In an old post, I noted that Molecular Ecology Managing Editor Tim Vines had founded an interesting new peer review service: Axios Review. Axios Review is an independent editorial board, unaffiliated with any journal. Its goal is to speed the peer review process for both authors and journals, by helping authors choose appropriate journals and so avoid rejections on the basis of novelty, importance, or “fit” to the journal.
Briefly, the way it works is that an author submits a ms to Axios Review with a ranked list of four target journals. Axios Review handles the ms as any journal would: the handling editor arranges for 2-3 external reviews, and passes them on to the author along with a decision letter. The difference here is that the decision letter includes comments on the suitability of the ms for each of the four target journals. Based on that information, the author can then ask Axios Review to forward the ms, the reviews, and the editor’s evaluation to one of the target journals. After that, the journal is of course free to do as they please—ignore the reviews from Axios Review entirely, send the ms out for additional reviews, accept or reject the ms on the sole basis of the Axios reviews, etc. The author is charged $250 for the service—but only if (and after) the ms is accepted by one of the target journals. See here for details.
The idea is that Axios Review can greatly speed the time from submission to publication in a selective journal, by helping authors avoid repeated rounds of rejection and resubmission. If they manage to do that for you—and only if they manage to do that—they charge you a fee for the service. On the other side, journals get pre-vetted mss, which should be attractive to them. Indeed, numerous journals (including leading evolutionary journals like Molecular Ecology, Genetics, and Heredity) have already indicated formally or informally that they welcome mss from Axios Review. And there’s nothing stopping anyone from using Axios Review to submit to other journals.
Axios Review is just getting off the ground and indeed hasn’t started formally advertising their services (they plan to do so in the new year). Their initial plan is to focus on evolutionary biology, which is why currently most of the members of the editorial board are evolutionary biologists. But ecologists have expressed sufficient interest in the service that they’re adding ecologists to the editorial board. Tim invited me to join the editorial board, and I agreed.
I decided to post my reasons for joining, in case they’re of interest to anyone thinking of using the Axios Review service, or who’s been invited to join the board themselves. And even if you’re not interested in Axios Review, you may be interested to read why I am. My reasons for joining Axios Review reflect how I see the changing landscape of scientific publishing and peer review, as well as my general professional decision-making process.
- I know Tim Vines a bit, having corresponded with him on various things over the years. Tim is smart, thoughtful, and professional. I trust him.
- Numerous really good people whom I know, or know of, and whom I greatly respect, have already joined the Axios editorial board or the advisory board. The value of the Axios Review service for authors and journals very much depends on the expertise and reputations of the editorial board members. If they’re good scientists and editors, and are seen by others to be good scientists and editors, authors are going to want to submit, and journals are going to take seriously the reviews provided by Axios Review rather than just binning them.
- Axios Review is an intriguing and original idea. I’m curious to see “from the inside” how the idea develops.
- Axios Review is cheap. Tim runs it on a shoestring, and he’s basically just trying to cover his costs, not get rich. (By the way, none of the fee goes to editors or reviewers. I’m not going to get paid by Axios Review.)
- There’s no incentive for Axios Review editors to “reach” on behalf of authors. Axios Review doesn’t get any money if journals reject the mss it forwards, so they have no incentive to humor authors who want to submit some obviously-inappropriate ms to a highly-selective journal. Plus, journal editors will quickly start ignoring Axios Review if word gets around that Axios Review editors are just trying to talk up inferior mss in order to get author fees.
- Conversely, it’s up to authors to decide what journals to approach, not the Axios Review editors. So there’s no way for Axios Review to try to make money by steering mss to unselective journals that the authors themselves don’t want to approach, just in order to charge authors $250.
- The operational details of Axios Review are very simple. Editors and authors aren’t going to have to waste time futzing with over-engineered online ms handling systems.
- So far Axios Review has handled very few mss, but I’m told that the few they’ve handled have been good mss that have been passed on to good journals. Which seems promising to me. Like most people, when I’m acting as an editor or reviewer I prefer to handle mss that are of good quality.
- Axios Review is a narrowly-targeted reform of the existing peer review and publishing system. Their aim is to help the existing system better perform its existing functions, not change the functions the system performs. Axios Review doesn’t regard pre-publication peer review as immoral censorship, or an anachronism, or a totally ineffective waste of everyone’s time. They don’t want to do away with existing journals and the “filtering” that those journals provide. They don’t think it’s inappropriate to judge scientific work in part by how novel or important it is. And they don’t think that their main goal is of such overriding importance that other parts of the peer review and publishing ecosystem should be destroyed or radically altered in order to achieve that goal. Indeed, since they’re a service authors can choose to use or not, anyone who doesn’t like what they’re offering can simply ignore them. It’s not that I’m dead set against the numerous other, more radical peer review and publishing reforms out there. Heck, Axios Review is more narrowly targeted and less radical than one of my own proposed peer review reforms (PubCreds)! But Axios Review is the first peer review or publishing innovation I’ve encountered that’s sufficiently close to my own values, and sufficiently likely to succeed, that I’m willing to support it by participating in it.
- It’s early days, so in the short term being on the Axios editorial board isn’t going to take much of my time, if any. Plus, Tim’s letting the editors set their own workloads, so joining Axios Review doesn’t prevent me from reviewing for other journals. Indeed, for now I plan to do just as much reviewing for other journals as I’ve done in the past.
- I don’t know that joining the Axios Review editorial board will count for much in the eyes of my department head or others who either formally or informally evaluate me as a scientist. It’s not like being invited to join the editorial board of an established, leading journal like Ecology. But I’m not worried about that; it’s not why I joined Axios Review. Don’t get me wrong, even though I’m a tenured academic, I still have plenty of incentive (and desire!) for formal and informal recognition. Everybody likes to be recognized for their work (which is different than just “wanting to be recognized”) For me, joining Axios Review isn’t about getting some tangible or intangible benefit. Rather, as a tenured professor it’s my privilege to have job security and academic freedom, and it’s my duty to use that privilege well. Axios Review is a worthy experiment I can support, so why not support it?
In summary, in joining the Axios Review editorial board I’m giving them two of my most valuable possessions: my time, and my professional reputation. I wouldn’t give either if I didn’t think it was worth doing.
I’ll revisit my thinking as necessary if circumstances change. For instance, I’m unsure if there’d be a conflict of interest if I were to join the editorial board of a journal. Some of the Axios editorial board members are on journal editorial boards, so they may have advice which I would seek out if needs be. And I confess I’m unsure how difficult it will be to get people to review for Axios Review, and what sort of mss I’ll be asked to handle. But the only way to find out is to try it and see.
Would I use the Axios Review service myself? I couldn’t see using it for every paper I write, but I’m seriously considering using it. Like most established academics, I do try to match my mss to appropriate journals and I feel like I’m pretty good at it. But I freely admit my judgment isn’t infallible. Like most people, I’ve had some mss that went through several rounds of rejection, revision, and resubmission before eventually coming out in a much less-selective journal than the ones I’d originally targeted. If Axios Review can help prevent that from happening, then yeah, I’m interested.
Thanks very much to Tim for inviting me to join Axios Review. This is Tim’s baby and he’s putting a lot of time and effort into it. I’m flattered to have been asked to join the editorial board, I’m very curious to see how the experiment develops, and I hope that it succeeds.
Disclaimer: the views in this post are my own; I don’t speak for Axios Review or anyone involved with it. The decision to write the post was entirely mine as well. I ran the post by Tim Vines first, but any errors are entirely my responsibility.