Axios Review is working; you should try it

A while back I joined Axios Review, an independent editorial board. Axios Review is a service to which ecologists and evolutionary biologists submit their mss. They get back peer reviews, just like with a journal, along with an editorial decision as to which journals (from an author-supplied list of “targets”) the editor would recommend the ms to (following appropriate revision, if needed). Axios then forwards the ms, reviews, and recommendation to the target journal, asking them if they’d like the paper to be revised and submitted. The service costs authors a small fee ($250 USD), currently payable only after a journal accepts the ms (this will be switching to payment upon receiving the Axios decision in mid-2015).

Axios Review has benefits for both authors and journals. For authors, the reviews improve the ms, and the referral process prevents you from wasting time by targeting a journal that’s too selective or a bad fit, saving you from unnecessary rejection and resubmission. It also prevents you from losing audience and impact by aiming too low. Journals get pre-reviewed mss that are very likely to meet their standards. I’ve used the service myself for an ms that my co-authors and I needed independent advice on, and found it very helpful. I would use it again in a heartbeat.

Tim Vines, a former Managing Editor at Molecular Ecology and the founder of Axios Review, just updated the editorial board on how things are going. With his permission, here are the highlights:

  • Axios had 95 submissions in 2014, a big jump on the previous year. The goal for 2015 is 200 submissions. That seems like a reasonable goal to me, given the current growth rate.
  • About 80% of papers referred by Axios are accepted by the target journal, over half of those without going out for further review. And that’s not because Axios mss are only being written by top authors or only referred to journals with high acceptance rates (see the “published papers” list on their website).
  • Tim is now working full time on Axios, which is a great sign.

I know that in some people’s ideal world there wouldn’t be a market for Axios Review (e.g., because everybody just publishes everything in Plos One or whatever). But I’m an evolutionary, not a revolutionary, and so I like Axios. I think the existing scientific peer review and publication system has a lot of merit, and so I like having a service that helps the system work as it should. If you feel like Axios Review might be useful to you as an author, I encourage you to give it a try.

23 thoughts on “Axios Review is working; you should try it

  1. What journals does Axios send to? PlosOne? PeerJ? Specialized ones like ISME or Insectes Sociaux? Including the different levels in specialty fields seems to be an important but possibly challenging component.

    • Many different journals, including both highly-selective ones, and less-selective ones like Plos One and PeerJ. Check out their website for the full list (http://axiosreview.org/get-started/target-journals/). But here are some of the broader and more selective ones:

      Molecular Ecology (one of the most common venues to which Axios refers, I believe, presumably because Tim Vines used to be a Managing Editor there)
      Evolution
      Ecology Letters
      American Naturalist
      Genetics
      Ecological Monographs
      Journal of Ecology
      Journal of Evolutionary Biology

      • I should add there are another 20-30 good journals that are not on our target list but are interested in Axios and willing to consider our referrals. I have every hope that they’ll go on the list in due course, but in the meantime please contact us if you’re not sure about the particular target journals you have in mind (it’s tim@axiosreview.org)

    • A further thought: not sure if this is what you were asking, but even if an Axios ms gets referred to and accepted by an unselective or highly-specialized journal, that doesn’t mean using Axios was pointless. Authors give Axios a ranked list of four target journals; the Axios editor decides which (if any) of the target journals on the author’s list to which he/she is prepared to recommend the ms (aside: Axios does reject some mss without recommending them anywhere; I’ve done it myself as an editor for Axios). Typically, authors include on their list both more-selective and less-selective journals. So if an ms ends up getting recommended to and accepted by a less-selective journal like Plos One, the author still may well have avoided wasting time submitting to and getting rejected by a more selective journal first.

      Which is why I don’t see much point in using Axios if you’re only trying to choose between unselective journals. But as far as I know that’s not what most authors submitting to Axios are trying to do.

  2. This sounds like a potentially useful solution, I agree.I am curious about two things: when journals do their own additional review and reject, is there an agreement that those reviews are also passed on to axios? This would be the most efficient but might not be preferred by any party. And 2) what do you ask reviewers to comment on: suitability to particular journals? Or just impact/novelty in general?

    • Hi Erik,
      These are good questions. When a paper goes through Axios and then gets reviewed and rejected by the journal, the authors are definitely able to provide the reviewer comments from the rejection letter. However, it’s much harder for us to obtain the reviewer identities. This is unfortunate because it’s difficult for the next journal to make full use of the previous journal reviews when they don’t know who has written the comments. In these situations, we typically go back to the Axios reviews and use them for a referral to the author’s next choice of journal (the referral always contains the Axios reviewer identities).

      With respect to your second question, the simple answer is ‘both’. We ask reviewers to answer the question “How novel is this manuscript compared to other recent papers in this area?”, and we also ask them to comment on the suitability of the paper to each of the author’s four target journals. The two other sections of the review are the ‘confidential comments to the editor’ and the ‘comments to authors’.

      • Dear Tim, thanks for answer. I suppose one solution would be that the journal solicits an additional review from a preferred peer through Axios. Often (but definitely not always) the ones that get the paper rejected may be among the most informative, and may for the “second choice” journal not be ground for rejection and even make them not solicit additional reviews (having e.g. 4 reviews in hand already). I do see a difficulty that it would need some sort of automatic to it, in that the 2nd journal needs to trust Axios and especially the authors to pass on all reviews. If it works it would however also greatly benefit the 2nd journal, in that some might get a larger reviewer pool to draw from as I presume these journals may even have the largest difficulty in getting the most relevant reviewers for a paper.

    • Sure. The main differences as I see them (and as best I can tell, not being a PoS member) are:

      -Axios is paid for by authors. PoS is paid for by journals.
      -Axios reviews are accepted as input by most of the top journals in ecology and evolution (and by a bunch of others). In contrast, PoS input isn’t–most (not all) of the journals that accept it’s input (or “bid” on its mss with offers of acceptance) are small, highly specialized, and/or unselective journals.
      -Axios works like a traditional editorial board: an expert editor (and I think Axios has an outstanding list of editors) picks the reviews. At PoS, the reviewers pick themselves–Peers review each others mss, and decide which ones they want to review. I think this is a key difference between the two services.
      -PoS also has Peers review each other’s reviews.

      Your mileage may vary as to which model you prefer. I think it’s great to have both experiments operating. My own preference is Axios, obviously.

  3. I suggest you to try Peerage of Science, it has some features making it better option than e.g. Axios Review or Rubriq. Especially the peer review of peer review and no fees for scientist sound really nice.

    • To each his own. Unless I missed something on their respective journal lists, Peerage of Science doesn’t list most leading ecology and evolution journals as accepting its reviews. Axios does. Basically, it looks to me like the journals that are willing to pay for the Peerage of Science reviews are for the most part (not entirely) very specialized and/or unselective journals.

      As for peer reviews of peer reviews, I’m sure some people value that. I don’t. I think it mostly just creates extra work for the Peers to have to review each other’s reviews.

      Axios works like a traditional editorial board, which in many people’s eyes (including mine) is a good thing. A respected handling editor chooses the reviewers; I think there’s value in that model. At Peerage of Science, reviewers choose themselves. PoS has rules to prevent obvious conflicts of interest, but there aren’t any rules to ensure that the reviewers are the best people to review the ms or that they aren’t self-selected friends or “fans” of the author. But I’m suspect that Peerage of Science users would disagree with me on this and argue that there’s no value, or negative value, in having referees chosen by an expert editor rather than choosing themselves. To each his own.

      I think it’s great to have various reviewing and publishing experiments that people can pick and choose among, and I don’t see why PoS and Axios couldn’t coexist for a long time. That I prefer Axios (and have my reasons) doesn’t make it wrong for others to prefer PoS (and have their reasons).

  4. I’ve been intrigued by Axios for some time, and we had a discussion about it at work recently. What came out of it was that some didn’t see the value, or benefit aside from “frustration” of shopping a rejected ms around. This would be particularly true if journals often sent things out for their own assessments (any stats on what proportion do so?). It also hinges on the Axios editor(s) knowing the journals well enough (and one could argue, scientists would have a pretty good idea of where a ms is likely to end up).

    Peerage of Science has a pretty healthy journal base (including all Springer titles): https://www.peerageofscience.org/journals/

    • There’s the benefit of getting reviews, which in my experience often really improves the ms. Getting reviews is no longer a given. Ecology for instance now rejects 50% of mss without external review. I’m sure it’s higher at EcoLetts. Just getting selective journals to even send your ms out for review is now a significant hurdle, one that Axios review really seems to help authors jump.

      Yes, I do think Axios editors have a good idea of what journals would be a good fit. It’s an outstanding editorial board (check the Axios website for the list). But of course, I would say that. 🙂

      Peerage of Science does indeed have *many* journals that will consider their reviews in some fashion. But that list lacks most of the leading ecology and evolution journals. Different strokes for different folks, of course. But as an author considering a service like this, I don’t care one bit about how *many* journals will consider the service’s reviews. I care about whether *the specific journals I want to target* will consider the service’s reviews.

      Don’t get me wrong, I don’t routinely use Axios. I feel like I’m a pretty good judge of when an ms is ready to submit and where to submit it to. I’m sure the same is true for others. But if for whatever reason you feel less sure of your judgment on that, Axios seems like a good idea. Particularly if your target journal list includes selective journals. If you’re choosing between various highly specialized, unselective journals, I confess that I see less value in Axios.

      See the above comments for more on the differences between Peerage of Science and Axios. Personally, I (and I suspect many of the editors at selective journals) see value in getting mss handled by independent editors who choose the reviewers, rather than by self-selected reviewers. But your mileage may vary on this.

  5. I hope it is ok for me to comment here, given that I have an obvious direct interest on peer review options: I am the founder of Peerage of Science. Caveat emptor.

    But I would like to voice out one concern about the model Axios is building (I don’t mean to attack any of the people involved, who I believe to be sincere and benevolent, just the concept):

    The model you are building can lead to a world where the most talented managing editors all start their own private companies as soon as they have the name recognition and contacts they need in the publishing industry. Publishers will increasingly shift to using these instead of direct submissions (why shouldn’t they: now the author pays for editorial management, which the publisher had to provide previously). Soon we are in a situation where it is difficult for authors to get to the top journals unless they first pay one of these editorial services to relay their paper to those journals. The more prestigious the editorial service, the more likely it is the journal will take your paper if relayed by them, and naturally, the higher the price tag for the author.

    Eventually, journals stop considering direct submissions altogether, because they get good pre-screened flow volume from Axios and its bretheren. And then they can fire 90% of their remaining editorial office staff, which does wonders for their profits. Best talent has of course already left to found or work in the private editorial relay services. And all this is paid by the author.

    In a way, the journals using Axios seem to be reaping the financial motive of open access (author pays for costs) while many of them retain the revenue from subscribers. Win-Win for all except scientists?

    • Thank you for your comments Janne.

      I too of course am hardly an impartial observer here. But having said that, I am totally mystified by some of your comments and totally disagree with others.

      “And then they can fire 90% of their remaining editorial office staff, which does wonders for their profits.”

      Um, you’re aware that many of the journals that welcome mss from Axios are not-for-profit scientific society journals, right? And let me turn the question around: PoS accepts fees from not-for-profit society journals and other non-profit organizations like universities. How do you justify that? To be clear: I have no problem with PoS taking fees from not-for-profit organizations–but it sounds like you do. So perhaps you’d like to clarify your comments.

      “The model you are building can lead to a world where the most talented managing editors all start their own private companies as soon as they have the name recognition and contacts they need in the publishing industry. Publishers will increasingly shift to using these instead of direct submissions (why shouldn’t they: now the author pays for editorial management, which the publisher had to provide previously). Soon we are in a situation where it is difficult for authors to get to the top journals unless they first pay one of these editorial services to relay their paper to those journals. The more prestigious the editorial service, the more likely it is the journal will take your paper if relayed by them, and naturally, the higher the price tag for the author. Eventually, journals stop considering direct submissions altogether, because they get good pre-screened flow volume from Axios and its bretheren. And then they can fire 90% of their remaining editorial office staff, which does wonders for their profits. Best talent has of course already left to found or work in the private editorial relay services. And all this is paid by the author.”

      This is both wildly speculative and incorrect. You seem to be imagining that the only thing journal editors look at is the name of the Axios editor forwarding them the review, not the content of the reviews themselves or the identity of the reviewers. You seem to think that Axios is trying to conspire with journals to replicate the system PNAS used to have, where US National Academy members were entitled to publish a certain number of papers in PNAS every year. If so, you’re *way* off base.

      Watch how easy it is to make something look bad by speculating wildly about how it might lead to some future outcome we wouldn’t like: In the future, after PoS takes off, truly independent peer reviews and editorial decisions will be a thing of the past. Instead, scientific publishing will be governed by a combination of social networks (people reviewing their friends’ work positively), cognitive closure (people only reviewing stuff they’re inclined to like), and popularity contests (many papers will fail to get the attention of any reviewers at all, while a select few will get a lot). And then once PoS takes off, the world will fragment into different groups of peers, with top scientists clubbing together in “elite” peerages that only allow other elite scientists as members, and top journals will only offer acceptance to mss from the elite peerages…I’m sure you will easily be able to explain why my little dystopian vision of a “PoS future” is wildly speculative and incorrect–because it is wildly speculative and incorrect. Which is my point–because my little just-so story about PoS is no better grounded than your little just-so story about Axios.

      Oh, and how do you know that journals outsourcing their peer review to PoS aren’t thereby saving any money that they can use to enhance their profits, and that they won’t fire any staff that they no longer need because they’ve now outsourced some of the work they used to do themselves? Again, I have no problem with this (highly speculative) scenario if it were to happen–but it sounds like you would. Please clarify.

      It’s true that not all authors have equal ability to pay for Axios. But not all authors have equal ability to pay page charges. Or to pay for technicians, graduate students, postdocs, lab supplies, and computers. And not all authors have equal teaching and service duties that take time away from research. Not all authors have equal personal commitments. Etc. Are you seriously suggesting that journals or other publishing-related services like Axios or PoS can or should try to erase all such among-author differences? And while we’re at it, not all publishers, universities, etc. have equal ability to pay for PoS (so in my little dystopian just-so story, I could’ve also imagined that different peerages would emerge based on the ability of universities and publishers to pay for reviews).

      You seem to prefer a world in which authors don’t have to pay for stuff. With respect, I agree with Brian that “who pays” isn’t the most important question to ask when it comes to scientific publishing: https://dynamicecology.wordpress.com/2013/09/18/follow-the-money-what-really-matters-when-choosing-a-journal/

      Personally, I think both Axios Review and PoS are worthy experiments. I have my reasons for preferring Axios, but they’re not the sort of reasons I would expect to convince someone inclined to prefer PoS. Different strokes for different folks, as I’ve said before. And I certainly don’t think that scientific publishing is going to hell if Axios takes off, or if PoS takes off (or both!)

      • Well, when you say that

        You seem to think that Axios is trying to conspire with journals to replicate the system PNAS used to have

        …and if we compare that to the value proposition Axios makes to potential customers in its marketing message on its own website:

        Aim High, Publish Fast. 80% of papers reviewed by Axios and referred to a journal get accepted. We significantly increase the chances your paper will be accepted at one of the journals on your target list

        …it is perhaps understandable one might be left with exactly the impression you mention.

      • No, it’s not understandable at all. You’re mixing up “Axios reviews improve mss” with “Axios reviews improve your chance of acceptance without improving mss”. Which frankly is bizarre to me given that you run a peer review service yourself, and your website also highlights acceptances of papers reviewed by PoS.

        We’re clearly going to have to agree to disagree.

  6. I thought I should clarify that I’m actually still working at Molecular Ecology until the end of the year, after which I’ll be switching to Axios full time. The Mol Ecol office has a good system for preventing any COI’s between my role as managing editor there and my role at Axios, in that I don’t have any contact with Mol Ecol papers referred from Axios (they’re all handled by Jen Gow).

  7. Pingback: Portable peer review and the manuscript cascade | Small Pond Science

  8. Pingback: Interview with Tim Vines about Axios Review | Ecology Students' Society

  9. Pingback: Axios Review is working. And now it’s a non-profit. You should try it. | Dynamic Ecology

  10. Hi,
    I was trying to get information on how to submit a paper to the Axios Review service when I found this message on the website saying “Axios Review is now closed.”. Is it definitively closed? What happened to it?
    Regards,

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s