Axios Review – a different route to peer review

BioMed Central formalizes its partnership with Axios Review, an external peer review service that aims to improve the efficiency of the peer review system.

Just last week at BioMed Central’s London Roadshow, authors, peer reviewers and Editors were discussing some of the current challenges with peer review. We heard about the struggles researchers faced with a system which can be slow, inefficient, political and prone to bias. Because of this, BioMed Central always welcomes initiatives which work to improve the peer review process and Axios Review aims to achieve just that.

The premise, according to its founder Tim Vines, is to improve the efficiency of peer review and make it less arduous for researchers.

I spoke to Tim Vines about why he set up Axios Review, and in this short podcast he explains his motivation for starting the service.

Vines discusses the inefficiencies in peer review that come with rejecting a manuscript that is sound but just doesn’t ‘fit’ a given journal, only to see the process repeated (and end with rejection) at another journal. His proposed solution is to position peer review ‘upstream’ of submission to a given journal.

To do this, Axios has set up a process which runs as follows:

  • Authors submit a manuscript for peer review to Axios, suggesting four journals where they’d like to see their work published.
  • Axios manages the peer review process and peer reviewers advise on the suitability of the manuscript for publication in selected journals.
  • Axios then contacts the recommended journal(s), with the reviewer reports to see if the Editor would be willing to consider the manuscript.
  • If the Editor agrees, Axios lets the authors know and it’s up to authors whether they take up the journal’s offer.

Axios charge authors a fee of $250 for their services, once a decision has been made on their manuscript. (A charge we subtract from our article processing charge, for authors who use the service, in acknowledgement of the fact that the peer review process has been managed externally.)

We announced a trial partnership with Axios Review in May 2014, and since then we’ve published a number of manuscripts from authors via this route. BioMed Central editors are also excited by innovations which can facilitate the peer review process and benefit authors, reviewers and editors a like.

In this interview, two of our Editorial Board Members who are also on the Editorial Board of Axios Review explain why they chose to engage with Axios. Certainly, based on the feedback we’ve received (see below) and how smoothly the process has worked we’re delighted to formalize our partnership.

Why would an author submit to Axios Review?

There are various reasons why an author might find Axios Review helpful, but we’ve found it’s been particularly useful when authors are unsure about where to send their manuscript.

Bert Van Bocxlaer explained that he submitted his manuscript to two journals before going to Axios Review and receiving an offer via this route from BMC Evolutionary Biology:

“Although the manuscript received invariably positive comments from the reviewers, it was rejected both times because ‘our paper didn’t fit the journal scope’, which makes one wonder why it was sent for review in the first place, and once because the editors did not consider it sufficiently innovative for their journal in the end.

“We felt that our paper was becoming a moving target – decisions were not substantiated with scientific arguments, but rather with subjective judgments – which is why we submitted to Axios Review.”

What was the experience like?

The reviewers as well as the editor helped me to decide on the most appropriate journal. When I made the necessary corrections and submitted my manuscript to the chosen journal, it was accepted within 24 hours!

Stephanie Dowell

We found that authors were generally satisfied with the turnaround times and reviewer comments when they submitted to Axios.

Author Liliana Davalos found the experience to be: “Overall positive, we were able to get feedback promptly and to rewrite the manuscript with a clearer target the second time.”

Stephanie Dowell, who also used the service, echoed this saying, “The reviewers as well as the editor helped me to decide on the most appropriate journal. When I made the necessary corrections and submitted my manuscript to the chosen journal, it was accepted within 24 hours!”

Do you think peer review services like this will become more common?

Bert Van Bocxlaer felt that the competition to publish research in biology is increasing:

“Most [of my colleagues] indicate that they regularly need to submit manuscripts multiple times before they find them accepted.”

Stephanie Dowell said, “I absolutely think reviewing services will become more common. I hope that a greater number of journals will be willing to cooperate with reviewing services in the near future.”

Liliana Davalos added, “There is a real sense of explosion in biology. We need services like this because there simply are too many potential target journals and this makes the process arduous, especially for beginners. Having the ability to get the peer reviews without worrying as to the journal fit is a bonus.”

So did this ‘route’ increase the efficiency of peer review?

On the whole, the feeling of everyone I spoke to was that it did…

Bert Van Bocxlaer said, “Our paper was handled in a timely way by Axios, the reviews were overall constructive, and the editors handled the referral process to potential journals very well. Overall, we were satisfied with the handling by Axios Review, and we would recommend it, certainly to colleagues who have trouble deciding on the submission strategy for a particular paper.”

Another author, Bjorn Stelbrink added, “Not only do you receive suggestions from the reviewers about which target journal is most suitable, you also save time compared to submitting a manuscript to four journals in succession.”

With the caveat that reviewing services are able to provide quality feedback in a timely manner Stephanie Dowell could also see the potential for them to be “extremely beneficial”.

To conclude, Eric Pante noted that, “Peer review in itself is the same whether you go through Axios or another journal; what’s very efficient with Axios is the fact that experienced editors then help you better target a journal to submit to. I would say that a service like Axios increases the efficiency of science communication – getting published faster than through traditional routes.”

So after feedback like that, hopefully you can see why we think our partnership with Axios Review could bring great benefits to researchers looking for a place to publish.

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