Stop offering paid fast-track academic publishing

Stop offering paid fast-track academic publishing

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Sarah McIntyre started this petition to Taylor & Francis Group

This is an open letter to Taylor & Francis, publishers of academic journals. We are writing to ask T&F to discontinue the policy of fast-tracking submissions for a fee. We refer to the policy here. A recent clarification of this policy was published by T&F but it does not adequately address our concerns.

We have two objections to the policy. First is that we are against any form of preferential treatment for those who can pay. Fast-tracking for a fee creates a two-tier system, wherein the well-funded have an unfair advantage over the less well-to-do; in particular, it exacerbates the differences between scientists in different economic circumstances and at different points in their career. The fast-track policy at the least allows faster publication by those with funds, improving the chance for the funded to win subsequent grants and to publish before other labs working on the same topic.

Our second objection to the policy stems from our concern that fast-tracked manuscripts may receive an advantage above and beyond just faster publication. Your policy requires that reviewers review more rapidly and editors make their decision in a shorter time than for non-fast-tracked manuscripts. There are four possible negative effects of this. 

  1. The reduced time for reviewers to spend on their work may lead to more superficial and less stringent reviews.
  2. The editor may sometimes have to complete their action letter on the basis of fewer reviews, when the reviewers do not finish by the deadline. The consequence is that at least some fast-tracked articles will receive less critical reviewing than those by author teams who do not pay for fast-track.
  3. The linkage between fast-tracked articles and journal finances creates an undesirable incentive for the journal. The journal receives more money if it evaluates fast-tracked articles less stringently, which creates a clear conflict of interest between decisions of which papers to accept and finances.
  4. Paying some reviewers fundamentally changes the incentive structure for reviewing, which is likely to change which reviewers decide to accept review invitations and this would also mean that paid and unpaid submissions are treated differently.  

Overall, the association of author fees with preferential treatment imperils the reputation of scientific publications, and science more generally, among governments and the public. Previously in publishing there has always been the expectation that publication of an article is a mark of the quality of the work, not the depth of the pockets behind it. In fact, a fundamental principle of science is that research should be assessed on the quality of the work, and all possible steps taken to avoid biases related to who conducted it. And it must be seen to be doing that. It is hard to see how a pay for fast-track review system can satisfy that fundamental principle.

We, the undersigned, think that the policy of paid fast-track is unacceptable, offering competitive advantages at a financial premium, and we request that Taylor and Francis discontinue the practice.

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