Why do stages of peer review take so long?




In our July “how can we help you?” thread, S asks:

I submitted an article to a journal 1.5 months ago, and it has not been sent out to reviewers yet. Is this standard?

I’m an early-career person, so I really need publications at the moment and am becoming nervous.

Another reader, ‘R&R’, reported being in a similar position:

I came to post about the same thing as S. I submitted a *revision* to a journal two months ago, and it hasn’t been sent back out for review. It’s just gone from “Editor Assigned” to “Editor Invited” and then back again. Is there any reason at all that it should take that long to send a revision back to its original reviewers? And at what point is it appropriate to say something to the editors about it?

Unfortunately, my sense is that this kind of stuff is pretty standard, and I’ve experienced it myself. I’ll also second S’s point that this is a real issue for early-career people who need publications to get a job and/or tenure and promotion. I was often totally stressed earlier in my career about how long peer-review took, and it influenced my publication strategy (such as which journals to send things to) a great deal.

First, I’ve often had papers say “new submission” or “editor assigned” for a month or two after submitting it, before it is listed as “under review” or “with reviewers.” I’ve heard on social media that this happens because journal editors are having an increasingly difficult time finding willing reviewers, and that it can take a couple of months just to find a couple of willing ones. How does this happen? Here’s how I’ve heard things work: given how many papers journals receive, it can take a few weeks for “desk review”–that is, for the paper to be sent to associate editors to decide whether the paper should be desk rejected or sent to referees. Next, journal editors begin reaching out to potential reviewers. But, or so I’ve heard, journal editors can only email a couple of potential reviewers at a time, many reviewers never even respond, when they do respond it can take them a week to do so, and the vast majority decline the requests. If you put all of this together, it can take a couple of months for a paper to even get out to reviewers, at which point it can take several more months for them to get their reviews done. 

Second, like R&R, I’ve often had papers flip back and forth between “under review”, “editor invited”, and “editor assigned.” Why does this happen? Here, I think, is one thing that can happen. The journal receives one very positive review on your paper, but the second reviewer (by reviewer 2, naturally!) gives a more mixed review. If the editors are unsure what to do–e.g., reject or offer an(other) R&R–they may try to recruit a third reviewer…which requires inviting the associate editor to do that, assigning them to complete the task, and find a willing third reviewer. Or, to speculate a bit, here’s another thing that I could see happening at the R&R stage. The associate editor who reviews the revisions (including response to reviewers) is unsure what verdict to render, so they invite another associate editor (or perhaps a “guest editor” who is a specialist) to examine the piece. It also seems from their Editorial Policies that some journals (such as Ethics and Philosophical Review) do a lot of reviewing “in house”, with multiple editors reviewing submitted papers once they pass a certain stage (e.g. after reviewers and an initial editor think the piece is worthy of acceptance). So, perhaps that is what is going on in R&R’s case.

But again, this is speculating a bit. What do you all think? It would be great to hear the “inside scoop” from some editors!

Originally appeared on The Philosophers’ Cocoon Read More