There has been renewed interest in fast-track fees, after Nature Scientific Reports began piloting their use. Back in 2011, we wrote a protest letter to seven journals that were using fast-track fees at that time (some have since discontinued). The original website where we posted the letter is defunct, so I am re-posting here.
We write to ask that you discontinue the policy of fast-tracking submissions for a fee.
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 developed and developing nations. 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 will 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 three possible negative effects of this. First is that the reduced time for reviewers to spend on their work may lead to more superficial and less stringent reviews. Second is that 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. The third possible negative effect reflects the linkage between fast-tracked articles and the journals finances. Your journal would receive more money if it evaluates fast-tracked articles less stringently, and even if it does not succumb to this incentive the readers may always have that perception.
Overall, the association of author fees with preferential treatment may eventually imperil sciences reputation among governments and the public. Science traditionally has been something of a refuge from the injustice of rich vs. poor, and 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.
Superficially, the policy of fees for fast-tracking seems similar to the Gold Open Access model, in which authors pay a fee to have their article published if it passes peer review. In most of those journals, however, the policy is set so that authors who pay are treated the same as those who dont. Most Gold OA journals offer a waiver for authors who cannot afford the usual fee, and reviewers and editors do not know whose fees are waived and whose are not. And in those unfortunate cases of journals that require a fee for all, at least there is no difference within the journal with some articles receiving preferential treatment.
We, the undersigned, will not submit work to a journal which offers competitive advantages at a financial premium; nor will we review for any such journal.
Alex O. Holcombe, PhD, Senior Lecturer, School of Psychology, University of Sydney (email@example.com)
Claudia Koltzenburg, Managing editor, Cellular Therapy and Transplantation (an open access journal in Western/Russian cooperation), University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, Germany (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Kaan Цztьrk, Dept. of Information Systems and Technologies, Yeditepe University, Istanbul, Turkey. (email@example.com)
Ayşe Karasu, METU, Dept. of Physics, Ankara, Turkey (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Arman Abrahamyan, PhD, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, School of Psychology, University of Sydney (email@example.com)
Bill Hooker, Portland, OR (firstname.lastname@example.org)
William Gunn, San Diego CA
Daniel Mietchen, PhD, Jena, Germany (email@example.com)
Daniel Linares, PhD, Generalitat de Catalunya, Spain (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Barton L. Anderson, School of Psychology, University of Sydney
Kiley Seymour, PhD, Alexander von Humboldt postdoctoral fellow, Berlin, Germany
Bjorn Brembs, PhD, Heisenberg Fellow, Freie Universitдt Berlin, Germany
M Fabiana Kubke, PhD, University of Auckland, New Zealand
Graham Steel, Glasgow, Scotland ( graham at science3point0.com )
Matthew Davidson, Psychology Dept, Columbia University (email@example.com)
Richard Badge, PhD, Lecturer, Department of Genetics, University of Leicester, UK (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Pedro Mendes, PhD, Professor, School of Computer Science, The University of Manchester, UK (email@example.com)
R. Steven Kurti, PhD, Director Biomaterials and Photonics Laboratory, Loma Linda University School of Dentistry, California (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The above are the original authors and signatories. The link [now dead] will reveal new (post 25 April 2011) signatories.