A Good Idea but...
(August 31st, 2017) A new initiative is launched to reduce the time spent on manuscript resubmission, peer-review and the transfer to and from preprint servers.
As a student, who has only recently tasted the process of writing and submitting a manuscript, I was astonished at the time and energy it takes to make the work ready for submission, never mind publication. For someone, who is a fresher in this field, I'm wondering ‘Why does it have to be so difficult?’ Surely, if you have done the experiments, based on good research ethics, and you have come to a unifying conclusion, it should be fairly easy to get the study out there in the big world, for your peers to review, repeat and build on your findings. Ultimately, research is meant to be shared and the publishing process should be just the final touch during the Eureka process, should it not?
Reading about the new Manuscript Exchange Common Approach (MECA), I received a glimpse of hope that maybe, in the not so distant future, life as a researcher will become a little less worrisome. MECA is a new initiative by a group of manuscript-management suppliers, who want to develop a platform to exchange manuscripts and their reviews between publishing groups, when the manuscript has been rejected by the first-choice publisher. “Authors lose time and effort when their manuscript is rejected by a journal and they have to repeat the submission process in subsequent journals,” they say. This requires the authors of the manuscript, for instance, to reformat their paper based on each separate journal's requirements – a waste of valuable time. “Plus, it is estimated that 15 million hours of researcher time is wasted each year repeating reviews. Both of these challenges could be addressed if journals and publishers could transfer manuscripts between publications using different submission-tracking systems,” the MECA founders continue. Other issues with the current system include the difficulty of the transfer to/from preprint servers, which is also to be tackled by MECA.
The project started in the winter of 2016-2017 and, so far, involves Clarivate Analytics, Aries Systems, eJournal Press, HighWire and PLoS. Currently, the main challenges are agreeing on a standard nomenclature and finding simple ways to gather files and securely pass reviewing information between all parties. If realised, this fast-track system could ease the transfer of manuscripts and decrease the amount of time spent on a publication. In addition, it might also make the publication process more transparent.
So, any drawbacks to this exciting idea? Similar initiatives in the past have shown that “these experiments haven’t always met with success - uptake is limited, perhaps because authors don’t necessarily want a journal to know it was not their first choice. And it’s interesting that the MECA initiative is primarily being led by systems suppliers rather than publishers; how would (say) a small publisher feel about putting time and effort into the peer review process for a paper, and then passing the results of that process to (say) a bigger competitor? It’s hard to model who has most to gain from manuscript exchange, and it may be another scenario in which small publishers end up losing ground to bigger ones”, points out blogger Charlie Rapple in the Scholarly Kitchen. Also, reviews, when done constructively, can improve a manuscript. If one simply transfers the manuscript, there's no incentive to make it better.
Thus, the MECA project is a promising initiative but can it really revolutionise the process of publishing manuscripts?