Thursday, July 13, 2006

Publication Lag Times in Science Express

In his perspective (PDF) on the rediscovery of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Jackson alluded to the "rapid path to publication" of Fitzpatrick et al. (PDF) and noted that "the rush to publication led to a quick peer review." In their response, Fitzpatrick et al. 2006 accused Jackson of alleging that the rapid publication "compromised the peer-review process." In point of fact, Jackson made no overt claims that the peer-review process was compromised, only that it had been accelerated.

Did Fitzpatrick et al. receive expedited treatment from the editorial staff at Science magazine? To answer that question, I reviewed a sample of 27 papers published in Science Express between May 25 and July 13, 2006, and available online on July 13. I recorded dates of submission, acceptance, and publication, as recorded in the online publications, and then calculated lag times (in days) from submission to acceptance, acceptance to publication, and submission to publication. I then compared these lag times with those of Fitzpatrick et al. The results:

Lag time (in days) from submission to acceptance
Sample: Mean = 85, Median = 82, Range = 20 – 199 Fitzpatrick et al.: 19 (Submitted April 8, Accepted April 27)
Lag time (in days) from acceptance to publication
Sample: Mean = 18, Median = 13, Range = 8 – 49
Fitzpatrick et al.: 1 (Accepted April 27, Published April 28)
Lag time (in days) from submission to publication
Sample: Mean = 104, Median = 92, Range = 28 – 248
Fitzpatrick et al.: 20 (Submitted April 8, Published April 28)
The lag time from submission to publication of Fitzpatrick et al. was shorter than that of any of the other papers sampled. On average, the total elapsed time from submission to publication of Fitzpatrick et al. (20 days) was about one-fifth of the time taken to publish the other 27 papers.

It is clear that Fitzpatrick et al. received expeditious treatment by the editorial staff of Science Express throughout the review process. The evidence shows that Jackson was right on that count. But it is not unusual for reports of important scientific breakthroughs or discoveries to be treated expeditiously by the editors of major scientific publications. And there is no evidence that this "quick peer review" in any way compromised the scientific integrity or quality of the paper.

6 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"And there is no evidence that this "quick peer review" in any way compromised the scientific integrity or quality of the paper"

True..... or is it? Unfortunately, I find that as this story proceeds more people are no longer willing to give Science Express the benefit of the doubt.

And really, didn't the rush to press hurt the "quality" of the paper if not the "integrity"?

July 13, 2006 5:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You've got to think that 100 days of review and editing would have had an impact on the quality of the Fitzpatrick paper. Even letters published in Science take longer to clear the process than the Fitzpatrick paper did.

July 14, 2006 10:58 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

"But it is not unusual for reports of important scientific breakthroughs or discoveries to be treated expeditiously by the editors of major scientific publications."

Si, it's not unusual for the editor of any publication to treat truly news-worthy materials expeditiously.

July 14, 2006 1:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some fault the rush because of the effect on the quality of the science.

Some support the rush because of the news-worthiness of the topic.

But clearly, a reputable publication like Science should trend to the former not the latter.

July 14, 2006 3:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Si, it's not unusual for the editor of any publication to treat truly news-worthy materials expeditiously.

What's newsworthy about some impossibly blurry video that proves nothing?

July 14, 2006 4:22 PM  
Blogger John L. Trapp said...

And if I'm not mistaken, competition between such major scientific outlets as Science and Nature to scoop the other in publishing the most news-worthy articles has landed one or both of them in hot water in the recent past.

July 14, 2006 5:40 PM  

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