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Many philosophy journals have begun to use an alternative to accepting or rejecting a manuscript: offering the author the option of transferring the manuscript together with the reviewer reports to another journal. This seems like an excellent idea when the only problem with a manuscript is a bad fit with the specific journal. However, in the past few months I have received this offer twice when the situation was very different. In the first case, the (only) reviewer’s conclusion can be summarized as “excellent ideas, but not ready for publication.” In the second (concerning a different paper), one reviewer recommended acceptance without any changes, while another reviewer claimed that there was a fatal, irreparable flaw in the paper. In neither of those cases could a different journal be expected to accept the paper based on the same reviewer reports.

So my question is: why do journals do that? Are they just being too lazy to give proper thought to whether a transfer makes sense? Or is there some reason for this that I just can’t figure out.

I should add that I get the impression that it is the paper as is that would be transferred, but I am not entirely sure about that.

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  • It's possible, even likely, that your experience is an outlier, and that the general reasoning behind "transferring" submissions is just as you describe. – henning Jun 9 at 17:07
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    Usually transfer of manuscript does not mean that the authors can ignore comments of the reviewers. Instead, it is supposed that the authors will revise the manuscript and resubmit it to another journal, so the transfer option just saves a bit of time spent on paper submission. – sleepy Jun 9 at 17:08
  • how reputable were the journals being transferred from and to? – Ben Barden Jun 9 at 17:54
  • @BenBarden: They are both very good journals – AnonyPostdoc Jun 9 at 19:09
  • @BenBarden: And to answer the second half of your question: They are a significant step down the prestige ladder, but reputable. They would not, for instance, accept the second paper if they believed the reviewer who claims there is a flaw. – AnonyPostdoc Jun 9 at 19:58
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The main reason journals (actually publishers) do this is purely selfish - they simply want to keep your paper within one of "their" journals. I am almost certain for example that the two journals you mention are published by the same publisher. Papers are sort of currency in publishing since the number of papers published per year is a key metric of the journal's/publisher's health; therefore it is desirable to keep your paper within the publisher.

What the transfer does is turnover all metric data for your paper (e.g. date submitted, date revisions performed, etc.) to the other journal. What the other journal does with the data is not certain, since it's usually possible they come to a different decision even though they're looking at the same reviewer reports. It certainly isn't a guarantee that the other journal will accept your paper either (something I would suspect is mentioned in the transfer email). In your case, the reviewer reports you've received simply mean that the other journal is odds-on to reach a revise decision if they haven't already.

All this said, there is also some benefit to you as the author - submitting a revision is usually much simpler than submitting a fresh paper. Also, I don't know about other editors, but I tend to prioritize the oldest papers in the system, and your paper would show up as relatively old (although it is possible that the system shows the date the paper transferred instead).

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The practice of asking an author to “transfer” a manuscript to another journal for consideration for publication has been used in the medical field for quite some time. It can occur (fairly) often when there exists a “cluster” of journals managed owned by the same group. An example is the American Medical Association, which publishes the Journal of the Medical Association (JAMA) and 11 other more specialized journals under the JAMA “umbrella” (e.g., JAMA Cardiology; JAMA Dermatology; JAMA Neurology). The JAMA editor assigned to a manuscript submitted to JAMA might ask the author if the manuscript (and reviews) can be transferred for consideration by, for example, JAMA Pediatrics if the JAMA editor believes that the manuscript might be of interest to the editor(s) of that journal. The referring editor makes no promise of acceptance by the journal to which the transferred paper is sent.

As indicated in a comment, there is an implicit presumption that the manuscript will be revised to address the comments of the (transferred) reviews. Sometimes the referring editor states this explicitly when asking about the transfer.

The “family of journals” with the prefix BMC, which is part of Springer Nature, publishes an:

“evolving portfolio of some 300 peer-reviewed journals, sharing discoveries from research communities in science, technology, engineering and medicine.”

The BMC family of journals has been quite aggressive in its attempt to modify the system of peer review. These are described at their website: https://www.biomedcentral.com/about/advancing-peer-review

The things they are doing with regard to innovations in peer review include:

• Patient peer review • Registered Reports • Results-free review • Automated peer review • Re-review opt out • Portable peer review within and between publishers • Expedited peer review

The journal that asked about transferring your paper to another journal appears to be using “portable peer review.”

For the medical journal BMC Medicine, portable peer review is described as follows:

“Portable peer-review To reduce time spent on serial submissions and iterative reviewing, BMC Medicine offers to consider manuscripts on the basis of reviews received at other journals. We also support transfers of reviews obtained at BMC Medicine to other journals, including those outside of BMC and Springer Nature. Learn more from our portable reviews page.”

https://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/about

The advantage to an author in permitting the transfer is a possibly shorter time to publication. The author also has a good idea of what they will need to do to get the manuscript accepted. It is quite common to revise a manuscript based on the comments of the reviewers chosen by journal 1 (this is a good practice) only to have a whole different set of comments that need to be addressed when the manuscript is submitted to a journal 2.

The advantage to a journal (or set of journals) is a reduction in the burden the journals put collectively on peer reviewers. The advantage to a journal (or family of journals) is that it helps assure a “stream” of potentially publishable manuscripts at the second (referred to) journal.

If the journal that is being suggested as a referral journal is not one that you would be proud to publish your work, say no.

If it is not possible (or desirable) to address the comments of the original reviewers, say no (because the paper is unlikely to be accepted unless these comments are addressed).

If the journal that is being suggested as a referral journal is a journal that will charge a lot of money to publish your paper, say no.

Finally, in medicine (and other fields), there has been a proliferation of “predatory journals.” The definition of a predatory journal is controversial, it is not easy to identify "predatory journals" reliably, and what is predatory to one person is not predatory to everyone. Nonetheless, it would be wise to do some digging to determine whether the referral journal might be predatory.

This publication from the medical field is an empiric study that attempted to define the criteria for a predatory journal formally. These criteria might not map easily to philosophy journals.

https://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12916-017-0785-9

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    @Ben Barden Changed to "not possible (or desirable)..... – Diana Petitti Jun 10 at 14:52

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