Action Potential

NN Joins Neuroscience Peer Review Consortium

When the community is overburdened by peer review, it’s everybody’s problem. As of today, Nature Neuroscience has become part of the solution by joining the Neuroscience Peer Review Consortium, a flexible system that allows voluntary participation by authors, referees and editors. Here are more details, from our April editorial:

The NPRC reduces the overall reviewing workload of the community by allowing authors to continue the initial review process when their paper moves from one consortium journal to another, once the paper has been rejected or withdrawn from the first journal. This arrangement is similar to the manuscript transfer system that has been available within the Nature family of journals for almost a decade. So far, more than 30 journals, including the Journal of Neuroscience, have become members of the NPRC, representing a substantial fraction of mainstream journals in the field. The full list of journals can be found on the NPRC website.

Like the Nature journals’ transfer system, the NPRC system is completely voluntary for authors. Editors at one journal know that a paper was reviewed elsewhere only if the author chooses to inform them. If the reviews from the first journal do not seem likely to facilitate acceptance at another journal, the authors are welcome to send the paper to the second journal directly and have the paper considered as a fresh submission. However, if the author feels that the reviews may be helpful, transferring them can accelerate the editorial process at the second journal, reducing publication delays. Each journal will transfer reviews only once, to ensure that each transfer includes the paper’s full transfer history within the NPRC system. That is, once the paper has been considered by a second journal, only that journal can transfer the reviews to a third journal.

Referees also have the option of whether to participate in the transfer system. When they review a paper, they are asked to state whether the editors may release their names along with the review in the event that the paper is transferred to another journal. If a referee declines, that review is passed along to the next journal anonymously. It is most helpful to the recipient journal if the reviews are accompanied by the identities of the referees, so we strongly encourage our referees to participate in the NPRC system whenever possible. All editors within the consortium are committed to maintaining the confidentiality of transferred reviews, just as they would for their own review process, and do not reveal the referees’ identities to the authors.

Finally, editors have full discretion in deciding how to use transferred reviews. The receiving editor may choose to accept or reject a paper based on these reviews, without further consideration; to send the paper to some or all of the previous referees for evaluation of the authors’ revisions; or to request a fresh set of reviews from new referees.

Only comments to the authors are transferred to the receiving journal. Confidential comments to the editors are not passed along. Thus, to ensure transparency in the review process, both at Nature Neuroscience and at other journals after the paper has been transferred, we encourage referees to include all their concerns about the paper in comments to the authors. The small amount of extra time required to word the comments diplomatically for the authors should be more than counterbalanced by the resulting improvement in the peer review process. Many members of the community have strong views on the issue of confidential comments, which can be found on our blog, Action Potential.

Referees should use comments to the editors to communicate ethical concerns and for comments that may reveal their identity or other confidential information; for example, to compare the paper to a related paper under consideration that they have also been asked to evaluate. Comments to editors should also be used to indicate whether or not the referee is willing to have his or her name revealed to the receiving editor if the paper is transferred.

We look forward to your comments below.


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    Pedro Beltrao said:

    I think this is a great initiative. It is going to be interesting to see how this progresses with time. I wonder if this will not increase even further the burden of work on the journals with high rejection rates. One of the reasons for not sending a manuscript to a journal with a high impact factor could be the time it could take for publication if it is reject after peer review. With this system in place this problem could be ignored and although overall the redundancies in referee decrease the editorial load could shift even further to the journals with high rejection rates.

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    Sandra Aamodt said:

    Like many other journals with a high rejection rate, Nature Neuroscience declines to review most submitted papers. Because we only send 25-30% of the papers we receive to peer review, authors would not be likely to gain anything by submitting marginal papers to the journal in the hope of eventually passing them along to another journal through the peer review consortium. But this is one of the potential downsides from our perspective that we’ll be evaluating over the course of the year.

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    DrugMonkey said:

    As I noted in prior skirmishes with Noah on this topic, there are issues at work here which the proposing journals are, at best, overlooking.

    First is the observation that the NN paper is different from the JNeurosci paper is different from the paper in the society/specialist journals which populate the lower tier of this consortium. The danger here is the GlamourMag-ification of journals all up and down the impact factor ranks. I, for one, am of the opinion that this would not be a GoodThing.

    The second issue lies in the distortion of the current journal ranks. Love it or hate it, the Impact Factor ranking is very much a part of the “system” of evaluation of papers and therefore careers. This consortium stands the chance of shaking up the current relationships because journals not in the consortium will be bypassed more frequently. This may end up raising the IF of journals within the consortium relative to their current peer journals.

    Most pernicious is a sort of interaction between these two scenarios. One in which an editor at a relatively lower IF journal is so happy to get a crack at a manuscript that would otherwise not come his/her way, that this changes their acceptance criteria and calculus.

    These issues can only be resolved empirically, of course. The experiment is worth trying. It strikes me, however, that only focusing on certain effects of this consortium and ignoring other putative effects when it comes time to evaluate the experiment is a bad idea.

    It would be nice to seen some more broad reaching analysis of what possible effects on publishing and academic careers this consortium might induce.

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    Amiya Sarkar said:

    Quite encouraging development. Could you suggest whether peer review from is accepted by you or other journals? Secondly, Nature precedings recommends usage of an institutional e-mail. But what about those who ARE in an institution, but the institution doesn’t assign a personal/individual email?