Have you ever included the reviews of your rejected ms when resubmitting to another journal? (UPDATED)

It’s been widely suggested that one solution to the increasing difficulty of obtaining peer reviews is sharing of reviews among journals. If a ms is rejected by one journal, the ms (appropriately revised if necessary) and the reviews can be forwarded to another journal, which can make a decision without the need for further reviews. That’s the idea behind peer review cascades, such as how many Wiley EEB journals will offer to forward rejected mss and the associated reviews to Ecology & Evolution. It was also the idea behind the (late, lamented) independent editorial board Axios Review.

And it’s the idea behind a practice some folks were talking about on Twitter a little while back: authors themselves forwarding the reviews their rejected ms received to a new journal along with the revised ms.

Below the fold: a poll asking if you’ve ever done this, and then some comments from Meghan, Brian, and I. Answer the poll before you read the comments.

Jeremy’s comments:

I’ve never done this as an author, and during my several years as an Oikos editor no author ever did this for an ms I handled. So I think it’s really rare (but perhaps the poll will prove me wrong!)

I doubt it helps your chances, and I highly doubt that it will prevent your ms from being sent out for additional review, except perhaps at non-selective journals like Plos One. Most editors, especially those at selective journals, want to know who the reviews came from. That’s important contextual information that they use to interpret the reviews. Is the review from a specialist on the species studied in the ms, the theoretician who wrote the model the ms tests, somebody who’s critical of the approach the ms uses, etc.

Editors also want to be sure that authors didn’t selectively omit reviews or portions of reviews. The vast majority of authors are honest and would never do this–but a small minority would.

Editors at selective journals also want reviews that address whether the ms is a good fit for their journal. Reviews from another journal can’t address that. Different journals have different audiences.

Back when Ecology Letters was first founded, they allowed authors to forward reviews their ms had previously received, but they stopped doing so. Which is telling, I think. (UPDATE: please see the comments, where EcoLetts senior editors Jon Chase and Tim Coulson write to inform us that although EcoLetts stopped saying on their website that they will consider reviews from other journals, and that the post correctly identifies the main issues with considering previous reviews, EcoLetts still does occasionally receive and consider mss with previous reviews attached.)

Also telling is that editors at selective journals generally did not treat reviews from Axios Review on a par with their own reviews. Even though editors knew the identity of the Axios Review editor who’d chosen the Axios reviewers, knew the identity of the Axios reviewers, knew that Axios was forwarding the entirety of every review, and had comments from the Axios reviewers and editor addressing the fit of the ms to the journal. To me, this illustrates that, for as much as editors like to complain about how it’s getting harder to get reviews these days (which it is!), they’re not so worried about the problem as to want pre-reviewed mss. And if editors at selective journals didn’t put that much weight on Axios reviews, they’d surely put zero or near-zero weight on reviews forwarded by the authors themselves.

I’m not sure if there are copyright issues with authors forwarding reviews their ms has received to another journal.

I think any journal that’s prepared to consider reviews forwarded by the authors should have a policy on their website. I don’t think it’s fair to consider reviews forwarded by authors on an ad hoc, case-by-case basis.

From Meghan:

I’ve also never done this. When I was a grad student, I remember thinking it was interesting when I heard that Ecology Letters allowed this sort of thing. The idea was that, if you had a paper reviewed at Nature or Science but then rejected, you could send those reviews and your responses along to Ecology Letters with responses to reviewers. When I saw some papers with very short times between submission and acceptance, I assumed that must be the case. But then I spoke with someone who was an AE at Ecology Letters at a meeting, and they said it never worked when people submitted the reviews from Nature or Science, for the reasons Jeremy said: they were never sure if they could trust that a really key concern hadn’t been deleted, and they always felt like they needed to be sure they were getting the opinions of people who they respected. So, they still got new reviews of the paper, so the net effect of submitting your paper along with the reviews from a previous journal was that you were submitting extra criticisms of your paper along with the paper. (By the way, the answer to why some papers were appearing with very short times between submission and acceptance is the same as it is now: journals reject papers that don’t actually require very substantial revisions as a way of trying to reduce their time to final decision).

I was surprised by the twitter discussion of this where it sounded like some people do this somewhat regularly, so I will also be interested in seeing the poll results!

From Brian:

I’ve done this exactly once as an author (out of about 80 publications). It was after a paper had been through rejections at several high profile journals and I sent it to a fairly low impact journal. It worked that time. But the EiC of that journal is a bit of an iconoclast and I’d heard of somebody else doing at this specific journal, so I wouldn’t generalize from it much.

As an Editor-in-Chief of a journal who has now seen more than 1000 papers come in, I have never seen it done. I expect if it ever happened it would have a similar effect to reviews coming from Axios – i.e. it might affect the decision whether to send out to review (either positively or negatively), but it would not replace the normal review process. But as Jeremy noted it would be less so than Axios because the reviewers would be unknown, the assessments of fit would be for a completely different journal, etc. And unlike Axios, doing this unasked for just might rub a non-trivial fraction of the editors the wrong way. In short, I wouldn’t recommend it.

29 thoughts on “Have you ever included the reviews of your rejected ms when resubmitting to another journal? (UPDATED)

  1. I have done it once, the paper got reviewed very positively at the first journal but was rejected because of bad fit (the editor even apologised for sending it for review). I don’t think it made any real difference when I submitted the MS to the new journal. It was sent for review again, and at least one of the reviewers had already reviewed the MS before.

  2. I agree. I’ve never done this and (with a much larger sample size) have never seen it done in the 500+ papers I’ve handled as an editor. If I did receive reviews with a manuscript, I would most likely send it out for further review anyway, for all the reasons above.

    Re: the copyright issue – I’m not a lawyer, but have looked into this a little bit with respect to the issue of people wanting to post their reviews. You are almost certainly violating copyright if you post or otherwise publish (without permission) a review written by someone else. I don’t think you are if you simply send the reviews to another journal. Copyright prohibits publication of something, not just showing it to someone else.

    I never used Axios review (which I regret); but if I had, I wouldn’t have expected the journal to waive peer review. My interest in Axios would have been largely in the improvement of the MS afforded by pre-submission review. Nearly all my MS get that kind of review from trusted colleagues, but it would never occur to me to send their comments and my responses along with a submission!

    • “Nearly all my MS get that kind of review from trusted colleagues, but it would never occur to me to send their comments and my responses along with a submission!”

      Now I’m wondering if anyone’s ever done that. Arranged a “friendly” review from a colleague, and then submitted it to a journal along with the ms. It’s gotta be rare, but maybe *somebody* has tried it?

      PNAS used to do something a bit like this, back when National Academy members were able to forward papers by others to the journal.

  3. I’ve done it a couple of times, but only (I think) with Journal of Pollination Ecology, which has a policy that it will accept such reviews if the authors can show that they have addressed any concerns. But JPE may be a special case in the sense that it’s a niche subject area so the editorial board members are able to give a level of specialist perspective on submissions, such that it’s very unlikely that major errors in a study would be missed. Certainly in my case the manuscripts were not accepted carte blanche, I still had to make additional changes.

    • “I’ve done it a couple of times, but only (I think) with Journal of Pollination Ecology, which has a policy that it will accept such reviews if the authors can show that they have addressed any concerns.”

      Interesting. So JPE clearly isn’t concerned with authors editing the reviews. And isn’t concerned with not knowing the reviewers’ identities.

      • It never occurred to us that authors might edit the reviews or that the anonymity of the reviewers would be a concern. There has to be some evidence that the reviewing has taken place, usually by forwarding the email containing the original reviews.

  4. I recently did this with a manuscript that had been reviewed a total of three times by two other journals. In each round I was able to address the reviewer concerns (at least in my opinion), but I think it ultimately came down to a case of me thinking the paper was cooler than others did. I ended up sending the revised manuscript and reviews + replies to Ecology and Evolution, which encourages this practice. It was accepted outright at E & E, although I think I was pretty thorough in my replies to the reviewers and editors. I was also sending reviews from a journal (Am Nat) that wasn’t on Wiley/E & E’s list for the manuscript transfer program, but that didn’t seem to matter.

    In my case, this manuscript hadn’t been bounced around all that much, but it was becoming evident I was going to have to send it to a ‘lower’ journal. Transferring reviews saved everyone a lot of time, and in the case of this manuscript, it seemed further review was unlikely to improve it substantially.

      • In this case, I didn’t do a formal ms transfer, since the journals didn’t have that agreement. I just pasted the reviews into the cover letter. But sorry for the confusion!

  5. I’ve added a previous round of reviews to a submission on two separate occasions. But I only did it because (a) the paper was rejected from a selective journal despite positive reviews and (b) at least one of the reviewers signed their names.

    My rationale was that the handling editors would have no trouble contacting those same reviewers for clarity.

    In both cases, the manuscripts were accepted afterwards, but only after an additional round of peer-review. So, from my anecdotal experience, adding previous reviews didn’t help, but it didn’t harm either…

  6. With 123 votes in, I’m shocked that 18% of respondents have forwarded reviews of their rejected ms to another journal at least once. I was expecting maybe 1-2%.

    I bet our poll is overestimating the frequency of this practice, probably because people who’ve done it are more likely to read the post. Because I just can’t reconcile the poll results with the experiences of the editors I know. Just between Brian, Meghan, Stephen, and I, we’ve handled over 1500 mss as editors or EiCs for several EEB journals, and we’ve basically never seen authors do this. How is that possible if 18% of authors truly have done it at least once, and 2% have done it more than 5 times?

    Or maybe the practice is actually as common as the poll says it is, but people only ever do it when submitting to unselective journals (which Brian, Meghan, Stephen, and I have never edited for)?

    It’s also possible that some readers didn’t recognize the term “peer review cascade” and are responding affirmatively to the poll because they’ve used a peer review cascade (e.g., many Wiley EEB journals have a formal agreement to transfer rejected mss and the associated reviews to Ecology & Evolution if the author agrees). I’ve updated the post to clarify what I mean by “peer review cascade”.

    • I was on the E&E editorial board for several years and never saw it there (but it’s possible that the EiCs would have handled those papers).

      • Speaking of E&E, do you have any sense of how often authors from other journals take up the offer of a referral to E&E? And how commonly are referrals followed by additional review by E&E?

      • I think that the cascading reviews do happen somewhat regularly. The only ones I saw as an AE, though, were ones that cascaded without getting reviewed at the previous journal. My guess is that the EiCs also handle the ones that cascade with reviews.

    • And also to add to your data set, as someone who has been an Editor for three different journals since 1992 I have NEVER had someone send a review along with their submission

  7. I’ve never done this, but wanted to in one specific case: where a paper was rejected by one journal, with a specific criticism from a reviewer that we disagreed with. So in addressing reviewer comments before sending elsewhere, we couldn’t really do much–it seemed too defensive to bring up this criticism and respond to it in the body of the manuscript itself. What I wanted to do was paste in at least that one criticism (at most the whole review) and a response to it in the cover letter, in case it went to the same reviewer again.

    • Interesting, I didn’t know that. Curious to hear more about it. How many authors do it. Why don’t they worry about authors editing the reviews, or care who the reviews came from? And how do the previous reviews play into their decision-making?

      • As SE I haven’t handled one like this, but as EIC, Emilio was discussing this as a part of the twitter conversation last week. Apparently some people use this, and some of the time, it expedited matters.

  8. The ISME Journal asks authors to submit previous reviews. Not sure how often people actually do it, however.

    • Huh. As with other such journals that have come up in this thread, I’m curious to hear more about how that works in practice and how often authors take advantage of it. If authors don’t often use it, and if the editors still usually send the ms out for additional review even when authors provide previous reviews, then I think it kind of reinforces the post.

      • It seems like a useful policy for policing the whole strategy of submitting a rejected MS without having done any substantial revisions

  9. Don’t know why any journal would do this. In addition to the original ms, you’ve now got to wade through the reviewers’ and editor’s comments, and the authors response to them, and a revised manuscript. And since the point is (apparently) to avoid more review, all that work would fall on one person. Better just to start over, and with two different reviewers than the first time.

  10. Just to provide some context to some of the comments about Ecology Letters’ practice in this regard. In fact, Meg’s information from her AE friend isn’t quite accurate. I’ve been involved in the senior editorship of Ecology Letters since 2006, and I’ve been involved with dozens of such manuscripts. And we accepted several of them (I can think of 15 or so off the top of my head that I was involved with, and there were many others that were handled by other senior editors). So, it hasn’t been a common practice, but it’s not unheard of either. Of course, in each case, these received considerable scrutiny by multiple editors, considering the previous reviews (typically from Science/Nature/PNAS), the response to reviews, and often independent assessments. But it did happen with some regularity….and still does. While the official statement about the ‘fast track’ was removed from the advice to authors on the website many years ago, it was never ‘done away with’, and we still receive a slow stream of such papers. I would say, however, that the practice seems to have faded in recent years, as journal streams have come online (e.g., rejected from Science, go to Science Advances; rejected from Nature, go to Nature Communications).

  11. Hello all.
    It is not accurate to say that Ecology Letters does not consider manuscripts with reviews attached. We do, although we no longer state this in the instructions for authors. We do not get many submissions with previous reviews attached, but over the past few years we have received a handful, and some have made it into the journal.
    You have identified the key issues in the blog with using previous reviews submitted by authors to make decisions: we do not know reviewer identity, although we have in the past assumed that the top journals have used reviewers with appropriate expertise. We also do not know that all reviews are included with this submission, or that those that are included have not been edited. We consequently get a number of expert editors to look over the paper, and we may choose to secure additional reviews.
    I am in favour of recycling reviews, but ideally they would be cascaded from the journal where the paper was rejected. One issue publishers have raised about review cascades is review ‘ownership’. Some publishers are happy to cascade to other journals within their stable, but they can be resistant to cascading across journals as they feel they own the reviews. They have argued that reviewers may review for one journal, or stable, but may not be prepared to review for another. I do not know how frequently this opinion is held. We do get some authors refusing to review for Ecology Letters because of a perceived slight in the past.
    I find the lack of review cascading frustrating. Many journals reject the vast majority of submitted papers, often following review. Many papers are being reviewed by between four to ten reviewers on their way to publication. This is a lot of work, and the paper does get published. Attaching past reviews to a manuscript could help cut this workload. Axios attempted to address this, but as you point out, their reviewers did not always have any apparent experience of the journals they were recommending authors submit to. At Ecology Letters we often found a significant difference in opinion between our editors and their reviewers. It was a good idea, but engagement with Axios appears to have been patchy.
    Thanks for writing this blog. It is great to have a debate going about this.
    Best wishes,

  12. The journal “Plant Ecology” explicitly states that they accept “portable peer-review”.
    I’ve used this for both the times that I’ve submitted to this journal. I first stumbled across it when I was looking for a place to resubmit an MS that was given favourable comments by two reviewers and the subject editor, but was still rejected by the EiC. Both times, the MS was still sent out for another round of review, even though I incorporated detailed responses to the previous round of review in my submission. For the second time I tried it, I was actually hoping that it needn’t be sent out again, but it did.
    Nonetheless, I have a feeling that providing the previous reviews did help in speeding up the review process, although I can’t be 100% sure. I wish more (non-paid OA) journals would adopt this policy; it’s definitely a waste of resources to keep sending manuscripts out if they’ve already been reviewed and have been sufficiently improved but the editors handling the new submission attempt didn’t know it. If the practice was prevalent enough, it could result in some culture changes, e.g., EiCs might be more relaxed about making a favourable decision with just one reviewer, or even based on the subject/handling/associate editor’s recommendation without reviews, in the new attempt.

  13. I felt like there was an option missing from the poll:

    “Enquired if Editor would accept reviews from another journal, but not invited to submit them”.

    That would have at least 1 vote in it.

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