In 2008, the journal Nature Neuroscience joined a newly created community consortium aimed at making peer review more efficient by allowing reviews to be transferred between consortium journals. In its current (April) issue, the editors look back at their experience with the Neuroscience Peer Review Consortium over the past year (Nature Neuroscience 12, 363; 2009).
Journals in the Neuroscience Peer Review Consortium (NPRC) offer authors whose papers are no longer under consideration at a journal an opportunity to transfer reviews of their manuscipts when submitting their paper to another consortium journal. After a year, Nature Neuroscience‘s experience is similar to that of other journals in the consortium, with only a handful of papers being transferred from Nature Neuroscience to another consortium journal.
Similar to the Nature journals’ transfer system, the NPRC system is voluntary for authors and referees. Editors at one journal only know that a paper was reviewed elsewhere if the author chooses to inform them. At Nature Neuroscience, the editors ask referees for permission to release their identities whenever authors ask for their papers to be transferred to another consortium journal. If a reviewer declines to participate, the reviews (comments to authors only) are transferred anonymously.
All the transfers from Nature Neuroscience to date have been to the Journal of Neuroscience, and represent less than 1% of manuscripts that are eventually rejected after review. However, for the papers that were eventually published in the Journal of Neuroscience, the authors reported that the paper had been expedited. Even in the cases where new referees were solicited, authors felt that transferring the reviews from Nature Neuroscience had saved them time and effort.
No papers have been transferred to Nature Neuroscience from other consortium journals.
The Nature Neuroscience editors ask why so few authors are using the NPRC option. They conclude: “Authors may simply not be aware of NPRC or may not know what journals participate in it. Transfer rates may pick up as more authors learn of the consortium. At Nature Neuroscience, we have noticed an increase in the number of referees that state in comments to the editors whether they wish for their identities to be released to other consortium journals or not, suggesting a growing awareness of the NPRC.
It could also be that there are not that many papers that lend themselves well to this process. Many of our authors who have had papers rejected may prefer to take their chances with new referees at another journal, rather than making substantial revisions in response to the concerns raised by our referees. Certainly, our authors appear to be more conservative when deciding to transfer their reviews, preferentially choosing to utilize the NPRC transfer option when the reviewers reject the paper on conceptual grounds and not for technical reasons.
Another factor that influences the success of the transfer is whether the referees allow the release of their identities to receiving consortium journals. Previous reviews are clearly less useful to the receiving journal if the editors do not know who the reviewers were.”
Nature Neuroscience concludes that it is premature to gauge whether the system truly could save referees, authors and editors substantial time and effort. The editors encourage authors, referees and readers to share their views, either by email or by commenting here.