Peer review at the JBC

As part of its ongoing effort to advance science by improving transparency in scientific publishing, JBC aims to demystify editorial processes for both authors and reviewers. By clarifying expectations, we aim to make the peer review process serve the purpose for which it was created – to improve and advance science – rather than being a burden or impediment.

Upon receiving an assigned manuscript, the Associate Editor reads over the author's cover letter and the manuscript and decides whether to send the manuscript out for review. At JBC, only a small fraction of submitted papers are rejected right away, in most cases because the Associate Editor views the manuscript to be outside the biological chemistry field and/or better suited to a more specialized audience. If the Associate Editor decides a manuscript should be reviewed, he or she selects reviewers with the goal of obtaining an unbiased and well-informed review. Typically your paper will be evaluated by two members of the Editorial Board (EBMs for short). JBC’s EBMs are experts in the field that receive training in peer review to uphold JBC’s high standards of rigor and reproducibility and have made a commitment to review papers over a five-year term.

Referees are asked to decline any review request that presents a conflict of interest. Conflicts of interests include direct competition, standing to benefit from delayed publication of your work, being a colleague at your institution or personal friend, or recent collaboration. If they are able to take on the assignment, referees are asked to return their assessment in 14 days for a regular publication and 5 days for an Accelerated Communication.

Referees are asked to provide feedback on all aspects of the manuscript. The major questions they are tasked with answering are:

  • Is the paper technically sound?

  • How does the paper advance our understanding of the topic at hand? Or, for Methods and Resources papers, how does the paper advance what’s currently possible or make information available in a new way?

  • Can constructive and focused suggestions be provided to improve the manuscript, regardless of final outcome?

Associate Editors then evaluate the feedback that they’ve received, along with their own assessment of the manuscript’s strengths and weaknesses. As EBMs can often disagree in their evaluation of the conceptual novelty or significance of the work based on their different topical or methodological expertise, the Associate Editor (also a practicing scientist in the field) must use his or her scientific and editorial judgment to make a final decision about acceptance.

If authors have concerns about any aspect of the review process for their paper, they can request that the Associate Editor reconsider the decision made (or, if the concern is with the Associate Editor themselves, the author can contact the Editor-in-Chief to evaluate the case and enlist JBC’s Appeals Committee as needed). Appeals are most likely to be successful when a referee provided factually incorrect information that was central to the decision made. Appeals are less likely to be successful when the authors simply disagree with the evaluation of conceptual or methodological novelty provided by the referee.

Authors should draw their Associate Editor’s attention to any inappropriate behavior from their referees, such as unprofessional comments or requests for citations of irrelevant manuscripts or that heavily focus on a specific researcher’s work.