New ‘Streamline’ peer-review process piloted by Virology
Dr Michael Emerman | Editor-in-Chief of the Elsevier journal Virology
Established in 1954, Virology is one of the oldest journals in its field and publishes the results of basic research in all branches of virology. Dr Michael Emerman, who researches HIV replication at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, is a long-serving editor of Virology and took on the role of Editor-in-Chief in January. Since then, he has instigated some big changes, dramatically increasing submissions. Recent changes include the launch of a blog, Virology Highlights; bringing on board new editors; and the introduction of Streamline Reviews. Here he explains why he has high hopes that the latter will contribute to the journal’s success.
In January, Virology introduced a new program — Streamline Reviews — with the aim of capturing and publishing manuscripts that have been rejected by journals with high Impact Factors. The idea came from one of our editors who described the frustration of resubmitting a rejected manuscript from one high-impact journal to another because of the need to respond to a completely new set of reviewers.
The way Streamline Reviews works is simple. If an author has a manuscript that has been reviewed and rejected by a journal with an Impact Factor higher than 8 that publishes papers on the basic science of viruses, (such as Cell Host & Microbe, Nature, PLOS Pathogens, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and Science), they can send us the original reviews, their rebuttal and a revised manuscript. They should include these extra items as part of their cover letter.
We will then consider the manuscript based on the reviews and usually send the manuscript, reviews and response to one additional expert for an opinion. In theory, this should speed up the review process for these manuscripts — authors do not need to start over at the beginning, and it is easier for someone to give an opinion on the paper with reviews already to hand. This option works best for those manuscripts rejected for perceived reasons of impact, novelty or significance.
The program is still in its infancy. We have received a handful of Streamline Review submissions, but we believe more papers will be submitted this way once the initiative becomes better known. What has been interesting is the very positive feedback we have received from editorial board members and community members, many of whom have experienced the long process of resubmitting a very good manuscript that has just missed the mark at a high-impact journal. In fact, they wonder why Streamline Reviews is not already standard practice amongst journals.
As I mentioned, we have set our bar at an Impact Factor of higher than 8. We decided on that figure after identifying which of our competitor journals featured the kinds of papers we are interested in.
In practice, it has worked well so far. In one case, the additional expert reviewer had also reviewed the paper for the high-impact journal and recommended it be accepted right away since the authors had addressed all previous concerns. In other cases, we have asked for additional changes, but these mostly related to the way the paper had been written and didn’t require the author to carry out additional experiments.
While there was initially some concern that we would not know the identities of the reviewers for the high-impact journal, this has not proved a problem when it comes to evaluating the manuscripts.
Despite complaints, I think the peer-review system serves a wonderful purpose. The role of the editor is to weed out the poor reviews and to use the peer-review system to turn out better papers, and I have seen many papers over the years become vastly improved by reviews. I think that the Streamline Review process is a means to help good papers get published in a faster and more efficient manner without sacrificing any of the benefits of stringent peer review.
This article first appeared in Elsevier Connect.