Peer-Reviewed Publication of Conference Abstracts: An Unnecessarily Slow Process?
‘The scientific acquisition of knowledge is almost as tedious as a routine acquisition of wealth’
Eric Linklater (1899–1974)
Welsh-born Scottish writer and satirist
The publication of research findings in a peer-reviewed journal is considered to be the ultimate, indeed essential, step in the dissemination of new information for the benefit and advancement of the discipline. This holds true for all clinical disciplines, such as veterinary orthopaedics, as it does for other fields of scientific endeavour. Although the process of peer-review is slow and potentially flawed, a better alternative has yet to gain widespread acceptance. Yet for a multitude of reasons, many research studies falter and are never completed, i.e, appear as peer-reviewed papers. However, new research findings are commonly presented from the podium or in posters at scientific society meetings. This interim step has numerous important benefits for the researcher in the form of constructive criticism, fresh perspectives and ideas. Moreover, veterinarians attending these meetings may return home armed with new techniques and knowledge that can potentially benefit their patients.
A study published in this issue of the journal by Kettleman and colleagues, from the University of Missouri, found that only 47% of abstracts presented at the Veterinary Orthopedic Society annual scientific meetings over a 14-year period (2001–2014) were ultimately published in a peer-reviewed journal. Most were published in Veterinary Surgery, Veterinary and Comparative Orthopaedics and Traumatology, and American Journal of Veterinary Research, but they took up to 2 years to be accepted for publication. They found that the median time from initial submission to acceptance for publication was 153 days (range: 18–974). So in summary, the delay in publication of the meeting abstracts as a peer-reviewed paper could be attributed to the authors' inaction, and the journal managing the peer-review process.
Delays due to the peer-review process are caused in part by papers being returned to authors for revisions requested by the reviewers to improve their clarity and presentation to an acceptable level. As a point of comparison, the median time from initial submission to acceptance for publication was 211 days (range: 40–393) for papers published in this journal in 12 months ending with Issue 3 of 2020. During the peer-review process, it would not be unusual for a paper to be returned to the authors two, three or four times until the reviewers are satisfied that it can be recommended for publication. Even though Linklater was a writer, he did not publish in this journal, but he apparently knew about this problem.
While the peer-review process can be protracted, it is within the power of authors to shorten this process by ensuring that their paper reports a well-designed study, addresses an important problem or research question and is presented in a well-written format according to journal requirements. This recommendation is substantiated in part by the findings of Kettleman and colleagues that papers with higher levels of evidence are accepted for publication much faster.
The fate of the other 53% of VOS abstracts that failed to be published is more difficult to determine. The reasons for rejection of submitted papers during this peer-review process are known only to the authors and the reviewers. The larger ‘data set’ needed to analyse the big picture is not freely available. Nevertheless, understanding the real reasons why papers are rejected during the peer-review process could be valuable in helping young investigators to produce better scientific papers.
15 September 2020 (online)
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- 1 Kettleman WS, Iuliani MC, Webb BG, Ceballos JM, Torres BT. Publication rate and evidence-based evaluation of abstracts presented at the Annual Veterinary Orthopedic Society Conference. VCOT 2020; 33 (05) 333-339