U.S. Shutdown Beginning to Affect Journals

Image: Kathrin Tausch

Peer-reviewed journals have long been at the heart of science communication – and now they’re beginning to feel the pinch of the U.S. government’s partial shutdown.

The impact on journals isn’t a surprise. Michelle Dohm, an associate editor at PLOS, wrote on Oct. 1 that the shutdown could slow down manuscript reviews at the journal PLOS ONE. Specifically, Dohm wrote, “PLOS ONE reviewers and editors employed by or affiliated with the U.S. government may or may not be available to handle manuscripts.” She mentioned reviewers and editors, but forgot about the other key players in the world of publishing: the authors. [Note: a post on the shutdown’s effect on reporters can be found here, an overview of the shutdown’s potential impact on scicomm is here.]

One scientist at a federal lab (who is anonymous) was poised to submit revisions to a journal when the shutdown struck. His lab is still open, but is expected to close in the near future, which could delay the publication of his paper until the shutdown is over.

That’s consistent with the recent experiences of Yuntian Zhu, editor-in-chief of the journal Materials Research Letters. Zhu says the shutdown is affecting both authors and his journal’s peer-reviewers – with many of his attempts at correspondence being answered by automatic replies saying the correspondents are not allowed to check or respond to emails.

Another federal scientist, who is also a journal editor, says that he hasn’t had to abandon his editorial responsibilities – yet. “Right now, I’m still employed due to left over [fiscal year 2013] funds, but if these run out then I’m out of luck. Since my activities as an editor are done under my ‘official duties,’ I would be forbidden from performing any tasks related to the journal.”

Daniel Salsbury, deputy executive editor of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), says PNAS is not postponing the publication of articles. However, Salsbury notes, “The shutdown has impacted our ability to reach some editors and reviewers. We are doing our best to keep manuscripts moving through the review process, but it is likely that there may be delays for some papers.”

The open science journal F1000Research reports similar problems. “We have received some ‘out of office’ replies from our reviewers – not too many so far – but as more new articles are published, we are likely (in common with many other journals) to run into some problems with not being able to invite skilled and appropriate reviewers,” says Karen Rowlett, managing editor of F1000Research. “Our current list of active reviewers includes scientists at many U.S. government institutions such as the EPA, PNNL, NOAA and NIH.”

But losing contact with authors, reviewers and editors isn’t the only way journals are being affected.

“So far, the biggest impact on F1000Research has probably been the delay that is likely to result in our first articles appearing in PubMed/PubMedCentral,” Rowlett says. “We were expecting to see previews of our first articles just before the shutdown. We are still sending files for our articles to NLM [the National Library of Medicine] in order to supply our full indexed journal content but I suspect (given the notices on the PubMed/PMC websites) that not much will happen to them until the shutdown is resolved.”

I have reached out to staff at several other journals. If I hear back from them, I’ll update this post. If you know of other ways that journals have been affected by the shutdown, please share a note in the comments section.

Update, Oct. 11: Veronique Kiermer, executive editor and head of researcher services at Nature Publishing Group, reports that “the shutdown has affected our ability to correspond with authors and reviewers. NIH researchers, for example, cannot be contacted by email or answer phone queries.” In addition, Kiermer says, “We see some issues that slow down the peer review process, and authors [are] not able to answer queries, revise papers and check proofs. The deposition of data in government-maintained repositories, which we normally mandate for some types of datasets, is also hindered for all researchers. We ask that authors use alternative repositories to ensure that datasets are made available to reviewers during consideration and to readers upon publication, as requested by our editorial policies.”

Update, Oct. 16: I was contacted today by Meagan Phelan, the press package director at Science. She says: “Our journal editors have seen only minor effects thus far, such as small issues with papers that are close to publication (for example, our editors were unable to acquire a Genbank accession number to put in a manuscript, as is a requirement). There are also fewer available human resources to review manuscripts.”

6 thoughts on “U.S. Shutdown Beginning to Affect Journals

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