From ESA – Strategies & Activities
ESA Journals News – European Societies
Michalis Lianos, Editor of European Societies
Reviewing, Rushing and Painting-by-numbers
European Societies is now in its 20th volume. It receives a great number of single article submissions and proposals for special issues. Our latest issue was a special one entitled “Toward a European Social Topography” and there are a number of others at different stages of completion on a series of themes including citizenship, family and solidarity in contemporary Europe.
As an editor dealing with many submissions, I perceive three trends that clearly mark recent times. The first trend is less visible to all involved in the publishing processes apart from the editors of a journal. It is that it has become increasingly difficult to find colleagues who accept invitations to review. This is obviously not a sign of indifference, for it is clear to me at the same time that the reviews which I receive are mostly of very high quality and involve a great deal of time, effort and respect for the authors of the reviewed articles. It is rather a sign of two converging and opposed tendencies, since all of us are under great work pressure and by the same token take very seriously the responsibility of assessing the work of our colleagues. We know what it takes to reach the level of submitting an article of high quality. As a result, we do not wish to take the risk of reviewing an article less attentively than we believe that we should. So to speak, time pressure and sound conscience make us review-averse. Despite the noble causes of the problem, I must plead with everyone to devote some time to reviewing from time to time. In parallel, I also plead whenever I get the opportunity for reviewing to be formally recognised as part of the research assessment exercises run in each country. It is an anomaly that this indispensable part of the scientific process does not ‘count’ as a contribution given that there is no excellence without serious peer-reviewing.
The second trend that is steadily increasing is that of concern with time to publication. A standard concern since the introduction of research assessment exercises, this has now become a very pressing problem for all of us but most particularly for early- and mid-career colleagues. Albeit that everyone is very polite in their requests for accelerated publication, it transpires that contracts and sometimes livelihoods are on the line. This is not an easy position for an editor to be. Personally, I do all I can without bending the rules. It often involves additional pressure on reviewers, which takes us again to the previous problem.
The third trend is that of resolving the other two. A solution is often a problem as such, and in this case, it may be a serious problem, which I identify as the painting-by-numbers article. On the one hand, large scale data are readily available and the various European institutions have added a considerable amount. As a result, it has become ever easier to write articles on the same pattern by selecting different variables involved. These submissions are often methodologically sound and may present reliable findings despite the fact that they do not add much to our knowledge. This is often the case with qualitative work too, where several articles seem to fit the same path and produce similar findings and conclusions. Painting-by-numbers submissions are obviously a response to the pressure for a set quantity of publications. Journals requesting a certain degree of originality and assessment panels looking at the content rather than the number of the publications may curb this trend.
As everyone will have understood by now, I try my best to persuade you to review more, to be patient when you submit an article, and to submit articles on a non-preconceived basis. And, of course, to do that for European Societies which is freely and fully accessible to all ESA members.