At least seven academic journals now offer preferential treatment for a fee—see the table at bottom. The journals describe this as a “fast-track” service that simply speeds things up. Even if that were all it was, this is an unwelcome development, as it means scientists from poorer countries or with poor funding will fall further behind their rich counterparts, whose publications can now leapfrog over the others. Traditionally this did not happen, and still the vast majority of journals have a policy of treating all (uninvited) submissions equally.
Worse, it is likely that at least occasionally, fast-tracking leads to short-cuts by the editor or reviewers as they seek to meet the deadline. For instance, reviewers are often late submitting their reviews to the editor. At most journals, the editor simply waits. But if dealing with a paid-for fast-track submission, the editor must make their decision without the benefit of the additional criticisms likely to be raised by the late review. Effectively, authors who pay may have a higher chance of their article being accepted then those who don’t.
I worry that if we do not protest these policies, more journals will adopt them and science’s general reputation for fairness will be damaged. If you are concerned about this, consider contributing to and signing the protest letter.
|1000 USD||“guarantees peer-review within 10 working days”|
|Journal of Internet Medical Research||450 USD||“initial decision within 15 working days, publication within 1 month after acceptance”|
|International Journal of Digital Content Technology and its Applications||2000 USD||“to review and publish your paper within 6 ~ 8 weeks”|
|250 USD||“editorial decision, and author notification on this manuscript is guaranteed to take place within 4 weeks”|
|Mathematical and Computational Forestry & Natural-Resource Sciences||300 USD||“the review, editorial decision, and author notification on this manuscript is guaranteed to take place within 4 weeks”|
|Review of Finance||800 EUR||“guarantees an editorial decision in 14 days”|
|Review of Corporate Finance||1000 USD||“guarantees a two-week turnaround time”, “referees will receive $800 for a fast, high quality referee report”|
Thanks to M. Kaan Öztürk for discovering two of these cases, and to Bill Hooker for contributing to the protest letter. I also discovered that the journal-publishing platforms Open Journal Systems and Celesta Publishing System include the option of a fast-track submission fee in the standard version of their software now.
UPDATE 11 June 2011: Obesity Reviews has informed me that they have discontinued fast-tracking for a fee, and the Eurasian Journal of Analytical Chemistry seems to have deleted all mentions of it from their website.