March 15, 2020

Publishing in the time of Coronavirus, an open letter from the American Naturalist Editors

To the American Naturalist Community,

During this pandemic, The American Naturalist remains committed to continuing our work to publish your outstanding science. The journal kept up through the 1918 influenza pandemic, and will persist through this one too. But, we also recognize that there are many new demands on each of us during this extraordinary time.  As a result, we anticipate that the publishing process may be slower and more challenging. This essay is a call for mutual support and patience. 

We all are watching how the COVID-19 pandemic is putting many aspects of society on pause. To "bend the curve" and limit the impact of this pandemic on human life, we must all reduce our social interactions to a bare minimum, or less. This means working from home. At first glance this might seem like perhaps an amazing boon for your scientific productivity: fewer faculty meetings, no seminars, skip the commute, and so on. But life is not so simple, of course. Many of us find ourselves with home-bound kids, whose schooling needs to be continued with some supervision. Or you may find yourself a caregiver to a sick partner or child or parent as this infection spreads. Others among you may wrestle with the loneliness of isolation. Isolation in turn can compound the effects of depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions.  Working from home also means working in a distraction-rich environment of your own home. First and foremost among those distractions may be the news, or social media, where we turn both for external interaction and for news about the unfolding of this crisis. On top of these myriad distractions from work, there's also the extra workload suddenly imposed by taking classes online: creating virtual lectures, redesigning lessons, rethinking lab or field class content. 

In short, we face new work demands, and new distractions and obligations at home and in our communities. This makes it exceedingly difficult to remain focused on our scientific research. At The American Naturalist, we are hearing back from reviewers and Associate Editors that they need extra time to complete reviews or recommendations. We, too, are struggling to keep our minds on editorial decisions while parenting and rearranging our home and work routines. The Editorial Office, also, has gone entirely to remote work, which proves challenging to the manuscript handling and copyediting process. 

We expect that the entire process of publication may be slower in the coming months. Reviewers and Associate Editors: we still want your reviews and recommendations. But, we realize these may necessarily be delayed by your competing responsibilities to your family, lab, community, and your own mental health.  Authors: we still want your submissions and your revisions. But, we realize these too may be delayed. And we, as Editors, promise to do our best to render timely and thorough and thoughtful decisions. But, we too may be slowed down especially to look after our kids, most of whose schools are now closed.  

So, please, be patient with us, and we will be patient with you in turn. A few specifics:

* We will still send reminders to reviewers and AEs to nudge along slow reviews. But we will absolutely not judge you if you need extra time

* If situations change and you simply cannot complete a task you previously agreed to (e.g., if you get ill, or need to care intensively for an ill family member), please just let us know if you need to back out, or need extra time.

* A reminder that although the publication process may be slowed by all this (though hopefully not), we do accept submissions that have been posted on BioRxiv.

* As this situation progresses, we may find that we need to make decisions based on fewer reviews, if reviewers become unavailable. For now, we will maintain our goal of two reviews per paper. But if we find that the community becomes too busy or too distracted, we may consider accepting fewer reviews, as a temporary measure.

* For the foreseeable future, we hope to continue our scientific publishing efforts as usual. We will post any changes or updates on this blog, if that shifts.

* Above all, the health of you, and your families and friends, are more important than any one scientific paper.

Thank you for your collective support of this journal. We would not exist without you, our authors, reviewers, and AEs. Stay safe, stay healthy, stay connected, wash hands.

Best wishes,

Daniel Bolnick (Editor In Chief)
Jennifer Lau (Editor)
Russell Bonduriansky (Editor)
Erol Akcay (Incoming Editor)
Trish Morse (Managing Editor)