Of Schemes and Memes Blog

Fast-track peer review experiment: First findings


Yesterday marked the close of our one month fast-track peer review experiment on Scientific Reports. The experiment, which was designed as a trial for a small number of manuscripts, was developed because we want to tackle some of the issues we see in peer review – authors tell us they are frustrated with the speed of peer review, and we also are keen to explore ways to credit reviewers. As one of a number of initiatives we are running this year, including the recent roll-out of double-blind peer review, we wanted to ascertain what demand there was for a faster service. You may be interested to read about the rationale for the trial in our previous blog post.

What we’ve heard from the community

Members of the Editorial Board of Scientific Reports have raised some philosophical issues including:  potential for discrimination against authors who are unable to pay additional fees; concerns that this may impact the quality of the reviews; or encourage unethical behaviour on the part of authors or reviewers. Nature Publishing Group is committed to the upmost editorial integrity, robustness and ethical practices. We have confidence the fast-track set-up adhered to these standards, but we also take the concerns raised seriously and wish to acknowledge them here.

What we’ve learnt

We have already learnt a lot from the past four weeks, and expect to learn more as we follow-up. We thank those Editorial Board members and all those who took the time to write to us, and for constructive conversations, with much-good will and shared commitment to Scientific Reports, and to tackling the wider issues that face academia. We have been listening to all of the community feedback. In future we will be working more closely with the Scientific Reports Editorial Board to welcome their suggestions about how we can address the challenges in the peer-review system, and to continue to improve Scientific Reports.

Outcomes from the trial

We wanted to share the immediate first findings and what we hope to do now that the trial has concluded.

The fast-track trial ended yesterday, and over the four weeks the service was available:

  • We received 25  requests from authors to pay for fast-tracked peer review.
  • These authors represent a range of institutions, countries, and levels: professors (16 authors), doctors (8 authors) and one PhD student.
  • Geographically, the highest number (10 manuscripts)   were from China, but there were submissions from the UK, US, Germany, Finland and Sweden as well as further Asia Pacific countries, including Japan, Taiwan, Korea and Singapore.

Although we have a limited data set from this trial, it did confirm that, for some communities, speed matters and that there is demand for a service of this type. The trial was capped at 40 manuscripts, and  25 submissions, from a pool of approximately 1800 manuscripts submitted a month, is a small percentage. We need to spend more time collecting qualitative feedback to understand the motivations of our authors.

We want to reiterate that our service for authors was in no way impacted by this small scale trial, and our commitment to robust peer review remains firm. This trial was never intended to be scalable, or permanent – it was an experiment to learn.

What next?

The fast-track service on Scientific Reports is no longer available. We will be reviewing what we have already learnt, and our planned follow-up to gather feedback from trial participants, peer reviewers, editorial board members, and the wider scientific community. Our goal continues to be to serve scientists and the advance of science. We see challenges with the peer review system as it currently operates, and remain committed to innovating to credit peer-reviewers, to expedite the process while not compromising its integrity or overloading busy researchers.

Ultimately, our aim is to provide a better service to our authors and more support for our Editorial Board and reviewers. We know with any innovation that there will be as many challenges as opportunities. We want to find ways to strike the right balance in offering services to authors to meet their needs, but we’re committed to finding those solutions with the research community.


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