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Pandemic publishing: Medical journals strongly speed up their publication process for COVID-19


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In times of public crises, including the current Covid-19 pandemic, rapid dissemination of relevant scientific knowledge is of paramount importance. The duration of scholarly journals’ publication process is one of the main factors that may hinder quick delivery of new information. Following initiatives of medical journals to accelerate their publication process, this study assesses whether medical journals have managed to speed up their publication process for Coronavirus related articles. It studies the duration of 14 medical journals’ publication process both during and prior to the current pandemic. Assessing a total of 669 articles, the study concludes that medical journals have indeed strongly accelerated their publication process for Coronavirus related articles since the outbreak of the pandemic: time between submission and publication has decreased on average by 49%. The largest decrease in number of days between submission and publication of articles was due to a decrease in time required for peer review. For articles not related to Covid-19, no acceleration of the publication process is found. While the acceleration of journals’ publication process is laudable from the perspective of quick information dissemination, it also may raise concerns relating to the peer review process’ quality and the quality of the resulting publications.
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Pandemic publishing: Medical journals
strongly speed up their publication
process for COVID-19
Serge P. J. M. Horbach
Radboud University Nijmegen, Faculty of Science, Institute for Science in Society,
P.O. Box 9010, 6500 GL Nijmegen, The Netherlands
Centre for Science and Technology Studies (CWTS), Faculty of Social Sciences, Leiden University,
Wassenaarseweg 62A, 2333 AL Leiden, The Netherlands
Keywords: COVID-19, peer review, publication delay, publication process, publication time,
scientific publishing
In times of public crises, including the current COVID-19 pandemic, rapid dissemination of
relevant scientific knowledge is of paramount importance. The duration of scholarly journals
publication process is one of the main factors that may hinder quick delivery of new information.
Following initiatives of medical journals to accelerate their publication process, this study assesses
whether medical journals have managed to speed up their publication process for coronavirus-
related articles. It studies the duration of 14 medical journalspublication processes both during and
prior to the current pandemic. Assessing 669 articles, the study concludes that medical journals
have indeed strongly accelerated their publication process for coronavirus-related articles since the
outbreak of the pandemic: The time between submission and publication has decreased on average
by 49%. The largest decrease in number of days between submission and publication of articles
was due to a decrease in time required for peer review. For articles not related to COVID-19, no
acceleration of the publication process is found. While the acceleration of the publication process
is laudable from the perspective of quick information dissemination, it also may raise concerns
relating to the quality of the peer review process and of the resulting publications.
The world is facing an unprecedented health crisis affecting nearly all parts of society. In these
times, access to the most state-of-the-art scientific knowledge is paramount to tackling the crisis.
Academic journals and scholarly publishers are hence called upon to make new knowledge
openly available and deliver new insights quickly.
In the current COVID-19 era, it is clear that new knowledge is direly needed. Scientists all
over the world have stepped in to do experiments, observational studies and new analyses to
obtain relevant information. However fast we would like to have access to this information, the
scientific method used to obtain it requires time. Drug trials and vaccine creations do not happen
overnight (Thorp, 2020). However, once such information has been gathered, it needs to be dis-
seminated to all those potentially in a position to use it, as quick as possible. Traditionally, scholarly
journals have been one of the main outlets to facilitate this (Horbach & Halffman, 2018).
One of the factors possibly hindering quick delivery of new information through scholarly
journals is the duration of their publication process. Through editorial assessment and peer
an open access journal
Citation: Horbach, S. P. J. M. (2020).
Pandemic publishing: Medical journals
strongly speed up their publication
process for COVID-19. Quantitative
Science Studies,1(3), 10561067.
Supporting Information:
Received: 19 April 2020
Accepted: 2 June 2020
Corresponding Author:
Serge P. J. M. Horbach
Handling Editor:
Vincent Larivière
Copyright: © 2020 Serge P. J. M.
Horbach. Published under a Creative
Commons Attribution 4.0 International
(CC BY 4.0) license.
The MIT Press
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review, journals select which articles deserve to be published on their pages, ideally filtering out
invalid, erroneous, or otherwise problematic research. Though celebrated as being one of the hall-
marks of science, the peer review process is also regularly criticized. Commentators blame it for
being inconsistent (Peters & Ceci, 1982), essentially flawed (Smith, 2006), biased (Teplitskiy,
Acuna, et al., 2018), andparticularly relevant in these times of crisisslow (Nguyen,
Haddaway, et al., 2015).
Several studies have previously aimed to assess the typical duration of journalspublication
process (Lin, Hou, & Wu, 2016;Tosi, 2009). In their analyses, researchers commonly distinguish
two stages of this process: the review stage (the stage between article submission and formal
acceptance) and the production stage (the stage between acceptance and final publication, either
online or in print). In a meta-analysis including over 2,700 journal articles, Björk and Solomon
(2013) find considerable differences in turnaround times (the period between submission and
publication of a journal article, sometimes also called publication delays) between research
disciplines. For biomedical journals, they find an average duration of the review stage of just over
4 months, while the production stage takes on average about 5 months. The latter stage can
be shortened for some journals by implementing online-firstinitiatives. Clearly, such lengthy
turnaround times are highly undesirable from the perspective of quick delivery of novel knowl-
edge in light of the current health crisis.
Two major responses to circumvent long turnaround times can currently be witnessed. From
an author perspective, commentators are reporting a sharp increase in the use of preprint
servers. On these online platforms, authors upload their manuscript, making it publicly acces-
sible immediately upon finalization of the text (Gunnarsdottir, 2005). Because no review,
editorial assessment, or copyediting takes place, manuscripts can be made accessible without
publication delay. However, as manuscripts are only reviewed once they are available for any-
body to read and use, scholars warn of potentially incorrect results spreading without editorial
assessment filtering them. In fact, several cases of invalid research regarding COVID-19 being
published as preprints have already been reported (Heimstädt, 2020;Marcus & Oransky, 2020).
Preprint servers are now trying to mitigate this by explicitly posting (health) warnings on their
articles. It should be noted, though, that this is not specific to preprints, as journal articles can
require postpublication corrections and retractions as well (Horbach & Halffman, 2019).
Several articles related to COVID-19 have already gone through this process (Gautret, Lagier,
et al., 2020).
From the publishersside, many journals and publishers are currently modifying their editorial
procedures and policies to warrant fast dissemination of relevant information (Redhead, 2020).
For instance, eLife announced it would curtail requests for additional experiments during revi-
sions, suspend its deadline for submitting revisions, and make the posting of preprints to
bioRxiv or medRxiv the default for all eLife submissions. It would also specifically mobilize early-
career researchers to become reviewing editors and reviewers to extend the journals reviewer
pool (Eisen, Akhmanova, et al., 2020). Similarly, Nature put out an open invitation to researchers
with relevant expertise to review coronavirus-related papers over short time (Nature,2020).
Hence, journals and publishers are aiming to attract reviewers who can assist in the rapid pub-
lication of new findings that are relevant to tackle the health crisis. The Medical Journal of
Australia (MJA) has drafted policies related to both preprints and rapid peer review, setting up fast
lanesfor coronavirus-related research:
The MJA has stepped up to play its part in meeting this crisis, including ultrarapid review of
SARS-CoV-2 manuscripts and preprint publication of unedited papers, to ensure that the
newest data and viewpoints are available as soon as possible. (Talley, 2020)
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The Royal Society Open Publishing announced the establishing of a similar fast lane for their
registered reports on coronavirus-related content. They have even gathered a group of 700 reviewers
who have committed to review a paper in 24 to 48 hours when called up on (Brock, 2020). The
journal also acknowledges a widely voiced concern related to these fast dissemination models:
The ultra-rapid review and publication model entails a risk of error, but sharing important informa-
tion too slowly is a much greater hazard(Talley, 2020).
In this article, we assess whether the scholarly publishing community has succeeded in speeding
up the dissemination of coronavirus-related content. To do so, we mainly focus on the duration
of journalspublication processes both prior to and during the present pandemic. In addition, we
briefly assess the use of preprint servers and the uptake of preprint articles in academic journals.
For our analysis, we use a repository of coronavirus-related research articles established by the
Centre for Science and Technology Studies (CWTS). The repository is based on databases of
CORD-19, Dimensions, and the World Health Organization (WHO), and includes articles on
COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, and related (corona) viruses and infectious diseases. In particular, this
means that the database contains journal articles and preprints that predate the current COVID-19
pandemic, as it also includes, for instance, articles on the 2002 SARS virus and disease. For
brevitys sake, all such articles will in the remainder of this article by described as coronavirus-
relatedarticles. A full description of the database as well as access to all relevant data is available
(CWTS, 2020). Colavizza, Costas, et al. (2020) provide a description and analysis of parts of this
database. All results in this article are based on the April 4, 2020 release of the database. We note
that the majority of articles in the data set originate from the CORD-19 database. Some doubt has
been raised about the relevance of some of this databases articles to the current pandemic
(Colavizza et al., 2020), but for our purposes, the scope of the database seems reasonable.
Based on this data set, several analyses were performed.
2.1. Duration of JournalsPublication Process
We analyzed the duration of the publication process, in number of days, for a sample of 529 journal
articles. Of these, 259 articles were published during the present pandemic (i.e., from January 1,
2020) and 270 were published prior to the pandemic (i.e., before October 1, 2019). The dates
January 1 and October 1 were chosen based on the first cases of COVID-19 appearing in China
in November 2019. Hence, October 1 ensures that articles in the control group were published
before the pandemic emerged, and January 1 allows for work to be done and submitted after the
first cases appeared. The articles were published in 14 different journals. Journals were selected
based on their number of articles both prior to and during the current pandemic as well as the avail-
ability of data on when articles were submitted, accepted, and published. We selected the 10 jour-
nals publishing most coronavirus-related articles in general, supplemented by the five journals
publishing most coronavirus-related content since the start of the pandemic that make publication
data (submission, acceptance, and publishing) available. One journal, Viruses, matches both criteria.
The list of journals used in this analysis, including their number of articles, as well as the journals
discarded because no data on submission, acceptance, or publication dates were available, is
added as supplementary material A. From those journals, we sampled all articles published since
the start of the pandemic and matched those to an equal number of articles published in the same
journal prior to the pandemic to form a control group. If the control group had fewer articles, we
used this number of articles and only selected the most recent articles after the pandemic began. If
fewer than 10 articles were published after the start of the pandemic, we nonetheless sampled
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Table 1. Duration of the publication process for coronavirus-related papers, distributed over Review stage (between submission and acceptance) and Production stage
(between acceptance and publication). Data distinguishes between the period before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. All durations are given in days
Journal title
Number of articles
Number of days for
publicationDuring pandemic
Number of days for
publicationBefore pandemic
pandemic Total
95% CI Entire
95% CI Entire
Archives of Virology 9 10 19 127.1 70.1 197.2 162.0 232.4 122.6 37.9 160.5 107.0 214.0
Eurosurveillance 30 30 60 8.3 1.7 10.0 7.1 12.9 105.9 62.4 168.3 113.2 223.5
International Journal
of Infectious
32 32 64 23.7 5.3 28.9 14.8 43.1 77.0 8.5 85.5 64.7 106.3
Journal of Hospital
24 24 48 10.0 5.6 15.6 1.8 29.5 59.5 15.8 75.3 55.9 94.7
Journal of Medical
13 13 26 10.3 4.9 15.2 11.8 18.7 107.3 64.4 117.3 56.0 178.7
Journal of Virology 4 10 14 37.0 41.5 78.5 19.6 137.4 61.5 77.9 139.4 119.5 159.3
PLOS ONE 14 14 28 183.3 25.9 209.2 153.9 264.5 230.9 25.9 256.7 164.2 349.2
Scientific Reports 14 14 28 147.9 18.4 166.4 133.0 199.7 216.7 57.9 274.6 197.2 352.1
Travel Medicine
and Infectious
45 45 90 12.6 2.7 15.3 8.8 21.9 91.5 5.1 96.6 71.9 121.4
Vaccine 9 10 19 148.2 22.7 170.9 114.0 227.7 154.3 14.5 168.8 96.3 241.3
9 10 19 89.6 4.3 93.9 70.5 117.3 69.2 2.4 71.6 59.2 84.0
Virology 8 10 18 90.0 3.3 93.3 63.9 122.6 63.3 5.6 68.9 51.3 86.5
Virus Research 10 10 20 124.2 2.4 126.6 89.7 163.5 119.4 9.2 128.6 37.4 219.8
Viruses 38 38 76 32.5 4.2 36.7 28.6 44.8 33.3 3.7 37.0 30.1 43.9
Total 259 270 529 51.0 9.3 60.3 50.9 69.8 95.9 23.6 117.4 103.9 130.9
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10 articles for the control group. For the control group, we sampled articles starting with publi-
cations in 2019 (but before October 1) and moving backwards, in order to make sure editorial
policies most closely resemble those in the pandemic. Table 1 presents the list of journals used,
including the number of articles sampled per journal. Information on the dates of submission,
acceptance, and publication was manually retrieved from the journals website. Some journals
distinguished between publication online and appearance in the print issue of the journal; for
these journals we always selected the date of online publication. Other journals, for instance
online-only journals, do not distinguish between these dates, and date of publication automat-
ically refers to online publication.
To control for potential effects specific to coronavirus-related papers, we selected, for all
journals in our sample, the 10 most recently published articles (as of April 16, 2020) about
noncoronavirus-related content. In particular, these were articles not present in our previous data
set and articles not mentioning COVID-19, coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, or Cov-19 in their title, key-
words, and abstract. All the 140 articles in this control group were published during the current
pandemic, with 64% published in April 2020, 32% in March, 1% in February, and 3% in January.
2.2. Posting of Preprints
We assessed the usage of preprint servers as a fast way of disseminating academic knowledge
by counting the number of preprints on coronavirus-related content both during and before the
current pandemic. For this we used all preprints in the database, and did not use a more nar-
row sampling strategy. Hence, we include all coronavirus-related preprints. In addition, we
analyzed the number of preprints that were also published as journal articles and the average
number of days between posting of the preprint and the publication of the corresponding jour-
nal article. The analysis is based on the linkage of preprints and journal articles in the
Dimensions Database (
Figure 1 presents an overview of the number of journal articles and preprints per year in our
data set. Unsurprisingly, it shows a sharp increase for both publication types since the out-
break of the current pandemic. However, earlier pandemics, such as the SARS outbreak in
2002, are clearly visible as well.
Figure 1. The number of journal articles and preprints related to COVID-19 per year in our database.
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Figure 2 compares the overall duration of journalspublication processes prior to and during
the present pandemic. It demonstrates that, on average, journals have strongly increased the
speed of their processes for COVID-19 publications: The average turnaround time in our journal
sample has decreased from 117 days to 60 days. Comparing the 95% confidence intervals of both
statistics shows the decrease to be highly substantial and significant.
Table 1 presents descriptive statistics on the average duration of the publication process for
coronavirus-related articles in journals in our sample. It distinguishes between the periods before
and during the pandemic and it splits the entire publication process into the Review stage
(between submission and acceptance) and Production stage ( between acceptance and publication).
Figure 3 presents a graphical overview of the average decrease in turnaround time in the
period during the crisis compared to the period prior to the pandemic. It again distinguishes
between the Review and Production stages of the publication process. Note that negative numbers
in this case indicate an increase in turnaround time. The figure indicates that the Review stage
shortens for 10 of the 14 journals in our sample, while nine journals managed to shorten their
Production stage. Average acceleration is around 50% for both stages, but it goes up to nearly
100% in some journals.
To check whether the acceleration of publication processes is specific to coronavirus-related
papers, we analyzedthe turnaround times for noncoronavirus-relatedarticles published since the
start of the pandemic. For all journals in our sample, we selected the 10 most recently published
articles (as of April 16, 2020) about noncoronavirus-related content. In particular, these were
articles not present in our previous data set and articles not mentioning COVID-19, coronavirus,
SARS-CoV-2, or Cov-19 in their title, keywords, and abstract. For these articles we also analyzed
the turnaround times of their publication process. The results are presented in Figure 4. The figure
indicates that for most journals, articles not related to COVID-19 have very similar turnaround
times to articles published before the pandemic. Unpacking the publication process in the
Review and Production stage, we conclude that, again, noncoronavirus-related articles follow
a very similar pattern to articles published before the pandemic.
Figure 2. Average duration of the publication process for coronavirus-related papers in our sample
of journals, as well as the total average over all journals (Total). Durations are given in number of days
and distinguish between the period before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Error bars represent
the 95% confidence interval.
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Figure 4. Average duration of the publication process for papers in our sample of journals, as well
as the total average over all journals (Total). Durations are given for articles published before the
pandemic and articles published during the pandemic, both those related to coronaviruses and
those not related to coronaviruses. Durations are given in number of days. Error bars represent
the 95% confidence interval.
Figure 3. Relative average decrease in time spend per journal on the Review stage, Production
stage and Entire publication process in the journals of our sample, as well as for the total set of
journals (Total). Decrease is measured as the shortening of duration in the pandemic era compared
to the prepandemic era (i.e., negative values indicate an increase in duration during the pandemic
compared to the period before the pandemic).
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As a brief addition to the above analysis, we now turn our analysis towards the posting of
preprints. As was shown in Figure 1, the number of preprints on coronavirus-related content
has seen a sharp increase since the outbreak of the pandemic. At the day of sampling, 2,102
preprints were posted on seven preprint servers: SSRN Electronic Journal, bioRxiv, ChemRxiv,
JMIR Preprints, Research Square, and medRxiv. We note that even though arXiv publications
are included in the Dimensions database, they are not included in the April 4 release of the data
set we used, due to technical issues. Out of the 2,102 preprints in our data set, 129 have currently
also appeared as journal articles. Due to the small number of preprints being published as journal
articles, no statistically relevant conclusions can be drawn about the uptake of preprints in
journals. However, analyzing the average duration between the posting of the preprint and the
publication of the corresponding journal article we see a steady increase, ranging from, on
average, 137 days in 2017 to just over 200 days in 2020. Currently, we do not see any indication
of acceleration of the uptake of preprints in journals since the outbreak of the current pandemic.
However, the sample is small and these statements should be treated with caution.
The 129 preprints were published in 68 different academic journals with only five journals
publishing at least five preprints. The three journals publishing most preprints were Journal of
Virology,PLOS ONE, and Scientific Reports, all of which are in our sample of journals used for
the previous analyses. Hence, for the preprints in these journals, we can analyze the turnaround
times of their publication process. The results are presented in Table 2.
All but one of these preprint-journal article pairs were published prior to the current pandemic.
However, on comparing the results in Tables 1 and 2it becomes clear that turnaround times for
articles that previously appeared as preprints are much shorter than the average turnaround times
in these journals. In fact, for these prepandemic articles, turnaround times are even shorter than
their average postpandemic counterparts.
To tackle the current health crisis, many have urged publishers to disseminate relevant academic
knowledge as fast as possible. Acknowledging that common publication delays in medical
journals are unacceptable in the current era, journals are expected to decrease the turnaround
times of their publication process. The results of our study indicate that some journals have indeed
managed to do so.
Our results on the average turnaround times of journal articles prior to the current pandemic
correspond well with earlier findings of studies on publication delays in medical journals (Björk &
Solomon, 2013). However, since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, medical journals
Table 2. Average duration of the publication process for articles that previously appeared as preprints.
Durations are given in number of days. The duration of the publication process is distributed over the
Review stage (between submission and acceptance) and Production stage (between acceptance and
publication). On top of the publication process, the table also indicates the average number of days
between publication of the preprint and submission of the journal article
Journal title
Time from preprint
publication to
journal submission
Journal of Virology 55.6 70.7 126.4 25.4
PLOS ONE 126.6 21.9 148.5 8.6
Scientific Reports 105.3 16.3 121.6 56.1
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have managed to greatly accelerate their publication processes to make them nearly twice as fast
for coronavirus-related articles. In contrast, articles not related to coronaviruses that were pub-
lished since the beginning of the pandemic do not show any acceleration. Their turnaround times
are similar to articles published before the pandemic.
While it seems reasonable that journals might encounter difficulties in attracting reviewers
with relevant expertiseas those are probably active scientists working on novel research
themselvesthe opposite seems to be the case. From our results, it seems that journals are finding
enough reviewers willing to review coronavirus-related papers at very short notice. However, this
conclusion should be treated with caution, as no data is available on who reviewed the papers.
Maybe the same few experts reviewed a lot more than usual; maybe relevant expertisewas
taken as a relative criterion, with journals using reviewers that usually would not have been
considered experts. The fact that noncoronavirus-related papers are published at similar speeds
during and before the pandemic seems to indicate that journals are also not facing more issues
with attracting reviewers for those papers.
As preprint articles are not being included in medical journalsmore quickly, it seems that either
authors are not submitting preprint articles to journals more quickly, or journals are prioritizing
content that has not appeared as preprints. Qualitative follow-up research interviewing authors
and editors on their submission and review practices regarding preprint articles could shed further
light on this.
Some of the most prominent, high-impact medical journals are not part of our sample because
they do not share all relevant data on submission, acceptance,and publication dates. Comparing
the total number of published articles in high-impact journals such as the British Medical Journal,
The Lancet, the Journal of the American Medical Association and the New England Journal of
Medicine does not give a clear indication of faster publication: These four journals published
864, 421, 351, and 307 articles respectively in 2020, according to a Web of Science search.
Over the same period in 2019 they published 874, 497, 335, and 334 articles respectively.
Hence, most show a small decrease in the total number of published articles. Consequently, if
they managed to speed up their publication process for coronavirus-related articles, this might
have been at the expense of other content being published less, or less quickly. However, other
factors might be at play as well, including a change in the volume of submissions during the
COVID-19 pandemic (which could have impacted these journals in particular, as their authors
may be practitioners at the sharp end of patient care) and page budget constraints.
Even though the acceleration of journalspublication processes is laudable from the perspective
of quick information dissemination, it also raises several questions and concerns.
First, one may wonder whether faster is always better. Even though the two do not necessarily
exclude each other, it seems reasonable that there is a balance, or perhaps even a trade-off, between
speed and quality in peer review. At the review stage, especially, legitimate concerns can be raised
about whether speeding up the review process might harm the processs ability to filter incorrect or
invalid findings. Such research slipping through peer review might require corrections or retractions
in the future. Given the potentially rapid uptake of medical knowledge in policy and clinical
contexts, such corrections might come too late, as potential harm might already have been done.
Commentators have raised this concern regarding the use of information in preprints, but it similarly
applies to journal articles. In fact, false information spreading through journal articles is arguably
more damaging, as it has the appearance of being peer reviewedand hence properly verified.
Scholars have repeatedly warned that a substantial share of articles (hastily) published during this
crisis will require future corrections (Marcus & Oransky, 2020). Formal expressions of concern about
papers used to make policy decisions have already been issued (Voss, 2020).
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As assessing the quality of the published record or the review process was beyond the scope of
this study, the concern that faster publication processes decrease publication quality is yet to be
verified. Future research should therefore analyze whether shorter review processes during the
COVID-19 pandemic have affected the quality of thepublication process and, for instance, have
led to an increase in corrections or retractions of published articles.
While acceleration of the review stage might evoke quality issues, this arguably applies less to
the production stage of the publication process. Journalsachievements in shortening this stage of
the publication process for coronavirus-related content is entirely laudable. However, this might
raise questions about why publication delays at this stage are usually higher and whether journals
will aim and be able to maintain such standards in a postcrisis era. One potential explanation for
the shortened production stage is that publishers or journal editors now prioritize coronavirus-
related research articles at the expense of other articles. However, our data on noncoronavirus
related articles published during the pandemic seem to contradict this. It seems as though journals
are managing to speed up editorial work for coronavirus-related contentwhile maintaining stan-
dards for other articles.
Several journals show a substantial lengthening of the production stage. This might be caused
by an increase in the number of manuscripts submitted to the respective journals. For journals
showing an increase in total turnaround time, this seems to be concentrated in the production
stage, after manuscript acceptance. As editors themselves might be practicing scientists, the over-
load of newly submitted manuscripts might be a cause of this additional delay.
This study suffers from various limitations in its analysis. First, it could only analyze those
journal articles that have been published. This particularly implies that it was unable to assess
the review processs duration for rejected articles. Neither could it analyze articles that are
currently still under review.
Second, the analysis does not include article type as a feature of analysis. Some article types,
including letters to the editor, perspectives, or commentaries, might undergo a different kind of
peer reviewthey might, for instance, only be reviewed by the editor, rather than by external
reviewers. A potential difference in distribution of pre- and postcrisis articles over the various
article types might explain some of the variation in the publication processs duration.
Third, our analyses focus on journals publishing relatively many coronavirus-related articles.
Due to a lack of sufficient articles in other, potentially smaller, journals, we were not able to
analyze those journals. As larger journals may more easily attract reviewers and have more
resources, and hence more capacity to shift resources to execute the production stage of publi-
cation, the resulting decrease in publication time might be less strong in smaller journals. At a later
stage, when more coronavirus-related papers appear in other journals, future research could
verify this potential difference.
Last, it should be noted that some of the journal articles assigned to our control group concern
papers related to previous health crises or pandemics, such as the MERS, Ebola or Zika crises.
Despite similar incentives to publish those articles quickly, content related to COVID-19 makes
its way through the publication process much more quickly. Future research could include a
more elaborate comparison not only between pre- and post-COVID-19 eras, but also between
publishing in the COVID-19 and other health-related crises.
In these times of crisis, the rapid dissemination of relevant academic knowledge is of para-
mount importance. Several stakeholders have already warned of a fake news pandemicspread-
ing disinformation and conspiracy theories through social media channels in the absence of
established scientific knowledge (Khatri,Singh,etal.,2020;UNESCO, 2020). To assist
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policymakers and clinical experts, as well as to counter the spread of such disinformation,
researchers and academic journals have a responsibility to share available knowledge quickly.
The fact that medical journals have managed to considerably speed up their publication process
for coronavirus-related content during the current pandemic is therefore laudable. However,some
concerns remain about whether faster dissemination might come at the expense of research
Our analysis indicates that the scholarly publishing enterprise has managed to greatly speed up
the dissemination of coronavirus-related research material since the outbreak of the pandemic. In
particular, academic journals managed to decrease the duration of their publication process by
49%, or 57 days on average, which is a statistically relevant difference. Some journals even show
a decrease in publication time of over 80% compared to the prepandemic era. This acceleration
concerns both the stage of review (between submission and acceptance) and the editing stage
(between acceptance and publication). The journals in our sample shortened both stages by 47%
(45 days) and 61% (14 days) respectively. Hence the majority of the decrease in total publication
time is due to speeding up the review process.
We also conclude that the acceleration of the publication process is specific to coronavirus-
related articles. Articles not related to COVID-19 published during the pandemic show very similar
turnaround times as articles published before the pandemic.
In addition to the fast spread of information through journal articles, the number of papers
posted on preprint servers has sharply increased. With only limited data available, such preprints
do not seem to be taken up as journal publications any quicker than they were before the
COVID-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, articles first appearing as preprints do seem to go through
shorter publication processes than articles not appearing as preprints.
The author would like to thank the Centre for Science and Technology Studies at Leiden
University for establishing the database used for this study and Digital Science for providing
access to the data. The author also thanks Ludo Waltman, Nees Jan van Eck, Marc Luwel,
Thed van Leeuwen, and the members of the Institute for Science in Societys Research Quality
Team for valuable feedback on earlier drafts of this manuscript.
The author has no competing interests.
No funding has been received for this research.
The data analyzed for this research are available via
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... Since then, its progression has been reported almost in real-time by the world media, generating an overproduction of information, some more accurate and some not, referred to as an information pandemic or "infodemic" (1,2). In addition, there has been an avalanche of publications in record time in the scientific world, a phenomenon deemed a "paperdemic" (3)(4)(5). ...
... Open access logo and text by PLoS, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. months after the outbreak of the virus, makes us consider that not only have researchers been working with extremely high productivity but also that the editorial processes have been profoundly modified (3), speeding these up with the help of technological advances and publishing in preprint or ahead-ofprint versions (6). ...
... As a result, academic publishing has been highly criticized during the pandemic, generating questions about the operation of the peer review process and the editorial decisions for manuscript publication. Some authors have criticized this accelerated production of information and have warned about an increase in retractions (3,10,11). ...
Full-text available
Objective To describe the editorial processing time of published COVID-19 research articles and compare this with a similar topic, human influenza, and analyze the number of publications, withdrawals, and retractions. Methods A descriptive-analytical study using PubMed on research articles with the MeSH terms human influenza and COVID-19. Time to acceptance (from submission to acceptance) and time to publication (from acceptance to publication) were compared. Retractions and withdrawals were reviewed both qualitatively and quantitatively. Results There were 31 319 research articles on COVID-19 and 4 287 on human influenza published during 2020. The median time to acceptance for COVID-19 was lower than that for human influenza (8 vs. 92 days). The median time to publication for COVID-19 articles was shorter than those on human influenza (12 vs. 16 days); 47.0% of COVID-19 research articles were accepted within the first week of submission, and 19.5% within one day. There were 82 retractions and withdrawals for COVID-19 articles, 1 for human influenza, and 5 for articles that contain both terms; these were mainly related to ethical misconduct, and 27 (31.0%) were published by the same group of authors in one highest-quartile journal. Conclusions The conundrum between fast publishing and adequate standards is shown in this analysis of COVID-19 research articles. The speed of acceptance for COVID-19 manuscripts was 11.5 times faster than for human influenza. The high number of acceptances within a day or week of submission and the number of retractions and withdrawals of COVID-19 papers might be a warning sign about the possible lack of a quality control process in scientific publishing and the peer review process.
... Science has tried to provide responses to pressing problems caused by the pandemic as quickly as possible. The number of scientific publications about COVID-19 over the last two years has been impressive [10]. This is not only due to the large number of researchers who have re-oriented their research to try to support the fight against the pandemic, but also because publishers and reviewers have increased their efforts to shorten publication times in order to get evidence published as fast as possible [10]. ...
... The number of scientific publications about COVID-19 over the last two years has been impressive [10]. This is not only due to the large number of researchers who have re-oriented their research to try to support the fight against the pandemic, but also because publishers and reviewers have increased their efforts to shorten publication times in order to get evidence published as fast as possible [10]. As a result, there is a growing body of literature attempting to summarize the lessons learned during the pandemic [6,7,11]. ...
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The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted some of the opportunities, problems and barriers facing the application of Artificial Intelligence to the medical domain. It is becoming increasingly important to determine how Artificial Intelligence will help healthcare providers understand and improve the daily practice of medicine. As a part of the Artificial Intelligence research field, the Process-Oriented Data Science community has been active in the analysis of this situation and in identifying current challenges and available solutions. We have identified a need to integrate the best efforts made by the community to ensure that promised improvements to care processes can be achieved in real healthcare. In this paper, we argue that it is necessary to provide appropriate tools to support medical experts and that frequent, interactive communication between medical experts and data miners is needed to co-create solutions. Process-Oriented Data Science, and specifically concrete techniques such as Process Mining, can offer an easy to manage set of tools for developing understandable and explainable Artificial Intelligence solutions. Process Mining offers tools, methods and a data driven approach that can involve medical experts in the process of co-discovering real-world evidence in an interactive way. It is time for Process-Oriented Data scientists to collaborate more closely with healthcare professionals to provide and build useful, understandable solutions that answer practical questions in daily practice. With a shared vision, we should be better prepared to meet the complex challenges that will shape the future of healthcare.
... One of the problems identified in "research exceptionalism" was the speed at which research related to COVID-19 was produced and published (Fraser et al., 2020;Horbach, 2020;London & Kimmelman, 2020;Teixeira da Silva, 2020). Ordinarily, a trial will take months to run and then several more to publish due to the peer-review process. ...
... However, research studies on COVID-19 have been radically condensed (Marcus & Oransky, 2020). Horbach (2020) found an acceleration in terms of both the review process, i.e., the time between submission and acceptance, and the editing process, i.e., the time between acceptance and publication. Respectively, these stages were hastened by 47% (45 days) and 61% (14 days), demonstrating that the review process was the most heavily affected. ...
... 51 We also note that the Rapid Review Collaboration Initiative, which was started in April 2020 by a group of publishers, contributed to enhancing the speed of scholarly communication during the pandemic. 52 The overall faster speed of peer review of COVID-19-related outputs 53 has been described as a shift "from prioritising novelty towards a focus on clinical or societal relevance" and has benefits beyond the faster speed of publication e.g. the ability to reference published works in fast-moving policies; 54 but also drawbacks (e.g. retractions arising from the publication of incorrect findings in prominent journals). ...
Technical Report
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This report explores the impact of calls to rapidly and openly share COVID-19 research findings to inform the public health response, as recommended in our 2020 Joint Statement. It reflects on how open and rapid sharing shaped the global pandemic response and behaviour of the research community, and sets out recommendations for organisations who may wish to develop statements as a policy tool.
... While demand for systematic review services has increased in recent years (Spencer & Eldredge, 2018), the exponential increase in popularity of these services may be explained by the fact that researchers were looking for ways to continue research in socially distanced and remote ways as institutions suspended face-to-face research studies involving human participants. In addition, there was a large volume of COVID-related information being published (in some cases accelerating or forgoing the peer review process to expedite getting treatment information into the hands of health providers (Horbach, 2020)), thereby resulting in the need for the evidence to be continually monitored and synthesized. ...
This study examined research and instruction services provided by academic health sciences librarians in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic. A total of 205 respondents (N = 205) completed an anonymous online survey about academic health sciences librarian involvement in providing research and instruction services during the global pandemic. In-depth literature searching services (86%, n = 176), curated COVID-19 research through guides (66%, n = 135), and systematic review consultations (53%, n = 109) were reported as the top three research services in demand. Librarians supported online teaching and learning at their institutions by providing online instruction for a course (92%, n = 189), facilitating access to licensed resources (73%, n = 150), and identifying open access and open educational resources (62%, n = 127). Overall, this study contributes to understanding pandemic-responsive academic library services to meet the unique needs of health sciences education and research in evolving COVID-19 pandemic information environments.
... Even in the face of adversity, the manuscript evaluation process during the pandemic did not slow down. One analysis of 14 medical journals' publication processes shows that the turnaround times (from submission to publication) of papers not related to COVID-19 are very similar to those of papers published before the pandemic, while the turnaround times of papers related to COVID-19 reduced on average by 49% (Horbach, 2020). Even though the global scientific community's collaborative efforts have significantly lessened the health risk in this crisis (Vuong et al., 2022), they may have increased stress in other areas. ...
Editorial services and editors' hard work are mostly underestimated, and yet the increase in articles, issues and journals requires more editors. Early Career Researchers should be encouraged to join editorial teams to advance their careers and improve their research skills. Working as an editor should receive greater recognition and reward, which will encourage greater participation by senior and junior researchers. Senior editors should create training opportunities for ECRs as it will help strengthen editorial teams and build resilience. The key requirements for any ECR joining an editorial team are to learn the rules, become an excellent communicator, learn to read in different roles and be prepared to do their homework.
... Our purpose was to explore the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the anxiety level of health care workers, that is, whether their anxiety levels have increased from previous levels. To avoid contamination from other outbreaks on health care workers' anxiety during time periods prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, in this study, we excluded articles related to other outbreaks from our dataset of studies unrelated to In addition, since the onset of the outbreak, there has been a dire need for knowledge regarding COVID-19, and medical journals have drastically accelerated the publication process for COVID-19-related articles to facilitate knowledge acquisition (Palayew et al., 2020;Horbach, 2020). In this situation, the preference for publishing studies with significant results is more extreme, which may seriously compromise the ability to draw valid conclusions from published literature. ...
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Background The COVID-19 pandemic has been declared a public health emergency of international concern, causing excessive anxiety among health care workers. Additionally, publication bias and low-quality publications have become widespread, which can result in the dissemination of unreliable information. A meta-analysis was performed for this study with the following two aims: (1) to examine the prevalence of anxiety among health care workers and determine whether it has increased owing to the COVID-19 pandemic and (2) to investigate whether there has been an increase in publication bias. Methods All relevant studies published between 2015 and 2020 were searched in electronic databases (namely Web of Science, PubMed, Embase, PsycInfo, PsyArXiv, and medRxiv). The heterogeneity of the studies was assessed using the I ² statistic. The effect size (prevalence rate of anxiety) and 95% CI for each study were also calculated. We used moderator analysis to test for the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on health care workers’ anxiety levels and to detect publication bias in COVID-19 studies. We assessed publication bias using funnel plots and Egger’s regression. Results A total of 122 studies with 118,025 participants met the inclusion criteria. Eighty-eight articles (75,066 participants) were related to COVID-19, 13 articles (9,222 participants) were unrelated to COVID-19 ( i.e ., articles related to other outbreaks, which were excluded), and 21 preprints (33,737 participants) were related to COVID-19. The pooled meta-analysis prevalence was 33.6% (95% CI [30.5−36.8]; 95% PI [6.5−76.3]). Moderator analysis revealed no significant differences between articles related to COVID-19 and those unrelated to COVID-19 ( p = 0.824). Moreover, no significant differences were found between articles and preprints related to COVID-19 ( p = 0.843). Significant heterogeneity was observed in each subgroup. An Egger’s test revealed publication bias in both articles and preprints related to COVID-19 ( p < 0.001). Conclusions Determining whether the anxiety state of health care workers is altered by the COVID-19 pandemic is currently difficult. However, there is evidence that their anxiety levels may always be high, which suggests that more attention should be paid to their mental health. Furthermore, we found a substantial publication bias; however, the quality of the studies was relatively stable and reliable.
This study explores the evolution of publication practices associated with the SARS‐CoV‐2 research papers, namely, peer‐reviewed journal and review articles indexed in PubMed and their associated preprints posted on bioRxiv and medRxiv servers: a total of 4,031 journal article‐preprint pairs. Our assessment of various publication delays during the January 2020 to March 2021 period revealed the early bird effect that lies beyond the involvement of any publisher policy action and is directly linked to the emerging nature of new and ‘hot’ scientific topics. We found that when the early bird effect and data incompleteness are taken into account, COVID‐19 related research papers show only a moderately expedited speed of dissemination as compared with the pre‐pandemic era. Medians for peer‐review and production stage delays were 66 and 15 days, respectively, and the entire conversion process from a preprint to its peer‐reviewed journal article version took 109.5 days. The early bird effect produced an ephemeral perception of a global rush in scientific publishing during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. We emphasize the importance of considering the early bird effect in interpreting publication data collected at the outset of a newly emerging event.
Purpose This paper aims to identify the documented effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on early career researcher (ECR) activity, development, career prospects and well-being. Design/methodology/approach This is a systematic literature review of English language peer-reviewed studies published between 2020 and 2021, which provided empirical evidence of the impact of the pandemic on ECR activity and development. The search strategy involved online databases (Scopus, Web of Science and Overton); well-established higher education journals (based on Scopus classification) and references in the retained articles (snowballing). The final sample included 11 papers. Findings The evidence shows that ECRs have been affected in terms of research activity, researcher development, career prospects and well-being. Although many negative consequences were identified, some promising learning practices have arisen; however, these opportunities were not always fully realised. The results raise questions about differential effects across fields and possible long-term consequences where some fields and some scholars may be worse off due to priorities established as societies struggle to recover. Practical implications There is a need for revised institutional and national policies to ensure that sufficient measures are implemented to support ECRs’ research work in a situation where new duties and chores were added during the pandemic. Originality/value This paper provides insights into the impacts of the initial societal challenges of the pandemic on ECRs across disciplines that may have long-lasting effects on their academic development and well-being.
As the COVID-19 pandemic prevails, research related to COVID-19 has spread beyond medicine, health science, and biology to almost all academic fields. Library and information science is one of the most active fields that publish COVID-19-related research papers. This study examined 696 research papers related to COVID-19 whose journal being categorized as “information science & library science” by Web of Science. The result of bibliometric analysis showed that the publications were active and on the rise. Most papers were published in English and produced in the United States. According to the keyword clustering map produced by semantic network analysis, two fields, bibliometrics and health communication, were publishing research papers related to COVID-19 most actively. Moreover, the most productive journal was a library and information science journal focusing on health informatics. Additionally, a tendency was found that researchers preferred to publish on journals with high impact factors. Compared with non-COVID-19-related research papers, there was a significant decrease of “time for acceptance” of COVID-19-related papers, and the proportion of open access was relatively high. Confronting the global crisis of COVID-19, the library and information science field also made efforts and challenges to resolve the slow peer-review, delayed publishing, and high paywalls, which have been recognized as a “chronic diseases” of the academic publishing ecosystem. It is expected that these endeavors can serve as a turning point to reconsider and innovate the traditional research-publishing lifecycle.
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As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds, researchers from all disciplines are coming together and contributing their expertise. CORD-19, a dataset of COVID-19 and coronavirus publications, has recently been published alongside calls to help mine the information it contains, and to create tools to search it more effectively. Here, we focus on the delineation of the publications included in CORD-19, and analyse this delineation from a scientometric perspective. We find that CORD-19 contains research not only on COVID-19 and coronaviruses, but on viruses in general. Publications from CORD-19 mostly focus on a few, well-defined areas, including: coronaviruses (primarily SARS, MERS, COVID-19); public health and viral epidemics; the molecular biology of viruses; influenza and other families of viruses; immunology and antivirals; methodology (testing, diagnosing, clinical trials). CORD-19 publications published in 2020, especially focused on topics of pressing relevance (spread, infection, efficacy of counter-measures), are disproportionately popular on social media. While we fully endorse the initiative that led to CORD-19, we also advise to consider its relatively broad content critically.
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eLife is making changes to its policies on peer review in response to the impact of COVID-19 on the scientific community.
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Background The current 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak is rapidly evolving. YouTube has been recognized as a popular source of information in previous disease outbreaks. We analyzed the content on YouTube about n-CoV in English and Mandarin languages. Methods YouTube was searched using the terms ‘2019 novel coronavirus’, ‘Wuhan virus’ and ‘武汉病毒’ (Mandarin for Wuhan virus) on 1st and 2nd February 2020. First 50 videos in each group were analyzed. Videos in other languages, duplicate videos, those without an audio and duration >15 min were excluded .72 videos in English and 42 in Mandarin were reviewed. 2 reviewers classified the videos as useful, misleading or news based on pre specified criterion. Inter-observer agreement was evaluated with kappa coefficient. Modified DISCERN index for reliability and medical information and content index (MICI) score were used for content analysis. Results These videos attracted cumulative 21,288,856 views. 67% of English and 50% Mandarin videos had useful information. The viewership of misleading Mandarin videos was higher than the useful ones. WHO accounted for only 4% of useful videos. Mean DISCERN score for reliability was 3.12/5 and 3.25/5 for English and Mandarin videos respectively. Mean cumulative MICI score of useful videos was low (6.71/25 for English and 6.28/25 for Mandarin). Conclusions YouTube viewership during 2019 n-CoV outbreak is higher than previous outbreaks. The medical content of videos is suboptimal International health agencies are underrepresented. Given its popularity, YouTube should be considered as important platform for information dissemination.
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There is a mounting worry about erroneous and outright fraudulent research that gets published in the scientific literature. Although peer review’s ability to filter out such publications is contentious, several peer review innovations attempt to do just that. However, there is very little systematic evidence documenting the ability of different review procedures to flag problematic publications. In this article, we use survey data on peer review in a wide range of journals to compare the retraction rates of specific review procedures, using the Retraction Watch database. We were able to identify which peer review procedures were used since 2000 for 361 journals, publishing a total of 833,172 articles, of which 670 were retracted. After addressing the dual character of retractions, signalling both a failure to identify problems prior to publication, but also the willingness to correct mistakes, we empirically assess review procedures. With considerable conceptual caveats, we were able to identify peer review procedures that seem able to detect problematic research better than others. Results were verified for disciplinary differences and variation between reasons for retraction. This leads to informed recommendations for journal editors about strengths and weaknesses of specific peer review procedures, allowing them to select review procedures that address issues most relevant to their field. Electronic supplementary material The online version of this article (10.1007/s11192-018-2969-2) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
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The quality and integrity of the scientific literature have recently become the subject of heated debate. Due to an apparent increase in cases of scientific fraud and irreproducible research, some have claimed science to be in a state of crisis. A key concern in this debate has been the extent to which science is capable of self-regulation. Among various mechanisms, the peer review system in particular is considered an essential gatekeeper of both quality and sometimes even integrity in science. However, the allocation of responsibility for integrity to the peer review system is fairly recent and remains controversial. In addition, peer review currently comes in a wide variety of forms, developed in the expectation they can address specific problems and concerns in science publishing. At present, there is a clear need for a systematic analysis of peer review forms and the concerns underpinning them, especially considering a wave of experimentation fuelled by internet technologies and their promise to improve research integrity and reporting. We describe the emergence of current peer review forms by reviewing the scientific literature on peer review and by adding recent developments based on information from editors and publishers. We analyse the rationale for developing new review forms and discuss how they have been implemented in the current system. Finally, we give a systematisation of the range of discussed peer review forms. We pay detailed attention to the emergence of the expectation that peer review can maintain ‘the integrity of science’s published record’, demonstrating that this leads to tensions in the academic debate about the responsibilities and abilities of the peer review system.
Background Chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine have been found to be efficient on SARS-CoV-2, and reported to be efficient in Chinese COV-19 patients. We evaluate the role of hydroxychloroquine on respiratory viral loads. Patients and methods French Confirmed COVID-19 patients were included in a single arm protocol from early March to March 16th, to receive 600mg of hydroxychloroquine daily and their viral load in nasopharyngeal swabs was tested daily in a hospital setting. Depending on their clinical presentation, azithromycin was added to the treatment. Untreated patients from another center and cases refusing the protocol were included as negative controls. Presence and absence of virus at Day6-post inclusion was considered the end point. Results Six patients were asymptomatic, 22 had upper respiratory tract infection symptoms and eight had lower respiratory tract infection symptoms. Twenty cases were treated in this study and showed a significant reduction of the viral carriage at D6-post inclusion compared to controls, and much lower average carrying duration than reported of untreated patients in the literature. Azithromycin added to hydroxychloroquine was significantly more efficient for virus elimination. Conclusion Despite its small sample size our survey shows that hydroxychloroquine treatment is significantly associated with viral load reduction/disappearance in COVID-19 patients and its effect is reinforced by azithromycin.
Professional connections between the creators and evaluators of scientific work are ubiquitous, and the possibility of bias ever-present. Although connections have been shown to bias predictions of uncertain future performance, it is unknown whether such biases occur in the more concrete task of assessing scientific validity for completed works, and if so, how. This study presents evidence that connections between authors and reviewers of neuroscience manuscripts are associated with biased judgments and explores the mechanisms driving that effect. Using reviews from 7981 neuroscience manuscripts submitted to the journal PLOS ONE, which instructs reviewers to evaluate manuscripts on scientific validity alone, we find that reviewers favored authors close in the co-authorship network by ∼0.11 points on a 1.0–4.0 scale for each step of proximity. PLOS ONE's validity-focused review and the substantial favoritism shown by distant vs. very distant reviewers, both of whom should have little to gain from nepotism, point to the central role of substantive disagreements between scientists in different professional networks (“schools of thought”). These results suggest that removing bias from peer review cannot be accomplished simply by recusing closely connected reviewers, and highlight the value of recruiting reviewers embedded in diverse professional networks.