As regular readers will know, I’m on the board of Axios Review, an independent editorial board in ecology and evolution (see old posts here and here). It’s a service that authors can use to get their papers rigorously pre-reviewed by expert reviewers chosen an independent editor, before being referred to a journal of the author’s choice. Quoting from an old post of mine:
Authors 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…
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’m posting on Axios Review again for two reasons. First, Axios Review founder Tim Vines recently updated the board on how the service is working, and on some important changes to the service. I think that information will be of interest to many of you as potential users of Axios Review, so I wanted to pass it along. Second, I used the service myself recently and wanted to share my experience.
How is Axios working?
- Axios Review is growing. We’ve handled 126 papers as of early Sept., more than last year at the same time.
- Over 120 papers that have gone through Axios Review have now been published. Here’s the full list.
- About 80% of papers referred by Axios are accepted by the target journal, approximately half of those without going through further review. Many of those papers are being targeted at, and getting accepted at, highly selective journals like Ecology Letters, Ecology, Molecular Ecology, and Evolution. At this point, pretty much every journal in ecology and evolution, including pretty much all the selective ones, welcomes referrals from Axios Review.
What are the recent changes I should know about?
- Axios Review is now non-profit. This is a recent change, it’s not yet reflected on the Axios website because the (considerable) paperwork is still being processed. Axios Review’s previous for-profit status had been a concern for some people who might otherwise have considered using the service. I confess I didn’t share that concern. In my mind, there’s a big difference between a small startup like Axios that is just trying to make enough to keep the lights on and grow into something sustainable, and, say, Springer. But whatever, that’s water under the bridge. Axios is a non-profit now, so if its previous status as a for-profit was a dealbreaker for you, you should give it another look.
- Axios Review now uses Editorial Manager to handle papers. That’s because EM has an effective system for transferring papers and reviews between journals.
What was your experience using Axios, Jeremy?
Glad you asked. 🙂 My co-authors and I went to Axios Review with a paper that we thought very highly of, that had been rejected without review by Nature and Science. I still thought highly of the work, and so wanted to continue aiming high with it so as to ensure it reached the broad audience I thought it ought to reach. But I wanted to minimize the risk of yet another rejection and resubmission. I also wanted to make sure that I wasn’t overrating it. Even as an experienced author, it can be hard to judge your work impartially. Particularly in this case because the paper was a departure from my usual work in some ways. So I wanted to get the sort of thorough, independent feedback that it’s hard to get except through the formal peer review process. Axios Review was just the ticket, and I’m soooo glad I used it. We got thorough, thoughtful reviews in good time, that pointed out some serious flaws in the ms, a lot of points we needed to clarify, and gave us a good independent evaluation of the interest and importance of our work. The handling editor at Axios quite rightly wasn’t willing to recommend the ms to any of our target journals. In response, we completely rewrote it, and it’s now a much better paper, which the handling editor at Axios is now prepared to recommend to any target journal on our list. The ms hasn’t been accepted for publication yet, and it’s of course still possible it will get rejected. But that’s life; there are no guarantees. Plus, if it does get rejected, we can just ask Axios Review to refer the ms to another journal on our target list. Personally, I couldn’t see routinely going to Axios Review with every paper I write. But I would totally use it again whenever I felt the need. Independent peer reviews are just so helpful, but good ones are increasingly hard to get.
My experience with Axios so far amounts to doing two reviews for them, one paper I was a co-author on was reviewed by them, and as an Editor-in-Chief I was approached I think now 3 times with an Axios reviewed paper. All experiences were extremely positive. The reviews are I think unusually good. I don’t know if this can scale into the future or not, but at the moment a lot of fairly senior people are giving Axios good will and the reviews are excellent. As is the value added by the associate editors that I’ve seen. The experience as a co-author made a believer out of one of the skeptics who was a co-author and originally opposed submission to Axios. As an EiC we have not accepted every paper proposed to us but have accepted some. I think sometimes the reviewers can be a bit generic ecology and not quite understand our niche well (we had one case where the reviewers and AE thought it would be a great fit to GEB but several of us at GEB looked at it and didn’t see much of a fit). But on the whole my experiences as EiC would suggest Axios is a win for the authors and our journal – the feedback from GEB to the author comes very quickly and is higher accuracy because of the high quality reviews already in hand. In the case we rejected it got much more serious consideration because of the high quality reviews, and potentially saved a wasted round of review at GEB that would have been followed by a reject. In the case we accepted it got to essentially skip the first round of review and went to a round of modest revision and then was accepted.
As an EiC, do you reckon we’ll ever see shared reviews among journals? This would make a service-provider like Axios redundant.
I am also not referring to cascade reviews, where a paper is referred ‘downwards’ from a more- to a less-selective journal. I am referring to sideways referrals.
In macroecology this seems especially sensible. GEB, Journal of Biogeography, Diversity and Distributions and Ecography all share a pool of authors and reviewers. They are all published by Wiley-Blackwell, so use the same online submission platform. All four journals have comparable impact factor and journal rankings. Sure, each journal has its own scope, but these differ subtly and there is a lot of overlap.
I for one have had a paper bounced from two of these journals before eventually being published in the third; each time the paper needed fresh reviews.
I’m curious, is there a resistance from editorial boards against sharing reviews?
I think there are a few obstacles to sharing reviews among similar journals: one is the pride factor, where e.g. Molecular Ecology wouldn’t want a paper that was rejected by Evolution as not interesting enough. Second, the receiving journal needs to have access to the reviewer identities – these are crucial to evaluating the comments. Some journals see reviewer identities as a private feature of their review process and won’t share them, and for most others there is no sharing mechanism in place. The reviewers would also have to agree to have their names and their comments transferred.
Yes, all your reasons make sense in general.
In the specific example of macroecology, three of the journals (GEB, J Biogeography and Diversity and Distributions) come from the same ‘family’. On each journal’s website, the scopes of the other two journals are also outlined. It doesn’t seem that they are in competition (a la Nature vs Science).
Moreover, if each journal can share reviews (with reviewer identity) with the cascade journal, Ecology and Evolution, then there is no technical reason why they can’t share review with each other (in this case they are all published by Wiley).
The same is true for the BES journals. Possibly even the ESA journals…
That being said, I realise that the wholesale sharing of reviews between all journals is neither practical nor desirable.
In the case you mentioned, GEB/DDI/JBI we actually have implemented internal transfers between journals, although it is most often used on editorial rejects based on better fit. This has been a mixed bag – some referrals have been appreciated by the receiving EiC, some have not. This I guess highlights that if one is rejecting a paper on fit one has to have a really good search image of what another journal is looking for.
I guess once a paper has been through review we either think it is a good paper and want it, or a not good enough paper in which case we’re not doing our colleagues a favor by referring it.
I agree though that it is common to be rejected at one journal then accepted by another similar journal. I guess in this case, it is probably primarily reflecting the stochasticity of reviewers, in which case is it in the authors interest to not get new reviews at a new journal after it was rejected at another?
I do share your general frustration though at the lack of efficiency in the system. I do think Axios is a interesting attempt at getting around these issues.
Just to follow up on my last comment, I am big on who pays for something (e.g. open source is really author pays – https://dynamicecology.wordpress.com/2013/09/18/follow-the-money-what-really-matters-when-choosing-a-journal/). Although it is true the author pays at Axios, this has the distinct advantage that in some sense the author now owns the reviews and can shop them around (or at least can have Axios do it on their behalf since anonymity of reviewers is needed). You don’t have to depend on the rare review sharing agreements between journals.
The one limitation I see with Axios review is the somewhat limited list of target journals. I assume this will improve with time and greater uptake and awareness of the service. We used the service for a paper by a previous student a couple of years ago when it was pretty new. We received very useful feedback and did a major revision, after which Axios recommended sending to one of the four ‘target’ journals we had listed. The paper was rejected by that journal, but the journal we next wanted to target was not on the Axios list, so unfortunately we had to withdraw the manuscript from the Axios process. In spite of this I would still thoroughly recommend the service.
The list of journals that have informally or formally indicated that they’re happy to receive Axios referrals is growing all the time. You may want to check the list again, or inquire with Tim Vines.
Hi Sue – all the target journals you requested are now on our target list. We’ve also got a clearer picture of the journals we can’t work with (yet).
I think this is a great idea, and I intend to use Axios for my next paper (now I just have to finish writing the thing). I’m enthusiastic about the Axios model because it decouples journal submission and reviewing, which should be separate functions. Imagine if you were a student applying to college or grad school, and every time you got rejected you had to re-take a new SAT. That’s how the traditional model works now. Axios separates these functions, which is how it should be.
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Is axios review still working? Im interested to send you a paper
Unfortunately, no. Axios Review is shutting down. It was just taking too long to grow to a sustainable size: https://dynamicecology.wordpress.com/2017/02/24/friday-links-119/