In the last few weeks, I was following really closely the scientific research on Zika Virus.
I was writing an update review about Zika virus (ZIKV), and I have to update my review every single day. There were excellent papers that were published in the last 2 weeks, and a server for un-submitted papers was used to publish important information that could not be held for a few days more, while the manuscript was been peer-reviewed. Besides that, most of the journals opened a free access policy for the whole world, for all the papers related with ZIKV.
Most of the journals also created a Zika Portal, where you could easily find all the papers about this virus. Additionally, in most of the journals, the policy is that all ZIKV papers should be analyzed fast, and the authors have to receive the feedback ASAP, correcting the final version, and sending it back in a reasonable time. Usually the unreviewed version was online, before the final one.
This amazing advancement and fast response from journals cannot be seen in any other area. Usually, it takes a long time to receive a feedback about any paper, and usually, the reviewer will ask for some basic or detailed revision, and maybe additional experiments. The total time between the first submission and the final publication is a minimum of four months in any journal.
In high impact journals, then the revision process can take up to 1 year. I believe, as usual, we have to analyze both sides of the coin. If the review time is longer, the reviewers have more time to analyze the details in all the experiments, maybe trying to spot some problems, and some false facts. But, in the last few years, we can see many studies being retracted because they had problems, or their data were not completely true.
So, the fast-track system looks good. The only difference is that everyone involved in the publication process hastens their part. The reviewer has a few days to analyze the data and ask the questions or suggest complementary experiments. The authors are also responding fast, because they want their data to be the first one to be published. That doesn’t mean that the whole process will be compromised, or less carefully administrated. It’s just that everyone did the same job in a few days instead of weeks, or in weeks instead of months. Even when reviewers have a long period of time to respond, they usually don’t have a long time to analyze the data. They need some extra time to fit this additional task in their busy schedule, but ZIKV has proven that everyone can allot a little more time.
When I was outside US, we had a hard time to get access to some important journals. It’s amazing that everyone now can access ZIKV papers for free. That’s how we should always do it.
Why do countries with less financial power pay for really expensive subscriptions and have no access to public information? I know there are a lot of financial obligations involved in each journal, but we can work out something good for the information to be freely distributed around the scientific world. I think this Zika era is showing us that we can produce really good scientific data in a short period of time, and help the community in addition, which is the most important part of our research: to get answers and solutions in a faster way.