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27 February 2013

PeerJ: the Review Process

A few days ago, I received reviews on my recent submission to PeerJ. Considering that I submitted the article on January 30, that makes this by far (okay, I looked; by more than two months) the fastest turn around for any review I have ever received (about 15 total in my young career). Major points for PeerJ! Considering that a typical journal might keep a paper in review for months--the record for me is more than 9 months--this is a remarkable turn around time.

What's more, the reviews were very civilized. Three people had a look at the paper, and two of them wrote very extensive reviews (several pages each), full of constructive critiques, as well as few soft jabs. But there was none of the scathing, sometimes downright mean-spirited swipes that I have come to expect from the modern review process. One of the reviewers even signed his real name. Now, I'm not totally sure why they were so nice to me. They were obvious experts in the system that I studied, and so they were certainly free to "tear me a new one," as they say. But they were nice, which was refreshing and encouraging.

The subject of the article in question: Pachypodium.

One of the things that struck me about the reviews was that the reviewers clearly appreciated one of the key ideas of open access journals like PLoS One and PeerJ: the results don't have to be mind-boggling, news-worthy, or completely novel, so long as they are supported by the data presented. This is because PeerJ follows an open access model that is based explicitly on post-publication review. That is to say, the journal is primarily concerned with publishing articles that are done to a high technical standard, with proper English, punctuation, etc. The "relevance" and "significance" part is left for history to decide. They just let the chips fall where they may. To me, this is one of the most inspiring aspects of the open-access movement, because it means that useful results (even negative results!) will become part of the collective knowledge of science, rather than remaining imprisoned on academic's PCs, or left to molder in dusty lab notebooks.

Over the next few days, with a little bit of extra time over coffee in the morning, I should be able to respond to most of the reviews and get the paper back for the next round. I'm not sure that the journal goes through the standard "accepted with minor revisions" stage, or if they will send it out to review again. It's hard to say. They might just blow right past all that and move onto the all-important "what the heck is wrong with the caption on Appendix Table A3?" stage. I'm interested to see if the rest of the process is as streamlined as the review stage.

All in all, I remain highly impressed by PeerJ. May it live long.