Thursday, September 10, 2009

Good bye track I papers: PNAS

There are several ways to get your paper into PNAS (see 1), which, IMHO, is a great journal.

One of these is the so called "track I" system:
Members are allowed to “communicate” up to two papers each per annum for non-members in their own sphere of expertise via Track I, for which the member procures at least two reviews before submission to the editorial office
Basically, what this means is the following: You (a non-member) send your manuscript directly to a member (i.e not going through the PNAS editorial office). The NAS member then sends it out for review (to whomever he chooses) and, after getting back their reviews, gets them to the PNAS editorial office with a recommendation.

Or, as PNAS puts it:
Before submission to PNAS, the member obtains reviews of the paper from at least 2 qualified referees, each from a different institution and not from the authors' or member's institutions. Referees should be asked to evaluate revised manuscripts to ensure that their concerns have been adequately addressed. The names and contact information, including e-mails, of referees who reviewed the paper, along with the reviews and the authors' response, must be included. Reviews must be submitted on the PNAS review form, and the identity of the referees must not be revealed to the authors. The member must include a brief statement endorsing publication in PNAS along with all of the referee reports received for each round of review. Members should follow National Science Foundation (NSF) guidelines to avoid conflict of interest between referees and authors (see Section iii). Members must verify that referees are free of conflicts of interest, or must disclose any conflicts and explain their choice of referees. These papers are published as “Communicated by" the responsible editor.
The other track, Track II, means submitting your work directly to the PNAS editorial office, where it will follow pretty standard MS handling.

As of 1 July next year, PNAS will force all non-members to submit to the journal directly for blind peer review, that is, through Track II2.

Interestingly, over 80% of the Academy Members voted to eliminate Track I, although PNAS Editor-in-chief Randy Schekman mentioned that a “determined minority” opposed the move because they felt the option offered a publication route for innovative and idiosyncratic papers2.

I don't have a particular problem with track I papers, but I've heard some people say (both here and in the US, about different papers): "the only reason he got this paper accepted in PNAS is because he submitted it through track I", or making comments about this track leading to a sort of "lite peer review" which could ease the way for a paper, as long as you have a "friend" as a NAS member to send your MS to.

I don't know if this is true, as I don't have any close experience with PNAS.

Does track I have a bad rep? Was this the reason why its elimination was so supported?
What do you think?

1 Fersht A (2005) How and why to publish in PNAS. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A.102(18): 6241–6242.
2The Academy's Journal Becomes Less Friendly to the Academy Members

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Psi Wavefunction said...

Well, speaking of which:

Just follow the links for further evisceration...

That was definitely your stereotyped Track I paper, on steroids...

Alejandro Montenegro-Montero said...

Asking around, apparently what I've heard it's a widespread notion: track I papers are "widely considered to be a venue for vanity publishing".

Although I could understand that the PNAS office would like to eliminate track I as it is somewhat hurting its image (for what I've found out), I wonder... was this the reason why over 80% of the NAS members voted to eliminate it?

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