The Economist has an article on new approaches to scientific peer review. The concern is that, with increasing number of submissions in science, editorial resources and referee time are being wasted with every new resubmission of the same manuscript to a new journal. To quote the article:
"The number of submissions to journals is outpacing reviewers’ capacity to deal with them, says Mr Cockerill (BMC group managing director). Mr Pattinson (editorial director of PLoS One) agrees. PLoS One already churns through 4,000 papers a month, putting its referees under tremendous strain."
Well, I argue that it is not only editors and referees who suffer. It is the readers too. The thing is that nearly every rejected manuscript will be ultimately published somewhere. So increasing number of submissions in effect means an increased total number of published papers in a given field.
My field is ecology. In ecology all has increased during the last 10 years or so - number of ecologists, number of ecological journals, impact factors, number of submissions, and number of published papers. There are heaps of (unread) papers everywhere, my own desk is a proof.
In 2011 there were 14796 papers published in the 134 ISI-listed ecological journals (note, there are hundreds of additional non-ISI-listed journals). The top 20 highest-impact journals attribute for 3063 papers.
On average, I guess am able to read and digest maximum of 2 papers a week (100 a year). Even if only 10% of the papers published in the top-20 journals were relevant for me, I would still be unable to read them all. Moreover, there are thousands of papers in the lower-ranking but still respected journals (with IF still above 3). Plus, there are all of the classical old papers, there are books, and there are other disciplines that I keep an eye on (for instance statistics).
The volume of potentially highly relevant text which is submitted and published is overwhelming and it puts everybody under strain - editors, referees and readers. Does it also devalue what has always been considered to be the hard currency of science?