This report provides an update and overview of editorial work on the Asian Bioethics Review in 2020.
To visualise the current situation of the journal, we collected and analysed data from various sources, such as the online submission platform ‘Editorial Manager’, email correspondence, and published articles. We will discuss the evolution of the journal since 2017, when the publication of ABR was taken over by the Springer Nature; although for some aspects, reliable data are only available since 2018. The data for 2020 represent the situation as of 31 December.
In early 2020, Professor Graeme Laurie took over as the new Editor-in-Chief from Professor Calvin Ho. The journal also gained wider recognition this year in the publishing world. Sustained efforts have seen the Asian Bioethics Review accepted in the Clarivate Emerging Sources Citation Index (ESCI), and ResearchGate, a social media platform for academia, included ABR in their list of recognised journals. Later in the year, we successfully applied for inclusion in the PubMed Central database, which heightens the journal’s profile even further. Over the whole year, across all our articles, we counted 116,596 downloads; that is almost a 5-fold increase!
The number of submissions has shown a healthy growth in recent years, and in 2020, this growth accelerated even faster, as shown by Visual 1 ‘Submissions’.
This is, in part, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which many bioethicists are keen to debate and publish about. Therefore, in a rapid response to the situation, a Call for Papers was launched on ‘COVID-19: Assessing Ethical Responses to the Pandemic’ (more on that later in a separate post).
What Visual 1 shows as well, is that a withdrawal rate that had been creeping up slowly, was suppressed. This may be due to a quicker editorial response, which is illustrated in a number of other visuals, and is summarised well in Visual 6 ‘Editorial and Production Time’.
Review & Revision
We analysed the review and revision process, based on manuscripts that were published. Data for 2017 was excluded, as it was incomplete. Although the number of submissions in 2020 was much higher, we still managed to organise peer review faster. A close follow-up of review allows for prompter progress of submissions through the system. Both the first and second review rounds were substantially shorter: 65 and 40 days respectively, as displayed in Visual 2 ‘Review’.
At the same time, this visual also provides evidence that faster review did not come at the cost of quality! At 84%, the rate of peer review remains similar to previous years.
Additionally, Visual 3 ‘Revision’ shows that although review was swifter, it was certainly not less constructive or critical, with fewer submissions accepted without revision and more submissions revised a second time before they were accepted for publication. However, the correlation between higher revision rates and strictness of review should not be over-interpreted. Authors attempting to submit their perspectives on the COVID-19 situation quickly, may have impacted the average quality of manuscripts negatively.
A compilation of the average number of days for each round of review or revision can be found in Visual 4 ‘Editorial Process’. Here, the considerable drop in duration of the entire editorial process is summarised well. In this visual, it may seem strange that the average of the total number of days from submission to acceptance does not follow the top of the stacked columns precisely, but mathematically, the sum of the averages does not necessarily equal the average of the sum.
After the editorial process, accepted manuscripts go through a production process that consists of steps such as typesetting, copyright settlement and proofing. At 21 days, the duration of this production process has remained stable, as shown in Visual 5 ‘Production Process’.
Editorial and Production Time
Visual 6 ‘Editorial & Production Time’ synthesises the timelines of both the editorial and production processes, showing a speedier editorial process. On average, articles published in 2020 took:
- 69 days until the first editorial decision
- 126 days until the final editorial decision
- < 5 months from initial submission to publication
On our website, Springer Nature measures these metrics slightly differently: 58 days until first editorial decision, and 125 days until final editorial decision. They count an editorial decision in the year it is taken, whereas we count it in the year of submission.
An overview of the number of published articles, as well as the number of published pages in Visual 7 ‘Articles’ reveals an increasing trend. In 2020, we published 38 articles (excluding editorials) on 540 pages (excluding table of content, blank pages, etc.).
Although the total number of submissions has grown, the number of rejections has grown in tandem, resulting in a stable rejection rate. The 44% rejection rate, found in Visual 8 ‘Rejection & Transfer’ is still an estimate however, as 12 manuscripts submitted in 2020 were still under review or revision on 31 December.
Sometimes we reject a submission – that is otherwise of good quality – because it does not suit our journal. This may happen, for example, when authors discuss an interesting health problem, but do not sufficiently analyse the ethical dimensions. In such cases, Springer Nature now allows us to alert the ‘Springer Nature Transfer Desk’, who can then assist the authors to find a more suitable journal for their manuscript. We use this option when possible!
Visual 9 ‘Rejection Types & Time’ makes it clear that our newly adopted rejection policy has yielded an immediate effect. Where possible, we now reject based on our own editorial review (desk rejection), rather than external review – for example, when an article is not the right fit for the journal. A much faster rejection speed of 18 instead of 147 days has increased clarity for aspiring authors, who can then move on quicker and search for a different journal to publish in, often with the assistance of Springer Nature’s transfer desk.
Rejection is not only decided faster, however. There is also a sustained commitment to capacity building in bioethics through detailed feedback and a full explanation for the decision.
Key Performance Indicators and Indexing
As mentioned in the introduction, in early 2020, the Asian Bioethics Review was accepted in Clarivate’s Emerging Sources Citation Index (ESCI). This brings two crucial advantages: first, ABR articles since 2018 are now indexed in the Web of Science Core Collection of Clarivate, which is a form of visibility that should drive further citation of these articles; second, the ESCI functions as a monitoring list for inclusion in one of Clarivate’s more coveted indexes that attribute a ‘Journal Impact Factor’, such as for example the Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI).
Other metrics that measure the performance and impact of our journal include the SCImago Journal Rank (SJR), which gave us a score of 0.154 based on data of 2019. The Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) of ABR went up from 0.162 in 2018 to 0.248 in 2019, and our Scopus Citescore more than doubled from 0.4 in 2018 to 0.9 in 2019. Our 2019 H5 Index is 6.
As explained above, the indexing of our content is crucial for visibility. It is therefore particularly welcome that ResearchGate, a social media platform specifically for academia, has finally heard our appeal to be included in the list of recognised journals. Additionally, ABR has successfully applied for inclusion in the PubMed Central (PMC) database, which heightens the journal’s profile even further.
2020 has witnessed a sustained effort to contribute to the development of a thriving bioethics community online, to promote ABR’s publications, as well as to attract new submissions via various social media platforms. The online publication of new articles is posted directly on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, whereas more substantial announcements such as the publication of a new issue of ABR, or a call for papers is posted on this secondary ABR website, which is then broadcasted via the other social media channels. Similarly, the key points of this report have been diffused via social media as well.
Of the various social media platforms where ABR is present, Facebook is probably the least active one. The platform has clearly lost popularity in recent years. Additionally, linking posts to authors has become more difficult, which limits the opportunity for us to connect with authors and form an online community with them. Nevertheless, a presence on Facebook is maintained as some of our authors are only active on Facebook.
Twitter is much more active, and has a thriving bioethics community. At the end of 2020, the ABR twitter account followed more than 2,600 accounts with a known or expressed interest in bioethics; and more than 1,800 accounts were following ABR. At the end of the year, ABR also launched its new LinkedIn page. This platform has a more professional character than Twitter and is not as fast-paced, meaning that most posts stay visible for longer. Important for a journal based in Asia, such as ABR, LinkedIn is the only non-Chinese social media platform that is still fully accessible in China.
This website, the secondary website of the Asian Bioethics Review, based on WordPress, remains a work in progress. Started in 2018, it should gradually become the main ‘storefront’ of ABR. The Springer Nature website will of course remain the repository for our publications, but due to certain limitations, the need for a better developed and more flexible storefront remains.
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Publishing
Our commitment to increase the transparency of our publication processes extends to reporting on diversity. We have started to develop a review mechanism to ensure oversight of output distribution by gender, ethnicity and career stage of authors publishing with Asian Bioethics Review. We believe that it is important to capture and publish such data – anonymously – in order to ensure that we can deliver opportunities with respect to diversity, equity and inclusion in publishing. From the next iteration of this report, expected mid-2021, these results will be included.
At the end of 2020, we introduced a new feature in an attempt to render this respect for diversity more tangible. We now ask authors, whose first language is Asian, to translate the abstract of their article in their Asian language, which allows us to promote the publication and subsequent debate of their paper in their own language community. Platforms where these translated abstracts are published are our secondary website and our LinkedIn profile, which are both indexed by Google Search.
The evidence in this report, supported by extensive research into background data, strongly suggests that the Asian Bioethics Review is on an upwards trajectory on all relevant metrics. The efforts of the Editorial Team in 2020 have set the parameters for a ‘new normal’ for the journal with respect to all aspects of the journal’s production, namely:
- increasing quality
- extending reputation and readership
- improving the experience of authors seeking to publish with the journal, notably through robust feedback
- improving review and production timelines
- increasing the impact of the journal according to international publishing metrics