An Idea to Reduce Referee Burden

Jun 8 '11

James Fowler posted an idea to reduce the burden of referees on the PolMeth listserv that is generating a lot of responses. We reprint it here, with his permission.


I frequently advocate for increasing the fraction of papers that get desk-rejected without review.

This not only reduces the number of referees that editors need, but it also reduces the cycle time from initial writing to publication for papers that would be a better fit at a different journal.

I notice that the fraction of desk-rejects is already creeping up at our top journals in political science, but it is still much lower than the rate in general science or natural science journals.

My colleagues who worry about increasing the fraction of desk-rejects note that one issue is that some authors will perceive the practice as being unfair — we need to give everyone an equal shot at review and we need to ensure that scholarship does not come to be dominated by a small number of players at specific departments.  Those are reasonable concerns.

So why don’t we do this instead: give authors the ability to *opt-in* to a higher desk-reject threshold (say, 50% get rejected without review).  In other words, an author can ask an editor to reject the paper quickly if he or she does not think it will succeed.

I am considering doing this voluntarily, and anyone else who wants to could as well.

But I wonder if it would help if editors explicitly gave authors the choice of two tracks for review, the current track, and a “fast track” with a higher desk-rejection rate.

This would preserve the potentially “fairer” set-up of the current track, while allowing authors who are interested in reducing cycle time to voluntarily give editors more power.

If enough authors opted in to the fast track, then the reduction in the burden on referees could be substantial.

And, interestingly, the choice of track by the author might send an informative signal to the editor.

Your thoughts?