Calling Shenanigans on Nuclear Instruments and Methods, a “Peer Reviewed” Journal
UPDATE at end of post
The journal Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research Section A: Accelerators, Spectrometers, Detectors and Associated Equipment, or NIM for short, is published by Elsevier and is peer reviewed. Or so I thought. A few months ago several co-workers and I submitted a paper on a Friday evening. Monday morning (yes, three days later over a weekend), we got a reply claiming that the paper was reviewed and accepted for publication.
There were supposedly two reviews, the first saying that everything was great and the paper should be published and the second finding only a single spelling error. This really just isn’t possible. I would be surprised if most editors would even get a paper out to the reviewers in that time. And the time the reviewers have to get their replies back to the editors are weeks to months. I’ve reviewed several papers and the average time I’ve been asked to respond in is six weeks. Although I try to get my reviews done faster than that, it is usually 3-4 weeks.
Beyond that impossible turn around time, the reviews don’t seem realistic. Some lazy reviewers will just respond with a “yes, publish” response, but I’ve had very few of those and I don’t believe it’s common. As for the review that found a single mistake, that seems improbable as well. After submission we found a few more errors, so it seems unlikely that anyone actually gave it a careful reading (although, yes, we had missed these errors ourselves before). Usually the egos of the reviewers come through in the reviews. Even though the reviews are anonymous, most reviewers seem to feel the need to let you know that they are bigger experts in the field than you are, or at least that you missed a reference that really should be in the paper (but of course they wouldn’t happen to be one of the authors on that paper).
So I really don’t think that peer review happened on this paper. But why? I really don’t know. Maybe just laziness. It certainly doesn’t do anything to improve my pre-existing animosity towards Elsevier.
There is a lot more drama and misbehavior surrounding this paper, which I will write about in the future.
I have been in email contact with the managing editor, Professor Barletta (who commented on the original post). I do now believe that the paper was sent out for peer review before being published. Dr. Barletta himself does appear to have the expertise to evaluate the paper, so I do believe that he could have made a thoughtful decision quickly. He tells me that a reviewer got back within a day with the one spelling correction review I mentioned. While this does suggest to me that it probably only got a quick scan by the reviewer it is likely equal to the depth of thought given by many of the reviewers who take longer to reply. I do wish that that journals required at least three reviewers and that all the reviewers put more time and energy into the process than they seem to. In summary I don’t believe that the paper was handled outside of the journal’s official peer review standards as I initially thought it might be, but I still believe that it (as mosst other publications), was not as rigorously scrutinized as I would like.