Conservation needs to embrace more efficient peer review

Conservation is a crisis discipline. Species are going extinct at an unprecedented rate and therefore scientists and policy makers must act quickly to save them. The peer-review process is useful for quality control, but unfortunately a barrier for quickly disseminating information needed to make the best conservation decisions.

One challenge is that papers are often submitted and rejected from several journals, sometimes over the course of multiple years, before finally getting published. As a paper continues to get rejected, reformatted, and re-reviewed, conservation scientists (authors, reviewers and editors) each waste dozens of hours that could be allocated towards new conservation projects. In addition, policy makers must wait to get the latest credible information.

Solution: peer-review should be done for multiple journals in parallel. Imagine sending out your paper for peer-review and getting back detailed feedback along with a list of journals for which your paper is a good fit. Moreover, the service in charge of this centralized peer-review process contacts the appropriate journals and asks them whether they want the paper to be submitted. After you correct your manuscript, you send it to the interested journal, alongside a response to reviewer comments. If the journal rejects the paper, it is immediately sent to the next journal down your list. No more excessive reformatting, or unnecessary re-reviews, just a more efficient peer review process.

Now what if I told you this system already exists! A non-profit called Axios Review does exactly this, but shockingly the journals which have signed up are mostly pure biology journals, such as Ecology LettersEcology, and American Naturalist. With the exception of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, most of the big name conservation journals, such as, Conservation Letters, Conservation Biology, Biological Conservation and Journal of Applied Ecology, are surprisingly not lining up to be officially associated with this type of service. Axios boasts some impressive statistics: once submitted to an interested journal, 85% of their papers get accepted, and half of these accepted papers are not sent for additional review by the journal. On average, a paper going through Axios gets accepted after 1.8 rounds of review (the norm is closer to 5).

I should note that I have yet to use the service myself (partially because of the lack of conservation oriented official target journals), so this blog post is not meant as an endorsement of Axios specifically. Many ecologists already endorse the service, which is likely cost effective for authors.* I am a bit frustrated that conservation seems slow to join the party. If not Axios, we need to think how else we can reform peer-review.

Time is the most important resource in conservation! The peer-review process should reflect this.


*Cost Efficacy for Authors: The fee of 250 USD per article** is no more than the cost of one day of postdoc labour in many developed countries. So the service is likely cost effective, given that authors spend more than one day reformatting and re-submitting a paper.

**Edit: the fee is 250 USD when bought individually, and as low as 200 USD when bought in bulk