A Second Term for the Editors
Status and Goals for the Review Process
The Scientific Publishing Committee of the American Heart Association (AHA) requested the Editors to continue for a second term of 3 years. We were told that this request was motivated by performance, but we accepted with some ambivalence. Why the ambivalence, particularly since the initial 5 years have been enormously rewarding in terms of achieving our goals to publish excellent articles in the fields of cellular and molecular biology along with mechanistic, integrative, physiological studies? One of the disadvantages of editing is the thanklessness of the task. Authors, by nature, can never be thankful regarding the handling of their manuscript. If the manuscript is rejected, the Editors clearly did not appreciate the importance, quality, and novelty of the work. If the reviewers request clarification or revision, the Editors are delaying publication of their work unnecessarily. If the manuscript is accepted for publication, it merely shows that the Editors are intelligent enough to discern superb work. A particularly unpleasant feature of editing is dealing with issues of scientific fraud and related unethical practices. In view of the extent of these problems, we will devote a future editorial to this issue.
Despite these disadvantages of editing, in combination with the extensive commitment involved in dealing with 1000 manuscripts per year, it is still important to pursue our initial goals to enhance further the quality of Circulation Research by working closely with the authors, reviewers, and the AHA Scientific Publishing Committee. This journal should be the main forum for the presentation of the best of cardiovascular science, focusing on novel basic mechanistic studies using molecular, cellular, and integrative approaches.
At this juncture in our stewardship of the journal, it is worthwhile to point out some of the features of the review process that permit timely review and publication as well as some changes in policy that are necessary to improve the review process further. At the inception of our editorial term, we could address this issue only conceptually. However, since the job of reviewing and editing is time-consuming and difficult, the best intentions may not be translated into effective action. Therefore, it is most useful to reinforce our stated goals regarding review and publication with data collected during our current term as Editors of Circulation Research. Fig 1⇓ shows the time to first decision from submission over the past 5 years for all manuscripts submitted. Although it may be possible to reduce further the time to decision for all manuscripts (Fig 1⇓, solid bars), it will be more difficult for those ultimately accepted for publication (Fig 1⇓, open bars). Our current statistics, averaging 4.6 weeks for manuscripts ultimately appearing in Circulation Research, will not likely change much, without jeopardizing the peer review process. In part, this reflects the fact that many manuscripts that are ultimately published frequently merit additional review and editorial deliberation. Conversely, there are some manuscripts that are clearly not suitable for Circulation Research and will not rank in the top 29% of articles submitted, roughly our current acceptance rate. As a new policy, we have decided that after initial editorial screening and surmising that the manuscript falls in the lowest quartile, the reviewers will be asked whether the article deserves full review and will be required to complete a screening form. This should serve three purposes: (1) It will allow more rapid time to first decision on all submitted manuscripts without affecting the time for manuscripts ultimately published, but more important, (2) it will reduce the load on the reviewers. (3) In addition, rapidly rejecting an article that is clearly unsuitable for Circulation Research serves the authors' best interest by reducing the delay before sending the manuscript to a more appropriate journal. On the other hand, if the reviewers feel that the manuscript can be improved with revision to be ultimately acceptable, the manuscript will go through the normal review process.
Because the Editors respond on an almost daily basis, the two limitations to the timeliness of the publication process are the time for peer review (Fig 2⇓) and the time from completion of review to publication (Figs 3⇓ and 4⇓). As can be seen in Fig 2⇓, there is a wide disparity in the frequency of review time, with the average at 3 weeks. Since most manuscripts require two reviewers and sometimes three, the time is extended to 29 days before the reviews can be evaluated by the Editors. Although the majority of reviewers are conscientious, and without their help the journal could not thrive, there are certain reviewers who take protracted time (see rightmost bars in Fig 2⇓) or who never return their reviews (NR, far right bar in Fig 2⇓). To address this problem, a third review is frequently sought when it is suspected that one of the reviewers will not complete the task within a timely manner. That explains the dashed line in Fig 2⇓ demonstrating late reviewers, who are excused after an average of 6 weeks. An additional impediment to the review process is a cadre of authors, generally senior scientists, who frequently submit articles for publication but consistently refuse to review others' work, even when it is directly in their field. Eliminating their expertise from potential candidates for referees places an undue burden on other qualified reviewers and, by extrapolation, could potentially result in utilization of less qualified reviewers.
To minimize further the time from submission to publication (Fig 3⇓), new policies have been instituted to limit the number of revisions allowed: Specifically, only two major revisions are permitted. Also, editorial decisions are occurring more regularly without sending manuscripts back to reviewers if revisions are responsive. The Scientific Publishing Committee of the AHA also must be given credit for enhancing the time to publication after acceptance (Fig 4⇓). The time for Original Contributions is now 12.4 weeks; for Rapid Communications, it is 7.7 weeks.
The Rapid Communication is an important feature of Circulation Research. An example is the study by Guo et al1 in the current issue, with a time of 7.9 weeks from submission to publication. During the past 5 years, we developed the concept of the Expedited Publication category for full-length manuscripts that received excellent reviews. We have supplanted this category by expanding the Rapid Publication section. We will now publish full-length articles, less than seven printed pages, in the journal as Rapid Communications. Accordingly, there is no need for the Expedited Publication. This allows scientists with novel work to publish meritorious full-length manuscripts rapidly, without eliminating important aspects of the data.
An additional goal for the next term is to increase the frequency of publication of Circulation Research to twice monthly. This will not only enhance the response time of the journal but also allow publication of more of the high-quality articles received.
As noted above, Circulation Research is interested in publishing the best of cardiovascular research in all disciplines. These articles are submitted internationally, with roughly half from the United States and half from other countries. The distribution for the countries with the most submissions is outlined in Fig 5⇓. The major categories of articles received can be grouped into three broad areas: cardiac biology, vascular biology, and electrophysiology. The distribution of manuscripts within these categories is shown in Fig 6⇓. Since electrophysiology involves studies in vascular cells as well as cardiac cells, we now categorize articles in each Circulation Research issue in just two groups, ie, cardiac biology and vascular biology. With the increasing importance and interest in vascular biology, we are pleased that Dr Bradford C. Berk has joined us as Associate Editor to bolster this important field.
There are two other new features for Circulation Research that require mention. Although the Mini Reviews in cellular and molecular biology will continue to be an important component of the journal, we are now soliciting editorials on key interesting articles to focus on the new areas of research. In addition, we will publish point-counterpoint review articles highlighting important areas of controversy in cellular, molecular, and integrative research.
In summary, the Editors are approaching the new term optimistically with a sense that Circulation Research is publishing articles of increasing importance, an impression bolstered by such data as a rising impact factor. We feel that the glass is “half full” and that the journal can improve further. We invite the scientific community to work with us to this end. The continued submission of the best work from authors and the continued conscientiousness of the Editorial Board and guest referees will further the success of Circulation Research and allow the journal to pass to the next Editors from a position of strength.