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One question we often get on this site in one form or the other is: Is my paper under review (or similar) for too long and if yes, how should I react? Now, suppose I have gone through all the steps to answer this question in a normal situation: I have procured statistics of the journal’s handling or peer-review times, added a fair margin for individual variability, etc. My question is: How should I modify these in lights of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis? I do not want to bother editors more than appropriate.

The obvious thoughts are:

  • Some reviewers and editors are busy with challenges arising due to the crisis, e.g., due to having to switch to online teaching, having no childcare, etc.

  • On the other hand, some reviewers and editors now have more time available due to conferences being cancelled, not being able to access their labs, and similar.

  • Some fields are obviously directly affected by the crisis, in particular medicine, virology, and epidemiology. I am not considering those.

I am only interested in answers that go beyond such obvious thoughts, for example being based on experience as an editor. The ideal are answers based on statistics, but those likely do not exist yet (but will be welcome when they eventually will).

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    I think it is too early to predict such things and too many variables in flux at the moment. Expect a longer review period and you won't be disappointed. – Buffy Mar 18 at 14:18
  • @Buffy: Expect a longer review period and you won't be disappointed. – Sure: Lower expectations reduce disappointment. – Wrzlprmft Mar 18 at 14:39
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    I understand your question as "My paper has been under review for too long, how should I react, considering the ongoing COVID-19 crisis?" In this case, don't act differently as you should otherwise, except that you should wash your hands more often and stay at home as much as possible. And surely, many reviews will take more time than usual due to the obvious reasons you mention in your question. Just be a little more patient than in a normal situation. – Antoine Zimmermann Mar 18 at 22:53
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I am an associate editor for two journals, and although the situation is fairly new, I expect to have no substantive change in the time for me to handle papers.

The reasons for this are:

  1. Pretty much everything is handled purely electronically anyway, so there's no physical interaction to be disrupted.
  2. Reviewing is typically a sparse activity by people who are mostly always overloaded anyway, and it's always fairly low triage for people. As such, I don't anticipate the availability of reviewers to particularly change: if people have more time, they'll fill it with things more important to them; if people have less time, I'll just have to ask a few more to find a full reviewer set.
  3. The time to review is typically dominated by the time that a manuscript ages quietly on the reviewer's desk before the review deadline arrives --- actually carrying out a review often does not take all that much time, by comparison. The number of weeks we give our reviewers isn't going to change, so that dominating time won't either.
  4. Because of the preceding factors, there's already a lot of stochasticity in time to review. Even if it does go up a bit, I doubt it will be readily detectable against the background of stochasticity.
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    Yes this is all true, but while you may not have much change in the time you handle papers, it is likely that many people involved in the reviewing process will have some delay in handling their tasks. However, I don't think this should change the way authors react to late reviews, except that they should be a little more patient than usual. – Antoine Zimmermann Mar 18 at 23:10
  • @AntoineZimmermann Unless such additional delays are on the order of a month or more, it simply won't be visible in the processes of any but the fastest current journals. – jakebeal Mar 19 at 18:55
  • @jakebeal: Isn't this situation similar to WWII for mathematical society? – C.F.G Mar 30 at 7:31
  • @C.F.G Not in the least, since 1) we didn't have the internet then, and 2) the enemy is a disease and not humans. – jakebeal Mar 30 at 18:28
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How should I modify these in lights of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis?

I don't think you should modify anything about your approach. That is the journal and editor's job, not yours. Watch for official updates, if any, but otherwise proceed the same as before.

I am only interested in answers that go beyond such obvious thoughts

This is an unprecedented situation with a large amount of uncertainty: no one has experience with it. So the hope for an answer rooted in experience or statistics seems unrealistic.

The "obvious" thoughts you listed are on point. Some people will proceed the same as before, and others may have more or less time. On average, it is unclear whether things will proceed faster or slower than usual, and I don't see why it should affect your behavior as the author.

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