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Fast-Track Peer Review Controversy

An editor of the journal Scientific Reports quits in protest of paid, expedited review.

Mar 31, 2015
Jef Akst

FLICKR, ANONYMOUS ACCOUNTBiogeographer Mark Maslin of University College London (UCL) announced his resignation from his positions as volunteer editor and member of the editorial advisory panel at Scientific Reports, a Nature Publishing Group (NPG) open-access journal, in a tweet last week (March 26) after the journal announced it is instituting a policy that would allow authors to pay for expedited peer review by a private company.

“My objections are that it sets up a two-tiered system and instead of the best science being published in a timely fashion it will further shift the balance to well-funded labs and groups,” Maslin told ScienceInsider. “Academic publishing is going through a revolution and we should expect some bumps along the way. This was just one that I felt I could not accept.”

Private peer review is now a multimillion dollar industry, with many journals now offering a service through which authors can fast-track their manuscripts through the process—for a price. Last week (March 24), Scientific Reports announced that, for a cost of $750, it had begun offering such expedited service, through the peer-review service Rubriq, which pays its editors $100 each per review. (Rubriq also offers pre-review services for researchers looking for feedback before submitting to a journal.)

Nandita Quaderi, NPG’s publishing director, defended the new program on the Nature blog Of Schemes and Memes. “Needless to say, an author choosing the fast-track option is only benefiting from a quicker decision,” Quaderi wrote. “The introduction of this service has no bearing on our editorial decision process.”

But Maslin, at least, was concerned enough to quit. “Deep consideration and a well thought out review is much more important than its speed,” he told ScienceInsider. “I have had brilliant reviews which have considerably improved my papers, and I really appreciated all the time taken.”

And he isn’t alone. “I worry about it in terms of the outcome it would have,” fellow UCL researcher Georgina Mace, also a member of the Scientific Reports editorial advisory panel, told Nature. “In some areas of science, people have access to money they can use for that sort of thing and other areas don’t. . . . I do worry about this two-tier thing.”

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