Pinder).

2) The Dec 1998 (!) issue of Applied Ergonomics has papers which spent
between six months and two years in the review/revision process, with most
being received in final form in late 1997 (A. Pinder).

3) Some journals (e.g. Clinical Biomechanics) ask reviewers to turn round
manuscripts fairly rapidly (e.g. three weeks) (A. Pinder).

4) Our experience is that three months is the average amount of time to
wait after a submission or re-submission. However, a week after submitting
a manuscript you should hear that the journal has received it or take the
initiative to check that they have. There's nothing worse than waiting
patiently for three months or so, and then calling up and finding that they
never received the manuscript.
(Glenn S. Fleisig)

5) I regularly review for the Journal of Biomechanics and Physical Therapy
who require me to FAX reviews back within a month, so the editorial board
member is usually sending initial reactions back within two months. Both
these journals are very rigorous and have long "in press" times, so it is
especially important that feedback is prompt.
My experience on the other side is much worse. Only one journal (old
IJSB) got initial reviews back to me within 2-3 months. Most other
journals are a minimum of 3 months, and usually more like 4 months before
initial reviews are back. From my experience reviewing for seven over the
years, this is unnecessarily long. (Duane Knudson)

6) Human Factors Vol 40, No 2, June 1998 contains articles as follows:
Received, Accepted, Published
3/97, 9/97, 5/98
3/95, 5/97, 5/98
5/97, 9/97, 5/98
8/97, 1/98, 5/98
12/96, 8/97, 5/98
4/97, 10/97, 5/98
3/96, 10/97, 5/98
4/96, 11/97, 5/98
2/97, 12/97, 5/98
5/96, 12/97, 5/98
3/97, 10/97, 5/98
7/96, 9/97, 5/98

So that's, what, 9 months to 2 years? One can't be sure which delays are
related to authors versus approvers. It appears the delay between
acceptance and publication is 4 - 12 months (Jeffrey E. Lewin).

7) In March 1998, I sent a manuscript to the Journal of Applied
Biomechanics. It took 7 1/2 months for the editor to send me the initial
reviews. After six months, I sent the editor a message asking about the
status of my manuscript. He replied that he would check and get back to
me. After another month (7 months), I sent another message again asking
about status of my manuscript. Three weeks later I received the reviews of
my manuscript. (Clifford Larkins).

8) As sort of a rough estimation, the Journal of Biomechanics seems to take
about 14 months after acceptance, and Spine is about the same (Scott
Yerby).

Solutions:
Some of the individuals who commented on this problem offered some
possible solutions. I have listed them below:

1) Develop a policy on length of papers
At the beginning of 1996 the Journal of Biomechanics tightened up its
policy on length of papers, with the declared aim of reducing publication
times (Andrew Pinder).

2) Include Publication Statistics with each article published
Some journals, though not consistently, publish with the paper the dates it
was first received and the date of final acceptance. These give the vital
clues about the length of the review/revision process and the delay between
acceptance and publication. I wish all journals published this information
on all papers. Perhaps journal editors would like to comment (Andrew
Pinder).

The Journal of Orthopaedic Research lists this information on their "statistics"
web page. http://www.ors.org/jor/stats97.html (Karen E. Warden)

3) Keep the author appraised of his or her progress
The journal's editor should keep the author appraised of the status of his
or her manuscript or/and provide a web page where authors can check its
status as it moves through the process (Clifford Larkins).

4)Set reasonable time limits for reviews
Journals should set reasonable time limits for each stage of the process
(the Initial Review Period, the Final Review Period, and the In-Press
Period), inform the author of the time limits, and stick to them,
especially when researchers as required to agree not to send manuscripts to
other journals until the review process is complete. (Clifford Larkins).

5) Be courteous, be helpful, and give constructive criticism
The journal's editor should respond to queries by authors and within a
reasonable time.
(Clifford Larkins).

6) Make the process less biased by providing more reviewers
As Mel Siff (18 July 1998) and others have suggested, the internet should
play a central role in the review process. This would open the review
process to more reviewers and would, therefore, make the review process
seem fairer and more valid.

7) The review process for all internationally refereed journals should be
monitored by the international biomechanics associations (Clifford Larkins).

Any suggestions or comments are welcome.


Sincerely,


Clifford Larkins, Ph.D.

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