Solving the Long Spectra Publication Wait: An Editorial

by Jonathan P. Stewart
Editor, Earthquake Spectra

stewartjonAs I wrote in my August 2013 Editorial, the state of Earthquake Spectra is strong in many respects, especially in regard to the quality of papers submitted and published in the journal, and the excellence of our dedicated Editorial Board Members who manage the manuscript reviews. However, we now face a significant challenge that I want to communicate to the EERI membership and to Earthquake Spectra’s readership, along with what is being done to address the issue.

The problem is publication queue time, which is defined as the time between when a manuscript is accepted and when it appears in the printed journal. Some of the papers that were published in the May 2015 issue were originally accepted as early as September 2013, meaning that queue times for papers in this issue are as long as 20 months (approximately 6 to 7 issue cycles). Similarly long waits have become standard for manuscripts in recent ordinary issues (special issues typically have shorter queue times). These long waits damage the journal—and by extension, EERI—in several respects:

  1. Critical and often time-sensitive research results are delayed before archival publication for the betterment of EERI’s membership. Although this effect is somewhat mitigated by the online publication of preprints launched in 2013, many readers continue to rely principally on the paper version of the final manuscript and its accompanying online record.
  2. Earthquake Spectra competes for submissions from top authors. Our long publication queue time is no secret, and some authors may be dis-incentivized to submit their best work to our journal. Competing journals are often publishing papers within a matter of weeks to a few months following acceptance.
  3. Like other journals listed in the Web of Science, Earthquake Spectra is regularly evaluated for the impact of its articles. This is quantified with an Impact Factor that is computed as the average number of citations received annually for articles in the journal during the two-year time period following publication. Because we are taking almost two years to publish papers following acceptance, it is unusual for citations of Earthquake Spectra articles by subsequently published Earthquake Spectra articles to count toward our Impact Factor. This artificially suppresses Earthquake Spectra Impact Factor, and hence the appearance of impact relative to competing journals.

We can and must do better, and I have worked with EERI’s Executive Director Jay Berger and the Board of Directors to formulate a solution strategy. I am pleased that the Board of Directors has been willing to invest substantial resources to help in this regard.

The source of the long queue time is that we accepted significantly more manuscripts than we published over a four-year period, starting in 2009. Although these numbers are now in approximate equilibrium, we have a backlog. To reduce the backlog, we are publishing issues with significantly more papers (about 30) than our historical norms (about 16) during the 2015 and 2016 publication years. This will not eliminate the backlog entirely, but will reduce it such that papers are published approximately 1 to 2 issues cycles (3 to 6 months) following final acceptance.

I conclude with a message to authors considering Earthquake Spectra as a publication venue. We acknowledge the queue time problem and we apologize sincerely to those of you who have had papers wait for too long for publication in recent years. We have implemented measures to solve the problem. If you submit a quality manuscript now, you are likely to have final acceptance (assuming two rounds of review) in early 2016, online publication 1 to 2 weeks following acceptance, and in-print publication within about 3 issue cycles (9 months). By the Fall of 2016, our goal is to be publishing papers within the target range of 1 to 2 issue cycles.

With the queue time problem on its way to being solved, authors should not hesitate to submit their best work to Earthquake Spectra. By doing so, they benefit from the excellence of the Editorial Board during the review process and the exposure afforded their published work by the reputation and unparalleled breadth of readership of the journal. EERI members should continue to look to Earthquake Spectra as their go-to venue for the most innovative and impactful work in Earthquake Engineering and related fields affecting their professional practice.