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Recently, a colleague forwarded an article from the ornithological journal The Condor that they thought would interest me (which it did).  But since it’s a topic I follow closely, I was mildly puzzled as to why I hadn’t seen it, so I thought I’d check the publication date:

 

Received: 30 March 2014

Accepted 31 March 2014

 

Wait a tick.

 

Having reviewed for The Condor in the past (and also this very week), I know a little bit about how their automated DOIs are assigned.  It includes the manuscript number, which itself includes the year of the first submission (so all papers submitted in 2014 should have “CONDOR-14-XXX” somewhere.  This article’s DOI:10.1650/CONDOR-12-125-R1.1.

This tells me two important things here – first, the paper was originally submitted in 2012 (the “CONDOR-12” part), and secondly, it’s been revised at least once (the “R1” at the end).  Surely there must be some sort of administrative error that lead to the appearance of this paper having been accepted one day after submission?  Sadly not.

The article immediately previous (DOI: 10.1650/CONDOR-13-072.1) is listed as being submitted on 21 February 2014, and accepted a week later, on 28 February 2014.

This raises some alarm bells for me, particularly as I recall the same issue cropping up in journals published by The Royal Society, as covered on Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week in 2012.

It also made me wonder, as the Cooper Ornithological Society, publishers of The Condor, and the American Ornithologists Union, which publishes The Auk, just started working out of a common production office, and better defining themselves to minimize overlap (which is a good thing, in my view).  But, sadly, The Auk suffers the same fate of erroneous publication dates.

Take one of their most recent articles (DOI: 10.1642/AUK-13-235.1), which professes to have been submitted on 03 March 2014, and accepted on 09 March 2014.  Note again that based on the DOI it was submitted some time in 2013.

But why does this matter?  I’ve argued that researchers need to take back control of the main career vehicle (scientific publishing), and one of the ways to do that is to avoid submitting to journals with poor practices.  Whether this is journals that aren’t open access, or those that don’t allow pre-prints, or those with which one has had a bad editorial experience, it’s up to authors to decide where they want to send their work.  One of the criteria used is speed of publication, and the practices at The Condor and The Auk make determining the true time from submission to acceptance and publication impossible.

It also makes the journals look rather foolish.  Unlike the case at the Royal Society where the “submission” date was at least moderately reasonable relative to the acceptance date, I don’t think there’s a publishing academic who would believe for a moment that a paper was submitted, reviewed, a decision made, the paper revised and a final editorial decision made in one day.

The excuse is that “it’s a quirk of our publishing system!” doesn’t really stand up.  It’s a shitty system if this is the way it adds submitted/accepted dates, and it should be ditched.  If the system suddenly added “!!1!” after every sentence, it wouldn’t have a long tenure at any journal (and in this hypothetical case, there’s no actual loss of information, just the addition of silly punctuation).

So come on, ornithological journals – you profess to be the top bird journals in North America. Lying about publication times isn’t going to win you any friends.

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