We should stop submitting to journals

Frank Popham


There is no doubt that academics spend too long meeting the formatting requirements of journals, this paper https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0223116 estimates average annual cost is around $1900. It is very depressing to spend ages formatting only to have your paper desk rejected and resubmitting to a journal with different format rules.

The formatting experience is just one way in which many academics (at least in public health, medicine) have become subservient to journals. We want them to publish our work as we are judged on our papers. While the coronavirus has certainly accelerated the use of preprint servers, in medicine they have not been the norm, with many still worrying (usually wrongly) that preprinting their work will mean a journal will not accept it. What to do about it.

Simply publish your paper to a “preprint” server and don’t submit to a journal. I would move away from the term preprint and say that you are publishing to emphasise that you consider the work publishable and not pre anything. We often talk as if peer review starts at publication stage but producing a paper is constant peer review (or should be) whether it is via grant funding, co-authors, colleagues or internal institutional processes. Also the publication could start earlier than the paper with results; publish your protocol. What about journals?

Journals continue but now they bid to review your work. Using keywords and disciplinary specific preprint servers journal editors can easily scroll abstracts and papers. RSS feeds are just one way in which it could be automated. They then indicate to the authors that they want to peer review the work and, if accepted by the authors, the work comes off the “market”. The submission is already on the preprint server and journals would import it into their systems for review. Authors could flag to specific journals that their work might be of interest to the journal but there is an open market. Establishing such a system would involve some investment in preprint servers but the changes wouldn’t be major. You might think that journals would still ask for the “preprint” to be formatted for their systems but you submit once to the preprint and journals would not be allowed to participate in the market if they impose further requirements. Reviewing could also be facilitated on preprint servers via comments and also by scrapping social media (each paper could have a unique hashtag (like a doi)) that people commenting on the paper could reference. Authors could post updated papers with response to the preprint, with the revised version open to journals, if not already under review by a journal. Would I do this?

Of course it is likely there are better ways to do the above but I do think that academics stopping submitting to journals is a good way to regain control of the publishing process. Would I stop submitting? Yes certainly for sole author stuff. I might send tweets to journals to alert them to my paper and that they can review it. I am sure they would ignore me.


For attribution, please cite this work as

Popham (2020, Nov. 20). Frank Popham: We should stop submitting to journals. Retrieved from https://www.frankpopham.com/posts/2020-11-20-we-should-stop-submitting-to-journals/

BibTeX citation

  author = {Popham, Frank},
  title = {Frank Popham: We should stop submitting to journals},
  url = {https://www.frankpopham.com/posts/2020-11-20-we-should-stop-submitting-to-journals/},
  year = {2020}