COMMENTARY

Patients Wait for Cures While Journals Fuss About Font Sizes

Andrew J. Vickers, PhD, DPhil

Disclosures

August 26, 2011

Any Solutions?

None of these experiences are at all unusual. It is absolutely run-of-the-mill to spend a morning on a journal submission, ending with jokey emails to and from my assistant about fingernails being pulled.

I can well understand why journals want everything to be in order before publication of a paper. For example, if a journal decides that papers should be a maximum of 2500 words, then authors should make sure that their paper meets the word count requirement when they submit a final version after responding to peer review. However, it is yet to be explained to me why it is worth spending time removing a few sentences from the Discussion section, or why a table has to be reformatted from Calibri 11 point to Arial 12 point before a journal could consider sending a paper for peer review. Assuming that I submit about 20 papers a year, that each is rejected on average by 1 journal, and that formatting a submission for a journal (references, abstract, word counts, and fonts) takes only 1 hour of my time (it is probably more), you get a total of one entire work week per year spent conforming papers to journal requirements.

In sum, medical journals need to dramatically liberalize their rules for papers to be submitted. If a paper is accepted, then it is entirely fair that a journal insist it meet various formatting and word length requirements before it is forwarded to production. Asking an author to change a font or the position of a table legend before peer review simply delays science and wastes authors' time. It is no less than a scandal that journals impede the scientific process with arbitrary red tape of dubious value. Waiting for a cure? It might well be that a physician is spending the afternoon messing around with font sizes at the behest of a medical journal.

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