BEING THE ASMBI EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: WHAT AN EXPERIENCE!

Fabrizio Ruggeri, ISBIS President


In this issue I would like to tell you how the ASMBI Editorial team works. Some of you have editorial experiences and their advice would be very valuable if they will have some suggestions after reading my notes. All of you have experience about submissions of papers to a journal. First of all, you identify the field to which your paper pertains, then look at possible venues and then choose a journal based on many factors, like impact factor and prestige (not always strongly correlated), past experience, references in your own paper, friendly names in the Editorial Board, publishing costs and speed of publication, etc. It is difficult to find reasons common to everyone but, for sure, a look at the journal webpage is worth. For ASMBI you can do it at https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/15264025 and you can see the aims of the journal, the Editorial Board, the list of recently published or accepted papers and you can read them if your institution has a subscription or you are an ISBIS member (do not forget this benefit! If you forgot the password for it, ask me). You should look carefully at the papers in the journal since they tell a lot about the suitability of your own paper for it. Once you have decided to submit the paper (hopefully to ASMBI), then you will have to look for the appropriate submission system, which is ScholarOne (S1M) in the ASMBI case, and it is available at https://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/asmb. In the system you will be guided to submit the paper and the accompanying files, and to provide all the requested information, e.g. about personal data and their treatment, datasets and their availability, funders, number of pages and figures, etc. Once you are done with filling forms and uploading files, you will do a final check about the pdf file of your paper and then submit through the system. At this point, our work and my story here start. And the story starts telling who “we” are: an Editor-in-Chief (me), two Editors (Kathy Ensor and Emmanuel Yashchin) and, currently, 27 Associate Editors (AEs), besides hundreds of reviewers.

Once a paper is submitted, I receive a message from S1M and I access S1M, in general within less than 24 hours, to look at the paper and check if it is completely unfit for ASMBI. We try to have quick replies to authors of papers unsuitable for the journal and, at the same time, to avoid overloading AEs with papers which will never make through the review process. There are many possible causes for immediate rejection and I would like to mention the most common ones. Some papers just use toy examples from business and industry (B&I) whereas the main focus is on other aspects, like properties of distributions or estimators. We receive a certain number of papers containing minor modifications with respect to (w.r.t.) existing ones, especially in financial mathematics. They are against the mantra we have been using for years to identify suitable papers for ASMBI: “innovative methodologies, good mathematics and sound (or a potential for) applications in B&I”. Many papers in financial math are completely filled with formulas and numerical examples, with no real, thoroughly developed, case study: we have nothing against papers full of formulas, but the lack of links with real cases in B&I makes them suitable for financial math journals. Another category of papers rejected on the spot is the one about works which use very standard models (e.g. linear regression) for a very particular problem, of scarce interest for ASMBI audience. Last, but not least, we can use a very powerful tool, Crossref, to detect possible plagiarism and see overlaps between the submitted paper and published ones. Sometimes, we can see entire chunks of papers (not always cited  among the references …) copied into the submitted ones; other times, we see changes of names of variables and/or rewording: in both cases, the rejection is immediate. When there is uncertainty, I either ask informally one of my Editors or decide to go ahead with the review but keeping a note in my files. Before Wiley (ASMBI publisher) provided us Crossref, I was using Google extensively to check about plagiarism but the new tool saves a lot of time and is much more reliable, accessing also pay-per-view papers.

Once a paper has survived my initial scientific screening, a formal check is performed by Wiley people about data, files and practical and legal other issues. Such check might imply some interactions between the Wiley team and the authors, until the former gives me its OK (actually a blue dot in the system) and I can go ahead with the review process.

The first step is to assign the paper to one of the Editors (Kathy or Emmanuel) or myself, depending on the topic, the nature of the paper (I handle, as Editor, many papers for special issues) and the load of each of us. The Editor decides if the paper is worth being sent to an AE (another check to speed up the process and save AEs’ time!). Once she/he decides for the review process, the Editor chooses the AE based on expertise and current and recent past load. The AEs might suggest immediate rejection: it is still possible since the lower we go into the journal hierarchy the higher we go (in general) into the expertise about a particular paper. The AE can then choose the reviewers (two in general) based on her/his knowledge, the authors of papers cited in the submitted ones, the ASMBI database of past reviewers and, only recently, the Publons database about past reviewing activities (numbers but not titles/authors of reviewed papers!). All this flow is guaranteed very well by S1M which provide the necessary information to all people involved, send messages automatically and prepare others which require limited editing. The messages are about invitation, its acceptance or declination, reminders and withdrawal of invitation. We are very lucky to have such a reliable system but the process of assigning a paper to the reviewers is not always so simple. Papers might have their own history which is not captured by S1M. For example, a new submission might be actually the resubmission of a rejected paper: some email exchange outside of the system is needed, e.g. discussing why the paper was rejected but leaving, at the same time, the door open to resubmission or why the authors disagree on our decision, providing sufficient reasons to have an extra chance, possibly with a different AE. Sometimes authors ask for a faster review process, related to their career opportunity. There are other requests which might trigger discussions with authors or within the Editorial Board: in any case, I am not encouraging you to ask for faster process and resubmission of rejected papers, unless you have a strong case!

I created an Excel file containing all the papers currently in the system and, using also colors, I know for each of them the month of submission, the Editor and the AE in charge, if there are enough reviewers or they have not been invited or have not accepted yet, if it is ready for AE’s or Editor’s decision, if it is for a particular special issue and if there is some special note (e.g. an AE is an author or the paper was a resubmission). Starting from the Excel file, roughly every month, I reach out AEs and Editors who should have taken actions like inviting reviewers or making a decision on a paper. The check is monthly to avoid putting too much pressure on members of the Editorial Board with more frequent checks but also unwanted delays in the reviewing process. In the same file I keep track of authors asking about the status of their papers. When an author is asking me about the status, I check how long the paper has been inside the system. In general, I tell the author to come back in one month if the submission is less than three months old; otherwise I inform her/him as much as I am allowed (e.g. deadlines for reviewers, but not the suggestions received so far) and I ask the AE to speed up the process.

Once the reports from the reviewers are ready, S1M starts the process backwards, with a chain of decisions (and messages!), first at AE’s level, then Editor’s one and finally at my own. Although I trust a lot the members of the Editorial Board and I value their suggestions about the papers, the final decision is my own, although quite often coincident with AEs’ and Editors’ decisions. Therefore, the members of the Editorial Board should be appreciated  and thanked for their remarkable job, whereas the blame for rejection and involuntary misjudgment (always possible, unfortunately) should be on me. The latter event is very unfortunate and it leaves a lot of sadness when discovered and nothing can be done to repair possible misjudgments. Recently, I was saddened by the rejection of a paper by a well-known person whom I had been asking to contribute for years, but that was nothing w.r.t. the discussion I had later on and I realized that such paper deserved another review by a different AE, not to guarantee acceptance but because the author was making good points that a new AE could have taken in account. Pitifully, the author decided to reject my offer to resubmit the paper (our typical policy in those cases, as mentioned earlier): a very depressing experience! I made this example, which I cannot forget at all, to make one point clear: being in charge of a journal is not only a matter of scientific knowledge and mastery in using systems like S1M. It is evident that it is almost impossible to be an expert in each branch of a field, especially in one so broad like B&I and, therefore,  it is important to have an Editorial Board covering as many areas as possible. To achieve such extensive covering, the three ASMBI Editors often discuss about the areas for which we need new AEs and then about possible candidates, with quality and reliability as main features, but looking then also at maintaining diversity in the Editorial Board about, e.g., gender, geography, occupation. We can also count on the support of the Wiley people. I can tell loudly that I am working, and I have been working in the past 14 years, with very committed and knowledgeable people who were always there when I had a problem, from use of S1M to “weird” questions from authors, from possible copyright issues (none relevant, so far!) to support for special issues and publication of the journal every other month (by the way, I am also discussing with the Wiley Production Editor about the papers to be published in the forthcoming issues).

S1M provides a great support in communicating within the Editorial Board, with reviewers and authors, but communication is much more and it is related with a notion I value a lot: respect for the people. Although Wiley offered me to ease my work by answering the messages from the authors, I kindly declined since I think the authors, the major contributors to the journal, deserve to be in touch with the person in charge. Authors have the right to know about the status of their paper (not too early, please) and the Editor-in-Chief (EiC) is the one who can contact the right persons and speed up the process, when the case. The EiC has to put his face when an author is complaining about a decision, to explain it and strongly sustain it if unconvinced by the author’s argument or being open to allow a new review process. These are just examples, the most common ones (besides the requests for deadline extensions), of the interactions EiCs have with the authors (and I experienced also as author for other journals): the relation between editors and authors should be based, first of all, on reciprocal respect for their work, tough on both sides. And the respect applies also to the relations within the Editorial Board, like avoiding overloading AEs but asking them to do a very careful review process for their assignments and value their decisions. Sometimes, we had AEs who were no more able to do their job in a timely and satisfactory way: it was sad from a human viewpoint but it was necessary to find amiable but firm ways to terminate the cooperation.

If you have had the patience to follow me until this point, you will have realized that I started from a precise description of the steps leading to the assignment of papers to reviewers and ended up with some personal comments. I could have discussed about other “technical” issues, like the submission of revised papers, and the ones for special issues or the Practitioner’s Corner. Similarly, I did not write about other important work we do outside S1M: we contact people to invite them to submit papers, propose/receive and discuss ideas for special issues, organize ASMBI sessions in ISBIS and ISI events and invite people to write discussion papers like the one by Cha and Finkelstein on “Virtual age: is it real?” to be published in the first issue of 2021, along with the discussions by nine groups of researchers.

I conclude with my usual invitation to read ASMBI and submit your best papers to the journal: I cannot guarantee acceptance but a thorough review process (if you pass the first checks …).

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