In the scholarly world, the currency of reputation and progress is often measured in the form of published articles. The pressure to publish is an omnipresent force that shapes the career trajectories of researchers around the globe. Yet, beneath the surface of this drive for intellectual contribution lies a deeply entrenched practice: the rule against simultaneous submission of a manuscript to multiple journals.
This rule, as ubiquitous as it is unquestioned, dictates that an author must wait for a response—often taking several months—from one journal before they can submit their work to another. Meanwhile, their research, often a result of rigorous investigation and hard-earned insights, remains unseen and unused by the broader scientific community. Also, it is not rare that promising intellectual contributions eventually go unpublished, only because a couple of reviewers each of a few journals reject these manuscripts, serially, one after the other. While this practice was initially developed to protect the time and resources of journals and reviewers, it may not serve the best interests of today’s fast-paced and interconnected scholarly landscape.
The time has come to critically assess this convention, shine a light on its potential drawbacks, and consider alternative approaches that honor both the labor of researchers and the operational realities of journals. Through a deeper understanding of these issues, we can begin to imagine and advocate for a scholarly publishing system that is fair, efficient, and reflective of the realities of the digital age. In this article, we will delve into the various dimensions of the simultaneous submission policy, arguing for a much-needed reform while offering viable alternatives that ensure the sustainability and fairness of scholarly publication.
Untalkable, but not unthinkable: The case against the single submission
As we navigate the complexities of the current submission practices, let’s first acknowledge the elephant in the room: the inefficiency of time management. Researchers invest substantial time, often measured in years, to produce a manuscript. After this labor-intensive process, they are obliged to submit their work to only one journal at a time, even though responses often take several months and may result in a rejection. This delay can significantly impede the career progression of early-stage researchers and those working in rapidly evolving fields where the dissemination of research findings is time-sensitive.
Moreover, the potential for impeding the progress of scientific research as a whole is a crucial issue that demands attention. Valuable findings and insights may be left in limbo for months while awaiting review, hindering other researchers who may be waiting for these results to advance their work. In an era where information is exchanged at the speed of light, this system stands out as a limiting factor that slows the pace of scientific discovery.
Additionally, this policy inadvertently supports a lack of transparency in the review process. While peer review is intended to maintain the rigor and integrity of scientific research, its outcomes can sometimes be influenced by factors unrelated to the quality of the research. A journal might have a preference for specific topics, or the reviewers might harbor certain biases. The rule against simultaneous submission prevents authors from receiving diverse feedback from multiple sources, limiting their ability to improve their work based on different perspectives or identify systemic biases.
Now, let’s consider an often overlooked but significant aspect: what if more than one journal accepts and publishes the work simultaneously? From the perspective of traditional publishing norms, this might appear as a violation of rules. But isn’t it in the interest of the authors to achieve maximum dissemination of their work? Furthermore, wouldn’t it lend more credibility to the findings if multiple, diverse sets of anonymous reviewers have vetted the manuscript? The single submission rule undermines this potential benefit.
The single submission rule exacerbates the imbalance of power between researchers and journals. By allowing authors to submit to only one journal at a time, the system gives disproportionate control to journals and reviewers. If authors could submit to multiple outlets simultaneously, they would have more agency in choosing a journal that provides the most beneficial terms for their work.
The scholarly publishing industry has faced significant criticism over its inequitable practices, such as charging substantial subscription fees while not compensating authors or reviewers for their work. However, it’s puzzling that the unjust policy of prohibiting simultaneous submissions largely goes unchallenged.
Therefore, it is essential to consider the rationale behind this policy. That said, the practice of single submission emerged to ensure that journals and reviewers did not waste resources reviewing a paper that might soon be published elsewhere. This means, while advocating for reform, we must propose alternatives that address these legitimate concerns.
Balancing the scales: Addressing the original concerns
It is vital to remember that the policy against simultaneous submissions was not born out of capriciousness. Instead, it emerged from practical concerns related to resource management in the publishing world. A significant issue was the potential waste of time and effort by reviewers and journal staff if a manuscript was withdrawn due to acceptance by another journal. Moreover, it was meant to prevent the confusion that might arise if the same manuscript were published in multiple journals at once, which could have implications for the perception of originality in research.
As we argue for the possibility of simultaneous submissions, we must devise solutions that address these foundational concerns. Here are a few potential pathways:
Cooperative Review Platforms: We could advocate for the development of cooperative platforms where multiple journals can concurrently consider the same paper, akin to the arXiv preprint server used by physicists. Such platforms could also serve as a central location for peer reviews. This way, the investment made by any particular reviewer isn’t wasted but instead can benefit multiple journals and, crucially, the authors themselves.
Non-exclusive Reviews: Instead of the traditional exclusive review process, a non-exclusive review process can be implemented. Here, a paper can be reviewed by multiple journals, with the understanding that the author will choose the journal that first accepts it. This way, authors get faster feedback and can decide the best venue for their work, while journals reduce the risk of investing resources into a manuscript that may get published elsewhere.
Transparent and Coordinated Publication Schedules: If a manuscript gets accepted by more than one journal, there could be a coordinated effort for simultaneous publication, along with a clear note of acknowledgment of the joint publication. This way, maximum dissemination and credibility could be achieved without diluting the perceived originality of the work.
Shared Peer Review Systems: Journals within similar fields could agree on a shared pool of reviewers who review submissions with the understanding that their reviews will be used by multiple journals. Such an approach would make the review process more efficient and less duplicative.
While each of these alternatives has its complexities and challenges, they also represent opportunities for innovation in scholarly publishing. By updating our practices to better reflect the interconnectedness and pace of today’s research landscape, we can create a publishing environment that is more fair, efficient, and respectful of the authors’ hard work and the reviewers’ valuable contributions.
The current single submission rule, while grounded in historical practicalities, seems increasingly at odds with the rapidly evolving landscape of scholarly research and the digital age’s possibilities. The time has come for us to revisit this norm critically, acknowledging its limitations and actively seeking more equitable and efficient alternatives.
The alternatives suggested in this article—cooperative review platforms, non-exclusive reviews, transparent and coordinated publication schedules, shared peer review systems—are not without their challenges. However, they hold the promise of transforming the publishing landscape into a more efficient and equitable space that better serves the interests of all stakeholders, from researchers to journals to the broader scientific community.
While advocating for simultaneous submissions, we also recognize and uphold the importance of peer review as a cornerstone of rigorous and credible scientific research. Our aim is not to upend this foundation but to reimagine how it could function more efficiently and equitably in our interconnected, digital world.
As researchers, editors, publishers, and readers, we all share a stake in this system and its evolution. Scholarly publishing should get out of “of the publisher, for the publisher, by the publisher” model. Together, we can question existing practices, explore new possibilities, and work towards a scholarly publishing system that truly serves the advancement of knowledge. The road to reform may be complex, but the potential benefits for research dissemination and progress make it a journey worth undertaking.
Babu George is the coordinator of international programs in business and an associate professor of management at Fort Hays State University.